Digital flashcards

Why use flashcards?
Flashcards are a time-tested method of learning vocabulary. Learning vocabulary is not all there is to learning a language, but you won’t get far without a decent core vocabulary.

Paper vs. electronic flashcards
“Flashcards” no longer means just a stack of paper cards; there are a large number of apps (desktop and mobile) and websites that provide flashcard functionality and potentially a lot more.

Electronic flashcards have many advantages over paper: they can have more than two “sides,” include audio, adjust as you learn, keep statistics on your progress, and much more. See “Choosing a digital flashcard app or site” for more.

Websites vs. apps
Websites and apps may have many of the same features, but websites are dependent on an internet connection. Websites may, however, offer features that are seldom, if ever, seen in apps (particularly mobile apps), such as games, user forums, etc. Again, more features to consider may be found at “Choosing a digital flashcard app or site.”

Sep 252011
iOS app HanCard updated

The flashcard app, HanCard, has been updated to offer pre-made card sets for popular textbooks, such as Integrated Chinese and New Practical Chinese Reader, as well as for the HSK exam. These sets are available as in-app purchases at various prices. The first chapter of each textbook is available for free. You can also test the functionality of the app with the included free card sets (most frequent characters and Hong Kong grade levels).

Aug 122011
Study tool:

Although the HSK Exam (汉语水平考试 / 漢語水平考試) changed in 2010, I still recommend the website As the name implies, there is a built-in flashcard feature (not Flash-based!). The functionality is pretty basic: you see hanzi (traditional, simplified, or both) and you think whether you know the pinyin and English meaning. Flip to check if you were right and click 对 or 错 as appropriate. The flashcards are not limited to the old HSK. You can also test yourself on vocabulary from New Practical Chinese Reader, Practical Chinese Reader, or Integrated Chinese (2nd or 3rd ed.) The interface is pretty slick but not immediately intuitive, so here are some tips: Use the sliders to chose the range of words included in the test. While testing, buttons for flipping the card, moving forward and backward, marking correct or incorrect, etc. are hidden until you mouse over them. You can also use the keyboard instead … [read more]

Jul 172011
iOS app: iFCL

This is a basic flip-and-grade-yourself flashcard app. The lite version, which I tested, comes loaded with cards for all 14 chapters of volume one of the textbook series “New Practical Chinese Reader.” You can put anything (choice of traditional characters, simplified characters, pinyin, and English) on each side, but there are only two sides. Pros: Flipping to the “answer” side shows all the info for the card, no matter what two things you put on each side (but the print size makes the characters extremely hard to read). Choose any combination of chapters within the volume (I’m not sure if the full version allows you to select chapters across volumes). Cons: No way to customize font sizes. Only two card sides. Swiping motion to flip and grade is more tiring than tapping would be. Kitschy pink, lined card design on woodgrain background. For features to look for in flashcard apps … [read more]

Jul 092011

In switching to the new site platform, I have discontinued the information about all-purpose flashcard apps for iOS because the website covers this much, much better. As of this post there are 130 apps detailed on that site, and you can search them based on features such as audio or image support, syncing, import/export, and tracking (I discuss desirable flashcard features on this page). You can see which apps have free versions or formatted for the iPad. It’s a really useful and beautiful site. You can also follow the developer’s Twitter feed @flashcardapps to hear when new apps appear.