Ulangi – an Anki beater? [review]

Looking for some variety to your vocabulary routine? Ulangi is a new kid on the block, and is a promising new alternative to spaced repetition apps like our old favourite Anki. However, it comes with a few very special bells and whistles.

I know what you’re thinking. Anki is tough to beat in terms of learning science and control over your material. But ulangi manages to bundle that together with some features that make vocabulary mining a lot more streamlined.

One-stop shop

Here’s the thing. Like many of us, I am used to skipping between various apps and websites to research and then store/drill vocabulary. For instance, I often start off with a quick look-up of a word on Google Translate. Then, I’ll cross-reference that in Wiktionary to double-check its meaning. I might even search for example sentences containing that word on Tatoeba. Finally, it reaches my Anki deck!

Ulangi circumvents this circumlocution via the Discover tab. It really is a one-stop shop for vocabulary list-building. Type a word in English or the deck language, and matching references will pop up from services like Wiktionary and Google, in the app itself.

Ulangi allows you to source and collate vocabulary via its Discover tab

The discover tab is a comprehensive word-finder and list-builder

Better still – with a single tap, you can add them straight to your decks. For Wiktionary entries, that includes grammatical information like the part of speech, so you get a whole dictionary entry in a click. It works really smoothly and makes vocab mining very easy.

Expert editing

You can edit these terms before adding, or add them wholesale. I found that the automatic categories – often provided with Wiktionary entries, for example – sometimes needed tweaking before adding to your word lists. That’s no problem with the Edit before adding feature. It’s a little detail which shows that quite a bit of thought has gone into the app.

Now, one of the big advantages of Anki is that you can administer and fine-tune your vocabulary in the desktop app as well as the app. Ulangi interfaces with Google Sheets via an add-on in order to expose your decks’ entries for expert editing. While the process is a little fiddly, it will likely appeal to the tech geek in many of us.

Variety show

While vanilla Anki offers just its spaced repetition drills, Ulangi has a couple of extra games for off-piste learning. I especially like the multiple choice activity, which is perfect for doing a bit extra after the usual cut-off point of being ‘done’ with your Anki decks. It’s also a nice change from the “be honest” self-marking approach when you can be marked by the app automatically,

Additionally, you can play the more arcade-style Reflex and Atom, which are great additional twists on your vocab practice. These are separate from the main spaced repetition drills, so fall neatly into that “practise for fun” category.

Ulangi has a range of activities to practise your vocabulary

Atom is a fun twist on traditional spelling activities

Pick your languages

Ulangi requires you to specify the language of your deck from a predefined pot of 25. These include all the familiar faces like Chinese, French, Japanese and Spanish. But it’s also nice to see some more niche ones present, such as Polish and Norwegian (hoorah from me for those!).

Of course, specifying the language unlocks all those extra look-up features above, as well as text-to-speech audio on cards (something you’d need an extra plugin for in Anki). You can choose languages that aren’t included, but those funky facilities won’t be available then. It will be a treat to see which extra languages the developers add in coming months. Wishlist, developers: Iceland, Irish and Scottish Gaelic!

Ulangi flashcards include a handy text-to-speech utility if you select a language for your deck.

Built-in features like native text-to-speech make for a rich experience

Ulangi – By language geeks for language geeks

With its layered features and clean, no-nonsense look, Ulangi is very much an app for language geeks by language geeks. As a home for our precious words, it’s a pleasure to play around with and get to know.

The free version is fully functional, but so much care and attention has gone into the app that it more than justifies the £6.99 price tag for the premium version. A growing fan base will be following future developments with enthusiasm!

Ulangi is available from the iOS App Store and Google Play for free, with premium membership of the service at £6.99.

Richard West-Soley

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