This is something I have been messing around with for most of this year and I really love it at this point. It is a variation of Khatzumoto’s Massive Context Cloze-Deletion cards.

I tried MCDs for awhile back when I was living in Japan, but the problem I kept having with them was that I would memorize the information I wanted to produce for each card instead of producing it naturally from context. I kept expecting this to stop happening once I had more cards, but I actually got to the point where I had a pretty huge MCD deck made over several months and was still having the same problem. Also, I realized there was something not quite right when the teachers looking over my shoulder while I was reviewing couldn’t figure out the answer to some of the cards based on context.

My solution to this is:

Massive (or Moderate (or Minimal)) Context Bold cards (MCBs)

The general idea with these cards is that, like MCDs, you have a card with some amount of context and a single element that you test yourself on. However, instead of cloze-deletion it uses bold to bring your attention to the piece of the card you are focusing on.

Here is what I like about this format:

  1. It helps reviews move along more quickly and enjoyably because you only test yourself on one piece of information on each card.
  2. They make it possible to use sentences that are further above your level (see examples below).
  3. You can make cards with as much or as little context as you like and not worry about the card being more of a pain to review.

The way I have been testing myself with the cards is to look immediately at the bold part of the card and see whether or not I know the meaning of the word. If so I mark the card as correct.  If I can’t get the answer immediately I read more of the card and try to figure out the meaning based on context. If I can do this successfully I mark it as correct as well. If I can’t do either of these I read over the definition of the word on the back of the card and then mark it as missed.

So here are some examples for Japanese (monolingual), Spanish (monolingual), and Chinese (bilingual):




(sentence from Gigazine and definition from Yahoo)

Aunque originario de Asia nororiental, su parentesco filognético es incierto.


m. Unión o vínculo que existe entre los parientes: parentesco de consanguinidad.

Relación o semejanza que existe entre las cosas: el parentesco entre ambos estilos es evidente.

Aunque originario de Asia nororiental, su parentesco filognético es incierto.


adj. Falso: una afirmación incierta.

Dudoso, inseguro: le espera un porvenir incierto.

Impreciso, borroso, indefinido: sus ojos eran de un color incierto.

(sentence from Wikipedia and definitions from El Mundo)



农历 [nónglì]
1. noun the traditional Chinese calendar; the lunar calendar



节日 [jiérì]
1. noun festival



端午节 [duānwǔjié]
1. noun Dragon Boat Festival

(sentence from Slow Chinese and definitions from nciku)

The example with Japanese shows what my cards have been looking like these days. I used bold on most of the ~7000 cards I have made this year and overall I definitely think it has helped the reviews be more focused and enjoyable.

The example with Spanish shows how I have been breaking into monolingual definitions with Spanish. From the cards above I would branch off into more cards based on unknown words in the definitions using the branching process from Japanese Level Up (here is a more detailed explanation of how I make monolingual cards). Most of the time I end up just starting with an example sentence from one of the words I looked up while reading instead of pulling the original sentence where I found the word.

The example with Chinese shows how I have been using this to work with material that is pretty far above my level. For example, I probably made 5-10 cards for the first sentence in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (哈利·波特与魔法石). The cool thing is that although it starts out with basically just memorizing the readings of individual words that are bolded, as I memorize more and more I start to see the rest of the context in the sentence come into focus and I end up reading more on each card. Also, because I love the book so much it has been easier learning the material from Harry Potter than the easier material I have tried in the past that was less interesting.

Most of the time I only end up putting one sentence on the front of the card for Spanish or Mandarin, and a couple sentences on the front for Japanese.

So that’s basically the gist of it. I hope it is helpful and I would love to hear what you think in the comments!

MCBs, Part 1b: One Character Per Card

*For anyone studying Chinese: although I haven’t found it to be a problem with Japanese, with Chinese text highlighting information in a color instead of bold makes it much easier to see.


  • Koyami on Sep 20, 2012 Reply

    A great idea!

    I’ve actually been doing this for a while now as well, except I highlight my words blue instead of making them bold. (Fortunately it doesn’t change the acronym)

    Glad to see other people experimenting and tweaking methods.

    Have fun with your studies!

    • Jeff on Sep 20, 2012


      I had a feeling that other people were probably doing something similar. Glad to hear it has been working for you too!

  • Kalek on Sep 20, 2012 Reply

    I’ve just started experimenting with this type of card. I only have a few, but it seems great so far. So glad to see someone is having success with it a year later.

  • Greg on Sep 20, 2012 Reply

    Wow! Thank you! You may have just saved MCD’s for me. I had a similar experience with mine, to the point that I just stopped doing them. I had a massive collection, will be sad to see it go. Totally looking forward to trying this method, though. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jeff on Sep 20, 2012

      Glad you liked it! Let me know how it works out for you!

  • Adam on Sep 20, 2012 Reply

    Yes, this is also exactly what I do. I also wrote a blog post about it :)

    I should point out that since then I’ve also started only including the highlighted word on the answer, as you do, rather than the whole translation.

    • Jeff on Sep 20, 2012

      Nice! Yeah I think it is helpful to only include the the highlighted word on the back of the card because it makes sure you’re focusing on that one piece of information. When I was putting the full translation on the back for Chinese and Spanish I had a tendency not to be as aware of each element of the sentence.

      That’s really cool how you got Anki to show the reading of the word by hovering over it! I might have to give that a shot.

  • Lan on Sep 20, 2012 Reply

    I haven’t done a great deal with MCDs, mostly because they don’t actually work very well as flashcards. In many cases (most cases, I’d guess) a cloze deletion will have several potentially correct answers, unless you’re attempting to memorize that particular passage. So if you come up with an answer that any native speaker would accept, but isn’t the same as the original sentence, how do you mark it?? And this type of card avoids that problem completely. Much better.

    I think MCDs will eventually find a niche use for memorizing things like poems or song lyrics but I can’t imagine people not getting frustrated with them after a while for any other use. I know it hasn’t taken me very long.

    The method shown here is actually also how Learning With Texts exports Anki cards by default.

    I see you’ve shown only vocabulary cards here – do you do the same thing with grammar points?

    • Jeff on Sep 21, 2012

      Actually I was going to write a little bit about it once I had tried it out for a longer period of time, but what I have been doing with new sentence patterns for Mandarin is to make the sentence blue to let myself know it is to test a new structure/grammar point. Then I bold the elements of the sentence to focus on and on the back of the card I have the full translation and any notes related to understanding the new structure.

  • MaxX on Oct 04, 2012 Reply

    I would like to mention to anyone who studies with Anki on their phone should also change the bold word to a different color in case the bold font doesn’t appear on your phone.

  • Ramses on Oct 04, 2012 Reply

    I’ve been doing this for over 5 years, and I can tell you it works. I’ve also tried the Cloze method, but it sucks if you ask me. I hate guessing what word to put in!

  • anonymous on May 30, 2013 Reply

    Hi, that’s a lot like the classic Antimoon sentence items: So it’s really nothing new for me, but I also favor this type of items, over definition-word and cloze-deletion items. However, your examples are well done. I like the m., adj., without parentheses. simple yet elegant. I don’t see 画素 (pixel) in bold in the first Japanese example on my screen.

    • Jeff on May 30, 2013

      Thanks! I’m glad you’ve had success with this type of card as well.

      Yeah, it seems like bolding Chinese characters (either in Japanese or Chinese) can yield mixed results, and using a color to highlight the word/character is clearer most of the time.

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