Well, I’ve come a long way since my first review. It only seems fitting that after so much time has gone by, I should be reviewing another set of flashcards. How is this set different? Well, it’s different in a lot of ways, but before I get into all that I guess I should explain my situation a bit. I tend to have to do that with my most of my reviews, but it’s important to give you a gereneral idea of my thought process. For instance, in for this review, I haven’t actually used these flashcards to learn Kanji.
See, I asked for the flashcards made by White Rabbit Press, the same company that made my Kana flashcards. I already knew they were good quality, and I had no reason to try another brand. Well, as a gift, I was given Tuttle Kanji Flashcards. So, why wouldn’t I use them? Because I was given volume 3… Since I knew all of two or so Kanji by the time I recieved this, I figured it would be a good idea to start somewhere a little closer to the begining. =P
But fear not, my faithful readers – I am still fully capable of reviewing this product for you. One of the great things about flashcards is that they’re pretty simple. I don’t have to sit here and discuss teaching methods or anything like that. It’s mostly a question of quality.
Alright, on to the cards! Well, actually, we’ll start with the box. Why the box?! Because I’ve done it in so many of my other reviews that it seems like an entertaining place to start. I’ve had a lot of boxes in my day. Some, I used as spaceships, others have held my wordly belongings for years, and others are obscenely bright and covered in smiling faces. How does this one stack up? Actually, pretty badly. It’s rather bland looking, certainly nothing to write home about, but it manages to convey any information you need to know about the product you’re about to purchase. The important thing, is that this box is a pain to open. It’s got one of those sliding lids that you’re just supposed to lift off, but the cardboard has some sort of weird death grip on the lower box despite not being deformed in any way that I can see. To make matters worse, once you get it open, all you’re given is a couple of stacks of cards, a small manual, and a folding ad for their other Kanji cards.
Let’s move on to the manual, since it really isn’t going to take very long. This thing is a whopping 16 pages long and printed in black and white, you know the kind of thing that’s bound to draw your attention. =P When I see a booklet like this in my language learning tools (or really just about anything else) I expect to see some sort of picture of a card with little lines or circles drawn on it to explain what everything is. This doesn’t actually do that. We crack open our tiny pamphlet and the first page is filled with standard copyright info, the second is far more interesting and it is entitled “Introduction”. It then proceeds to tell us that he’s glad we used all of his other products and like them enough to continue using these. He also feels the need to congratulate me on coming so far in my language learning. Apparently I only have these Kanji to learn to have mastered all of the Kanji for literacy!
Huh, for an introduction, it sure is telling me about stuff I’ve done, rather than what I’m going to do… Well, he moves on to tell us that he’s added example sentences to these flashcards (something that was already part of the White Rabbit Press set), and that they are using the same layout as the revised version of volumes one and two, because this explains anything about the layout to someone who just got volume three…
Alright, I’m nit-picking – let’s turn the page. We are now presented with a Stroke Order Index! This sounds very exciting, but it’s really just a list of all the Kanji you’re about to learn spread out across the rest of the 13 pages of this manual. Well, as extremely useful as that thing was, I decided I would give the cards a chance anyway.
Skipping the boring fold-out ad, I look into my box to see 4 massive stacks of flashcards. Now, when I say massive, I mean this box has 512 flashcards in it, so that’s 128 cards per stack. I diligently pull out the top left stack (which I can only assume is the first one I am supposed to work through, as there is no guide in the manual). The first thing you’ll notice about these things is that they’re sharp. Now, I can’t promise you that they’ll replace your latest Ginsu set, but I would expect quite a few paper cuts in your future.
Wrapped around each of these four stacks is a taped together band of paper, which is pretty annoying to remove and downright punishing to put back in place. Hopefully you can provide your own rubber bands – otherwise you’re likely to spend more time trying to keep them organized then you are actually using them.
Alright, maybe I’m being a bit overly harsh. I mean, it’s the flashcards that you want, who cares about a box? So, we pick up our first card (numbered 897 in the top right, but I have no idea what it’s counting). In the top left it has a large picture of the Kanji that’s fairly easy to make out. Next to the character it tells you how many strokes the character has, and just below that it shows the Kanji being used in 4 little examples. After a little divider line we’re shown two other kanji that seem to be two other Kanji that this one is made of. I’m not sure if this is actually the case, but it’s what I can make of it (keep in mind, I’m still rather new to learning Kanji). Finally the front of your card has 4 different numbers spread across the bottom telling you how to look them up in 4 different, but popular, dictionaries.
Now you flip the card over to see if you guessed right. Well, if you’re like me, you’re about to be very annoyed with these flashcards. I don’t know about everyone else, but when I have a flashcard, I flip in horizontally not vertically. This has always worked out well for me in the past, but these cards are set up so that you must flip them vertically to be able to read the other side. Admittedly it’s a minor complaint, but it’s something that bothered me greatly while trying to use them.
Alright, so the back has the number plastered to the top right again, in case I forgot that it was number 897, and has three Romanji words to the left of it. I’m personally against them using Romanji, but that’s no reason to condemn them. Beneath our three Romanji words we’re given the English words, “chest, breast, feelings”. Kind of a vague definition, but I’m sure it’s enough to give you a general idea. Beneath that we have a sentence written out in both Kanji and Kana showing how it’s used, which is then translated into both Romanji and English. Below another dividing line we’re given 4 numbered Romanji words that seem to correspond to the words on the front, and some English translation next to those. I can only imagine that those are for quizzing yourself – otherwise they just felt like randomly adding Romanji to the card.
Finally, along the bottom, we’re shown the Kanji being drawn in a series of steps. Most other stroke diagrams use little arrows to show you how it’s done. This just has images of each completed stroke added on one at a time. This is actually kind of bad, because if you haven’t learned some of the more complex strokes, you might start doing them incorrectly.
Two more things to mention before I can finish this review. The Romanji definitions on the back include both On-yomi and Kun-yomi pronunciations. The On-yomi are listed in all caps while the Kun-yomi are all lower case. This is actually very commonly done, but there’s absolutly nothing within this kit that tells you that. So, if you somehow were not aware that this was commonly done, you’d be kind of screwed at figuring out which is which.
Now this last one I am providing simply as a warning. I have no actual first-hand knowledge of this! When I first got these things I decided to go off and read some reviews on them. I heard many accounts of there being a couple of errors in the cards, including duplicate Kanji and wrong definitions. My understanding is that there are only a few of these, and someone who is careful shouldn’t have too much of a problem, but it’s something you should know. Since I’m not actually using these to study, I have not personally seen these errors, and I can’t actually tell you if these stories are true. You’ll just have to decide if you want to take that chance.
So, time to finish out my review. Would I recommend them? Actually, yes. Despite everything bad I just mention above, they will teach you Kanji, and in a similar manner as any other flashcards on the market. But, if I know other companies make better quality products, why would I recommend these? Price. Tuttle flashcards will cost you around $25 retail price, whereas the White Rabbit Press ones will cost you around $44 and come with less Kanji for you to practice. I can’t say if one list is more useful than the other, but getting over 100 more Kanji at nearly half the retail price, even if the quality is worse, is the better investment. They’re not perfect, and I can nit-pick them all night, but they should function just fine.