The highlighter pen. A classic for the ages. Surround words and phrases with color, and acquire reign over them for eternity. Unbridled power. The highlighter was destined for Japanese language learning. Japan pretty much invented the precursor to the highlighter after all.
Just one problem. Highlighting doesn’t help you remember. Colors are supposed to “highlight” words or sentences and make them stand out. That which stands out is supposed to be sucked in by your memory. Except it isn’t.
I was a Japanese textbook highlighter addict.
My textbooks were like magical rainbows. However, I took a slightly different approach. I highlighted everything I didn’t know, instead of trying to remember what I did. After making a highlight, I’d look up the word in a dictionary (J-E). I had lofty goals of returning to all of these books, and reviewing them to strengthen my abilities. I never did.
Writing out something by hand, or even typing it out, helped reinforce what I was learning. Putting a yellow stroke over it did not. It didn’t provide the secret signal to my brain to LEARN.
What about the return to review everything I built up through colors? Yeah… that didn’t happen either. I was moving forward, fast. I could move to the next beautiful unknown textbook filled with intrigue and wonder, or return to a colorful mess of hundreds of things I would have to make sense of. Which sounds more appealing to you? The more these past rainbowed relics piled up, the more the thought of revisiting them vanished.
Moving from highlighter folly to highlighter prowess
My technique failed me miserably. It was time to put my highlighter to rest. I assumed I would never pull it out from it’s retirement.
Until Anki and J-J sentences.
As native books became one of the centers of my studying, I needed a way to keep track of all the words/sentences I wanted to take from those books and add to Anki. Stopping to look up a word and add it to Anki every time I came across something I didn’t know did not work. It spelled doom for any enjoyment (motivation) to continue. But I still wanted to know those words as I was seeing them in everything I was reading.
So the highlighter emerged once again.
I began highlighting unknown words I wanted to look up. However, the purpose for highlighting them was to be saved for Anki entry later. I never interrupted my current enjoyment. Later on, when I began my Anki time, I would go through a book, one word at a time. And it worked.
This type of highlighting wasn’t about review. It was a fresh look at words I wanted to learn. It was a new quantifiable goal that I could go through daily. This is how I progressed through books and how I created my own Anki cards.
Life is easy today in highlighter land
The highlighter pen has been mostly replaced with the highlighter function of E-book readers like Kindle. If I was still using this method today, I would be in word highlighter heaven. It’s instant, easy to return to, and you can effortlessly copy/paste words and their definitions directly into Anki. I didn’t have this life, but you do.
Have you used a highlighter (pen or e-reader function?) How do you use it?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.