Why you should keep notes in your Chinese flashcards

You put a lot of effort into building, maintaining and studying your Chinese flashcard deck, but are you missing out on an opportunity to make it even more beneficial to your Chinese learning?

The 18th rule in Dr Wozniak's 20 Rules for Formulating Knowledge is “provide sources”. This is a good suggestion: keeping track of where you found the material your learning has several benefits:

  • You can go and find similar material later.
  • You've got a point of reference if someone points out how the material could be improved.
  • You can spot trends in how you're sourcing your learning material, which you might want to balance out.
  • You can retrieve cards from a particular source if the source turns out to be especially good or have a lot of problems.
  • If you ever want to publish or share your flashcard deck it's good to give proper attribution for the content.

You can go further with your note taking than just providing sources, though, and turn your flashcard deck into a personal compendium of Chinese learning. Here's a few other things that can make your flashcards more useful to you as you make progress.


Mnemonics should definitely appear on the flashcards for content they apply to. They can either appear as part of the response side so you see them on every review, or on a separate field that you can look at when you want to. Either way, it's beneficial to have them in the flashcard deck.

Firstly, you get more benefit out of your mnemonics if you're seeing them on a regular basis. When you forget the response to a card, one of the first things to go for is a mnemonic. For certain types of knowledge, especially Chinese characters, mnemonics should be central to the learning process, and keeping them on the flashcard achieves that.

Secondly, having a specific slot for mnemonics encourages you to make more of them. If they're noted down elsewhere or used haphazardly, you're less likely to create new ones on a consistent basis. Again, the flashcard deck is an ideal place to gather them.


Besides sources and mnemonics, it's good to have space for other notes and elaborations in your flashcard deck.

A good way to build this up organically is to add notes when you fail a card. The act of doing this is reinforcing in itself, and you'll build up extra material around the more difficult cards as you go forwards.

Keeping more detailed notes in the flashcards also makes them more searchable, which tends to become more and more useful as the deck grows.

Series: Twenty rules for learning

  1. Understand before you learn
  2. Learn before you memorise
  3. Build upon the basics
  4. The minimum information principle
  5. Cloze deletion for learning Chinese
  6. Use imagery to learn Chinese
  7. Use mnemonics
  8. Graphical deletion and audio deletion for learning Chinese
  9. Avoid sets
  10. Avoid enumerations
  11. Interference when learning Chinese
  12. 5 ways to optimise your Chinese flashcards
  13. Refer to other memories
  14. Personalise your Chinese learning
  15. Using emotional states to remember Chinese
  16. The importance of context in Chinese flashcards
  17. Why redundancy is good for language learning
  18. Why you should keep notes in your Chinese flashcards (this article)
  19. Keep dates on your Chinese flashcards

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