Do Chinese Vocabulary Cards Improve Your Fluency?

Do Chinese Vocabulary Cards Improve Your Fluency?

Even though flash cards were first created in the 19th century, they are still used today as one of the most prominent and powerful learning tools.

So, what makes flashcards so trusted in the education industry? Can using Chinese flashcards help you level up your Chinese characters? 

Read on to have your questions answered and more! 

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Why does learning Chinese with flashcards work? 

Language students around the world use flashcards to help them memorize new vocabulary. That is no coincidence! It's because flashcards have been consistently proven to be effective.

Below are the top 3 scientific reasons for why they work:

1. Retrieval practice 

If you have "中国" on one side of the flashcards, you would think of its English meaning or its pronunciation. That engaging process is known as retrieval practice.

Retrieval practice, aka the testing effect or active recall, forces your brain to pull information about what you've previously learned without hints. This act forms stronger neural connections in your brain, increasing the probability of remembering the newly learned information in the future.

Using this practice actively stimulates your brain and demands it to work—the opposite of passive study, where you read the Chinese textbooks to take in information. Some studies even show that retrieval practice improves retention by 150 percent compared to passive studying. 

Flashcards also make it easy to go over and practice whatever works best for you. You can break down a deck into smaller categorized parts or spend more time studying certain cards that are harder to remember. Doing so will allow your brain to repeatedly use retrieval practice, minimizing your time and effort to memorize new vocabulary. 

2. Metacognition 

The Metacognition Cycle

The Metacognition Cycle | Spencer Author

You can check your answer immediately by flipping the card over with flashcards! You will know if you're correct and which parts you need to study harder and consider how to approach the character. This assessment of your study is referred to as metacognition.  

Research finds that metacognition gives you a deeper understanding of the knowledge, strengthens your memory muscles, and improves overall learning results. It also enhances learners' awareness of their weaknesses and productivity to plan their studies better and take immediate action.

3. Spaced Repetition System (SRS)

It is an effective study habit and useful when using flashcards with the SRS. The Spaced Repetition System (SRS) is an evidence-based technique where you break down your learning content into smaller study sessions and review them at spaced intervals to improve your long-term memory.

spaced repetition system (SRS) infographic

Spaced repetition system simplified graphic

The SRS is perfect to combat the forgetting curve—an idea that we slowly forget what we've learned over time.

Projected Forgetting Curve

The projected forgetting curve

You can spread learning information and review sessions over a certain period. With this time frame, you can stop the forgetting curve, optimize your memory capacity, and retain new knowledge much longer.

For example, suppose you have 100 Chinese flashcards of business-related vocabulary. In that case, you study only 10 flashcards per session and plan a review schedule. Make sure to review the words you find difficult to remember more frequently than the rest. That's how you can easily reap the SRS's benefits through flashcards!

3 practical tips to get the most out of Chinese flashcards 

Despite their benefits, many learners still find flashcards boring. But that may be because they're not using flashcards properly! Below are three simple and practical tips to reap more rewards from this versatile learning tool. 

Once you know how to utilize Chinese flashcards, you will greatly improve your language skills.

1. Keep them short and simple 

Don't make or buy flashcards packed with too much information written on them! You might think the more detailed, the better.

However, that will only do you more harm than good. The reasoning is that when including multiple pieces of information on one card, you're more likely to run into illusions of competence. Illusions of competence happen when you think you know something, but you don't.

For example, you study a card with 4 facts written on it. When reviewing, you pull out the card, state clearly 3 facts, and forget the last one. However, when you turn the card over and see it listed with other facts you remembered, you'd likely think, “I knew that!”. You think you nailed the card because you got 3 out of 4. Keeping your card simple and containing only one question will eliminate the risk of making this mistake. On top of that, your brain will also take longer to memorize complex flashcards, and when you do, they won't stick long! 

It's best to keep it short and simple. A flashcard should only contain one learning objective. For example, if you want to learn the word ‘中国,' put the Chinese word on one side and its English meaning on the other. You can add a mnemonic sentence to help you remember more easily or write the word pinyin. But don't put any more than that, like synonyms, antonyms, common phrases, etc.

Always keep your cards clear, short, and to the point! 

2. Maintain frequent revisions 

The Chinese idiom ‘practice makes perfect' is true when studying flashcards. They are incredibly effective, but you can't just go through the deck of cards only once and hope all the information is magically ingrained in your brain. 

It's best to have study and revision sessions scheduled ahead of time. If that is difficult for you, then make sure you review what you learn as soon as possible. It can be a few hours or a day after your study session. Just don't let the gap be too long, as your brain will likely forget what you just learned, which means your revision now becomes a brand-new study season! 

One more tip is to study easy-to-remember flashcards less often and difficult-to-remember ones more often. So, always review what you need to review after each revision session.

3. Make your flashcards memorable 

Humans' memories are proven to be triggered to remember pictures, stories, and emotions far better than plain, black-and-white text. Based on this reasoning, mnemonic devices were invented and have been widely used in our daily lives.

For instance, to remember the order of operations for math: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, and Subtract, we have the sentence ‘Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.'

You can use these memory techniques to make your flashcards more memorable. Here are a few ways that you might want to try: 

  • Attach colorful images  

  • Add a funny joke 

  • Create a story 

  • Make a song 

There are many creative ways to make mnemonics for your flashcards. You can find more in our article: Chinese mnemonics: Brain Hacks Proven To Improve Memory And Study Efficiency.

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Best 3 options to study Chinese flashcards

Listed below are our top # recommended options to learn Chinese with flashcards. Check them out and decide which one will be the best for you!

1. Create your own flashcards 

Self-made flashcards allow you to customize the content in whatever way you want. Making flashcards is a study session where you actively engage with what you want to learn.

On top of that, you don't need to spend much money!

All you need is blank paper and some stationery. There is one downside: time. You have to devote a considerable amount of time to making your flashcards. 

2. Study on Pandanese 

Too busy to create flashcards on your own flashcards? Try ours instead.

Pandanese is a web-based platform that offers unique and fun Chinese flashcards to facilitate your learning journey. Most importantly, it uses the best and most effective memory-aid techniques to fully unlock the benefits of studying with flashcards.

Pandanese comes with pre-made mnemonics and implements the Spaced Repetition System (SRS) along with retrieval practice—all neatly built-in to the Pandanese software, giving you an optimal study course. 

Additionally, you can customize these cards to fit your learning style and objective. After making an account, you can choose a syllabus specifically for business, travel, or school.

Overall, Pandanese is the perfect app for new Chinese-language learners who have difficulty wrapping their heads around complicated Chinese radical and Chinese vocabulary.  

3. Get a flashcards deck 

If you prefer something else to technology, get yourself a flashcard deck from bookstores or on Amazon. We've searched the market and found the following products with good content and reviews. 

Check them out! 

1. Chinese Flash Cards Kit Volume 1: HSK Levels 1 & 2 Elementary Level

Chinese Flash Cards Kit Volume Cover

Chinese Flash Cards Kit Volume Cover

This flashcard kit provides a comprehensive learning experience to learn Chinese characters. It will provide 349 flashcards to pass HSK 1 and 2, an audio recording, and a study booklet for additional explanations, exam tips, and strategies to memorize the Hanzi.

Each card contains:

  • One Chinese character

  • Stroke order

  • Associated words and phrases

  • Look-alike characters

  • Romanized pronunciation with English translations

This flashcard deck is perfect for those studying for the HSK.

| Amazon link

2. Tuttle Chinese for Kids Flash Cards Kit Vol 1 Simplified Edition

Tuttle Chinese for Kids Flash Cards Cover

Tuttle Chinese for Kids Flash Cards Cover

This learning guide is perfect for beginners as it introduces preschool through early elementary level Chinese that includes:

  • 64 flashcards in 8 different categories

  • a picture for each flashcard and its English translation

  • an audio CD to hear the pronunciation

  • Wall chart and learning guide

  • Additional resources for further learning

Tuttle Chinese's flashcards are perfect for any beginner learning Chinese.

| Amazon link

3. Mandarin Chinese Picture Dictionary

Mandarin Chinese Picture Dictionary Cover

Mandarin Chinese Picture Dictionary Cover

This Chinese dictionary is a great beginner resource.

It will cover over 1,500 Mandarin Chinese words and phrases with Hanzi characters, pinyin pronunciation, and English translations. Along with these flashcards, it also includes

  • color photographs

  • example sentences

  • audio recordings by native speakers

  • an introduction to Mandarin pronunciation and grammar

  • an index for easy word lookup

This study stack provides a fun and engaging way to learn Mandarin Chinese, making it suitable for anyone and future travelers to China.

| Amazon link

The top 25 common Chinese words associated with flashcards are listed below in the table. You can use them to create a flashcards-themed Chinese flashcards deck!




English meaning 



shǎn kǎ




Zhōngwén shǎn kǎ

Chinese flashcards 







Zhù jì fú
















recite from memory



jì dé zhù




jì bù zhù

cannot remember




Chinese character


















translate / translation












example sentence




smart (tech)




brush strokes / stroke order








go online









In conclusion

Using Chinese vocabulary cards is a powerful learning tool for learning any language. By following three practical tips, learners can maximize the benefits of this versatile learning tool.

Along with these tips, incorporate additional learning sources to improve your language fluency, memory retention, and overall learning outcomes.

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