For Vocab Decks: One big deck, or many smaller, themed ones?

I’m starting to (finally) add new words to a custom SRS deck, but some of my structuring gives me pause. Should I create specific decks for certain kinds of words, (like N4 only words, uncommon words, words that appear in something I’m reading)? Or should I make just one giant deck that has every new word I want to remember?

What kind of deck structure do you use, and which would you recommend?


Personally I’ll go for the multiple decks. I think it is easier to remember by creating small themed decks since you can sometimes even guess by the context like you could do it while reading. Once you are comfortable enough with them (around the equivalent of guru level), it could be a good idea to recreate them in a larger and more general deck :slight_smile: It can sure take up more time to do so, but by rewriting them you could enhance your memorisation as well.
If you don’t have enough time to do so, I personally recommend… Large themed deck aha I still prefer going with themed decks but by making it longer it will still be difficult enough to memorize them while keeping a straight line to hang on. Just keep in mind that “themed” can be a really subjective adjective as I tend to create deck like “House” or “Work”…

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The approach I use in Anki is smaller-scoped decks that use namespaces (explained in full in the documentation here).

This allows me to keep my cards orderly and review by namespace so that I can instantly review “due” cards from various decks in a single session.

For example, my decks are organized as


and I can review cards from


to review all book-related cards. If I master all cards from OneBook, I can delete that entire deck and remove it from any type of review.

Whether you want to use small-scoped decks like N4 specifically I don’t think will have that big of an impact on your learning as long as you can weave those subjects into reviews from other decks. Otherwise you’re bound to associate the N4 subjects with each other which gives you a artificial advantage during review and may be to your detriment in the broader wild.

I have a deck for words I find in the wild. No structure to it, but it’s filed under my Japanese deck, which has lots of subdecks

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I used Anki a bit long ago and I’m not really familiar with how it works now.

That said, the problem with individual themed decks becomes having to choose which deck you’re going to put something in. A ‘tags’ system would work better, I think. You might want a word to be tagged with ‘verbs’, ‘level 5’, and ‘food’ all at the same time and be able to study just verbs, or all level 5 whenever you want without needing duplicate copies of the same word in many decks.

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Unfortunately I’m really bad at using anki to its fullest, due to my lack of knowledge of scripting/programming, and I dislike its default review UI compared to stuff like WaniKani and (which is what I’m using for decks now).

But from what I’ve read in the thread, having themed decks is a good idea, but only if I still have a large amount of cards in them, which can be a problem since these decks are new and will always start out with few cards.

For now, I’m thinking of having 3-4 decks. One or two for JLPT words, one for common words that aren’t in the JLPT, and one for uncommon words that I encounter in the wild. Tagging the words also seems like a good idea in case I want to transfer cards to different decks in the future, but doesn’t have that feature yet.

I started a little over a week ago. Making a vocab deck that is.

I researched on the net for around a month or so and came to the conclusion that a sentence deck is the way to go, not just having isolated words. So the deck will have notes that have a sentence in Japanese, then focus on a single vocab word. I also decided to add a “reading” section where I type out the reading in hiragana/katakana only in the back of the card.
for example:

Front of Card:

Back of Card:
Reading: レーさんはちゅうごくじんです。
Meaning: Lee-san is Chinese.
中国人(ちゅうごくじん)- Chinese, Chinese person.

I also found out about a series of books called Tango(単語)JLPT, which have 1K+ sentences for each JLPT level. So I purchased the books for JLPT N5 and N4.
Great thing about this series is they include audio for all the sentences on their website for download. So I add the audio for each card as well to the back of the anki card so I can hear the spoken sentence with the answer!
The books are quite cheap as well at 1400yen for each + shipping.

Right now, while doing WaniKani I’m making cards from each sentence in the book into anki and then reviewing them. (I’m making around 40 cards a day but only reviewing 10).
Each book has around 1000 sentences so by the time I’m done I’ll have around 2000 vocab.

oh another great thing about having the audio is that i can make reverse cards that just plays the audio later on really simply, that way I can practice listening as well in the future!

But yeah to answer your question I intend to make these cards in a single deck of 2K cards. Later once I’m done with this basic vocab I’ll make another deck.

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I think it’s really worth your time learning how anki works. You’ll be spending so much time with the program (literally thousands of hours over the years) it’s definitely worth the investment.

I spent a good 2-3 days just messing around with it, reading the documentation and learning the basic HTML system (I’m pretty decent at programming since I’m an electrical engineer but I haven’t used or had any interest in HTML in quite a long time…).
Plus you only need really really basic HTML to make your own anki deck!

Also making my own deck as opposed to just downloading a pre-made deck also taught me a ton.

So thanks for pointing me towards this resource. I’ve been doing the Core series but haven’t been entirely happy with them and was looking for other sentence sources in some semblance of a progression.

While researching the series, I found that someone has already done the hard work of putting together anki decks, if you don’t want to do it yourself. Putting together your own decks is often a good way of spending time with the language though, so if that’s part of your process, good on you. If not, might want to check it out.


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For me, my decks tend to have a goal. For example, Core 10k tells me that I’ll master the top 10k most common words. A katakana vocab deck tells me I’ll master 4.5k katakana words. So I did it both because mastering most common words and katakana vocab sounded good enough to be goal of mine. I also have an exposure deck for words that I see in the wild. Another goal to have might be reading a book/novel. If there’s a vocab list for a book/novel that I might want to read (think parsed decks or book club vocab lists) available as a deck, I might do it too. It’s a goal.


I’m glad you found it helpful!

yeah I know nukemarine on youtube, already subbed to him. He’s one of the sources that recommeded those books to me, the other being Matt from MassImmersionApproach (MIA).
I’m basically running MIA with WK mixed in (although Matt said he doesn’t generally like WK).

Anyways yeah I’m aware they are giving the pre-built deck to people who prove they have purchased the book. But I decided to make the deck myself. Mainly for two reasons.

  1. Wanted to build a deck from scratch so I can learn how to use Anki at a high-level. I think this will be essential going forward.
  2. like you said making your own cards helps you learn. It;'s been doubly so for this particular deck because these books are technically for JLPT, most of the words DO NOT USE KANJI. So i have to “kanjify” the words, that means going to jisho and checking the meanings and sometimes figuring out if the word is just spelled using hiragana…

So, I’m not as industrious as you. Or maybe I just don’t have that much time, but I use pre-built decks where I can. However, I don’t ever leave it at that. I customize heavily to suit my purposes. I just like having something to start from.

For example, my version of the CorenK has WK word and sentence levels and Japanese frequency (multi-corpus) information. I filter and order the decks based upon those stats to get content which is accessible and useful.

I’ve also started replacing the images with more Japan-centric ones because the base images are just so European (not to mention a little dated). It also means I can hide the English text and have ‘pure’ Japanese cards. I like being able to get rid of the English crutch as soon as I can when studying vocab.

I’ll probably modify nukemarine’s decks with images and kanji once I get the books (they’re ordered), but having them as a basis to start from gets rid of a lot of the tedium of card generation and only leaves the ‘fun bits’ for learning the content.

So maybe I’m not that non-industrious, just do it in a different ways. :grin:

haha yeah I’ve also been thinking whether my time would be more efficiently spent not making cards… But still I’ll go through with it just for this initial deck.
After that I know there’s a ton of tools you can use to auto-generate cards from kindle books, subtitles etc. Will use those to be more efficient.

Actually I probably spend most of my learning time here on WK… :sweat_smile:

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