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I'm using Anki, a flashcard learning tool, for learning Japanese vocabulary. Of course, this includes words with kanji. For these I need to know both the reading and the meaning. Now I'm wondering what the better note layout for recognition is:

  • One card with the word without readings on the front and the readings on the back and one card with the readings on the front and the meaning on the back, or
  • One single card with the word without readings on the front asking for both reading and meaning.

The former has the advantage that it separates meanings and readings which are separate things to learn, I think. On the other hand the latter results in fewer cards and seems more elegant. Besides I do automatically think of reading and meaning at the same time.

So far I have only used a single card. Do you have any further arguments or experience for/with either approach?

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Is there anything else you wish to know? – Vic Goldfeld Nov 6 '12 at 15:18

People experienced in maintaining recall of huge decks of spaced-repetition flashcards will tell you that each card should only really contain a unit of information, not more. Work with how your brain interprets atomic information for each given case, but specifically for language reading and meaning are indeed completely separate things.

Since you keep them on the same card, you perhaps have a similar recall rate for both the meaning and reading of a given word. But try to split them up and you will see their curves naturally diverge, since they would the be tested separately.

What I mean is that a given meaning might give you more trouble than it's reading, and you should allow the algorithms of spaced-repetition to work it's magic in emphasizing what you have a harder time with. Any time you bundle different knowledge units together, you are tying the progress of one to the other, so you may be unnecessarily seeing a trivial reading much more than necessary, or failing to get better at a given meaning because the reading was alright so you didn't declare it a complete failure (and if you did, then again you under scored the reading).

You will find that splitting them up turns out to be more elegant and time efficient, because it allows you to go through your cards much more mechanically, much as a conveyor belt with 5 workers pumps out cars faster than 5 workers each working on his own car.

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Try it both ways. Seems like the more ways you attack the material, the better your brain will wrap around it.

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If it's like testing one refreshes the other you should test them at the same time, but grade them separately. This is perhaps not so easy in practise. You could have 2 cards, and make sure you grade both whenever one of them comes up.

IF one is a bit easier, you could try to move it into long term memory before you introduces the other one, and try to avoid that they are scheduled around the same time.

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