[JAPANESE] Flashcards!

I kind of go through cycles of missing Japanese and asking myself why am I learning Japanese (and think about giving up). I currently seem to be leaning towards the cycle of getting back into Japanese. I did want to work on it this year after all! I did consider pushing it off until next year, but who says I can’t study Japanese while doing everything else? I just need to plan it right!

I was thinking about how I don’t go to school and I currently don’t have any plans to go. I do love learning though, so I want to make an effort of doing a heck of a lot more of that. I’m still trying to sort out what I would like to focus on. All I know is, Japanese and History are going to be part of my focuses.

I was thinking about Japanese again today and was considering coming up with a learning plan for myself, just to help me get an idea of what I want to do and how to do it. I didn’t make that learning plan, but I did think up what kind of things I wanted on it: a full review of lessons 1 to 15 of Genki, supplements (vocabulary, grammar, etc.), listening/speaking practice, and getting back to the lessons.

The full review of Genki (both volumes) is at the top of my list, since I’m rusty on what I learned (or should have learned) so far. I know that everything I learned is still in my head, it just takes more of an effort to pull up words and remember grammar right now. I have numerous ideas on how to approach the review, but I think I’m going to wait a little bit longer and prepare myself.

One of the things I wanted to do for the review was make physical flashcards. I have a nice, hefty set of digital ones on Anki (digital flashcard application), but those really only cover my Genki vocabulary and it’s a pain to put on my phone. Even the ones I have on my phone appeared to reach the end of their use, telling me to “come back tomorrow” for the past year or so.

On the other side of things, I didn’t want to write out everything on physical index cards. The practical reason deals with kanji, which most vocabulary words contain. I don’t know how to write most of the kanji and if I wanted to put in the effort, I would have to research every kanji I would want to write. Also, for aesthetic reasons, I’m picky with the placement of words on my flashcards. I usually like them centered!

I felt like making the flashcards on my computer and printing them out would solve the issue, but I didn’t want to print them out on regular paper. Noooope, I wanted to print them out on INDEX CARDS already!

And that’s what I started to do.

First, I googled tutorials on making digital flashcards to print out on actual index cards. Strangely enough, there’s a large lack of these tutorials. Or maybe it’s not so strange. I don’t know. I guess there’s nobody using flashcards who wants to print them off their computer right onto the cards themselves.

Looking hard enough though, I did find a tutorial that called for custom print sizes, which I followed. I opened up Photoshop and created a file of 3.5 inches by 5 inches and made my first index card, りんご (ringo; can you guess what that means based off the index card?).


Then I tried to print it out using my custom dimensions.

Of course my piece of crap printer I hate so much (I have to unplug & replug the dang thing EVERY time I go to use it, otherwise it won’t work) gave me an error message, one I had never seen before: the dimensions could not be used in the tray that was selected.

I looked around in my settings to see if I could switch from the main paper tray (where I had put the index cards) to the photo tray (which was probably made for it). I didn’t find any.

I ended up having to google the solution, which was just switching around the dimensions. I did this and FINALLY I got to print the index cards on my barely-working printer.

And of course it had to print out incorrectly, because why would it work on the first try?


I played around with the settings a bit more in Photoshop, attempted to make an index card document in Pages, and still got the same terrible results: the cards were printing out two at a time and were far too off center.

I ended up changing the dimensions once more after I realized that the index cards were actually 3 inches x 5 inches, not 3.5 inches x 5 inches. I got closer to what I looking for, but not quite — the alignment was all wrong. I wanted everything right in the middle, dang it! Not off center! There was too much white space for my taste.


I pondered how I could fix this issue when I suddenly thought, hey, how about if I place the image to once side of the index card and the text to the other side? It might look more centered…maybe.


I took a stab at it, printed it out, and halleluiah, IT WORKED! While the text could use some minor, minor, minor tweaks, it looked DANG good. I mean, just look at the index card, it looks good, right? Right?! I think the text to one side and the picture on the other is rather pleasing to the eye, as oppose to my kanji/picture/kana divide thing that was going on before. Now these were the kind of flashcards I was looking for!


I decided to make a few more, mostly of fruit. They were the ones that popped into my head first, so I went with them. The fruit images were all from Wikipedia. The only ones that weren’t was on the かわいい one, which was a combination of Flickr stock, screenshots, and official game art.



So, where’s the English translation on the cards? Why is there no romaji? What made me put pictures on them? Why both kana and kanji, including for words where one is more common than the other?

1.) Why are there Pictures?

If you’ve read my blog since I had multiple ones, you probably already know I hate the Rosetta Stone program. If you don’t, you can go read about it here. One of my issues with it was the fact that it uses pictures with no English translation and lacks a variety of images to show what they are talking about.

The idea behind the “no-English-translation” is to approach the language like a native speaker would, which is actually a really good idea and works great, as long as its executed well. Immersion like that is always a good thing! A lot of other learners of the language agree with that (a lot of them also seem to agree Rosetta Stone is terrible and people should stay away from it).

I wanted to take this same approach, but do so in a way to not confuse me (i.e. have a variety of images). I also wanted to make sure the images were something I actually associated with the words. For instance, the かわいい flashcard shows pictures of things I would define as 「かわいい」or “cute/adorable”.

In short, the pictures are there to allow me to learn the words without an English translation.

2.) Why no English translation?

As I said above, the “no-English-translation” is a good idea. I want to be able to fully understand Japanese without having the English translation pop in my mind. Only the most basic phrases pop in my mind right now without a translation and I’m aiming to change that. I want to be able to look at an airplane and think just 飛行機です, not 飛行機です followed by “it’s an airplane” in my head.

3.) Why no romaji?

I have no need for romaji, just kana (the simpler characters under the more complicated ones). There’s no point in using romaji if you already know how to read kana, which is why there’s no romaji on the cards.

4.) Why both kanji/kana? Why include the kanji for words that are more commonly spelled in just kana?

I put the kana with the kanji so I know how to read it, which is probably obvious. Sometimes too, words that can be written in kanji will be written in just kana.

I included the kanji for words usually spelled in just kana just in case. I think it’s smart to know both — I noticed sometimes, Japanese speakers will use the kanji, despite that the kana version is more common.

Of course, if a word doesn’t have a kanji, I’m not going to put one.

Making the Cards

1.) Open up a Photoshop document with the dimensions of 3 inches in height and 5 inches in width, 300 in DPi.

2.) Design your flashcard.

3.) Open up Print, go to “Page Set Up”, click the drop down “Paper Size” and choose “Manage Custom Sizes”. Create a custom size with the same dimensions.

4.) Print!

Please note my cards are not double sided, since I felt no need to do that to them.

Further Plans

My aim is to make flashcards for all the Genki vocabulary I should know, plus vocabulary from my N5/N4 study guides, and words for some “supplemental” sources (Nihongo Tango Speed Master, my “words learned as I go” list).

As I am working on the cards, I plan to punch a hole in the corner of them to allow me to put them on a index card ring. (Off Topic: has anyone ever thought of making index-card-ring-ready index cards before?) I want to be able to carry them around with me if I choose to, perhaps selecting a few at a time to study (such as the ones I’m having a harder time remembering).

I will also, hopefully, be making something I think I’ll call “challenge cards”. Each day I study, I must pick out a “challenge card”. These cards contain a few tasks of what to do with the words I study. For instance, a challenge card may tell me to write each word in a single sentence, create 5 sentences using the most recently learned grammar point in my textbook lessons, and make a song with the words. These are to force me to actually use my vocabulary. There may also be bonuses for certain groups of words (for example, conjugate all verbs into the forms you should know by now).

I’m hoping to see myself remember more words after this, as well as being able to use them in the context they should.

By all means, this is not the only thing I will be doing to study Japanese (I still have my textbook to do, I have pronunciation to work on, and more). Rather, it’s just one of the many ways I will be approaching the language.

I hope somebody finds this helpful, whether its to make their own flashcards or to inspire them to take their language learning in another direction.

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