May 10, 2015, 02:10 PM posted in General Discussion

I've started to use Anki, and I was wondering how other people make flashcards because I'm trying to be more efficient with them to maximize my study time.

The characters make it much more difficult to make flashcards than, say, Spanish, since you have three related things (characters, pinyin, english) instead of two. It's also hard to use pinyin flashcards because Chinese has so many homophones (e.g. is wan3 bowl or evening?) which is only getting worse the more I learn. Adding two things to one side makes it difficult, like if the hanzi and pinyin is on one side, it makes it easy to recognize characters I might otherwise not have known.

If anyone else would like to share their flashcard system, I'd appreciate it.


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May 12, 2015, 07:03 AM

I use ANKI. 

On the front of the card I have the sentence in characters (most of my sentences come from cpod)

On the back of the sentence I have the Pinyin and English translation.

(So I am using the flashcards to improve my reading of Chinese characters).

I think you've got this backwards, use the pinyin to help you learn the pronunciation of Characters, its all about learning the characters . If you persist with making flashcards with pinyin on the front I think its going to lead to problems in the future. 

You want to be learning to read 汉字.

On the topic of flash cards, for the last 6 moths I've been using Skritter, and any lessons I study on Cpod, the vocab can be exported super easy to skritter. This is an amazing combo, I'm sure not many people know about how to combine these, but it has improved my reading, writing, and tone understanding so much! (But it's mostly just for individual words) (I still use ANKI for sentences) 

If you give me some more information about how many Chinese characters you can read, I can give you some more specific information. 

Regards, Josh

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Thanks Joshua, this is exactly the type of advice I was hoping to get. Right now, I'd say I know maybe 500 or 600 hundred, but a lot of those are bookish characters I just know because they appear a lot in other characters--my functional reading is lower. I'm also still working my way through the beginner lessons. FWIW, I also study traditional characters.

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Joshua, I've been doing the pinyin-only flashcard system for almost a year now, and I know zilch about characters. I'm planning to take a character course to familiarize myself with components. Do you think it's wise to make the switch now to the type of character flashcards you've suggested, or wait until after I take the course and they're a little more comprehensible to me?

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Hi Josh,

You are on exactly the right tracks I just want to give you and everyone else some advice on this technique of reviewing since I am finding it to be extremely effective. I am currently working with Harold Goodman who produced the Michel Thomas Mandarin course, who has also given me a lot of advice on tools for learning.

I was doing exactly the same as you one year ago with a mixture of Anki and skritter, but have evolved the method since, after experiencing some issues that crop up with this method over time. 

    The problem with exporting words to skritter is that for the most part Chinese words are combinations of characters. This means that every time you review a word on skritter, you will likely be re-reviewing a single character. Let me give you a really really basic example - you learn the word 星座 (meaning zodiac sign). Now every time you write this word you have to write two characters 星 and 座. Now lets say you learn the word for starbucks, that's 星巴克 you are re-writing and you will be re-reviewing the character 星。 You already know this character 星 from the previous word you learnt, but Skritter asks you to review it again since skritter only recognises that this is a different word, it doesn't realise that the components are the same. This constant re-reviewing of the individual components will waste you time but you won't realise this until you are about 6 months in or further, you will have a huge backlog of words to learn with component characters you already know and will likely lose motivation. 

My solution to this problem, is in fact not to export words from ChinesePod and review them, since this will waste you time. But, instead I deleted all my ChinesePod words on skritter and imported one deck of characters - James Heisig's book on the first 1500 characters of Chinese. This book takes you through the first 1500 highest frequency characters of the Chinese language. I am close to completing this book now after 2 months of working at it for 20-30 minutes a day and when I do I will add in the deck for book 2 which contains the second 1500 highest frequency characters. After you complete the first book you will be able to read 90% of everything written in Chinese. You will find that when you learn the individual characters you will be able to write any words you learn in ChinesePod as soon as you can see what the component characters are (where anki comes in) and you don't waste time re-reviewing these individual components. 

If a beginner used this method he/ she could read and write 98% of everything in written Chinese after 6 months of studying for about 30 minutes a day. 

Hope this helps you guys




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Psamet, Peter305 mentions a book called "Remembering Simplified Hanzi: Book 1, how not to forget the meaning and writing of Chinese Characters"

I also strongly recommend this book. I've actually completed it 6 months ago, I used a deck from ANKI to do my reviews (not skritter, so all hand written). It is a hard slog and it took me a long time to finish (but ive heard of people finishing it quickly)It just requires daily work and discipline. Buy the book, the rational and method is explained in the book, its 100% solid. It would take too long to explain here.

Peter305, thank you for the advice. Yes your right, this is a challenge, even with spaced repetition you can end up reviewing the same character constantly.

But the sole purpose of my flashcards is to improve my reading comprehension and give myself some comprehensible input so that I can move into the world of real Chinese media.(Made by Chinese for Chinese

I'm currently reading graded Chinese readers, comic books, and Teen fiction in Chinese (Harry Potter and the Hunger Games). 

Eventually I'll stop all flashcards and just enjoy reading in Mandarin, watching Chinese TV and doing some writing in Mandarin. But to get to that point, you must use these pesky language learning techniques like flash cards, I'll be glad to be rid of them.   

Ive got book 2 of remembering simplified Hanzi at home, but I think my time might be better spent just reading Harry Potter in Mandarin. (I'll probably complete book 2 just for the sake of it)

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Joshua, thanks! I'll check it out.

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I see, yea it of course depends on your goals. Well good luck with the characters, I'm just past the first of Heisig's books and I couldn't agree more that its a bit of a slog!  

My goal with learning characters is so that I can immerse by reading. And reading is such an awesome and enjoyable skill. The faster we can get through the characters so we can just read the better. 

By the way for anyone who doesn't have the resolve to take down the characters too fast, I would recommend learning the bopomofo pronunciation system. In Taiwan books can be bought which are solely in bopomofo, so one could immerse themselves by reading this way if they didn't want to take on the characters so fast (although most of the content is directed at children).

Keep updating guys, would love to know how you're getting on. 


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May 12, 2015, 04:50 PM

I use Anki as well. There's also a great plugin called "Chinese Support" which, for me, is absolutely essential in creating Chinese flashcards.

Also, I'd recommend creating a card template which helps you study the way you feel is most effective for you. For example, the one I've come up with creates two cards: One with the Hanzi on the front and translation, Pinyin, measure word (where applicable), a sound file with the pronunciation, an example sentence and additional information on the back. The other one has the translation on the front and then all that other stuff on the back.

For just studying characters, I've created a separate deck. Since I'm doing the Heisig method, I've created a card for every character and used the "type"-tag so it checks the character I put in against the correct one. I use the handwriting input method of Google's pinyin keyboard on my phone to enter characters.

From time to time I still make small changes to the cards like adding a field for traditional characters but all in all I'm pretty content with the way it is.

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Thanks, I like your idea of including the measure word on the back. Welp, looks like it's time to completely remake my cards and start over. :-)

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If you use a add on like ChineseSupport or Pinyin toolkit, it should scan through your cards and auto add MW(measure words), Audio, Pinyin etc etc.  I put a shared deck on Anki a while back for 100 household words which should give you an idea of the template I use to study.