How to Use Paper Japanese Flashcards

paper Japanese flashcardsOk, so I know that I swore off paper flashcards before. I know I shouted from the mountaintops that they were blasphemy in the highest and that you’d be crazy to use them. I mean paper, right? That was so like 2000s, before the dawn of smartphones and gizmos that make our lives easier.

Who in their right mind would ever look back on those dusty old flashcards now?

Well, I did. And I found that, in fact, they do have their uses. There are, in fact, some times on this Earth that using paper flashcards still makes some sense. I discovered over the last few weeks, that they can be actually more useful than their electronic brethren, at least in some situations.

#1 Whip-out-ability

Ok, so that isn’t even a word of any kind, but it best describes what paper flashcards are good for. You can easily whip them out whenever you have a free minute, or actually a free second. With electronic flashcards, you have whip out your smartphone, swipe to unlock, find the program and wait for it to pop up (at least on my slow iPhone 3G).

That’s not the case with paper flashcards. Whenever you have a free moment, you can easily whip them out of a back pocket and check up on what you forgot. You can say use the time you are taking a sip of coffee, or heading to the bathroom, or waiting for something to finish to practice one or two words and then pop them back in your pocket.

#2 Tactile experience

There is something to be said about being able to touch a flashcard. It is much easier to flip the card quickly back and forth and test yourself on one particular word. Instead of being pressured to just hit the ‘easy’ or ‘right’ button you can take your time to make a sentence or two with the word and work on a notion of it in your head.

You can also write notes on your cards pretty easily as well. It’s easy to whip out a pen and write a few things that you have learned about the word on the card. I do this a lot with flashcards that I’ve made myself. I always try to take some notes to clarify how to use it and the connotations of the word as well.

How to study with paper Japanese flashcards

There are several ways to go about studying paper flashcards. One big disadvantage of paper-bound words is that they can’t be easily spaced out. This makes doing spaced repetition (SRS) a little difficult. Sure you can set up a handy Leitner system, but who has the space and time for that?

Instead, I set up a bit of a haphazard spaced repetition system of my own. Every morning a put 5 new cards in one of my back pockets. In the other back pocket I put 5 old cards that need to be reviewed. After they are reviewed a throw them in box. Whenever I can, I try to reach into the reviewed card box and look over a few cards. If I miss a few on one card, I put those back in the review stack.

This has been working for me for about the last month or so. I felt I’ve been able to retain a lot of new vocabulary. However, I should say that I’m using N2 cards, and I’ve been studying N2 vocabulary now for about 8 or 9 months. So, most of the words I am at least familiar with, but there are a lot of new words as well.

I’m currently using White Rabbit Press’s Japanese Kanji Flashcards Volume 2. I really like their version of the flashcards because they have similar looking kanji as well as how to draw the kanji all on the same card. The similar looking kanji are especially useful for those studying for the JLPT.

How about you? Have you ever used paper flashcards (pre-printed or otherwise)? What is your favorite way to use paper flashcards?

P.S. For those studying other levels of the JLPT they have cards available for N5 & N4, N3 & N2, and N1.  Also, the 1st series of the flashcards are currently on sale, so you can snatch them up for a pretty good price.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Bob July 4, 2011, 3:19 pm

    I use the White Rabbit cards also. Another advantage over smartphone (which I use too) is that I can put related cards next to each other and see the differences. A little line can make all the difference. Like between right 右 and stone 石.

    • Mac July 5, 2011, 3:37 pm

      That’s so true. I never thought of that before, but there is something to be said, about actually touching the cards and being able to sort them the way you want to.

  • Geckomayhem July 9, 2011, 2:06 pm

    I also have the White Rabbit ones. I’m currently studying for N4 for this coming December. I prefer to use because it automatically keeps track of my progress.

    But you are right: there is a place for flashcards. If I were to carry, say, five at a time, I would find many opportunities to just pull them out and silently mouth the on- and kun-readings, as well as the examples that are on them.

    Now, practising writing and stroke order is another story altogether. >.<

    PS. Please change comments to not be italicised. It makes them quite hard to read.

    • Mac July 10, 2011, 1:16 am

      Yeah, I like as well. There is something about being able to see your progress that helps you stay motivated. I personally use Anki a lot to track my stats electronically, but is a great alternative.

      Do you practice writing kanji? Have you tried any of the DS or iPhone apps? I use iKanji every day, but I’m thinking about switching to something else.

      And yeah, the italicised comments weren’t cool were they? I changed them over to regular now. I’m not sure why the designer did that. Oh well.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • Froggy July 6, 2017, 11:38 pm

    I use White Rabbit’s cards as well. I’ve found that I’ve been able to concentrate better and retain more with physical cards as opposed to renshuu and wanikani.

    • Clayton MacKnight July 8, 2017, 12:29 pm

      Yeah, some people just like something physical to see and work with. I still use them sometimes here and there.

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