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Aug 19, 2012

Vocabulary: Simplified

In working on the first Living Japanese Reading Pack (I swear, I will post a preview soon!), I've come to realize a few things about how I've always approached learning vocabulary. The way that I memorized vocabulary certainly worked, but now I find myself wanting something better - something easier. This post is all about that new way, but first...

The old way of learning vocabulary:

Originally, vocabulary was all about sentences. You find a new word in media, look it up in a dictionary or two, then find good sentences to add into Anki. Learning vocabulary this way had a few advantages, such as:
  • multiple sentences for each word means increased exposure
  • sentences provide context and additional vocabulary review
  • sentences help to build grammar understanding

Of course, there were downsides as well. Doing things such as copy and pasting information or using shorter sentences could help to reduce these, but nevertheless, the original method had these problems:
  • trouble finding good examples
  • having to look up multiple other words to put their definitions in the “answer”
  • time consuming to make several cards for every new word

So sentences definitely had their pros and cons, and for a long time it was worth it to me to continue using the sentence method. Now, however, I find that a new method would be much more appropriate.

The new approach to vocabulary:

This new method is similar to something I've mentioned before. Instead of finding multiple sentences and defining multiple words for each of them, the card consists of only the new vocabulary word. On the front is the word in kanji, with the back containing the reading, definition, and examples. This way for each word you are only focusing on that word and making that one card for it.

For this example, I'm going to be using to make my card. The program for managing the cards is of course Anki (See this post for details on Anki).

First we search for the definition for our word, 精神.

We copy and paste the reading and definition(s) into the answer side of the card. Now we grab some sentences from the same site.

And put them into the card.

And now we're done! We've got the reading, definition, and some examples all in a single card.

How to use these cards:

When presented with the card in reviews, the goal is to remember how to read it and the general idea of it's definition. Memorizing a perfect definition isn't the goal here, just understanding what the word means. In this example, we're using English equivalents instead of having a monolingual card.

So your first step is to attempt to read and define the word, then flip the card. If you were wrong, then take a moment to focus on the parts you missed. Try to connect the kanji with the sounds and/or meaning. Kanji are extremely helpful to understanding Japanese, so pay attention to them! Look at the example sentences on the card, as they will also aid in understanding the word's meaning and remembering it. Then, write the word out on a piece of paper (write the definition and reading as well, if you'd like!) and pass or fail the card accordingly.

This sounds like a lot to do for a single card, but after the first couple times seeing the card it should only take you a few seconds to do all of it. Plus, you only have the one card for each word, so overall you'll move through reviews much faster.

So what is the bonus to using this type of card?

The primary reason for switching to this kind of card is that it saves time. Since we did a list of pros and cons for the old way, let's do the same thing for this method.

  • Only one card for each word (saves time)
  • Only one word is defined in each card, so less searching in dictionaries (saves time)
  • Each singular card provides multiple examples
  • Copy and paste everything into the card (also saves time)
  • Fewer cards overall, so less time spent on reviewing

  • Less of a focus on context
  • Reduced exposure to grammar

While I hate to lose the context that sentences provide, I've found that by saving time on reviews with Anki, I can spend more time reading or listening to Japanese. This immersion time is far better for providing context for words than sentences are, so in the end you really gain from the switch. Plus, the new cards do still have example sentences on the back of the card, so they're not completely lost.

Have you tried the new format or something similar? Leave a comment and let others know what you think about it!

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  1. How much will the reading pack cost?

    1. At this point, I'm not sure what the final form of the reading pack will be, so I can't definitively say much about it. I'll have a better idea once the preview post goes up.

  2. I like your idea about learning vocabulary, having to read long sentences every time is way too tiring and time consuming, when you have no problem with grammar(and readings), but you want only to learn what the word means. I'll use this method after im done with Kanji Odyssey. I see the same words very often, but i have to focus on whole sentence, not only the word and my vocabulary expands slowly, not very slowly, but could be faster;p

    1. Yes, the downside to this method is that you need to focus more on grammar elsewhere in your studying. Since there's no reason that you can't use both types of cards, you could really mix and match to get a good overall coverage.

  3. I have been doing this method since I began my Japanese studies, but I do find that a little of both helps, let me illustrate. With adverbs, mimetic words, as well as onomatopoetic words I do the "long" method, where I look up sentences in multiple dictionaries, expose myself to new grammar, etc. For nouns, however, I only make single cards for those, and only at times where I see a word which has a high frequency. Nouns are nouns, whether it's in Spanish, English, Japanese, Chinese, etc. But adverbs and verbs are a little different, particularly adverbs. I would even venture to say that verbs are as easy to learn as nouns, roughly most of the time.

    I would love to hear others thought's on this...

    1. That's a very good point. Nouns and verbs do tend to be easier to learn on their own, while other words (such as adverbs) will have a more specific context or usage style that you'd need to know. Thanks for sharing!