Vocabulous 0.1: Build Your Own Vocabulary Review Book


Exactly 11 months ago, I wrote a blog post titled How to Break Vocabulary Bottleneck, in which I talked about how learning new English words has been a challenge for college graduates. I think there are basically three reasons why it has become a challenge:

  1. There are no exams, texts, and deadlines anymore as sources of motivation;
  2. Exposure to new words is not enough for memorization given the nature of a long tail distribution of words;
  3. We are constantly distracted.

These problems can be solved one at a time:

  1. Focus on the words we come across in our lives, such that we have a motivation to memorize them;
  2. Expose ourselves to those words regularly;
  3. Set up a good reminder system.

It turns out that all these components are available: we just need to connect them together, to somehow record new words, feed them into some reminder app, and we should be OK!


Here I am proud to present Vocabulous, which helps you collect words that you have looked up before, generate flashcards about them, and remind you to review them according to human memory features. I want to thank my friend Doug Schafer for pointing me to Anki and the name of this project.

Why Vocabulous

If you don’t think learning new words is important, then you really don’t need to read the following. If you do, here’s my pitch:

  1. Vocabulous is a personal vocabulary review book. You have full control over what words are included;
  2. Definitions are from the most authoritative dictionary – Oxford English Dictionary;
  3. The review schedule is optimally tuned to fit human memory features.

Note that this project is far from mature right now; it requires a little of your work to get up and running. Please proceed only if you truly think this is necessary.

1. Get the words

  • Look up a word by Googling it through the “define” keyword. For example, type “define divest”, Google will give you the definition of “divest”;
  • Download your searches data via Google Takeout. Only download the product “Searches”, otherwise the file is going to be too big.

2. Get the reminder app Anki

  • Go to Anki App to install Anki onto your computer. Make sure to install the 2.1 beta.
  • Go to Anki Web and create a profile.

3. Get Vocabulous add-on

  • Open Anki on your computer, go to Tools -> Add-ons -> Get Add-ons;
  • Type in 602485415 and click “OK”;
  • Click “View Files” and open the text file __init__.py;
  • Edit it such that it points to the directory where you saved your Google searches history;
  • Close Anki and reopen it;

4. Generate flashcards

  • Go to Tools and click Vocabulous. Please wait patiently. Each word requires about 2 seconds to process, so drink a coffee and then come back;
  • Install Anki on your phone and sync.