Keeping a vocabulary notebook has been found to be extremely useful in a variety of studies. Students say that they were able to remember vocabulary more easily and use it more confidently. In my opinion, when you are doing all this extra work with a word you can just ‘root’ it in your head a lot more easily because you are getting your hands dirty and doing some research.
The drawback, of course, is that this activity, like mind-mapping is very time-consuming. You have to look up words and do a lot of research. So, I wouldn’t recommend doing it for every word or phrase you come across, just the words and phrases that you keep forgetting or have trouble being confident with. It is also useful for those once-in-a-lifetime type phrases that you might not use every day, or even once-a-month, but you want to keep them close just in case you need them in the future.
But, now, if you are really interested in language, and you are fascinated by how it comes together, you might want to use this strategy more than regular SRS. This way you can really explore all the possibilities of the language.
Whatever you do, don’t force yourself to do this because it will drive you crazy if you spend most of your study time buried in dictionaries and thesauruses (unless you are incredibly passionate about language.)
1) As you go through your day, consciously think about what you are saying. Can you say it in Japanese?
2) If you can’t or are not sure. If it is an expression or phrase like “How do I get to the post office?” then just write the English and Japanese phrase in the book. If it is a particular word you are having trouble with try to write antonyms (opposites), synonyms (similarly meaning words) and an example sentence using the word like the Mind Map activity. You could possibly draw or find a picture that goes with it to.
3) Get it checked by a native or a service like lang-8.com
4) Optional: Record your native friend saying the phrase or use a service like Rhinospike to get a recording of it.
5) Save it to your flashcard system. Evernote is especially handy for this, but you can use other systems as well.
6) Be sure to review the phrases often and try to use them as much as you can in conversation.