Core2000 update: What deck should I use?

*Note I have a review of popular Anki decks and the different way they convey information in this post, if you want to scroll directly to that, go ahead.*

After about a week of using a Core2000 deck with Anki, I’m seriously thinking of using another deck, or a slightly modified system. The inherent problem with learning any vocabulary is always, always, always, CONTEXT.

I’m finding that the flashcard method of “See word in English”, then “try to remember Japanese word” is a matter of memory, and has nothing to do with context. Also i’m finding that for many words, when I see the Japanese word alone, I have a difficult time reading it. But when the word is in a sentence, I find it a less difficult to remember, because I can garner the meaning from what’s written around it.

I’m not an efficiency freak, but learning words in a bubble never really helped anyone, and it gets frustrating when I cannot remember a word because by itself I have no roots to connect it to. But with programs like Anki there major issues.


Anki is a very technical, user-unfriendly program. Add to that, there are a host of driven, smart folk out there, who are technically savvy and did us the laudable duty of creating decks for us to use and download from the Anki servers. But the problem is, I have no idea which decks are the most efficient to use. I say this because the formatting for so many decks (with the same information ) is so different, that starting a new deck is like starting over the Core2000 process completely.

Why is this such an issue for me? 

Let’s say there are three people John, Jack and Jane. Each have an Anki deck with the Core 2000 sentences.

1. John might upload a deck that focuses on reading sentences that HE customized to make life easier for you. So the core 2000 sentences are all jumbled up from step 1 to step 10 because of the rearrangement. I’ve noticed this feels like “blind vocabulary learning” because I figured they are arranged into steps for a reason, because in some way the vocabulary is connected. I’ve noticed that pretty much all of step 3 has to deal with dense words involving municipal terms (politics, government, etc). So if i switch from what I am using now (the original sort of Core 2000 program) I will be learning the words in a new order, with less original connectivity.

2. Jack might upload a deck that focuses on learning sentences in the original order of the Core2000 (step1 to 10). But his deck shows you entire sentences in Hiragana, with no Kanji, so you have to figure out what Kanji the keyword is. This of course, defeats the purpose (for some people) of seeing the Kanji and learning it. So when I got a deck like this, again it completely changes the ENTIRE approach of how you study. Reading from Hiragana to Kanji is a different beast, possibly slower, possibly with a different kind of retention. What made matters worse, some sentences were written nicely, meaning I saw the Kanji word, then the sentence it was in. This allowed me to read it quickly and revise it quickly if I forgot. But then if the next 20 sentences have the keyword in hiragana, it isn’t as easily recognizable, or easy to read.

3. Jane uploads the original program that deals with learning the word, then learning the word in a sentence. But the way Jane’s deck is setup is more old school, painfully slow and you find that you aren’t remembering anything because you keep seeing flashcards and not sentences.

What does this mean really? 

It means that if you aren’t liking your current deck, and you aren’t very good at modifying how it displays information in Anki the way you want, you might want to try a new deck. This is where my problem comes in.

Switching means you basically lose all your progress is what you have “studied to maturity” so far. This for me creates a bit of tense frustration because if I’ve studied 600 words to maturity(meaning I can remember them pretty easily) on a previous deck A,  when I use a new deck B, and then I will have to “re-study” the same words to maturity on that deck, which wastes a lot of time, especially as the numbers of words increase.

See the idea is to just pick one deck (or good series of decks) and run with it/them to the end of Core2000, but midway you might find a deck that lets you move faster and possibly retain more. I’ve always found that flashcards annoy me because i’d rather learn how to read a sentence than a ton of individual words floating in the ether. I’m still at the midpoint I think of Step 3, and i’m trying to see how I can make what i’m doing more efficient. The idea right now is to read sentences, not constantly fail at reading random flashcards.

I believe i’ve already written about mental fatigue and trying to balance your learning with your regular immersion time. If what you are learning isn’t efficient and a bit boring what it means is that you will get drained more, be less enthusiastic, and have far less energy/patience/belief in the “small stuff” which is reading manga, watching TV and so on. I like to feel that i’m moving forward each day.

My issue is an issue that I guess more “hardcore learners” seem to have. A lot of packaged systems are good, but are quite slow, repetitive and can be quite boring. Today when I was doing some Anki reps, I saw the flashcard for 減る (heru -diminsh, decrease) come up several times, I had no idea why, and I had yet to see a sentence with heru in it. This annoyed me, because if I show a Japanese person the word “bulwark” over and over, they will have a hard time remembering it unless its in a sentence.

So this is what i’ve discovered with the deck i’m using now… that (at least presently) i’m seeing more flashcards with one word than actual sentences. I’m going to keep modifying how the stuff is displayed until it works for me but this is taking a lot of trial and error. This or I am quite inept at using Anki. Either way, the fact that I’m going through these decks and seeing the difference can hopefully help someone figure where they want to go.


Smartfm Core Japanese decks – (what i’m currently using)

These are based on the original program which is now called This is the one i’m using currently. It has all the steps from 1 to 10, with good descriptions of the goals of each step. These set of decks don’t deviate at all from the original program and as such still have some of the issues of the original.

my take – I find the idea of using the original system a bit romantic, because I feel there is a reason stuff was ordered the way it was. It feels a bit slow, especially through the harder steps, but I think I will at least try to go to step 5 (halfway) before giving up on the program. I don’t think its the system, but rather my impatience that is affecting me with this one. But it definitely has some major organizational issues. Some decks have examples sentences that are incredibly dense with too may new vocabulary words relative to your target vocabulary word. This can cause frustration for new learners who don’t possess a basic vocabulary, because you will essentially have no idea what the sentence is saying, target word or otherwise. However, the sentences appear to be “cyclical” and reappear with slight modifications. Which means at some point, each vocabulary word will be taught to you, and you can then read the entire sentence. What I don’t know is how long this process takes. I am assuming that each sentence introduced in a step, will also introduce each of the words in that sentence in the same step, so that by the end of the step, even the horribly dense sentences will be readable. If that is not the case, then it will be a rough road for many new Japanese learners. I am using this system because it is linear, and I know what sentences I’m at, and so on. A fat deck (for now) is too loose an arrangement of terms to make me feel like i’m achieving anything. When I complete each deck after a few days, I feel better than staring at a huge pileup of unviewed items might take months to complete. This is why I know they made “steps” because people like measurable progress. Will keep posting on this as time passes.

Core 2k/ 6k series – these were created by Nukemarine, a passionate learner of Japanese. These are the core2000 ordered based on Kanji Odyssey 2001 (another program) and organized by someone named Cerego who then made sure these sentences had the least number of new words per sentences, thus creating an optimal i+1 environment.

my take – I found it a bit tricky to get the media working for these decks. Also the deck labeling is a bit confusing, which can cause some confusion depending on how you set your goals. For example, the Core 2k is broken up into several decks.

Core 2k/6k Vocabulary – Beginner ( Core 2k steps 1-2)

Core 2k/6k Vocabulary – Basic pt.1 (Core 2k steps 3-10 first 800 sentences mixed)

Core 2k/6k Vocabulary – Basic pt.2 (Core 2k steps 3-10 second 800 sentences mixed)

What I found when I saw these lists in the Anki download menu, they were confusing and felt jumbled. It would have made life easier if Nukemarine had named the decks a little differently. But for me, a person who didn’t know anything about Core2000 who was researching how to learn the different steps, organizing this system felt VERY technical initially, even confusing, mostly because the naming of the decks seem to cause some issues when trying to sync media and ultimately left me frazzled after a while. I am sure the “optimal i+1” learning environment works, but as I said I want to try and operate sequentially in steps until at least step 5 to see if the vocabulary words and sentences also have a sequential relationship, which seems to be the case. 

Core 2000 Vocabulary deck – Nukemarine

This deck is setup for reading and dictation cards. So they show the sentence with the keyword in Kanji or Hiragana and you hear the audio and sometimes see a picture.

my take – After seeing this deck with all the other decks out there, I took a look at it. This seems to be a reading only deck. But when I INITIALLY started to try and figure out a system to do Core2000, if felt like over kill because of all the different decks, different optimizations and what not. What’s great about the deck is that it’s organized into each step. So you can customize your study options to revise a particular step or series of steps. Many decks I checked didn’t have labels to study different decks, which is pretty lame. So I feel this will be a good revision deck.

Core2000 and 6000 vocabulary and sentences

This is a 6000 fact deck including’s core 2000 and core 6000. It uses the spreadsheets from RevTK forums modified to link correctly to the media files. You must get the media files separately.

It has separate fields for Vocabulary and example sentences, so it works for people using the sentence method or vocab methods.

The deck only has Vocab cards made with Kanji word on the front and reading, meaning, and example sentence with audio on the back. This can easily be changed to other card styles

my take – I didn’t like this deck so much. You see a word, then in the answer hear the meaning and have a sentence example. I think this is a sort of inverse approach to learning in context, and I really can’t imagine staring at words all day THEN reading the sentence as opposed to reading the sentence and learning the word. I doubt I will be using this one for any reason. 


This deck contains all the words and sentences from core 2000 and 6000. Words and sentences are in the same fact so they can be included in the same card.
The deck has recently undergone a major tidy-up / re-write. As well as the core words and sentences, there is additional vocabulary (~ 20,000 in total) taken from the the words listed as common by Jim Breen’s Edict. 

my take – I am not even attempting this. With all the easy access to information we have today, I think the idea of overkill is pretty serious (at least for me), I am not sure if downloading a deck with 20,000 sentences is helpful or harmful. Since I am trying to learn 2,000, then eventually 6,000 I feel that going up in incremental steps might be better, but I think that depends on your taste. Personally if would feel bad if I saw 17555 sentences remaining on my list each time i opened Anki : p

Core 10,000

This is a consolidated deck of 3,585 Japanese vocabulary words and sentences, based on dictionary data created by Jack Halpern’s CJK Dictionary Institute (the content providers for the Core series). The material in this deck contains words and sentences that are *not* part of the Core 2K and 6K series, as opposed to the “Japanese Core 10,000 with audio” deck that is a super-set of Core 2K, 6K, and 10K material.

The deck also contains audio, in part from the wonderful and highly-recommended Japanese Sensei Deluxe app, produced by Cole Zhu LLC and available at the iTunes Store.

my take – Same sort of vibe with the CorePlus. I’m glad there are fat, consolidated decks out there with all the stuff you need to learn, but a part of my Learning DNA bothers me when I’m presented with a massive obstacle too early. I might grab a deck like this later on, when I am down with the core2000 and core6000 and just need sentences to skim through on top of whatever else i’m doing in the future. So if this deck doesn’t intimidate you, the learner, then grab it by all means. 


After messing around with Anki i’ve found that the best decks are:

1. Easily customizable based on the information they contain

2. Have labels that allow you to jump to different sections of your choosing.

3. Require no extra work to enable media support.

4. Have pictures and audio versus just audio.

Other than that, your choices are relative. Again I just like efficiency in some way versus a tooth-grinding process. But whatever the case there is no escaping learning words one by one, no matter how good the system is. I feel I prefer some sort of relation in what I am learning (i.e maybe words relating to farming in a group, words relating to politics in a group,et c)

So I will stick to what i’m using for now, attempt to see how well I can customize some parts of it, and push forward to hit step five, and my first 1000 sentences!


About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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11 Responses to Core2000 update: What deck should I use?

  1. John says:

    I had the same problem of the multitude of “core2k/6k/10k” decks available, some in multiple downloads, different orders, different card formats. Plus add on to that dealing with learning Anki, which is an exercise by itself, and I was lost.

    I finally settled on just paying for for “learning” vocab, and ‘un-suspending’ a card in Anki once it was “mastered” in iKnow. And that has went reasonably well. But, if you can “learn” fast, then iKnow is a bit slow paced.

    I’m combining vocab from iKnow with the KO2001 deck (at a slower pace) as well as some other things. We’ll see how it goes.

    Good to see someone else who had the same frustrations I had getting started.

    • marcusbird says:

      Thanks for the reply!

      When I wrote that post, I didn’t even realize I wasn’t using decks properly, until I found another blog where a guy spoke about his Anki routine. For now what i’m using is the Core2000 vocabulary deck for new words, and then doing sentence and listening comprehension with Core2000 in another deck. I’m not sure if its the best system, but I might take some time over the weekend and play with another sentence deck. But so far, since I wrote this post, I find the approach a little smoother. I’m doing maybe 50-100 words per day right now with occassional sentence writing practice to use new vocab. I’m interested to hear what other systems you are using.

      • John says:

        Well, right now my routine looks like this

        Review cards in
        +20 new iKnow cards
        KO2001 Anki deck review + 3-7 new cards
        Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar Deck (just started this as an experiment, but when i’ve used DBJG as a reference, i like the format and explanations, so I thought I’d try the sentence deck and just go through it cover-to-cover since it is all pretty basic stuff that I should have at least a rudimentary understanding of)
        RTK Review +5-20 new
        Japanese Graded Reader set. On Level 2 Volume 3. Good stories, with audio. Read, active listen, Read+listen, Passive Listening. Will repeat stories, or play them while I need to do other things.
        Some shadowing with Graded Reader stories, or with “Shadowing: Let’s speak Japanese” or with “Morning Noon and Night”

        That ends up being about 3-5 hours per night, usually.

      • marcusbird says:

        Wow that’s pretty intense man! What’s your retention like using that system?

  2. John says:

    RTK Reviews are about 80-85% retention

    KO2001 is 95-100%, probably because I’m adding very few new cards combined with exposure to the Kanji from RTK as well as Core. doesn’t track it, but if I were to guess, probably 85% over all reviews. It’s hard to say here, especially because there are multiple types of cards for each word for each review session.

    iKnow isn’t as good for review, but I have better luck with it for the initial learning.

    And they re-worked the order so that you get fewer of those obscure monster-words early on. Though, there are Core Anki decks with alternate orders as well.

    I do find that hitting the same words or kanji from multiple sources is a big help. It helps confidence as well, since when you learned a word from one source, and then encounter it for the first time in some other source and you already just Know it, it feels pretty good.

    • marcusbird says:

      That sounds pretty good. I’m currently trying out something called “extensive reading” (basically reading lots of light stories that don’t require too much dictionary work), on top of my regular Core2000 studies. The only thing i do daily right now is definitely Anki. I am testing out reading three to five stories per day and then whatever other free time I will have Japanese music, tv etc playing in the background. You have no doubt seen my blog posts on my observations thus far. I am going to try and read as many short stories as possible before reading mostly manga in my spare time. I’d say when I hit 50 short stories I might be good to go for regular manga, but i’ll see.

  3. John says:

    That’s something I want to do as well.

    I tried in the past and got frustrated, and spent all my time looking up words.

    That was when I decided to get through Core2000 before giving it another shot.

    My plan is finish Core2000, then ease up on new cards, maybe +5 per day instead of +20 or something. Then with the extra time work on reading comprehensible material, avoiding a dictionary. From that I want to
    1. get used to and faster at reading
    2. pick up some vocab from context
    3. re-enforce known words from context and
    4. re-enforce basic grammar through repetition

    • marcusbird says:

      Got you. I’ve been doing 50 words per day probably, sometimes more. I’ve found that those super easy stories make you feel like you’ve accomplished something, and you won’t feel as bad going back to the SRS the next day. If you use Rikaichan, it makes life much smoother as well.

  4. Bruce says:

    Marcus, great post. I came across it because I was just fighting with Anki decks myself. After using a public deck for a week or two I got used to the workflow and found quirks that made me want to create my own deck. I lost a week due to research but settled on a format which then allowed me to settle into a new system and rhythm.

    Since it is now one year since your post, are you still using Anki and if so how has your system changed if at all?

    • marcusbird says:

      I use Anki occasionally because I’m not super hardcore with Japanese right now.

      Since I went to a relative extreme with using Anki, what I can say about Anki honestly is that it works perfectly for exactly what it is supposed to do. You will develop quick familiarity in a short period of time and after a few weeks put a lot of stuff into long-term memory with less than one hour of effort per day.

      But what i’ve realized with Anki is that its not the “way” that I thought it was before. Meaning, when I do Anki hardcore i tend to feel isolated for my own reasons and I find that if I do to much “system” (meaning decks, and reps and what not) I’m getting a more associative familiarity with what i’m learning, rather than a people-based one.

      So I started learning French recently, and I shifted my approach. I made “phases” for the language journey, where I made sure to insert Anki at a point when it was necessary.

      I think a good deck system is amazing, but my opinion now is that hammering myself with reps gets taxing in the long run, you need some kind of outlet to make what you are doing give you a sense of success. That make sense? For me it wasn’t enough that my Japanese was improving rapidly (because I didnt’ have access to Japanese people anymore) so my motivation flagged incredibly. I feel if you are using Anki and THEN transferring your Anki knowledge into real-life situations, you won’t flag emotionally.

      So now my “system” of approach generally with a language is to work out how to feel VERY successful first, and then go “system” when I want to boost grammar/vocab understanding etc.

      • Bruce says:

        Thanks, I really appreciate the insight. I have noticed exactly what you are saying – after a few weeks with a deck I would start to feel emotionally zapped because I couldn’t feel the progress. I attributed that to problems with my deck, and to some degree it was because I needed a more focused deck rather than a generic one, but I think the bigger problem is definitely related to making sure I feel successful as well.


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