JLPT Exam and Rethinking Flashcards

Recently, I wrote about my frustrations with using Anki to bulk-learn vocabularly for the JLPT, and my decision to focus more on reading. Since then, my thought has changed a bit.

Ultimately, your success in the JLPT lies in two basic skills: reading Japanese, and listening to Japanese conversation. The vocabulary helps to read, but I found that with my Anki flashcards, it tended to focus a lot on recall (e.g. “do you remember how to say a word in Japanese?”), not recognition (e.g. “do I remember what this means when I see it?”). This first one doesn’t help with reading very much, the second one does. Since Japanese uses so much kanji, you’re ability to recognize words smoothly makes the process of reading so much easier. The issue with recall I found was that there were many different, overlapping words for the same thing, and trying to remember which word was which wasn’t worth the effort. I just want to be able to read well. Further, recall didn’t help me know the context words are often used in.

But while focusing on reading Japanese manga lately, including the various books my kids and I have, I realized that I still need to learn some words, especially if they appear over and over again. Brute-force reading wasn’t quite enough. So, I still need some way of learning words through repetition, but I want to focus on recognition only.

So, I realized that if you want to use Anki flashcards for improving reading, and focus on recognizing words, and with the correct context I needed to revisit the MCD approach for making cards. In other words, make flashcards not with words, but with sentences.

Here’s an example:

The word I wanted to focus on learning was the verb 強化する (kyōka suru) meaning to intensify or strengthen. So, rather than just throwing it in my flashcard deck, I looked it up on my favorite Japanese online dictionary and found an example sentence I liked. From there, I found an example sentenced I liked and put that in. Notice that I did not hide the word 強化する. I wanted to be able to read the word, not necessarily recall it, but I do need to be able to recall what particle it uses. In this case を, the direct-object marker. So, I hid that.

Under the notes section, I put in readings for each kanji word in there, in case I need a hint later. I also put the English translation under notes, not in the flashcard since I wanted to be able to suss out what the sentence meant without the English translation. However, it helps to sometimes put the English translation in the flashcard too if the helps:

Here, I needed to learn the word 監視する (kanshi suru) meaning to observe or keep under watch. But the sentence I got from one of my manga was a bit awkward, yet useful in providing context. So I had to keep the English sentence in the flashcard.

The point here was: be flexible on a per card basis, and use what works, but doesn’t overburden you by making the card too difficult, or have too much guesswork. Your focus should be on reading, not recall.

Anyhow, does this work?

So, far, I’ve found the Anki flashcard experience a lot less painful than it was before, plus it incentives reading by finding more good sentences to put in.

I still need to be mindful about making too many flashcards, plus each flashcard takes more effort to make than it used to, but as long as I keep it flexible and lightweight, it’s easier to maintain and keep up.

Good luck and happy studying!

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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