Tips for using flashcards to learn kanji

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Flashcards have been used as a learning aid since at least the 19th century ⇗, and the simple combination of portability and accessibility made them effective. In the 1970s, however, a critical discovery was made which turned flashcards into one of the most powerful learning techniques known: spaced repetition, the idea that the most efficient mechanism for learning is to refresh your memory of something just before you're about to forget it.
So flashcards are a great tool, and with the modern convenience of phones and computers, more accessible than ever. Kanshudo includes a powerful flashcard study and management system with built-in spaced repetition, and provides many ways to create flashcards - for example, lessons, collections and favorites.
But how do you use flashcards for kanji in particular? Here we present some key tips for maximizing the effectiveness of flashcards for your kanji study.
Contents
1. Make some time every day
This tip really applies to every aspect of your Japanese studies, and arguably is the key to success! Study every day. It doesn't matter whether it's 5 minutes or five hours - just study. Kanshudo makes this very easy for you by suggesting study tasks in your dashboard, but you can also just start studying your flashcards directly.
2. Set a study target
You can only absorb a certain amount of material in a certain amount of time. The more time you spend each day the more you can learn, but unless you are on a deadline, it is better to set a target number of kanji that fits with a study pace you can maintain. Most experts agree that a target of 10-25 new 'items' per day is sensible and achievable, depending on how much time you have. It doesn't sound like much, but it adds up very quickly.
3. Don't make too many cards
Because it is so easy to make flashcards, it's a temptation to create your full set of 2136 for the Jōyō kanji all at once! However, this is counterproductive, as you'll just be constantly reminded of how many you need to learn. Instead, it's better to make sets of cards that contain a smaller more manageable number to work through. The Beginner Lessons will generate flashcard sets automatically for you. As you advance, you can use the kanji collections to generate a manageable number of sets.
4. Use spaced repetition
The spaced repetition technique is very powerful, and it works. If you use it properly, you will learn the material. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself thoroughly with this technique: start with our detailed guide to the spaced repetition approach.
5. Do your reviews first before adding new cards
This is the most critical success factor for learning! The key to the spaced repetition approach is that you are refreshing your memory of each item just before you forget it. In other words, if you let your reviews pile up, it is almost guaranteed that you will forget the kanji. In other words, if you don't do your reviews, you are making your challenge much, much harder than it needs to be.
Reviews pile up quickly: you will probably need to review every item between 3 and 10 times to thoroughly learn it. (Each review gets quicker and easier because you know the material well - eventually you will just be glancing at a kanji to remind yourself of it.) Let's say you want to learn 10 items per day - say 5 kanji and 5 key words that use them. On day one that's easy - just 10 items! But on day two, you need to learn your 10 new items, and review yesterday's ten. On day three, you have 10 new words, day two's words, and some of day one's items that you found most difficult. If you decide not to do your reviews on day three, day four is going to be a real challenge ...
The best advice is to set a low starting goal - say 5 new items (kanji + key words) per day.
6. Don't learn kanji 'readings'
It is very hard to learn a list of 'readings' of a kanji - especially for kanji with many readings. It is much more important that you learn the words that use those readings. Words can be used in Japanese conversation, but kanji readings are just abstract sounds. Kanshudo shows you the most useful word for each kanji reading separately in the kanji's quick view (visible by clicking the kanji's blue box on the back of a flashcard) and details page. Consider adding flashcards for the key words separately.
7. Take multiple passes for kanji with many readings
Consider
うえ
, which is one of the first kanji you will learn. The most useful reading is うえ, which means above, and is a 'word' - in other words, you can use it as is in Japanese conversation.
However, うえ is not the only way that 上 can be read when used in a word: in fact, it has ten separate official Jōyō readings! Trying to learn all of these the first time you encounter 上 would be like trying to do an entire study session on that single kanji - and worse, some of those words are much less common than others.
So don't learn all the readings for a kanji. Learn the kanji's key meaning, and only the readings that are used in the most useful words. Learn more readings when you progress to the point that you need them for the words you are learning.
8. Use components and mnemonics
Components and mnemonics are the heart of the Kanshudo system for teaching kanji. Components are smaller elements that make up kanji, each with its own meaning which is the same whenever it appears. Mnemonics are simple rhymes which tie the components together and act as memory aids. For more on this topic, see our guide.
When you first study a kanji, identify each component and see if you can remember its meaning. Then, try to come up with the mnemonic on your own, or look it up if you need to, and make sure you see how the mnemonic ties the components together with the kanji's key meaning.
9. More information
We hope these tips will help you use kanji flashcards more effectively! For more general tips on studying Japanese, read our comprehensive guide Getting started learning Japanese with Kanshudo.

Kanshudo is your AI Japanese tutor, and your constant companion on the road to mastery of the Japanese language. Check out our many features.
 
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