With cutting edge AI galvanising the language learning world, traditional tools like Anki – which would have been considered the leading edge not that long ago – seem well in the shade. But it’s not a question of either-or. Traditional and new tech can work in happy symbiosis to support language learning.
Preparing for a recent high-stakes language mission (OK, island-hopping hol!) to Greece, I wanted to turboboost my Greek vocab. Anki was my tool of choice, of course, but one question remained: where to source new flashcard decks? Large Language Models like ChatGPT and Bing were easy choices for generating topical vocab lists, but how much copy-pasting would that involve? I wasn’t keen on spending hours formatting cards manually.
Thankfully, ChatGPT Plus’ Advanced Data Analysis mode can provide a bridge between old and new. Forget that slightly intimidating title – the main boon is simply that this mode can output a text file. And, given the right format, Anki can take such a text file as an import source. With a bit of prompting prowess, we can automate the whole process – from topic to cards, in one fell swoop. Before long, I had a fresh daily drip-drip of new words and phrases, a real shot in the arm for my Greek pre-trip.
Here’s how to task ChatGPT with the whole job of Anki deck creation. If you don’t have the Plus version, no problem – scroll down for a modified version that works with completely free plans and services!
Automatic Anki Decks – Plus Style
First of all, start a new chat in ChatGPT, and make sure Advanced Data Analysis is selected in the drop-down menu under ChatGPT-4.
Now, we’re ready for our prompt. Like our AI speaking prep worksheets, the beauty of this is just how specific you can make your flashcards. The topic can be as broad or narrow as you like. Here’s a sample prompt to create a French deck on the talking point ‘social issues’:
Limitations (For Now)
One limitation with the Advanced Data Analysis mode is that it can’t run concurrently with ChatGPT’s now restored web-connected mode, or Browse with Bing. All that means is that it will be relying on its banks of training data for the vocab collation, rather than the web. But in most cases, it shouldn’t make too much difference given the vastness of that data (although it will notify you apologetically about it – see below). We’re waiting for the day – hopefully soon – that OpenAI allows users to run several premium features together.
Into Anki We Go
One you have your ChatGPT-infused vocab file ready, you can import it straight into Anki. In the Anki desktop app, head to File > Import, and select the file you saved. The import settings window will pop up, including, crucially, which field matches to which column of your data under Field Mapping. The app guesses correctly for the most part, but occasionally you may need to specify that the third column (part of speech) maps to the tags field.
And that’s it. You should get a brief report of the number of items added, and they’re ready to play with straight away. Instant, fresh vocab decks in seconds!
No ChatGPT Plus? No problem!
Now, the above is all very well if you have ChatGPT Plus. Many platforms lack the file output side of things. But you can still get them do the heavy work of vocab-hunting and file-formatting; all you need to do is the final copy-paste-save.
Here’s how to alter the prompt for plain old vanilla ChatGPT and Bing, coaxing it to provide Anki-ready output. I’ve also made the format a little clearer, which might help if you’re using slightly older models like ChatGPT-3.5.
Your platform should spool out some easily copiable code. Simply paste this into a text file, save, and import into Anki.
Even using 3.5, I got some great results featuring practical, useful vocabulary sets.
Experiment, Experiment, Experiment!
As with all AI prompts, it’s worth experimenting with everything to tweak, improve and get the absolute best out of it. The number of cards, the mix of words and phrases, the source of the material – make it your own. When you have it just right, you can create cards for your own, or your students’ learning, in seconds.
Oh, and don’t forget to save your perfect prompts somewhere you can copy-paste them from later, too!
If you’re keen for more artificial intelligence tips to boost your learning, please check out my book AI for Language Learners. It’s packed with practical examples to fuel your linguistic adventures!