Making The Transition to Japanese Only Flash Cards

At some point in your journey, you will most likely need to use English less and less, and begin making the transition to Japanese only flash cards, TV shows, books and more.

Even though you can take any part of your life and make it 100% Japanese, it’s probably the easiest to do with your flash cards (using things like Anki and SRS) which is exactly what I’m going to cover in this post.

Let me show you exactly how I make a single Japanese-only flash card, and then once you’ve learned how to do it yourself, you can make as many of your own as you’d like.

Step 1: Start With A Single Japanese Word.

There are many methods that you can use to make a flash card that is entirely in Japanese, but the way that I feel makes the most sense for people learning Japanese, is to make dictionary definitions of words.

The basic concept is that you are going to pick a single Japanese word, and then create a flash card based off of the word itself and its definition, which will also be entirely in Japanese.

In this way, you can learn the one word being defined if it’s new to you, but even if it’s not new, you can still learn all of the words that are used to describe it.

Since it will be a full sentence that’s used in the definition, you will also be acquiring the grammar of Japanese as you read and understand it.

So let’s go ahead and choose a single word to use as the base of the card. For this walk through, I’ll use the word “Slowly” as the word that will be defined.

The first thing to do is look up what the Japanese word for “Slowly” is. You can easily do this by going to jisho.org which is a fantastic, and totally free online dictionary.

Type the word in (in English) and hit Enter!

Here’s what I see:

Here we can see the Japanese word for “Slowly” is 「ゆっくり」. This is important because we are going to base everything else off of this.

By the way, it’s not necessary that you pick a new word to learn for this part. It is totally fine (and maybe preferable) to select a word that you already know.

Just be a little careful as to what word you pick because you don’t want something that has a super complicated definition.

More on that in a minute.

Step 2: Look Up The Word’s Pitch Accent.

The next step is super simple. All you need to do is look up the word’s pitch accent so that you know how to say the word correctly.

I don’t want to spend too much time explaining what that is right now, because I have already explained Japanese pitch accent in this post.

And I have also provided a super useful list of Japanese pitch accent resources in this post as well.

So for this example I will go to the website wadoku.de and type in 「ゆっくり」 so that I can see the pitch accent.

Here’s what I see:

From the line that is displayed we can see that the pitch starts low on ゆ and then immediately goes high for the next two mora っく before coming back down to low on り.

For those of you who are familiar with the different pitch accents, you’ll recognize that this is the 中高型.

This is typically represented with a (2) in Japanese mono-lingual dictionaries, which is something that we are going to put on the back of the card.

So if you’re able to recognize the pitch accent pattern, and you know its corresponding number, then you’ll want to include that information on the card.

But if you don’t know that information yet, then you can simply write a note about when and where the pitch changes.

Step 3: Find A Definition That You Comprehend.

Now things begin to get interesting as we move on to the heavy lifting in this process. What you will want to do is enter the word that you selected in Step 1 into a Japanese monolingual dictionary.

I highly recommend the Yahoo! Japan dictionary as it is online and free like the other resources we’ve been using so far.

You can find it at dic.yahoo.co.jp by clicking on that link.

All you need to do once you are there is type the Japanese word into the search bar and press Enter!

Here’s what you’ll see:

Now usually there are actually a lot of different definitions, but for the purposes of creating a mono-lingual card, you really only need a single explanation.

For this card that I’m creating right now, I’m only going to grab that very first explanation, which is: 動作が遅いさま。

Now is the time to look up what all of these words mean so that you can fully understand the sentence and see how it relates to the word that it is describing.

A good way to do this is simply to copy and paste the whole sentence into jisho.org which we used earlier.

Here’s the breakdown in case you were wondering:

  • 動作 = action; movements;
  • が = indicates sentence subject (occasionally object);
  • 遅い = slow; time-consuming;
  • さま。state; situation;

So we can see from this explanation that the Japanese word 「ゆっくり」 is defined as “a state of slow action or movement.”

That’s a pretty easy way to understand the word 「ゆっくり」 for the purposes of this card, and it’s one that we will go ahead and use.

Step 4: Create The Card With The Notes On The Back.

So now we want to create the actual card so that we can review it on a fairly regular basis until it’s locked into your memory for good.

I always like to put the word with its definition on the front so that I can use it as an opportunity to test my reading and comprehension of full-on Japanese.

Then I’ll put any helpful information like furigana and the pitch accent pattern on the back of the card so that if I happen to forget it, I have a super quick way to look that information up.

Here’s what my final card looks like:

Now for those of you who are unfamiliar with how Anki works, the top half is the “front of the card” and it is the only thing that will be shown at first.

Then once I hit Enter, the “back of the card” which is the bottom half is revealed.

Normally this is where you would put an English translation for the Japanese sentence on a flash card, but remember that this time we are making Japanese-only cards.

So I leave all the English out, and instead just include pronunciation tips on the back of the card.

At first, you will probably want to keep the definitions fairly short so that you can learn and understand them. But after a while, your abilities will increase and you will be totally fine with using much longer and more detailed definitions.

After you’ve created your first Japanese only flash card like this, you are ready to make 1,000!!!

But not all at once, lol!

Be sure to pick a number of cards to create per day that works for you. When I first started out, I only did five cards per day which I felt was a good number. If you’re not sure how many to do, then give that amount a try and see how it goes for you.

A Final Tip For The Process

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are creating a new habit of using and understanding Japanese without the aid of the English language.

This is a pretty big step, and one that many students never actually take since it’s outside of their comfort zone.

But it is one that is essential for anyone who wants to achieve a high level of fluency with Japanese!

The fact that Japanese is often times expressed completely differently from English is a problem that we all have to struggle with in the beginning.

But by making the scary switch from Japanese-English over to Japanese-Japanese, you will begin to train your mind to think in the same manner that natives of the language do as well.

I highly recommend that you all try making some of these Japanese only flash cards in order to help improve your abilities with the language.

Got any tips of your own for making the switch to Japanese-only? Let us all know by sharing your knowledge with a comment below!


  • Craig

    This sounds like a pretty easy process that would be an effective way to let go of your native tongue and operate entirely in Japanese.

    Besides these definition cards, are there any other types of “JP-Only” cards that you would recommend? For myself I’ve used flash cards that only had Japanese on them, like sentences that I’ve taking from books and such.

    It’s helpful, but also pretty simple.

    • Nick Hoyt

      I also have cards that are purely Japanese dialog from video games. I typically just search Google Images for game-play and copy the sentence over after I’ve read and understood it.

      Another way to do it would be to make natural flash cards like you would to remember something for a school test, but do it entirely in Japanese.

      So the front could be a question like “When was the automobile invented?” And then the back would have the answer, but again the entire card would be in Japanese.

      This is actually what’s known as “acquiring” a language, rather than “learning” it. I won’t go into all the details here, but in this situation you aren’t studying Japanese, you’re using it to study something else.

      That is to say, Japanese is not the end goal of this process, it’s actually the middle (a tool, if you will) and some other information is the objective.

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