One of the most common questions I hear from new Japanese learners is, “How many Anki cards should I be doing per day?”
People usually respond to this by giving a specific number, or a range, but I think there are a few variables here that make this question more interesting (and worth discussing!).
Life, Numbers, and Consistency
The typically recommended number of new cards per day falls somewhere between 10 and 30. As someone who’s experimented with pretty much everywhere in that range, I think about them in a couple categories:
- Fine if you’re already an advanced learner, but if you’re a beginner and can’t do at least 10 new cards per day, consider just dropping the language entirely. Language learning is all about time, and if you’re that limited you’ll likely find yourself still not able to understand the language years later.
- This is a good slow and steady pace. In particular, this range is good for people with jobs, families, etc.
- This is the standard range that most people should do. 20 is manageable for most people, 25 may be too much for some. Start with 20 and ramp your way up if you feel like you can handle it.
- This is pretty much the cap for what’s sustainable for the average person. While you may be able to do significantly more in the short term, remember that total reviews will gradually scale up with your new cards/day, so consistently doing 30/day will end up being a really hefty review load.
For Japanese learners, a vocab count of ~3500 is where you know enough words to start actually enjoying your immersion (this number varies wildly person to person).
If you started with 0 vocab, it would take you:
117 days at 30 new cards per day;
140 days at 25 new cards per day;
175 days at 20 new cards per day;
234 days at 15 new cards per day;
350 days at 10 new cards per day
to reach 3500 known words.
Of course, these numbers in a vacuum don’t mean much if your life circumstances don’t allow for it. If you have 2 hours of free time per day, it doesn’t make much sense to spend an hour and a half on Anki every day. Generally I recommend to start at 20 per day, do it for a week or two so that your daily reviews balance out, and then decide if you want to do more or less.
Keep in mind, consistency is the most important thing here. It doesn’t matter if you do 80 new cards per day if you only do it once per week. Find a pace that you can maintain every single day, and try your best to not miss a single day.
Go Ham, Hold On for Dear Life, Stop Just before Burning Out
Parents, working adults, and those with limited time can pretty much ignore this section.
It is my (unpopular) belief that immersion isn’t particularly valuable when your vocab is next to 0. Instead, as a beginner it would be more valuable to put all of your time towards vocab, grammar, and basic phonetics, so that you can get to the point where you can comfortably immerse as quickly as possible.
For example, the legendary discord user 3804#6822 did 200 new cards per day and finished Tango N5 in under a week (do not try this, this is nuts).
DJ_Ddawg#5500 did 100 new cards per day for a full month (he says it took him around 2.5 hours per day but YMMV). He did it during his first month of learning and finished all of RRTK, Tango N5, Tango N4, and Tae Kim. In his words, he “went from 0 to actually understanding news and anime.”
TyoCre#4051 did 100 new cards per day for awhile, then dropped to 60, and then transitioned to 30 (and spammed hours of immersion every day). Within a few months he reached comprehension levels better than many people reach after a year or two of study.
While 100-200 new cards per day is likely out of reach for mere mortals, I’ve also heard success stories from several people who have done 35-50 new cards per day for their first 1-3 months. From my observations, the people who have succeeded the most in learning Japanese are the people who have managed to front-load most of their Anki so they could quickly get to a point where immersion is comprehensible (step 2 is to put in thousands of hours of immersion. This step is non-optional).
It’s easy to do some calculations and think that doing 100 new cards/day is a fantastic idea. However, until you’ve actually tried it for yourself, you won’t know how much of an impressive feat it is to maintain that for any extended period of time.
I personally tried to do 100 new cards per day for a week in the past, but couldn’t make it past day 6. If you have sleep, energy, motivation, or focus issues, you’ll likely find 100 to be impossible.
Still, starting with 40-60 new cards per day in the beginning is likely a good idea, so long as you can sustain it. One strategy that may make a large number of reviews more manageable for you is to timebox. I’ve found success with 5m casual immersion (VTubers) and 5m Anki.
I recommend finding a number of new cards/day that is as high as possible that you can maintain for a month or so. After that, before you burn out, drop it down to 20-30 new cards per day and shift your main focus to immersion. You should be spending significantly more time per day on immersion than Anki after your initial burst. That point would also be a good time to transition away from premade decks and towards cards mined from immersion.
Here’s some more numbers to give you a better perspective of high volume Anki.
Starting from 0, it would take you
35 days at 100 new cards per day;
44 days at 80 new cards per day;
59 days at 60 new cards per day;
70 days at 50 new cards per day;
88 days at 40 new cards per day
to reach 3500 known words.
- Do like 40-60 new cards per day when you first start learning (up to 100 if you can bear it but most people can’t)
- Once you know enough words that you can start to understand immersion a bit, tone it down to like 20-30 new cards per day, and spam as much immersion as you can fit into your day