Benefits of Index cards in Learning Japanese Vocabulary by KCP Student Brody Stejskal

One of the hardest parts of learning a foreign language is vocabulary. If you are like me, then you have probably searched for the proper word when talking or writing and failed to recall the specific word. Or, you encountered a word somewhere in a book or when walking around the city and could not quite remember what it meant. These are some of the most frustrating moments of learning a foreign language, and unfortunately one of the hardest obstacles to overcome on the way to becoming proficient in any language. Because vocabulary is such a crucial element in acquiring mastery over a language, I have searched for the most efficient way to learn as much vocabulary, as quickly as I can. While learning Japanese, I have tried various methods, but I keep returning to the classic: the good old index card.

You only need around 2000 of the 40,000 to recognize 95% of the kanji in day to day life.

There are index cards in Japan that lay 3 cm by 5 cm connected by a ring. Yet this little scrap of paper has done far more in aiding my Japanese vocabulary retention than any other tool, tip, or study hack I have used so far. Here are a few reasons why I believe the humble index card is the best way to memorize vocabulary.

First, index cards must be created. Sure, you can buy vocabulary flashcards for Japanese, but writing out the word and its definition has really helped me retain the meanings. Scientifically, it has actually been proven that writing something out improves memory recall. Furthermore, creating your own index card enables you to customize it: you can simply write its definition, but you can also include examples, drawings, synonyms, and antonyms. The opportunities are endless within the little three by five rectangle!

OhTalkWho compiled a list of all the kanji that show up in Netflix subtitles along with their frequencies.

Next, index cards are portable. For someone who travels as much as me, I always keep a small stack of vocabulary index cards on my person for impromptu Japanese review. Sometimes when I travel to a city or try a new activity, I will bring specific index cards with me that pertain to my day’s agenda. The cards are small enough that they fit in my pocket and are especially helpful because I do not need an internet connection to access them (sorry, Quizlet!).

“Campus” is a company that sells reliable notebooks and small flashcards. They only cost $3 in Japan.

Finally, I really enjoy index cards because they are a physical representation of my progress in Japanese. There are few things more satisfying than seeing the large stack of index cards on my desk grow over time—I can see my growth in real time! Index cards provide a motivation to continue learning.

For these reasons, I am a firm adherent of the Index Card camp. They have been an invaluable source of learning, and I am sure that they can also be as helpful for you as they were for me.

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