Using English-Chinese flashcards with words with similar definitions


Hi everyone, I've only just started using flashcards partway through learning Chinese, so I have a few questions about using English-Chinese flashcards.

They sound like they'd help a lot with getting better at retrieving vocab when speaking/writing, but some words seem to have a pretty similar dictionary definition (放置 vs 放,飞腾 vs 飞翔,uhh yeah I'm sure there's better synonyms out there), so I'm not too sure how well the flashcards would work. Specifically learning the differences in the way a definition is written doesn't really seem right or practical, and I'm not sure the type of definitions practical in flashcards are particularly good at conveying nuanced differences anyway. It's not a problem right now since my decks are pretty small, has anyone had any problems as decks grow larger?

Also kinda concerned about tying my Chinese understanding to English. Is it easy to "untie" a Chinese word from its English counterpart after it's been learned and you've seen it in context more often?

Currently I'm using flashcards for words I either know or can kinda guess the meaning of - English definitions are definitely used, but they aren't specifically tested on.


Hi Felwyn,

the pitfalls you mention, I have experienced them as well.

I'd now say it's critical that a learner doesn't rely on studying with flashcards too much. One should try to infer meanings and usage from reading Chinese texts (say, from a textbook) as soon as possible and integrate vocabulary in memory that way, repeating to oneself what word combinations one has just read. Then one should write as much as possible, even if one makes many mistakes at the beginning. Studying with flashcards, in the end, is useful mainly for memorizing pronunciations and how to write Chinese characters. This method should also help you to decouple Chinese words from English translations.

Of course, at the beginner stage, one needs to rely on flashcards much more heavily. But once one's vocabulary is large enough, it's definitely preferable to learn languages "from language" than from the separated form one encounters in flashcards. It helps to write down and collect some of the new ways one sees words used in the form of longer expressions, then remember one's ordered notes by heart (not to remember them forever, but you will find it's really easy to remember Chinese constructions quickly, and parts of them will stick). Some textbooks, like the New Practical Chinese Reader, also come with sets of Chinese expressions for each lesson. Whatever sticks in memory this way will be useful for speaking and writing.

On the problem of keeping similar Chinese words separate from each other in flashcards, you could include the pronunciation field in the Show options when studying in the English-Chinese direction. That way, you focus on writing new characters only, and don't have to rely on English meanings exclusively.

Cheers, Shun