Why are there always sentences on the front of vocab flashcards?


NativShark always teaches vocab with context from a situation and/or a sentence, never alone.

Japanese is a highly contextual language, which means that studying vocab words outside of context will often lead us learners to make incorrect assumptions about how they can be used, or even what they actually mean.

An example

Let’s take a look at the following verb:


This verb has 25 meanings according to Jisho.org.

  1. to hang up (e.g. a coat, a picture on the wall); to let hang; to suspend (from); to hoist (e.g. sail); to raise (e.g. flag)
  2. to put on (e.g. a blanket); to put on top of; to cover; to lay; to spread
  3. to put on (glasses, etc.); to wear (a necklace, etc.)
  4. to make (a call)
  5. to spend (time, money); to expend; to use
  6. to pour (liquid) onto; to sprinkle (powder or spices) onto; to splash; to throw (e.g. water) onto
  7. to turn on (an engine, radio, etc.); to set (a dial, alarm clock, etc.); to put on (a DVD, song, etc.); to use (a device, implement, etc.)
  8. to cause (someone inconvenience, trouble, etc.); to burden (someone); to impose
  9. to multiply (arithmetic operation)Mathematics, Usually written using kana alone
  10. to secure (e.g. lock)

…I’m going to spare us from the other 15. But feel free to click that link above if you’re curious to see them all.

A test

Let’s say we have a flashcard that only shows a single vocab on the front so we can focus on it in isolation.

Okay, here we go:



Which of the 25 defitions is this one?

☠ ☠ Thinking Space ☠ ☠

☠ ☠ Thinking Space ☠ ☠

☠ ☠ Thinking Space ☠ ☠

☠ ☠ Thinking Space ☠ ☠

☠ ☠ Thinking Space ☠ ☠

☠ ☠ Thinking Space ☠ ☠

☠ ☠ Thinking Space ☠ ☠



If you guessed anything other than this specific one (number 6), would you say you were wrong?

I wouldn’t at least. But this is a really good example of why context is so invaluable when studying Japanese.

If we chose to teach per vocab word instead of per usage with context, we would end up with a list of 25 definitions and sentences on how to use them. On a single flashcard. We’d probably all be going crazy.

If we did teach it all in different flashcards, we would have no way of knowing which of the 25 definitions this one was because we have no context and indicator of what it means.

Either way, we’d end up being stuck in reviews for way too long as a result because then we would probably also be looking it up elsewhere just to see if we were right with our answer.

The power of context

By having a sentence and the context of the situation on the front of the card, it helps us fully understand when and how a word can be used in a much more realistic situation that we’re more likely to encounter when using Japanese.

Even if it’s a one-word sentence we run into in real life, there’s still the context of the situation we’re in that helps us figure out what the other person is saying.

This is different from an isolated vocab flashcard, which just teaches words in a vacuum until you see the back, making half of the flashcard unhelpful and quizzing you on something that you would never experience when out using the language.

For example, if you’re eating dinner with your friend and you get 唐揚からあげ, you or your friend could pick up the lemon and hold it over the 唐揚からあげ and say, “かける?”

You would know that they’re referring to squeezing lemon on the 唐揚からあげ, not locking up their house like defintion 10 means because of the context.