Study Foreign Language by reading Books: a trick

Boris Gvozdev's Avatar

Boris Gvozdev

14 Sep, 2014 04:04 PM

Hi everybody!

I've been using Anki for more than 3 years already to improve my English, thank you guys for such a great tool!

Here I wanted to share with a little trick of effective learning of a Foreign Language that I use for myself, hope it is interesting to somebody else.

Basically I read books in a Foreign Language (English in my case), chapter by chapter, putting down all unknown words into Anki. But there are a few drawbacks:

  1. while reading, you need to switch between 3 windows: PDF reader, Anki itself, and the dictionary. Quite frustrating.
  2. each time I re-read the chapter (e.g. with a tab in a public transport) and I see a word I've forgot, I have a problem. Either I have to browse a dictionary again or I need to open Anki. Not good.
  3. it may be tough to find the context of the word, when I merge/split/reorder decks etc.

To overcome these, I created a very simple online tool (yes, I'm a software engineer too) which allows to extract notes from PDF to CSV. After they are extracted, they can be imported into Anki. Now my flow looks like this:

  1. read the book in some PDF reader and create a note for each unknown word. The first line is the word itself, the rest is its definition.
  2. when a chapter is finished, drag-n-drop the PDF file with the notes into The result is a CSV file: the first column contains the original words, the second - their definitions. (Optional: 2b. edit CSV with some external editor (e.g. Google Spreadsheet editor). It is useful if you want to export only words from a single chapter: to skip the old ones they must be removed from CSV.)
  3. import the resulting CSV as a new deck into Anki.

Bingo! Now the words in PDF and in Anki are connected!

  • no need to keep 3 windows opened: only PDF reader and a dict;
  • when re-reading: browse the words instantly;
  • easy to manage the knowledge structure since the source (PDF) is by hand and can be used again to populate the decks with the content.

Does it make sense to anybody? Thanks.

P.S. short video of the process:

  1. 1 Posted by jlownie on 01 Oct, 2014 08:50 AM

    jlownie's Avatar

    Sounds pretty clever Boris! Personally I remember most of the words I put into Anki (once I've revised them for about 1 week), forgetting doesn't happen often enough to warrant the effort of your method. But you have come up with a nice solution to the problem.

  2. 2 Posted by David Stewart on 26 Oct, 2014 09:13 PM

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    Great idea Boris!

  3. 3 Posted by victor on 26 Oct, 2014 11:45 PM

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    Great ideia.

    But If you like to read on android it's possible to use moon reader for android, and export what you highlight and your notes. After that you just need to import in Anki.


  4. 4 Posted by jan.p.b on 08 Nov, 2014 11:44 PM

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    Let me dump some tools and resources for learning languages with texts and even movies. I haven't used any of these.

    sub2srs looks pretty cool. Therea also seem to be some ready made decks for english movies. Not sure what that is. Seems to be aimed mostly at ancient greek?

  5. 5 Posted by flimzy on 28 Dec, 2014 05:12 PM

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    Kindle (and likely other e-readers) do most of this for you automatically. I know many people don't like e-readers, but if you're reading a PDF, it might be a reasonable solution for you (if you feel the price is right).

    Whenever you see a word you don't recognize, you click it in the kindle reader, and the dictionary definition pops up. In recent versions of the firmware (at least on recent devices--such as my paperwhite), every word you look up in the dictionary is automatically added to a review list (along with a built-in flashcard application I've never tried to use).

    Later, when I'm at my laptop, I can pop up the list of words, and one by one I can add them to Anki, and use the kindle-provided dictionary definition, or I can look up the terms online (if I feel a different or more complete dictionary might serve me better). Then I can remove them from the vocab list on the kindle.

  6. 6 Posted by ZapBeeb on 29 Dec, 2014 12:54 PM

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    Is there a file in the Kindle where new words are stored?

    I never used this feature, i just marked the words and later scanned the book for notes, adding new words to anki.
    I have to try though...

  7. System closed this discussion on 23 Feb, 2016 12:01 AM.

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