When I first heard learners in the Japanese community talking about MCDs, I did what any sensible internet user would and Googled it.
Okay, I probably should have seen that coming…
But even more refined searches lead me to scattered information about MCDs. In the past two years, many in the Japanese community have shifted to MCDs based SRS cards instead of sentences.
So what’s the deal with these MCDs anyway?
MCDs stand for massive context cloze-deletion. Based on the long established cloze deletion flashcards, MCDs are at their core a fill in the blank system of flashcards. You create a “cloze deletion” of something you don’t know (a word, a particle, kanji, etc.) and your goal is to guess the deleted part of the sentence.
The difference between an MCD and a cloze deletion is that an MCD will give you a large amount of context to the cloze; often times, the front of an MCD card can have an entire paragraph on it. This serves a number of functions, but the idea is to use the surrounding context to figure out and remember the cloze.
Here is an example of a very basic MCD in J-E style:
While a normal MCD will usually have much more context, even this example can make it clear how the context can help you. If you already knew the context of はじめまして, you quickly can come to the conclusion that this is an introduction. That and other context clues should help you figure out that the cloze is 名前. In this case, the cloze is one kanji at a time, so you would have a separate card for the 前 kanji.
Of course, MCDs are what you make them; adding things like furigana, more content, mono-lingual definitions, etc. are all up to you. MCDs give you a lot more room to be creative, so experiment with what works best for you. Here are a few more examples.
But what you really want to know is are they good or bad.
1. Being forced to “output” the unknown word or character may help increase comprehension.
2. Useful for learning words with three or more kanji. Having one MCD card for each kanji can break the word down in a way where it is much easier to remember.
3. Useful for particles: the forced output helps you get the hang of when to use which particle.
1. Because there is so much content on the front of an MCD, you wind up doing a lot of skimming. Particularly for a newbie, you need to be digesting full sentences so you can get the hang of Japanese grammar.
2. “Fill in the blank” cards can sometimes feel more like a test. The whole point of doing sentences/Anki is to enjoy what you are studying, so for some this ruins that atmosphere.
3. It takes a bit to get used to creating MCDs. While this goes for every method, I do believe the added creativity required for MCDs makes it an art that is harder to perfect than the sentence method.
Should you use MCDs?
One thing to make clear is that there is no reason you need to use exclusively sentences or MCDs; I believe there are appropriate times to use both. Personally, I wouldn’t suggest anybody shift exclusively to MCDs until they are at least at an intermediate level. MCDs can be useful to a new comer in learning many grammar points, but people below level 20 need to get the hang of Japanese sentences to help their comprehension.
I believe that people who are intermediates or higher should use MCDs to learn words that are 3+ kanji; there is no easier way to take down tough words. MCDs can have a range of uses that have lifted some Japanese learners to a high level. At worst, it is a great tool to have at your disposal.
Have you tried MCDs? Success or failure?
Please share your experiences in the comments!