Cloze Deletion Anki Guide – My Experience and What I Use Instead

In this article, I’m going to be talking about Anki and the concept of cloze deletion, specifically when using this tool as a language learner. Cloze deletion is one of the many special tools available in the Anki software. It is useful for language learners who want to test their vocabulary or grammar knowledge by creating flashcards that have this cloze deletion feature. 

What is Cloze Deletion Anki Tool? 

Cloze deletion is a way to select one word or a phrase and hide that word or phrase from the front of the card. Instead of seeing a full sentence, you only see a segment of it. So part of it, the part that is cloze deleted is removed from the card and the objective of it all is for you to figure out what goes there in the blank space. Cloze deletion flashcards are another way of saying “fill-in-the-blank” flashcards.

The purpose of the cloze deletion is that you’re testing your memory to see whether you can remember the blanked out word or phrase. The only clue you’re  given is the context of the other words in that sentence. Then, you’re tasked to be able to remember what is it that’s supposed to go in the blank.

This is typically used on flashcards where the sentence is on the front of a flashcard and through cloze deletion, you’re able to blank out a word out of the sentence. For language learners, this is useful if you are trying to learn vocabulary, grammar and sentence structures.

Example of Cloze Deletion Anki Card

Let’s go through an example of cloze deletion together in order to really understand what it is and how to use it when learning a language. Let’s say you’re learning English and come up with the phrase “The dog ran around the park”. It is the first time you’ve come across the word “ran”, the past tense of the word “run”.

What you want to do is you want to try and remember this word “ran” as new vocabulary. Or perhaps you want to learn the grammar point of “ran”, since you’re talking about the past tense of the word “run”, you have to change it to “ran”.

In order to do this, you can create a flashcard of the sentence with the Anki cloze deletion tool. Now, if you use cloze deletion on this sentence, you would use these brackets, or special symbols around the word “ran”. You can do this when you’re creating the card, or later on when you’ve already created the card and want to edit it. Simply highlight the word and click the […​] button.

As a result, what will happen is that the front of the cut will simply say “The dog […​] around the park”. It’s your goal to figure out what word is missing in the sentence. You’ll have to conjugate the word “run” to the past tense “ran”. But you’ll have to remember it’s the root word “run” or the concept of “run” in the first place.

My Personal Experience Using Cloze Deletion in Anki

In terms of my own personal experience with cloze deletion, I first found the idea from the book by Gabriel Wyner. It was a revolutionary idea that I could use cloze deletions for new vocab, and actually use cloze deletions to put grammar points into flashcards. I went about actually creating cloze deletion cards for a number of grammar points when I was learning Spanish and when I was learning Chinese, I found it to be useful at first.

I made thousands of cards with cloze deletions learning Chinese and Spanish grammar and learning vocab from real sentences that I encountered in books, movies, songs and different types of media that were interesting to me. For me, that was the whole fun of using cloze deletion. It was a feature that could be used to learn new words and grammar points when engaging in the language. 

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Initially when making your first set of cards using cloze deletion, it can be a bit confusing and overwhelming, especially having to put in the special code or symbols. But don’t be too discouraged or too worried about that. It can take some getting used to but after some time, you’ll get the hang of it.

For many years I was reviewing Anki cards daily and used cloze deletion cards where I would see these sentences with a word blanked out in the middle of them to learn grammar and to learn vocab. But the interesting thing is that while I’ve talked about some of the potential benefits and how it’s all worked at first,  I’m going to be upfront and say, I’m actually not using cloze deletion cards anymore.

Why I No Longer Use Cloze Deletion

I’ve found that throughout the years, I no longer needed them. Although I’m now advanced in Spanish, I’m still at the beginner to lower intermediate stages in Chinese and have been using cloze deletion for both languages. However, I now suspended all my cloze deletion flashcards in Anki and no longer use those types of cards.

So why is this? Why do I now not recommend the use of cloze deletion cards for language learning? 

I found them actually confusing, overwhelming and burdensome over time as you review older cards. It would counterafct my learning. In fact, I’ve suspended or deleted them, and just stopped totally making cloze deletion cards. Let me go through the points, the arguments.

The problem with cloze deletion is that it’s only useful if in a certain sentence there is only one possible answer. So the answer should only really be true or false in the sense that it should be clear whether you’ve got it right or wrong. 

The problem when it comes to using cloze deletion for language learning is that the use of words can be dynamic, flexible and varied. When it comes to language, there’s a multiple array of possible ways that things can be said and therefore, it may be difficult to know what was the exact word you had originally blanked out.

Let’s take for example, the sentence that I had originally given in English, “The dog ran around the park” and the cloze deletion flashcard you then created was “The dog […​] around the park”. At first the flashcard is helpful and you’ll know what the answer is but after several months reviewing hundreds and thousands of these kinds of cards, it can be difficult to remember. The problem is that you could actually have multiple answers for this card. You could have:

  • “The dog ran around the park”
  • “The dog is running around the park”
  • “The dog has run around the park”
  • “The dog walked around the park”
  • “The dog barked around the park”
  • “The dog played around the park”

All these are all possible answers that are potentially correct, but the answer that you’re given on the back of the card is only “ran”. This becomes a problem over time as there are an infinite number of answers that you could have there. Not only will you be confused, it can take a lot of time to think of certain answers where there can be multiple correct solutions. For me, I would always get frustrated when I looked at the answer (the back of the card), and it was incorrect or unclear whether I was correct or not. 

I mean, it’s quite easy here if you’re a native English speaker and you understand the example sentence and it’s easy for you to think of all the different alternatives that you know are correct. But because you are learning a foreign language, I don’t think there should be any room for error when it comes to making up potential answers for that cloze deletion.

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Therefore, cloze deletions do not work well for sentences that have multiple answers in the long term, such as for language learning. It can only work for sentences where there is only one clear answer, such as cards for clear-cut facts. 

What I Use Instead of the Cloze Deletion Anki Tool

For language learning, I found that sentence cards are much better than cloze deletion. Sentence cards are a flashcard type where instead of having a sentence with a missing word, you have the full sentence at the front of the card and a note on the back of the card with some explanations or definitions of the target word or grammar point that you mainly want to learn.

The main goal of a sentence card is not to try and fill in any blanks, but rather to test yourself on whether you totally understand the concept and the meaning behind the entire sentence.

In the example “The dog ran around the park”, we’ll add the entire sentence at the front of the card, and then at the back you would have a note, such as “ran is the past tense of run”.

I’ve found that when I’ve made my cards like this, it’s given me more clarity as to what I need to do with that card. All I need to do is just test myself, whether or not, I understand it. Then, if I don’t understand the sentence on the front of the card, I can fail that card and then review the words or grammar of the sentence I didn’t understand. I can also add more notes and explanations to the back of the card to help my memory, if necessary.

In conclusion, would I recommend using cloze deletion for language learning? No. I would suggest trying to create sentence cards instead. Overall, the use of sentence cards are far more easier to make and achieve the same results of cloze deletion cards. If you are finding that the sentences you are using for cloze deletion have more than one possible answer, then give sentence cards a try.

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