Flashcards Deluxe – the learning machine

With the start of this semester I am teaching in Japanese – thus I am back to learning, in particular learning Japanese for mathematics. And of course I am using my preferred flashcard application, Flashcards Deluxe. This program has helped me through all the years here a lot. I have tried several flashcards programs, including the well-known Anki in various combinations, but the features and easy of use of Flashcards Deluxe (henceforth FCD) stand out from the rest of the competitors.

flashcards-deluxe-in-action

I have now using FCD for about 5 years, and there it satisfied and still satisfies all my needs.

FCD is a mobile app only. Not like Anki that has applications on various architectures. First and for long time FCD was iOS only. In reality this meant for me that for long time I was locked into iOS, only because of FCD! Fortunately, since some time there is now an Android version (even available and Amazon) – which means I can finally switch mobile phones!

The feature list of FCD is long, the web site of the app lists the following:

  • Two smart study modes that automatically focus more on the cards you miss: Leitner and a more advanced Spaced Repetition mode (similar to SuperMemo)
  • Quizlet.com and Cram.com integration – Browse and download any of their 4 million+ flashcard sets
  • Text to speech (TTS) support in 18 languages
  • Searchable listing of your cards that allows you to easily look up other terms as you study
  • Divide cards into categories
  • 5-sided cards
  • Slideshow mode
  • 3 response levels: Wrong, I kind of know, I know really well (vs the standard correct/wrong) – for more efficient studying
  • Great support! I promptly respond to any questions or feedback you may have.

But there is actually much more, but let us go through a few screens to give you a feeling about the applications.

Decks and Folders

FCD-list-of-decksThe main screen is shown here. It lists all my decks, including many information about statistics, content of decks, due state etc etc. Don’t worry, not all of that need to be understood immediately.

The first deck we look at is a normal deck of flash cards:

FCD-normaldeckThis deck contains 42 flash cards (not surprisingly due to the name). Since there is no other information shown, one can also deduce that is is using a simple Ordered mode which shows all the cards in order. No special study properties are turned on.

The next one is not an actual deck, but a folder:

FCD-deckfolderFolders are extremely useful as soon as you start learning a lot and accumulate a lot of decks. I for example have created one deck per chapter of my text books. The information shown is simply the number of included decks.

Finally, a combination deck:

FCD-combination-deckCombination decks combine several normal decks together, allowing to have different looks at the same cards. In this case we see in the lowest line that the combination deck Kanji Compounds is made up from 60 decks, and contains in total 4196 cards. We also see some other numbers, but let us come back to this later.

Another important thing with combination decks is the fact that one can select the same actual flash cards, but challenge oneself in different directions. In the above screen shot on the right you can see that there are two combination decks Vocabs de-jp and Vocabs jp-de. These two decks are asking me flash cards either in German->Japanese direction or Japanese->German direction. It is also possible to keep the statistics for spaced repetion (see below) separate, an essential feature.

Import, export, backup

FCD-new-deckGetting things into FCD is easy. First of all, you are free to download any of the Quizlet or Cram decks. Although there are many of these, I have never bothered using them. Mostly because creating your own decks is half the study time!

Other options are shared libraries from the application web site, and Dropbox and Google Drive integration. I normally created a simple tab separated text file for each side, and imported this file via Dropbox.

In the same way one can export and backup to Dropbox and Google Drive, which in turn also saves statistics, very important if you have built up statistics of years and don’t want to loose them.

Study modes

FCD-deck-startIf you are serious about learning, just simple ordered or random cram-style learning might not be the optimal long-term solution. FCD, like many other programs, allow to use more advanced study modes, in particular Leitner system and Spaced Repetition mode. I cannot comment on anything but the Spaced repetition, but this one helped me learn a considerable set things in a way that I don’t forget them.

The screen shot on the side shows the screen when entering a spaced repetion deck (combination or normal deck), with the amount of due and not due cards, and in which study interval they are.

In short, the spaced repetition asks you a card until you know it three times in a row. After this the card is considered learned, and will come back due in short intervals (initially 8h). Every time you answer correctly the interval gets longer, and if you answer wrongly, the interval gets shorted. There are much more details, see this page for more explanations.

Text to Speech

FCD-deck-propertiesLearning foreign languages is hard enough, getting the pronounciation right even more. I myself carry an incredible heavy German accent, in all the foreign languages I speak fluently (Italian, English, Japanese). What helps in this case is to have an excellent pronounciation guide. FCD also provides a text-to-speech system, allowing you to choose from currently 18 different languages.

Many text-to-speech systems are quite crappy. Fortunately, due do the Asian interest of the author of FCD, the text-to-speech system used in FCD (server-sided) is, at least when it comes to Japanese, excellent. One can download the server-sided generated audio files to the local device, and can also back them up to Dropbox.

In my daily learning from German to Japanese, I often turn the card, and let the sound play immediately. This way optical and accustical learning is combined.

More features

FCD-global-statsFCD also tries to keep you motivated (or presses you?) by providing detailed statistics of your progress. Here on the side the number of reviews is for all decks is shown. But there are more details like time studied, or the number of correct answers. In my case you see that I have started to study 3 days ago, and hopefully keep up this rate, so that I am ready for my lecture next week 😉

I haven’t introduce all the features, mostly because I don’t know many of them, and use only a few. FCD has proven extremely useful for my study, and had a long lasting effect on my ability. Considering that I am a spare time student besides my full time job at the university, I am nowadays confident to communicate on all topics in Japanese, and even teach in Japanese (hopefully).

As a last comment I want to mention that the developer of FCD, Ernie Thomason, is an incredible helpful and nice guy, who always responds to suggestions and requests as far as possible. For a one-man-show he is doing an incredible job, and my gratitude to him to provide FCD for the ridiculous small prize is a great gift.

If you ever think about getting a good flash card application, take a look at FCD, not only for Japanese, but for any kind of study.

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