Monday, 21 January 2013

Learning Strategy: Flashcards

First things first:
I'm not a professionally trained teacher, but I base this blog on my own learning experiences.

You can not learn a language without proper practice and time, don't expect to be able to master Japanese at the same rate as I'm explaining in this blog with only 2 hours a week of practice. I do between 1 to 2 hours of practice a day. I would advice to do at least 6 to 10 hours of practice a week.

Mondays will be my "anything about learning/studying" post and might be about studying tips or just about what I'm doing at that moment.


On of the best things I learned back in the first years of high school was one trick to learning a language, flashcards.
Some people like to learn by going word by word on a list, repeat and repeat. Soon I got in trouble with my tests in English, German and French. I was tested for dyslexia, which I don't have, but I still got some help with creating a learning strategy that would work for me.
My problem was that I could remember exactly where something was on a list of words, I never failed at that. But what the word said, no clue. I could even remember if the words around it were shorter or longer. This of course was useless when learning lists of words and you get them in a different order on the page.

That is why I was taught flashcarding, I created the cards myself and I could study with them for a couple of hours a day. Plus, the rewriting of the foreign words etched it into my brain better. I'm more of a practical person than a theoretical person. My grades went up a lot after that (even though I've never been that good at French or German, but this is not high school, so I don't need to worry about that ;) ).

Flashcarding works for me because of a few things:
- repetition without ever getting the same order twice, this way I can not remember the order of the words, just the words and their translations.
- calm way of interacting, since you have to shuffle a deck every once in a while it's easier to stay calm and not overwork yourself.
- lots of repetition of the word in random order, like you would on tests or in regular use of the language. This keeps me from only remembering lists or words that are closer together.

And there are many more reasons why they work but those depend on the types of practising I do with the cards.

A while ago I made a post on how to make flashcards on a different blog, to see how to create them, check out that page: Flashcarding, not as dirty as it sounds rather useful even
And I also did a post on how I practice with it: Flashcarding, how I play the game

 Today I want to explain a bit more on how I practice and the method behind my ways of practising.

It is important to remember a few things:
- you need regular practise to master anything (this includes languages).
- a few hours a day gets you very far.
- repetition, repetition, repetition.
- repeat bad words again and again.
- don't cheat (I'm pretty prone to this, and I know that from experience).
- don't rush.
- repeat something you've done last week again this week and then next week.

I practice about 1 to 2 hours a day, each weekday. During this time I first repeat what I've done before and then either keep practising or add something new to the list. What I do depends mainly on how I feel about what I've just gone over and how much time I've got left at the end of my repetition moment. If I only have 20 to 30 minutes left I don't start something new, I then rather do another repetition round or just stop for the day. But I don't stop within an hour, I keep myself to at least an hour of practice a day.

This morning I spend 1,5 hours practising. This started with a round of romaji-hiragana, which I can do with only 1 or 2 errors. Hiragana-romaji I only do a round of every few days because I can do that without any errors. I then did a round of katakana-romaji and a few reps of romaji-katakana. This was because I'm at the end of the first deck. I started a new deck today, I did the N and H/B/P rows today. This meant a couple of repetitions of the N row and then the H row (since B and P are only modified H rows). I then did a couple of repetitions of the new deck.
That was my practice for the morning, this took me about 1,5 hours.

The reason I only did a couple of repetitions of the new rows was because I can do katakana-romaji pretty well already because I was lazy a few weeks ago and only practised katakana-romaji and not the other way around. This was a stupid mistake because I now need to learn those, which doubles the 1,5 week I spend on Katakana-romaji the first time around.
This is also why I didn't practice katakana-romaji a couple of times before doing romaji-katakana.

I have split the whole set of hiragana in 2 decks and the whole set of katakana in 2 (because by then I had gotten more used to practising a language again and there are some katakana that look like hiragana). This was I can practice in smaller batches and don't have to worry that much about forgetting parts of it. I'll show more about this when we get to the different decks. As the planning is now we'll do 1 deck a week for the first couple of weeks.

This is what my practising normally looks like:
- repeat old stuff (this depends on what you need or want, this can be a recent deck you've just ended or something else you need to keep in practice of).
- repeat current deck
- add something new

Since I practice this first thing in the morning, usually either right before or during breakfast/tea it means that I'm not that awake yet and I find it comfortable to repeat something I know (at least half decently) and ease back into the rhythm of the language.

Repetition is what makes a new language easier to grasp. This is also why you need to write the word down when you learn the language "own" to "foreign" (or in this case romaji to hiragana/katakana). If you get comfortable writing something it is easier to remember, and don't cheat, be honest when you make a mistake. "Own" to "foreign" and the other way around are two different links in your brain (at least they are in mine), they are two different skills to master and by mastering them in one go you save yourself a lot of trouble (like I got myself into at this moment).

Just a few pointers when working with decks:
# Try to get a list of at least 10 or so cards when you start a new deck, less than that and the repetition interval is too small.
# Don't make decks bigger than 40-60 cards, this is a comfortable deck size to handle usually and keeps the repetition rounds small enough to manage.
# Add 5 to 10 new cards when you add new cards, this means that it mixes in well with the old cards.
# When adding new cards, do a few rounds of "foreign" to "own" and then do "own" to "foreign" and practice the writing. This makes sure you at least have an idea of what you're supposed to write.
# You don't need to repeat each deck every day, mix them up a little so you keep time to do new stuff, but don't wait too long or you'll forget them.
# Keep decks numbered if you're using multiple decks to get through one list (my hiragana deck is numbered 1-3 and katakana 1 & 2), I don't do this for kanji.
# If you get a word wrong put it at the end of your stack and repeat it until you get it right, this works well because you will keep coming across it. The same goes for when you're writing it, but don't cross out the wrong word, this way you can

Well, that is it, I think this is enough to read before Wednesday ;)
If you have any tips of your own, add them in the comments.

Study on!

Kia