Learning Japanese Tips – The Humble Index Card

Index card

Photo by GabrielaP93 on Flickr

Back when I started learning Japanese, I had nothing more than some audio lessons and a pile of index cards. It was a simpler time. As I’ve progressed and branched out over the years I’ve expanded and explored many different learning options and digital solutions. This week I’ve decided to get back to the basics.

While I don’t want to give the impression that online or digital tools don’t work for Japanese (see our post on the best online tools for learning Japanese), I do think we sometimes overly complicate things when we strictly focus on digital learning methods. I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent hours scouring the Google app store looking for new and interesting Japanese learning apps.

So this week I’ve decided to take a sheet out of my old playbook and open up a new pack of index cards. It’s something I had gotten away from, but after only a few days it dawned on me that I should have kept up the practice.

Why Index Cards Rock for Learning Japanese

Here’s a few of my top reasons why I’ve gone back to index cards:

  • More opportunity for review. Most of the digital tools that I use are based on spaced repetition. That means that you are prompted to review a word just as it is supposed to be going out of your memory. This is certainly efficient and really helps to develop long term memory, but the review algorithms are never perfect and I often found I wasn’t reviewing certain words fast enough. This is where index cards come in.

    Using index cards you can record particularly troublesome words and review them as often as you like. While this may be a bit of an overkill, I’d rather overkill a word that keep forgetting it. I keep a few index cards on my desk and take little, quick reviews throughout the day. Which leads me to my next point.

  • Index cards are convenient and handy. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. Index cards are cheap and incredibly portable. I purchased a few word card thingys at the dollar store in Japan that are basically just a bunch of tiny index cards held together by a ring and these worked great, but index cards alone work just as well.

    Index cards are super easy to carry around with you and take out for a quick review whenever you have a few seconds of spare time. As anyone who has a smart phone will know, it always takes longer to find and open an app than we think it will take. This tiny bit of hassle is often enough to put me off doing a review. Index cards on the other hand are quick and effective.

  • You can pack a lot of info into a little index card. Index cards are compact and you can really put a lot of information on them. I like to fold my cards in half vertically and write the words on one side and the answers on the other folded side. Then I flip the card upside down and do the same for the opposite sides. This means I can have about 20 words on a card and I can’t cheat by looking over at the answer while I’m trying to figure out the word :)

    Here’s what it looks like:

  • No one ever fell in love with an index card. At least I hope no one ever has. Index cards are cheap and recyclable. I toss my out whenever I get them completely memorized, they start to get worn or need to be updated. If I lose one, no big deal. I can always make more. It’s not like losing a phone or have an app break on you. Another side benefit is when you make up new cards the process of writing out the words is another effective way of committing the words to long term memory.

    Actually, I take that back, maybe I am in love with index cards.

So what do you think? Do you use index cards? Do you have tried and true system in place? I’d love to hear your comments!

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