DIY tools: language flashcards in a digital frame

The bulk of my language ‘study’ these days is listening to podcasts and other audio materials during my commute to and from work.  That’s pretty much been my pattern for the last couple of years– it works for me, but I’ve had a nagging feeling that I could/should be doing more work on reading and writing.

On my last HSK test, my suspicions were concerned— my listening section score was much much higher than the writing score.  Thinking about what I could do that wouldn’t take up tons of time (having a three year-old in the house means different priorities!), I hatched an idea.

I remembered that, awhile back, my mother had given us a couple of old digital photo frames– you know, the ones you can plug in and they will cycle through any images that you have on a USB key?  They weren’t the latest and greatest crystal-clear version of the technology, “but they were on clearance, and maybe we could use them to entertain [her grandson]?”  Because I’m still trying to keep him away from electrical cords, I didn’t really put the frames to use until a few weeks ago when the idea struck me to put one of them on my desk at work and make jpg flashcards of Chinese characters/phrases that I wanted to better remember.

The concept is pretty simple— use a free graphics editor like Paintbrush to type up two versions of an image, one with just the Chinese characters and the other with any pinyin or English comments that I wanted to add.   Naming them with sequential filenames ensures that they come up in order on the picture frame on my desk.  It’s not like I stare at it for hours, but every once in a while, a word will catch my eye and I’ll get reminded again about the strokes that make up that particular character.

When I’m reading something that contains an expression that seems worth remembering, I quickly open up paintbrush and make a white background flashcard.   Dumping it into a folder, I’m free to update my USB key whenever the inspiration hits.

When it comes to using flashcards, there are lots of folks talking about spaced repetition— sites like BYKI and Anki are good places to start if you want to give it a try.   I like the concept, but my ‘passive’ picture-frame cards are much more my speed these days.     This way I can keep some ‘word souvenirs’ from things I read and the review process weaves its way into my day.


3 thoughts on “DIY tools: language flashcards in a digital frame

    • will have to check it out– is it pretty flexible for what you put on the cards? My problem with lots of mobile tools these days is that I don’t end up using them and it just ends up increasing the guilt…

  1. Yes, you can put whatever you want on each side of the card and you can have more than two sides if you want. You can study then in random order and check off the ones you have memorized so they don’t come up again. I don’t use it much on my iPhone but on my laptop it’s very useful for vocab and memorizing grammar rules.

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