Using Mochi SRS for Japanese vocabulary study

Category: Japanese

5 minute read


Mochi is a study app that uses modifiable flash-cards and a spaced repetition system to maximize study retention and efficiency.
Sound familiar? There are already many other apps like it. I personally have previously used Memrise and Anki.

In this article, we'll check out this great app and how to use it. I'll also discuss some reasons why I dropped Memrise/Anki in favor of Mochi for my Japanese study arsenal.

What it is

Mochi is a fully customizable, Markdown-based SRS flash card system.
Each flash-card is written in Markdown (an easy-to-read text-editing format popular with developers – read more here).
Mochi allows you to build 'decks', which are a collection of 'cards' (flash-cards) or nested decks.
Mochi automatically builds an SRS-based reviewing schedule from all the cards you've created.

The Mochi card review screen

The Review screen. Mark cards as 'Forgotten' or 'Remembered' as you review them. Cards marked as 'Forgotten' show up more frequently in subsequent reviews, and cards marked 'Remembered' show up less.

Where it shines

You still might be wondering how this differs from other SRS apps such as Memrise or Anki. So here is where it truly out-shines the competition:

The Markdown syntax

As I mentioned above, by default, each card in Mochi consists of text in the Markdown syntax. Vanilla Markdown gives you enough flexibility alone, that allows lots of ways to freely customize your cards. Add bold text, images, headings, block-quotes, line breaks, hyperlinks, lists, and more to your cards.

Mochi goes one step further with this, and extends the default Markdown syntax system with some awesome and invaluable features specific to language and Japanese learning.

These features allow the ability to add the following to your cards:

  • Hidden text that can be revealed with a click (called a 'cloze')
    • A great way to add hints to your cards
  • Furigana on top of Kanji
  • References to other cards
  • Text-to-speech conversion (paid feature)
    • Hear the text being pronounced aloud while you go through your reviews πŸ™Œ
  • Automatic text translation

Markdown in action

A breakdown of some Markdown text used for a card. Arrows highlight the individual components & syntax that make up the card.

An example of some Markdown being used for the card of the word γ€Œθ¨€γ„θžγ‹γ›γ‚‹γ€ Each row of the text has slightly different wrapping syntax, which determines how it will appear visually.

A Mochi card for the word γ€Œθ¨€γ„θžγ‹γ›γ‚‹γ€

How the card looks during review once it has been converted from Markdown. Note how each item in the card corresponds to a line in the raw Markdown above.

There is definitely a bit of learning required to fully utilize the Mochi Markdown-based system and all of its features.
Until you get into the groove of using it, there is some documentation on using the Markdown syntax and how to create cards. Read the docs here.

The card-templating system

Cards (and their Markdown) can get rather long, especially if you're creating massive decks with cards that all have the same format.

For example, for a deck used to study words, every card might show meta info, like the word's part-of-speech or Kana reading.
Reproducing the formatting for every card would be tiresome.

To handle this, Mochi allows you to create custom templates for your cards.

A template in Mochi is just Markdown with 'custom fields' added in as placeholder for the repeated info (e.g. part-of-speech, Kana, hints etc.).
When you add a card to a deck that uses a template, you just need to fill in the contents of each field, and it will automatically slot all the info into your Markdown for you!

Simply create a new template, add all the custom fields you want to use, format the template's Markdown to include these fields, and lastly apply the template to your decks.

Below are some screenshots of my 'Words' template in action.

The template creation screen of Mochi SRS

The template creation screen of Mochi. Note the correspondence between the custom-field declarations below, and how they are placed inside the Markdown text using the β‰ͺ ≫ characters.

The Mochi card creation screen when using a template

The Mochi card creation screen when using a template. This is much easier to read than the pure Markdown text that was shown previously.

Other cool features of the app

  • Cloud file syncing for all your decks and content (paid feature)
  • Search feature
  • Advanced customizability (including the ability to tweak the SRS intervals)
  • Tags and relational card linking
  • Create shareable public links for your decks
  • Anki β†’ Mochi import tool
  • Markdown file export-tool for your decks
    • currently does not support templated decks

Why I ditched Anki and Memrise

A few key features mentioned above are missing from Anki and Memrise.

Anki offers no cloud storage options if you often switch between devices. You have to manage this yourself somehow. I did this using Google Drive for a while, but just found it clunky.
Anki's interface is also hard to navigate and a bit Jurassic.

Memrise hamstrings you at every corner, and does not cater at all to deck-builders or power-users. It restricts you in some very arbitrary and infuriating ways.

  • There is no search feature... πŸ™„
    • On top of having no search feature, it also paginates your database of items, which makes it impossible to use Ctrl + F to find content if you've got a database with thousands of items
  • It's constantly buggy
    • the memo system never worked, and would constantly delete any memos that I tried to save
    • The screen didn't scale well when I had a database with many columns (especially when inputting)
  • The app gets in the way while you're trying to input text – it tries to autocorrect and auto-predict while you type (and does a poor job of it)

After begrudgingly relying on Memrise for a few years, I was stoked to find Mochi!

In conclusion...

I've been using Mochi for about half a year, and I am loving it.
Mochi is a relatively new app, but the developer is putting in tonnes of work into it, ironing out bugs and listening to feedback. It is also available on basically every platform (it also has in-browser app).

These might be deal-breaking to some people, so I'll add a few critiques of the app for completeness:

  • Technical barrier to entry
    • Users must spend time learning the Markdown syntax and the templating system. Non-technical users might find this painful
  • No community portal for searching for and sharing decks
    • This is on the development roadmap for the app – for now you can create shareable public links to share your decks among friends
  • Two of the big plusses for the app (cloud-sync and text-to-speech) are only available for paid users

For me however, it's really helped bridge a gap that Memrise and Anki just haven't been able to fill, so thanks Mochi! πŸ™

As always, reach out to me on social media or email and let me know if you have any questions or thoughts related to this article!