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How should I make cards for Japanese words that don't have any kanji?

February 09, 2024 — Tatsumoto Ren

How do you deal with flashcards where the 1T word is in katakana or hiragana? When I see a word in kanji and have to recall the reading, I feel like I'm proving to myself I actually know the word as opposed to just reading it and recalling what the card means. Should I kanjify it?

In general, if you encounter a word that can have kanji while reading Japanese, it is advisable to kanjify it when making a card.

When you force yourself to recall the word's reading by looking at the kanji, it makes the reviewing process more challenging and leaves a greater impact on the brain. This approach increases the likelihood that you're going to remember the word for a much longer period of time.

Even if a word is usually written in kana, if it can technically be written in kanji, it is important to be prepared to read it in kanji as well because there may come a time when you encounter it written in kanji. If you can read a word in kanji, you can automatically read it in kana as well. However, if you can only read it in kana, you cannot read it in kanji. Therefore, if you can read it in kanji, you are prepared for everything.

Whenever a word has kanji, it is beneficial to kanjify it when making a flashcard. It improves your understanding of the word in every way. However, certain words, especially katakana words, do not have corresponding kanji characters. In fact, the majority of katakana words are never spelled in kanji. The only exceptions are words imported during the Meiji period, when attempts were made to write loan words in kanji. Nevertheless, most of the time, kanji are not assigned to katakana words. Katakana words tend to be very easy because usually they are derived from English or other European languages. And if you know a European language, it's highly likely you already know them. So learning them shouldn't be a problem, even without using the SRS.

Apart from words with kanji and loanwords there's a third group. If a word lacks kanji characters and does not originate from a European language, such as わんさか or ひもじい, you might not learn that word to the same extent as words with kanji. However, in my experience, it has never proven to be problematic. The purpose of the SRS is not to master these words but to create mental dictionary entries so that you can recognize them more easily during immersion and improve your overall comprehension. It is primarily through immersion that you acquire and master vocabulary.

Therefore, for words without kanji, you can create standard SWCs and TSCs. Kanjify the words if there's kanji but if not then don't worry about it. You will still make progress and succeed in your language journey.

Tags: faq