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Do Chinese Flashcards Improve Your Vocabulary? 

Flashcards were first created by an English educator in the 19th century. Today, flashcards are still one of the most prominent and powerful learning tools.

What makes flashcards so trusted in the education industry? Can using Chinese flashcards help you level up your vocabulary? 

Read on to have your questions answered and more! 

Why does learning Chinese with flashcards work? 

Language students all over the world use flashcards to help them memorize new vocabulary. That is no coincidence! It’s because flashcards have been consistently proven to be effective.

Below are the top 3 scientific reasons for why they just work:

1. Retrieval practice 

When you look at one side of a flashcard saying ‘中国’ and think to answer its English meaning, you are engaging in a mental faculty known as retrieval practice. Retrieval practice, also known as the testing effect or active recall, forces you to pull information out by retrieving what you have learned without any hints. This very act has been shown to form stronger neural connections in your brain, increasing the probability of remembering the newly-learned information in the future. By using retrieval practice, you actively stimulate your brain and demand it to work – the opposite of passive study where you simply just read the textbooks to take in information. Some studies even show that retrieval practice improves retention by 150 percent compared to passive studying. 

Flashcards also make it easy for you to go over and practice whatever ways work best for you. You can break down a deck into smaller categorized parts, or you can spend more time studying certain cards that are hard to remember. By doing so, your brain will repeatedly use retrieval practice, minimizing your time and effort to memorize new vocabulary.  

You can check out this phenomenon in detail in our post: Retrieval Practice: Scientifically Proven Study Hack for Mandarin Chinese.

2. Metacognition 

Flashcards allow you to check your answers immediately – you flip the card over! You then know if you’re correct or not and which parts you need to study harder. This assessment of your own study is referred to as metacognition.  

Research finds that metacognition gives you a deeper understanding of the knowledge, strengthens your memory muscles, and leads to better overall learning results. It also enhances learners’ awareness of their weaknesses and productivity so they can plan their studies better and take immediate action. 

3. Spaced Repetition System (SRS)

Studying with flashcards can easily allow you to leverage one of the most effective language study techniques: the Spaced Repetition System (SRS). The SRS is an evidence-based technique where you break down your learning content into smaller study sessions and review them at spaced intervals to improve your long-term memory. 

The SRS was based on the forgetting curve – an idea that we slowly forget what we’ve learned over time. However, if we spread the information and review it at increasing time intervals, we can stop the forgetting curve, optimize our memory capacity, and retain new knowledge much longer. The SRS gives your brain enough time to form connections with new ideas and concepts and frequent reminders so that newly learned knowledge won’t fade easily. 

For example, if you have 100 Chinese flashcards of business-related vocabulary, study only 10 flashcards per session, plan a review schedule and stick to it. Make sure to review the words you find difficult to remember more frequently than the rest. That’s how you can reap the benefits of the SRS through flashcards with ease!

Source: Pandanese

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3 practical tips to get the most out of Chinese flashcards 

Powerful as they are, many learners still find flashcards boring. That may be because they don’t use flashcards properly! Below are three simple and practical tips for you to reap more rewards from this versatile learning tool. 

Once you know how to utilize Chinese flashcards, you will quickly see a massive improvement in your language skills. 

1. Keep them short and simple 

Don’t make or buy flashcards packed with too much information written on them! You might think the more detailed, the better. However, that will only do you more harm than good. This is because when including multiple information on one card, you’re more likely to run into illusions of competence. Illusions of competence happen when you think you know something, but you actually don’t. For example, you study a card with 4 facts written on it. When reviewing, you pull out the card and state clearly 3 facts and forget the last one. However, when you turn the card over, see it listed with other facts you remembered, you’d likely think, “I knew that!”. You think you nailed the card because you got 3 out of 4. Keeping your card simple and containing only one question will eliminate the risk of running into this mistake. On top of that, your brain will also take a longer time to memorize complex flashcards, and when you do, they won’t stick long! 

It’s best to keep it short and simple. A flashcard should only contain one learning objective. For example, if you want to learn the word ‘中国,’ put the Chinese word on one side and its English meaning on the other. You can add a mnemonic sentence to help remember more easily or write the word’s pinyin. But don’t put any more than that, like synonyms, antonyms, common phrases, etc.

Always keep your cards clear, short, and to the point! 

2. Maintain frequent revisions 

The saying ‘practice makes perfect’ is completely true when it comes to studying flashcards. They are incredibly effective, but you can’t just go through the deck of cards only once and hope all the information is magically ingrained in your brain. 

You need to practice to make it work. It’s best to have study and revision schedules planned ahead. If it’s difficult for you to have a fixed schedule, make sure you go over what you learn as soon as you can. It can be a few hours or a day right after your study session. Just don’t let the gap be too long as your brain will likely forget what you just learned, which means your revision now becomes a brand new study season! 

One more tip is you should study easy-to-remember flashcards less often and difficult-to-remember ones more often. So, always go over what you need to review after each revision session. 

3. Make your flashcards memorable 

It is a proven fact that humans’ memories are triggered to remember pictures, stories, and emotions far better than plain, black-and-white text. Based on this, mnemonic devices were invented and have been widely used in our daily lives. For instance, to remember the order of operations for math: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, and Subtract, we have the sentence ‘Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.’

You can take advantage of these memory techniques to make your flashcards memorable and stick in your mind quicker. Here are a few ways that you might want to try: 

  • Attach colorful images  
  • Add a funny joke 
  • Create a story 
  • Make a song 

There are many creative ways to make mnemonics for your flashcards. You can find more in our article: Chinese mnemonics: Brain Hacks Proven To Improve Memory And Study Efficiency.

Best options to study Chinese flashcards

Listed below are our top three recommended options to learn Chinese with flashcards. Check them out and decide which one will be the best for you! 

1. Create your own flashcards 

Self-made flashcards allow you to customize the content in whatever way you want. In fact, the process of making flashcards itself is a study session where you actively engage with what you want to learn. On top of that, you don’t need to spend much money! All you need is blank paper and some stationery. There is one downside: time. You have to devote a considerable amount of time to making your flashcards. 

2. Study on Pandanese 

If you’re too busy to create flashcards on your own, why not try Pandanese instead? 

Pandanese is a web-based platform that offers unique and fun Chinese flashcards to facilitate your learning journey. Most importantly, Pandanese uses the best and most effective memory-aid techniques to fully unlock the benefits of studying with flashcards. Mnemonics, the SRS, and retrieval practice are all neatly built-in to the Pandanese app, giving you an optimal study course. 

Pandanese also provides customized study plans to fit your learning objectives. You can choose a designed syllabus specifically for business, travel, or school. 

Overall, Pandanese is the perfect app for new Chinese-language learners who have difficulty wrapping their heads around complicated Chinese vocabulary.  

3. Get a flashcards deck 

If you’re not a big fan of technology, get yourself a flashcard deck from bookstores or on Amazon. We’ve looked through the market and found the following products with good content and reviews. Check them out! 

Listed below in the table are the top 25 common Chinese words associated with flashcards. Maybe you’d want to use them to create a flashcards-themed Chinese flashcards deck!

No. Chinese PīnyīnEnglish meaning 
1闪卡shǎn kǎflashcard
2中文闪卡Zhōngwén shǎn kǎChinese flashcards 
3卡片Kǎpiàncard
4助记符Zhù jì fúmnemonics 
5yònguse
6学习xuéxístudy
7练习liànxípractice
8背诵bèisòngrecite from memory
9记得住jì dé zhùremember
10记不住jì bù zhùcannot remember
11汉字HànzìChinese character
12character
13重复chóngfùrepetition 
14偏旁piānpángradical
15拼音pīnyīnpinyin
16翻译fānyìtranslate / translation
17句子jùzisentence
18例子lìziexample
19例句lìjùexample sentence
20智能zhìnéngsmart (tech)
21笔画bǐhuàbrush strokes / stroke order
22应用yìngyòngapp
23上网shàngwǎnggo online
24电脑diànnǎocomputer
25软件ruǎnjiànsoftware

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In conclusion

Mastering Chinese vocabulary is not an easy task, but by using Chinese flashcards and applying scientific study methods, you can study more efficiently and master the language! 

What is the Pandanese blog?

The Pandanese blog is where you can get free Chinese language learning resources, keep updated with the latest study strategies, and read about some fascinating Chinese culture. 

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