Lately, in my quest to prepare for the JLPT example, level N1, I have been observing that because the vocabulary list is so large, my Anki flashcard deck is getting bigger and more unmanageable. Today, I finally reached critical mass and gave up. That’s after only completing 12 vocab lessons out of 66, with my deck reaching 900+ cards already. 🤦🏽♂️
The problem isn’t Anki, nor is it JLPT sourcebooks I am using. The problem is that the flashcards themselves are becoming too many, and too much work to manage. I found that I am particularly struggling with the recognition side of cards. For example, words like 気さくな and 大らかな and both have similar meanings in English, so trying to make unique flashcards for each, and remember them three weeks later is turning into a headache. Similarly, 寛大な and 寛容な are functionally equivalent words, even in the Japanese dictionary, so is maintaining separate flashcard entries even worth it?
Another way of looking at it: my goal is learning all this vocabulary was to help with reading. The vocabulary portion of the JLPT exam isn’t worth many points, but the essay section is worth a lot more. This makes sense: you need to demonstrate that you can read and comprehend Japanese literature. That’s what matters if you plan on living and working there.
So, the real issue is: how do I improve my reading skills? The answer is probably just reading more Japanese! This is harder than it looks, based on personal experience, because finding good Japanese books is hard enough as it is (unless you live near a Japanese book store like I do), but also something appropriate to your level and interesting is harder than it looks. Sometimes you can just solve this by getting a hold of many different sources and just sorting out which ones you like better. Sometimes you get a manga and it’s actually crap. Sometimes you find a random book in a used bookstore and it’s actually a really fun thing to read.
But I guess the real issue here is to keep using Japanese: through listening and reading. These are the two pillars to learning a language, I think. The rest is just mental games.
There are times when it’s good idea to make flashcards, though. I find cloze formatted cards helpful for learning proper usage of particles:
Also, sound-effect words (namely giongo + gitaigo words) such as めちゃくちゃ, or words that often come up in your reading are worthy of a flashcard. Originally before I took my the JLPT, my Anki flashcard desk was pretty used for this only. It was nice because it was smaller, leaner and words that I keep stumbling over, so it had immediate value.
If your deck grows beyond say 50-100 words, and you’re dumping vocabulary into there as I have been doing, it might be time to start trimming out words though.
I still plan on using my vocabulary book for the JLPT has it has been useful in expanding my vocabulary and making reading somewhat easier, but I need to think more carefully about how I use my flashcards as the effort to maintain is now becoming greater than the value I get out of them.
P.S. One other problem I didn’t mention: even after all the work you did to memorize vocab, you can still forget it months later when it appears again in your SRS flash card deck.