Flash Cards -- Do they really work when learning to read?


Yes to the 1000 flash card, I bought it a about 380 NT if I were not mistaken a year ago in a bookshop in Pateh Road.

The flashcard manual said it’s for kids at age range from 3 to 7 or something. It really discourage me to find that I have a mental age of 3 too:)



I can’t have any palm bashing going on here :x , so here I go.

How much would 50,000+ flashcards cost? and how big would your book bag have to be to carry them around all of the time? Not to mention having a dictionary (chinese, english, french, japanese, etc.) plus the thousands of other programs that one could use to fully customize a palm. On the newer palms you could even put any chinese language CD’s one had on it in mp3 format and listen whilst you practice.

I think for the 3,000NT (starting) investment one would get a lot of miles out of it.

Now back on topic. So far I’m very pleased with this super memo program. I’d highly recommend it to anyone, with one warning. The chinese character look all small and crappy on my hand held (might be OS 5 or the Chinese OS I installed :?: ). It doesn’t dampen my learning experience any, but others might not like it. Since I’ve installed it (saturday) I’ve burned through the first 6 lessons from shida’s book 1 (a lot of it’s review though). I’ll see how I cope when I get to some harder stuff.

The way I’ve always learned characters is by remembering the way they look and not writing them a bunch of times. If I can recall the character visually then I have no problem writing it. Usually after seeing a character I’ll write it a few times and still be able to remember it the next day. The most important thing for me to do is keep seeing the character (that’s why I like this super memo so much). It might just be the way my head works though.

P.S. On the small and crappyness of the characters. There are other flashcard programs where the characters would NOT be small and crappy. The cool thing about super memo is that it uses some high-tech algorithms that figure out approximately when you’d begin to forget something and test you on it that day. This way you don’t study stuff you know really well and emphasize things that need work.

[advertisement]Super memo is also good for other languages and anything else you’d want to learn. :smiley: [/advertisement]

Sorry about the advertisement. I always become a promoter when I’m excited about something. :blush:

Have you messed with the font settings for your cards? My characters are big and crappy. :laughing: Well, at least I can see them easily, even now that I need glasses! Let me know if you need details on how to make the fonts bigger (probably you already know and just have a lower threshold for “crappiness” in characters than I do!)

Would you or anyone else be willing to share the flashcard files for Shita’s books? I’m sure a lot of folks would be interested. In fact, we could put them in a ZIP file and sell them on PalmGear. (Don’t laugh, you could probably do it, if they were really good.) I will be bringing out a Palm companion app to the beginning books, probably around March, but no more on that for now…! :shock:

A few comments (a little bit off-topic, but interesting I hope).

I didn’t use flashcards when first learning Chinese. Writing the darn things over and over seemed to work better for me; and once I was able to read a little I found (and still find) working my way through readers and short stories a useful way to pick up new written vocabularly. I tend to remember words I see used in context better than those learned in isolation. But what I meant to say in response is that I’ve had the opposite experience with respect to writing out characters. I find that characters I can write (or could, typing is ruining me) and read I often cannot picture to myself. As you said, different peoples’ heads work differently. But less-visual learners shouldn’t underestimate the power of writing. Not only does it teach writing in addition to reading, but it seems to access other resources of memory in addition to visual cues; i.e., one memorises component elements and stroke orders, patterns in the hand as well as patterns in the eye.

As for readers, you may not be aware that the Ministry of Overseas Education (or some such group) has developed courses for CSL learners which are available gratis on their website – along with grade school courses, also apparently designed with the second language learner in mind. Mind you I’ve not worked through these myself and so cannot comment on their usefulness and appropriateness; but the pages are quite spiffy and may well be a place to start. See, I believe, [edu.ocac.gov.tw/whole4.html] and [edu.ocac.gov.tw/CultureEnglish/Englishhome.htm].

No disagreement from me, but think you might be interested to know that this is not the case with CSL teaching everywhere. I sat intensive courses at Wuhan University (Hubei, China) a few years back which were organised much as you described above: with separate classes, materials, and teachers offered at a range of levels for, IIRC, reading/grammar, listening, and speaking. (Writing was not stressed in class, at the intermediate level at least, where it was somewhat take for granted that we knew most of the commonly seen characters and were capable of learning to write as well as recognise new characters through our own efforts and extra-curricular exercises.)

Again, have you ever come across any of the texts put out for CSL learners by Beijing Language and Culture University? A number of them seemed to me (a non-linguist) quite useful and much more appropriate for CSL learners than the texts used at Shida (altough the first of their Practical Audio Visual Chinese still seems to me a decent introduction, in comparison to other options and all things considered).

Again, I can only suggest that you might be interested in different methods used outside of Taiwan? The pedagogy at Wuhan and what I’ve seen elsewhere strikes me as being much closer to what you’re hankering after. Not stellar, certainly, but not so bleak as the picture you’ve painted here either. For example, in reading classes we were encouraged to be loose and lively with the language, practical understanding and structured repetition in reading materials taking the place of memorization (which was not directly tested); likewise conversation classes placed the majority of emphasis on using – even flailing about in at first – new vocabularly and colloquial expressions.

Not being a second language expert I can’t assess the quality of these methods from other than a student’s viewpoint. (And anyway my general view about languge learning is that it happens by attrition more than method, and that one’s money is probably better spent on conversational-fueling beer at a local pub than language lessons – at least I’ve yet to see education produce faster and more practicable results than use, though I do admit that a little quality instruction, here and there, when structured around the learner, is helpful for getting answers to grammar questions and improving writing skills.) I did however find it interesting that most students were able to progress, in the space of a year (of about 25 hours per week of instruction), from no ability to competence sufficient to undertake university work (or at least meet the requisite HSK score for admission). Indeed, many of the students I met had achieved ability superior to those who’d studied twice as long at the MTC. So perhaps you’re in the wrong country, Ironlady?

I agree with all of that. When speaking of memorizing the characters, writing doesn’t do as much for me. When I write one character over and over again, it’s because I think it looks nasty compared to the other people characters.

I find myself writing

Of course everybody’s learning style is different, but I’d wager that there’s more people who can read characters they can’t write than can write characters they can’t read. My point is that if you write out the charcters, the reading skill will follow automatically, but not vice versa. The problem with me for the ‘writing 50 times’ method is that I’m just copying, it doesn’t go into my memory. I need the flashcards to force myself to remember. I also find that there’s characters my head can’t remember, but my hand just starts writing it.

Miltownkid, you’re not telling me a Palm costs just 3000NT are you? And you don’t need 50000 characters. 2000 should be quite enough to get you up to a level where you learn by reading and writing nad can abandon the flashcards altogether. Buying crads that you make yourself as you go along, that’ll set you back about 400NT. You don’t need to carry them all around with you. Just stick the 20 or so that you’re working on in your pocket. That’s a lot smaller than a palm.


Well, first of all, despite having studied Chinese for 20 years and worked in the field for 15, I have no need of writing Chinese by hand. I write documents or translations on a computer, and use a Palm for other notes and so forth. I’m never in a situation where there is no way for me to refer to a dictionary or other device should I forget how to write a character. Aside from filling in forms, how much actual writing-by-hand is really called for, other than “face-saving” or “face-gaining” ploys?

Many students enjoy the beauty of Chinese characters, or feel that writing by hand is pleasant or artistic. That’s fine. But I think that schools should give much more serious consideration to splitting off the writing skill into a separate time slot or class. Then those who want merely to be able to read, speak, and understand, and perhaps write using some phonetic input method (based on recognizing the characters, not producing them) would be able to increase their vocabulary much faster while simultaneously reducing their stress levels. (I’ve seen some VERY stressed out students in the first level lately, and the teachers have no good answers for them.)

Secondly, I certainly know more than 2,000 characters, and I still flash (card!) daily. It’s just the most efficient way of getting sufficient exposure to words that are not high-frequency, which would make me think that flashcards could be even more valuable for the advanced learner. The less frequent the vocabulary you want to acquire, the less chance you’re going to get enough reps of it just through chance.

That’s my NT$0.66 on the matter, your mileage may vary.

ironlady, you summed that up nicely. Thanks :smiley:

If it wasn’t for that fact that I think characters look cool and I like to write them, I probably wouldn’t. If I ever had to do some serious writing in Chinese (I’m far from that level) I’d be doing it in pinyin. Anytime I send a text message in Chinese to someone I hardly think about what the character looks like. The most important thing is to know what it sounds like (for the pinyin), it automatically chooses the characters that are used most frequently. My main concern for knowing characters to to be able to read, not write. If I could read then I could definitely reproduce it on a computer, which would be the only time I’d ever actually “write” anything.

The point about the 50,000+ flashcards wasn’t for the number of characters someone needs to know, but the number of characters and their combinations. I might be wrong, but I don’t think being able to recognise 3,000 characters would make me literate. I’d also have the know the ten’s of thound diffrent word combination that go along with it. That’s my main concern (and seems like it should be others as well).

If I ever really had write something fast, like taking notes, I’d do it in English. Even if the person was speaking Chinese.

And yes I am telling you a palm only cost 3,000. It’s an older model, but it would be capable of all the Chinese language stuff I’m using mine for right now. I never thought to check ebay, but check [THIS] out. I saw one for 1,000NT :shock:

I’m not trying to say that using the palm is the only or best way. I’m just saying that I think it’s definitely worth a look for someone who’s in to that kind of thing. I’ve had the shida books laying around collecting dust in my house for over a month and now this new toy has had me stuck to them studying all day.

I agree that learning to write Chinese is not so important these days. But I still think it is useful to learn to write some characters, especially your name, address and so on. However, if you only ever learn how to write the 20 or so characters to be able to do this your characters will look very ugly. Take the time to learn more and practice writing. It is important to write in the correct stroke order to make your characters look nice. The Far East 3,000 character dictionary shows the stroke order.

Look I’m not on an anti-palm crusade or anything. It’s just that some people (like myself) want to know how to write Chinese. Also some people don’t carry their palms or dictionaries around with them wherever they go. For these people it’s not going to be much help to say “you don’t need to write - just get a palm”.


I can’t actively write many characters these days (basically my name and address), using the computer all the time. But I think learning how to write is an important part of studying Chinese and might make it easier. It can be part of the motivation :wink:: when I was younger, my vain little self actually would draw some satisfaction from the fact that I could write at least a number of Chinese characters :blush: .

I used flash cards a lot. I used to make the flash cards myself (pre-“Chinese on computers” times, at least in Germany), draw the character on one side, possibly add the stroke order and put the Pinyin at the bottom of the flash card, so I could cover it up if I wanted to. German translation used to be on the other side. I think I made flash cards for every single language I started to learn because they’re so easy to take and you can just go through them sitting on a train or in a cafe. And writing the flash cards would always be a good exercise for me. I’m one of those for whom writing helps a lot in memorizing things.

As to different approaches of teaching written Chinese: Our Chinese class basically used one single book for all classes (writing, conversation, listening, grammar etc.) in the first year and for some more classes during the second year. The book was okay (read: not too boring). And for us students, it was easier to exactly figure out what the teachers expected us to know. A few years later, however, our professor started to try out new approaches. Teaching Chinese as foreign language is his main interest, and he has close connections to the aforementioned Beijing Language and Cultural University. So he developped his own conversational course and taught a different set of characters in writing class, starting with the most commonly used characters, not necessarily the same ones as in the conversational course. Our students would have three different teachers (who weren’t exactly able to communicate), all teaching them different stuff but at the same time expecting the students to know words that they had supposedly been taught by one of the other teachers. It was a bit of a mess. I’ve met a couple of well-known scholars for teaching Chinese as foreign language, I’ve listened to their discussions on the best approach for teaching written Chinese. But for me as a student, I still believe having one integrated course to hold on to was the easiest way. I preferred using one single book.


the link you posted is amazing! I’ve never seen anything like it. the material is better than what we used in any of the bushibans or universities that I’ve studied at here.

As for the mainland materials, I’ve noticed that TLI now advertises the fact that they have the latest textbooks from BLCU, those are supposed to be really up-to-date from what I hear.

So thanks for the link!

That’s what made me :x

I never said that.
That made me :? because:

I never bashed the flashcard method, I was just trying to share my excitement about this program. The problem (I think) with flashcards or the super memo thing is that either one of those alone is not enough. If someone spends all day reading vocabulary and writing characters that’s not going to make them “learn” the language. I think the most important thing is to go out and use all your new stuff as much as you can every day. Try to say things and see if people understand what your trying to say. Make up songs in Chinese with the vocabulary you already know. Think in Chinese, read (recognize) as many characters as you can everyday, go to KTV with people from work, watch cartoons and movies in Chinese without English subtitles. I’ve noticed that the words I know and use a lot are easier for me to read and write even though I hardly practice writing or reading (I think it might have something to do with the way the brain works, or maybe just my brain).

What ever you do, try to make it as fun as possible while learning as much as you possibly can.

From articles I’ve read, language learning is not like learning biology or history. I takes a totlly diffrent approach to learn a second language well.

I just checked that 00Scott link. My Chinese teacher back in the states had us use a lot of resources from that site.

You’re right, but it’s not a lot fo help for reading and writing. I find that as someone who hasn’t been to classes in ages, and often doesn’t study for a long time, my spoken Chinese won’t get any worse and will continue to slowly improve, but my reading and writing gets worse. The problem is finding things (other than looking at signs and reading menus) that let us practice our reading and writing everyday. Even when we get to the level where we can struggle through a Next magazine or pick up half of what’s going on in a comic book, it’s always a lot of work, and just much easier and more enjoyable to read something in English. i think there was a topic on this somewhere else. I’ve found watching Chinese movies that don’t have English helps a little, as you have ot check the subtitles against what you think you’re hearing. Maybe KTV’s a little help.