Learning vocabulary with Anki

An investigation into web-based Anki to enhance vocabulary acquisition of first year students at a University in Vietnam

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2020
28 Pages

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Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Literature review

3. The present study
3.1. Participants
3.2. Data collection instruments
3.3. Data collection process
3.4. Analysis of the data

4. Findings
4.1. Research question 1
4.2. Research question 2
4.2.1. Usefulness
4.2.2. Usability
4.2.3. Enjoyment

5. Discussions

6. Limitations of the study

7. Pedagogical implications

8. Recommendations for further study


Abstract: This study investigates the impacts of Anki, a web-based flashcard program, on learners’ vocabulary learning and their perceptions towards the program based on three criteria: usefulness, usability and enjoyment. Participants from two intact classes who were at the elementary level were included in the study. Both groups underwent a pre-test and then were required to learn the KET Vocabulary List developed by Cambridge TESOL, which is corresponding to their level at A2 according to CEFR over a period of three weeks. The control group (n = 18) utilized paper flashcards while the experimental group (n = 18) used Anki flashcards. They then took a post-test so that comparisons between two methods of learning vocabulary could be made. The results showed that making use of traditional flashcards and Anki did lead to the improvement of learners; however, those who used Anki had better performance than those who did not. Therefore, it can be concluded that Anki is an effective vocabulary learning tool for language learners. In order to gain insights into their perceptions about Anki, the researcher asked the participants to take part in a survey, some of whom joined an interview to elaborate their thoughts afterwards. Analysis of the responses revealed that the learners found it useful and rather enjoyable, but some were of the opinion that this program is not user-friendly.

Keyword: Anki, flashcard program, vocabulary learning tool

1. Introduction

As the technology is proliferating worldwide over the past century, web-based tools are becoming increasingly commonplace in language teaching and learning. Godwin-Jones (2011) indicated that state-of-the-art electronic gadgets for the past decade have supplied learners with a wide array of opportunities to study L2 vocabulary, and the vocabulary learning process primarily takes place in the form of web-based flashcards. Many studies found that digital flashcards is beneficial in that it can help facilitate the learned information retrieval and better retention (Altiner, 2011; Dodigovic, 2013; Mclean, Hogg & Rush, 2013; Spiri, 2014). In addition, digital programs supply users with various multimedia components such as audio and animation, which can increase learners’ motivation and interest.

There are a large number of popular applications that have received a great deal of attention in L2 research such as Quizlet or Memorise. Anki is also a flashcards-creating-and-learning software whose popularity has recently been on the rise because of its great potential. It is stated to foster learners’ academic vocabulary growth and retention (Altiner, 2011; Zare and Barjasteh, 2017). Nevertheless, to the best of the researcher’s knowledge, little research in Vietnam context has been done to find out its impacts upon learners’ vocabulary learning. For this reason, this thesis investigated about how students’ vocabulary learning is affected with the use of web-based tools, more specifically, Anki only due to time constraint.

The study targets at addressing the following issues:

- Investigate the impact of Anki on non-English major first-year students at a university in Hanoi.
- Study students’ perception on Anki based on the three following categories: usefulness, usability and enjoyment.

In order to achieve the purposes stated above, the study revolves around these two research questions:

1. How does the use of Anki impact the vocabulary learning of first-year students at a university in Hanoi?
2. What are the first-year students’ perceptions about learning vocabulary with Anki?

The intent of this study is to investigating the impact of Anki on non-English major freshmen at a university in Hanoi. The chosen participants are from intact groups who were taught by the researcher due to the time and logistic constraint. In addition, this study focuses on how Anki affects their A2 vocabulary according to CEFR. There are a large number of factors when it comes to mastering every aspects of the target words such as learning their root or using them in correct, suitable contexts; this study; however, only focuses on learners’ acquisition of the meaning of L2 target words.

2. Literature review

Previous research examined whether Anki could bring benefits on learners’ vocabulary learning together with their perceptions and attitudes towards it. Godwin-Jones (2010) saw the great potential of this program when it comes to helping learners achieve their goal of mastering L2 vocabulary. Bailey and Davey (2011) investigated how students felt about using Anki inside and outside of the classroom. The participants included two groups. Group 1 had 21 students who majored in Economics, while group 2 had 25 students whose major was International Relations. One different trait between these two groups was the latter would be studying abroad next semester. They had to study on decks made by the teacher in class and encouraged to study at home throughout the semester with their progress regularly recorded on the following lesson. At the end of the semester, they completed a questionanire for the perception assessment purpose. The researchers obtained the findings indicating the the frequency of Anki usage of International Relations group was higher than the Economics group. There were even several students who did not use it at home. Regarding questionnaire results, both groups show a preference for Anki and desire to keep continuing it in the future, although the Economics group was not in favor of Anki as much as the other group. The researchers explained this was the imminent study abroad experience that affects this group’s motivation while using Anki.

Additionally, findings of the study carried out by Altiner (2011) showed that Anki helped learners become proficient in at least 50% in Academic Word List. 13 intermediate-level students from an intact group were required to use Anki for three weeks. All learners increased their scores compared with the pre-test scores, in particular, the result showed that two learners had a far greater improvement in vocabulary acquisition. Furthermore, the researcher dug deeper into the students’ perceptions towards Anki based on three categories: usefulness, usability, and enjoyment. Following the post-test, learners were required to fill out a survey form, some of whom took part in the interview afterwards. To begin with, they agreed on its usefulness, particularly the inclusion of example sentences. Moreover, the fact that they had chance to encounter the vocabulary items many times helped to remember them better. Regarding the usability, they indicated that it was easy to use Anki in general. No serious technical problems were recorded during the treatment. However, some definitions and example sentences in the deck were rather ambiguous and confusing to recall the target words. Lastly, much as the students enjoyed learning with Anki, they suggested that the deck should have employed more multimedia components such as visuals and pronunciation.

Zare and Barjasteh (2017) conducted a study to explore the possible effect of using flashcards on Anki on learners’ vocabulary development through the analysis of pre-test and post-test scores. Forty-one students who were at advance level were assigned to study 446 TOEFL words in total on Anki. The treatment lasted for three weeks during which the students learned 20 words on a daily basis. The result from the pre-test and post-test proved students outperformed in the latter one. Despite the positive results of the two studies, one limitation both studies have is the lack of comparison, more specifically, control group. It is impossible to say with absolute certainty that their vocabulary range improved because of the program when they had nothing to compare this outcome to.

Given the limitation of the previous studies together with the advantages that flashcards programs in general as well as Anki in particular leaves on L2 vocabulary acquisition, it seems worthwhile to investigate whether it can also leave benefits for the researcher’s students who are struggling to memorize vocabulary. The following chapter will explain the methodology used for this study and how Anki is used in a language classroom.

3. The present study

3.1. Participants

Participants in this study included 36 students non-English major students at a university in Hanoi. They were drawn from two intact classes taught by the researcher which met two hours and thirty minutes per week during a 15-week course of 2019. Both classes had eighteen students. There are 13 female and 5 male students in the first class, and 15 female and 3 male students in the second class. At the beginning of the first semester, the freshmen were required to take TOEIC test as a placement test in order to be classified into a suitable class for their ability. As a result, these students who scored from 120 to 225 were correspondingly evaluated to be at elementary level and had to registere for the same English course. The two classes, therefore, were quite homogeneous in proficiency level. These freshmen were expected to reach the A2 level on the CEFR before the first-year to second-year transition. The first class (group 1) were selected as the experimental group that would use Anki for their vocabulary learning, while the second class (group 2) were selected as the control group using the traditional paper-and-pen vocabulary acquisition technique. With regard to vocabulary learning strategies of group 1, they normally used the traditional method, which is writing down new words into a notebook and then learning them by heart. They have never used Anki or any other vocabulary learning applications before.

3.2. Data collection instruments

Both quantitative and qualitative instruments were used to collect data to address the research questions. To deal with the first question regarding the impact of Anki on the vocabulary learning of students, a pre- and post- test were used as the instruments in this study. Between the two tests was the Anki treatment intended for the experimental group. Anki flashcards consist of two learning types (recognition cards and recalling cards), and the deck used for this study adopts the latter one so that the target vocabulary can be memorized more effectively and instead of just recognizing words, the learners can use them more actively. Regarding the interface, the front side of the flashcard includes the Vietnamese definition of the word and the image. After students look at the definition of a new word with the image attached, students have to type the word in the answer box and then click on “Show Answer” button to check whether their answer is correct or not.

As aforementioned, it is expected that the students would reach A2 level on CEFR after the General English course. Thus, the KET Vocabulary List developed by Cambridge TESOL was chosen as the target words. The students’ material in class are Cutting Edge Elementary Level and Tactics for Listening Basic whose level is equivalent to A2. Accordingly, the vocabulary items in the pre-test were chosen randomly from the material and taught in the first semester, but at the same time, were the words introduced in KET Vocabulary List. The pre-test was a 25-item vocabulary test with two tasks. The first exercise asked students to match the word with the corresponding picture. The second exercise is about writing the meaning of the given words. After both groups took a pre-test, there was an intervention. Group 1 were introduced to Anki and requested to download Anki and a ready-made deck on their digital devices to learn the vocabulary from the KET Vocabulary List, whereas group 2 continued to learn new words on paper. They did not know about Anki nor interacted with any digital vocabulary learning programs. After the completion of the learning, a post-test with the same format as the pre-test for checking their vocabulary knowledge was done by two groups. Because all the test items belong to A2 level, the difficulty level between the two tests is equal. As stated earlier, the study only focuses on investigating the learners’ ability to remember the meaning of the vocabulary, the tasks in the tests aim to check students’ acquisition of the meaning of the target words. One of the factors to evaluate the effects of Anki is the use of visual aids in learning. On that account, the first task asked learners to identify the word based on the illustration, which were the same images used in the learned deck. In addition, although the tests were taken in class, there was not a scheduled timetable for this activity; as a result, the researcher had to design the tests with 25 items that were done in ten minutes at the beginning of the lesson for the tests in order not to influence the lessons in the curriculum.

As regards the second question related to their perceptions about this program, a Likert-scale survey and interview after the intervention were used for the study. The survey includes 12 items based on three criteria namely usefulness, usability and enjoyment. The items regarding usefulness and usability were based on the technology acceptance model (TAM), a research framework developed by Fred Davis (1989). According to David, Bagozzi, and Warshaw (1989), when users are presented with a new technology, two key factors influence their decision about how and when they will use it. The first one, perceived usefulness (PU), explains the degree to which an individual believes that a particular system is useful and meets their certain needs. Perceived ease-of-use (PEOU) is defined as the degree to which a person finds that system easy to use and feel confident using it. Both factors, together with other external variables sometimes also considered, exert an influence on users’ attitude towards the use of the technology in their daily life such as what they think and to what extent they like it. Those general impression forms behavioral intention (BI), which eventually lead them to actually use it.

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Figure 1. Technology acceptance model (Davis et al., 1989)

In addition to TAM, the researcher also adopted questions from a survey in Ranalli’s work (2009) and then make adaptations to design her own questionnaire that is appropriate for the topic of this thesis. The original survey was designed to evaluate how effective a web-based vocabulary training is under three subcategories namely usefulness, usability and enjoyment. It can be seen that this survey is also based strictly on Davis’ model.

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After filling out their personal information, students were asked to read the statements and rate how closely their responses match to the statements. The five options range from strongly disagree to strongly agree.

Afterwards, six students from the experimental group were chosen randomly to take part in a one-on-one interview where they elaborated on their answers in the survey so that an in-depth understanding about how they thought of Anki could be acquired. More specifically, they gave their opinions about what they found useful or least useful while using Anki, what they enjoyed or disliked about the program. In case they did not find Anki useful and interesting, they were asked to put forward some suggestions to improve it. Having collected the learners’ responses in the survey, the researcher saw considerable similarities in their choice for the survey items. As a result, only six students who had some different answers from the others were asked to take part in the interview. If their opinions in the interview were not various nor sufficient for the detailed interpretation, she would invite more students to join in order to facilitate the analysis later. The researcher noted down the learners’ answers for analysis process.

3.3. Data collection process

The experimental and control groups practiced vocabulary with Anki and paper flashcards respectively for three weeks. In other words, following the pre-test, group 2 proceeded to learn vocabulary by making use of notebook and were not introduced to Anki. Meanwhile, in the case of group A, a detailed explanation and demonstration of this spaced repetition program were given so that everyone would know how to use it and troubles while using could be prevented at the first week. After downloading a pre-made deck, they were required to study the assigned vocabulary for three weeks at home and were aware that they would be tested on the Anki content prepared for them by the teacher. Since Anki is available on various digital devices such as computers, smartphones, and tablets, they were told to use any kind of electrical appliances. In this study, there were fourteen students who used laptops and four who used their smartphone.

Regarding the number of new words learned in a day, Anki sets twenty words per day by default. However, students were told to make modification by reducing to the number that they thought was suitable for their current level then they could increase this number later. In case the learners faced too many new words to review a day or had busy schedules, they can choose 0 in the “New cards/day” section, so they would just have to review old words instead of learning new ones.

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Figure 2: Screen shot of the Anki Flashcard interface

It was difficult to directly evaluate the basis of their use or non-use of this software; however, Anki features review count charts that gives the information about the studying behavior and learning progress of users. Therefore, the students of group 1 were required to bring their device they used to learn vocabulary with Anki to the classroom during the three-week treatment in order to prove that they used the program on a daily basis. After the monitoring, students’ effort were recognized and they were encouraged to keep studying with Anki. Following the completed treatment, two groups took the post-test which had the same format with the pre-test administered in order to measure Anki’s effect on learners’ vocabulary learning. There followed a survey for group A to evaluate this program based on three categories namely usefulness, usability and enjoyment. Before the survey was conducted, the researcher provided translation in order for the participants to have a proper understanding as well as for the researcher to elicit their truthful answers.

After that, a face-to-face interview was conducted with six students from group 1 where they shared their experiences of using Anki as well as provided the researcher with the elaboration of their answers in the questionnaire. Because of their beginner level, the researcher asked the interviewees to expressed their opinions in Vietnamese in order to prevent misunderstanding. All their answers were transcribed during the interview with the purpose of analyzing.

3.4. Analysis of the data

There are two research questions that need addressing in this thesis. To answer the first question regarding the impact of Anki on students’ vocabulary learning, quantitative data was first collected from the pre-test and post-test taken by two groups. The result of both tests were then entered into SPSS program and the researcher conducted a paired samples t-test and independent samples t-test to analyze the differences in means that may be present between both test results of experimental group and control group.

The researcher answered the second question regarding their perceptions about Anki based on the responses from the survey and interview. Their answers in the questionnaire was analyzed using mean scores and standard deviation of each survey item descriptive statistics in SPSS program.

The data from the interview were analyzed by means of a coding scheme. As the second question deals with students’ perception about Anki based on usefulness, availability and enjoyment, three equivalent coding categories were formed. While the researcher read through the transcript and notes, words and phrases related to these three categories were highlighted with different colors. Afterwards, all the data with the same color were put into the same group under the subheadings of usefulness, availability and enjoyment. The researcher used them as a support for survey results.

4. Findings

4.1. Research question 1

In this research, the researcher raised the first question “How does the use of Anki impact the vocabulary learning of first-year students at a university in Hanoi?” with the aim of examining if an improvement in acquiring vocabulary was yielded after the intervention process. The participants were divided into two groups: experimental and control group. Following the pre-test, the experimental group received the treatment, which was using Anki to learn vocabulary; whereas, the control group proceeded to learn with the old paper-and-pen technique. After that, they were required to take the post-test. The results from two tests were analyzed to draw a conclusion about the contributions of Anki to learners’ vocabulary knowledge.

Table 1. Paired samples statistics of pre- and post-test of participants

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First, as can be seen from the table 1, the result of the paired-samples t-test has shown that there is a statistical difference between the means in the pre-test and post-test score of the experimental group, which are 18.11 and 21.55 respectively. The avarage score of the experimental group increased by approximately three points between the pre-test and the post-test, proving a rise. In order to see whether the differences are siginificant, the paired samples t-test was performed and the results are presented in table 2 below.

Table 2. Pre- and post-test comparison of the experimental group

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The significance of the differences is noticeable with the value of p < 0.001. To conclude, it can be implied that learners gained greater amount of vocabulary by virtue of the use of Anki during their learning process.

Table 3. Pre- and post-test comparison of the control group

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As regards the control group, it is noteworthy that there is also a difference in the post-test performance compared to the pre-test. To be more specific, the post-test score (M= 17.944) is statistically higher than that of the pre-test (M= 19.278). Students in the control group achieved better scores on the vocabulary acquisition post-test.

Table 4. Independent sample tests

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In addition, an independent samples t-test was conducted to compare the post-test score of the group who used Anki and the group who did not receive the treatment. There was a significant difference in the scores of the experimental group (M= 21.556, SD= 2.0926) and those of the control group (M= 19.278, SD= 1.4874); t(34)= 3.3764, p= 0.001. This finding suggests that using Anki does have a positive effect on learners’ vocabulary learning.

4.2. Research question 2

The second question raised in this research is “What are the first-year students’ perceptions about learning vocabulary with Anki?”. Their perceptions are revealed based on three categories, which are usefulness, usability and enjoyment. To gather data, the researcher asked the students from the experimental group to participate in the Likert-scale survey, which was carried out after the post-test. They were asked to read 12 statements and rate their level of agreement using a 5-point scale that ranges from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”. Moreover, some students were chosen as representatives to join the interview where they elaborated their thoughts and feelings about Anki.

4.2.1. Usefulness

When giving thoughts about the usefulness of Anki, students rated how helpful the images and definitions of target words were, and then rated its usefulness in general.

Table 5. Perceptions about usefulness

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The table 4 illustrates their perceptions about this category. The students found both images and definitions effective; however, they show their preference towards the visual aid attached to the words slightly more than the definition with their mean values are 4.39 and 4.22 respectively.

I really like the use of images. They were remarkable size wise and eye-catching. I think they made me remember the words faster. Sometimes I just guessed the words by looking at the image rather than the definition. (P1)

The images were useful but there are a few confusing ones. If I just looked at the image only, I couldn’t figure out what word it was. That’s why I needed to see the definition. (P12)

Despite the fact that both tests used in the research did not require listening skills, and the audio pronunication files serve as an additional feature, the students who took part in the interview expressed their preference for it.

Compared to the paper-and-pen vocabulary learning technique, Anki provided the audio pronunciation files, which I enjoy the most during the learning process. I always listened to it and tried to imitate. (P6)

Furthermore, there is a strong agreement on the notion that their A2 level vocabulary was expanded thanks to Anki (mean = 4.06, SD = 0.639). In the interview, the researcher saw the students’ positive attitudes reflected through the comments.

This Anki deck helped me to boost my A2 level vocabulary. If I struggled to recall some word, I chose the option “Again” to have a chance to encounter it many more times. As a result, I now remember the meaning of almost all the words in the deck and how they are pronouned. (P10)

I can clearly see my remarkable progress when doing the test. It did not take me much time to recall the words. (P6)

Nevertheless, there is a modest reduction in the number of students who agreed with the statement about Anki that can help students to improve their vocabulary (mean = 3.89, SD = 0.583). The below comment sheds light on their choices.

Anki is useful in my opinion. However, the words in this deck are objects or action verbs commonly used in our daily life, so I assume they do not take much time to remember the words and their spelling. Assuming I use it for higher level vocabulary such as abstract words or ones with difficult spelling, I wonder if Anki can be this effective. (P1)

To sum up, Anki is proved to be useful in learning vocabulary. Their vocabulary range at A2 level improved after using Anki and illustrations make a significant contribution to that achievement.

4.2.2. Usability

According to the table 5 below, there are various different ideas about Anki being easy to use. To begin with, the majority of students do not have difficulty using the four options in Anki to arrange their vocabulary study (mean = 4.11, SD = 0.583). This may result from the fact that they had been told about the function of each option and how to use them to optimize the learning before starting using Anki at home. Moreover, above each option is the interval for the target word would re-appear in the future, so the students were likely not to face any difficulties in using the options properly to set the time they need to review the words. Similar responses from the students were collected in the interview.

One notable thing in this section is a weak agreement with the notions that it was easy to use Anki (mean = 3.50, SD = 7.86), and they had not had technical difficulty with Anki (mean = 3.22, SD = 1.003). Some students followed what they had been taught in the introductory lesson about Anki and therefore, the studying went smoothly. On the contrary, there were a student who encountered an unexpected problem and was not able to solve it on their own. The interview offered a clearer view on this issue.

Luckily, I did not face any troubles while using Anki. I thought it would be difficult due to the English instruction but it was not. After the first day with the teacher’s demonstration, I used it confidently. (P10)

I had a bad experience while using it. It was fine on the first day; however, my computer suddenly displayed the wrong time on the following day. As a consequence, I could not run Anki as it kept showing the error message, but I did not know the cause at that time. Besides, because it is in English, I had no idea how to fix it and got even more worried. I had to send an e-mail to the teacher and asked for her help. (P12)

Although the teacher had explained how Anki works and how to use it effectively, it took me a while in the beginning to get used to it because everything is written in English. I guess it is also because I am not a tech savvy; therefore, I operated everything slowly and was always worried whether every step in the learning process was taken accurately. (P16)

In retrospect, operating Anki was not that hard. However, it was the first time I used a vocabulary learning software, so setting up Anki was rather challenging to me. (P13)

Table 6. Perceptions about usability

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All in all, students had no problem in using the four options of Anki to arrange their vocabulary study. However, there is less agreement on the usability of Anki compared to its usefulness because of various reasons. The students used an electronic flashcard program for the first time, as a result, they were unacquainted with the set-up procedure as well as experienced unexpected technical problems without knowing the solution.

4.2.3. Enjoyment

The last factor that the researcher inquired into students’ opinions and experiences is to what extent students like Anki. The students in general expressed an interest in this program (mean = 3.67, SD = 0.594) and the fill-in-the-blanks exercise (mean = 3.83, SD = 3.83). The interviewees explained that they liked that type of exercise because it is helpful when it comes to remembering the spelling.

For me, when I use Anki, it is not only learning with an Anki deck but also a quiz when I check my memory of the word spelling. I think it is fun. (P13)

Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that not many students gained motivation while using Anki (mean = 3.22, SD = 0.548). During the interview, the students clarified their different choices.

When I used it at first, I was exciting and motivated. However, learning every day reduced the level of excitement. (P10)

Although Anki did drive my determination on the first few days, the more I interacted with it, the less motivated I had. I guess it is due to the same one learning process, which is seeing the meaning and the picture, typing the word and check whether your answer is correct. To be honest, I had expected more such as diverse exercises to assist learners to learn and review the target words. (P13)

I just used Anki as required to be honest. For me, the motivation from learning with Anki is not far different from learning in a traditional way. (P12)

Learning with Anki is rather motivating in my opinion. The more time I spent on reviewing old words on Anki and then realized I was able to recall them, the more motivated I felt. (P6)

Additionally, the students were required to decide whether they would use it again in the future. The agreement is not strong when the mean scored 3.56 and SD is 0.616. The students stated that the deck they had used is ready made, so the learning can happen instantly after the download. A few students did not find the deck making user-friendly on the account that creating high quality Anki flashcards is rather complicated and requires an immense effort. As a consequence, assuming that no decks on the Ankiweb meet their needs, they would hesitate to make their own deck.

Last but not least, there is also slightly strong agreement that Anki should be integrated in language courses (mean = 3.83, SD = 0.618). When asked the reason why, the students gave an explanation that everyone has their own preferred learning techniques; therefore, it is likely that others may enjoy and benefit from it. Furthermore, the students should regard it as an additional opportunity for practice instead of the only dominant tool to absorb vocabulary. They may write words down into their notebook, and review them on digital devices afterwards. Meanwhile, students in the interview also explained about their uncertainty regarding integrating Anki in language courses. They indicated that notwithstanding the compatibility of smartphones and Anki, they got access to Anki on the desktop computer instead of the mobile version because it charges IOS users a considerable amount of money. This leads to their assumption that those who do not own a laptop or computer and have only IOS mobile devices might feel reluctant to use Anki. Lastly, they stated that the probability of students enjoying Anki may increase provided that they are given a ready-made deck.

I think it is great to have this program as part of our daily learning. Besides, when friends around me learn on Anki, I would feel more excited to use it. (P6)

At first, I really wanted to learn on smartphone as I invest more time using it than using my laptop; However, Anki is not free on iPhone, so I must resort to the other alternative. Because I do not usually carry the laptop with me, it made the learning less convenient and enjoyable. I think other students who are in my case will probably feel the same. (P12)

In the future, when integrating Anki in language courses is allowed, I think it would be best if students can use the deck made by teachers. I believe most students have never used a program like this; therefore, if they have to make their own deck, the deck might not have high quality and well-prepared. Besides, a number of problems might occur, which deter their learning process as well as their motivation. (P10)

Table 7. Perceptions about enjoyment

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The students indicated that learners could have optimized their learning with Anki if examples had been added. One mentioned,

I’m satisfied with all the features included in this program, but it would be better if there were examples on the back side so that we could see how the words, especially the verbs are used in context. (P1)

In conclusion, generally students found learning with Anki enjoyable and interesting. They expressed their desire to keep using it in the future and they are of the opinion that other students will probably also enjoy and benefit from it provided that the decks are prepared by others. However, much as they enjoyed this tool, some felt that Anki did not generate enough motivation for them to be excited to learn new words due to the lack of various tasks to practice vocabulary. Last but not least, they made a suggestion that adding examples is likely to improve their vocabulary knowledge since that helps them to know in which context those words should be put.

5. Discussions

There are two research questions in the study. The first one is “How does the use of Anki impact the vocabulary learning of first-year students at a university in Hanoi?”. The results of the post-tests show that almost all of the students who used Anki gained higher scores and therefore, Anki is proved to be an effective learning tool. This is in accordance with the previous research conducted by Altiner (2011) and Zare and Barjasteh (2017), which show the similar positive results. Broadly, Anki does assist learners in learning vocabulary a great deal like other web-based flashcard programs (Başoğlu and Akdemir, 2012; Dodigovic, 2013; Alzeer, 2015).

The second question addressed in the study is “What are the first-year students’ perceptions about learning vocabulary with Anki?”. Their perceptions were divided into three subheadings: usefulness, usability, and enjoyment. First of all, regarding the usefulness of Anki, students came to mutual agreement that they benefited from learning on this spaced repetition program. The progress they made after using Anki may not be the same, but almost all the students’ range of A2 level vocabulary expanded. The findings support the claim about the imrprovement of learners is attributable to the algorithm Anki uses that enable users to learn difficult words more often (Pyc & Rawson, 2007). This spaced repetition algorithm leads to efficient memoration and students’ performance on the tests (Baddeley, 1990; Dempster, 1987). Visual aids were particularly recognized when it comes to assisting learners to memorize the meaning of the words. They also enjoyed learning vocabulary by using digital flashcards as they come with audio pronunciation. However, students in the interview expressed their thought about examples might lead to an increasing usefulness for this program.

The next subheading that the researcher investigated is usability. While Ali et al (2012) indicated the comfort while using computers as they have become an indispensable tool in their life, Anki is quite difficult to use for some learners in this research. It was the first time they tried a digital flashcards program that does not even support their native language, and they suffered from their shortage of vocabulary and grammar, it consequently took them quite a long time to get used to the program. One even reported that they experienced an unexpected technical problem and did not know how to tackle it.

Additionally, learning with Anki was enjoyable for students in general, which is consistent with previous findings by Altiner (2011). It should be noted that their motivation was not high during the time they learned with Anki. Allum (2004) stated that the addition of audio and visual aids might affect the learners’ motivation and autonomy; however, in this study, Anki, albeit enjoyable, did not help to increase their motivation to a great extent. They studied the deck as one of their responsibilities. According to the students participating in the interview, part of the reason may lie in the lack of various tasks that reinforce the target vocabulary and their unfamiliarity with the program. Besides, the fact that they found Anki difficult to use and experienced a technical problem hindered the joy of using Anki as well

6. Limitations of the study

There are a few limitations to this study that should be considered. First, the study focused on a small sample size that were the researcher’s own students from one class, which results in the employment of descriptive statistics instead of inferential statistics. As a consequence, it is hard to make generalization about the efficacy and perceptions of Anki to a larger population. Secondly, the students in this research learned Anki at home and the class met once a week. This led to the difficulty in closely monitoring their daily learning despite the history learning chart checking. Thirdly, the duration of the intervention (three weeks) in this research was rather short. Although the learners finished studying the deck in the given time, the time for reviewing the vocabulary should have been increased so that they could retain what they had learned better. Lastly, the study was limited in regards to measuring receptive knowledge of vocabulary. To be more specific, it primarily investigated the students’ ability to retain the meaning and spelling of the vocabulary. Schmitt (2010) indicated that the vocabulary mastery of language learners would be measured more accurately if the knowledge covered many other aspects of word knowledge, such as word structure, lexcial relations of the word with others, or correct usage in appropriate contexts.

7. Pedagogical implications

The researcher wants to list out some pedagogical implications that may make great contributions to teaching and learning languages. To begin with, because there was a clear statistic difference between learning with traditional flashcards and Anki, and it is reported to be useful and enjoyable, the usage of this web-based flashcards programs is recommended as it is likely to enhance learners’ vocabulary learning. It is advisable to utilize it as either a mandatory practice source in the class or an optional source out of the classroom beside other learning methods. However, it should be noted that features of the program such as the audio and visuals need to be fully added so that the successful learning could be feasible.

8. Recommendations for further study

In relevance with the results and the limitations of the study which were presented above, suggestions for further research include the following points. First of all, future researchers would be highly recommended using bigger sample size. Because the sample size in this study is small, it is nearly impossible to conclude that all learners can benefit from learning with Anki. It is also advisable to choose a group of participants where the number of male students are equal to that of female.

Second, students shared in the interview that examples on the back of the card, in their opinion, would facilitate the learning. For that reason, any future researchers who wish to explore the potential of Anki should consider adding examples in the deck and text their ability to use target words correctly. Accordingly, learners’ performance would be assessed in a broadened categories.

Last but not least, future researchers interested in this topic are advised to add the delayed post-test. After learners take the post-test, there should be an interval and then the learners are asked to do the delayed post-test. The use of this test can determine whether Anki does have a positive impact on learners’ vocabulary learning in the long run or the learners struggle with the retention of information after a long period of time.


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Learning vocabulary with Anki
An investigation into web-based Anki to enhance vocabulary acquisition of first year students at a University in Vietnam
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learning, anki, university, vietnam
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Chien Duong (Author), 2020, Learning vocabulary with Anki, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/535412


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