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Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Web-based flash cards will dazzle language learners
By KOICHI KO
Remember the days when it took markers, index cards and three hours to assemble a set of 100 flash cards? Remember all that time wasted that could have been better spent studying? It's amazing how much has changed in a few short years thanks to computers and the Internet.
If you're still handwriting your flash cards, here are three good reasons to set down your pen and turn on your PC:
Previously known as iKnow.co.jp, Smart.fm has spent a lot of time scientifically researching the way people remember things, and it has applied that information brilliantly within its Web application. You can choose from one of thousands of flash-card sets already created, but it is also really easy to create your own. To make a flash card is as simple as typing a word in English (Spanish, German, etc.) into the site and choosing the Japanese translation you are wishing to learn from among those offered.
Smart.fm separates its learning applications into three groups — iKnow (the flash-card app), Dictation (a service that asks you to listen to a sentence and type what you hear) and BrainSpeed (a game that gives you points for quickly choosing the correct word). The flash-card application is the site's main offering; it keeps track of the words you've learned, tracks how good you are at each and uses that information to more often display the vocabulary you need to study. iKnow also does a good job of bringing information back that you didn't understand and scheduling your learning patterns for the best effect.
Cost: Free; $4.99 for the full version
NihongoUp runs on Adobe Air software, which works with any operating system and takes minutes to install. The site makes Japanese flash-card learning more like a game, floating little pink balloons containing answers toward a sentence with a word highlighted at the bottom of the screen. You have to choose the right answer before the balloons hit the bottom.
The application has many different modes, but the vocab section is the one with the most content, including practice for the Japanese Learning Proficiency Test 3 and 4 (1 and 2 are promised to arrive soon), hiragana, katakana and a Japanese particles mode, which is by far NihongoUp's most distinguishing feature. In this mode, instead of vocab words, a sentence missing a particle appears at the bottom of the screen. You have to choose the right particle from four that float down in balloons. There aren't many applications out there that let you practice particles and do this good a job at it. NihongoUp is worth the price for this feature alone.
ReadTheKanji is the new kid in the Japanese flash-card learning neighborhood. It takes a fresh look at kanji learning, doing something that only the Web could accomplish. When you sign up, you choose which JLPT levels you want included in your quizzes and it then gives you sentences with a word you have to write out (from multiple choice). As you answer (rightly or wrongly), each of your kanji is assigned a score. You may know part of a word made up of multiple kanji. ReadTheKanji keeps track of this and even provides a kanji grid that color codes individual kanji to show which ones you are best at and which ones you need to improve. It looks like a great way to study for the JLPT.
Although Smart.fm and NihongoUp both provide sentences with the vocab word in context, ReadTheKanji does the best job of making this an important part of your learning. Although it's not required that you learn an entire sentence, it really encourages you to practice reading, which means that you not only get the word in context but additional practice as well. Statistics are also a very important aspect of ReadTheKanji, and you'll see a page full of percentages and numbers that you can analyze as you use the site more.