Thursday, December 07, 2006

Using Flashcards in language learning

You may be tempted to invest in some language-learning software that you have seen advertised. Don’t be fooled by the advertiser’s claims. All that glitters is not gold – so it may have lots of fancy colours and use all the latest technology, but is it actually more effective than other, more simple methods? In my opinion, no. Here’s why the humble flash card out-performs software every time:

1. They’re cheap
Go to any stationer’s and buy some blank cards, the size of a business card. They cost next to nothing. A language learning CD-ROM will cost you at least 20 dollars, perhaps as much as two hundred!

2. You can use them anywhere
I started learning French when I was living in London and travelling to work by bus. Even if you do have a laptop computer, try getting it out when you’re the last one the bus or train and there’s only standing room left! With a small pile of flash cards in my pocket, I could be learning French anywhere, anytime – even while walking down the street.

3. You won’t get eyestrain
Even while writing this article, my eyes are starting to hurt. I don’t know many people who can honestly say they like reading off a computer screen. With your flash cards you can create the right learning environment for you, whether it’s at your desk, on the sofa, or out in the garden.

4. They don’t break down, and they never go out of date.
I still use mine to remind me of things that I’ve forgotten, even after several years. They have an unconditional lifetime guarantee – just don’t lose them! And you’ll never have any “down time” because your computer’s being repaired.

5. They work!
The first set of flash cards you make should be single words. So you write the word on one side and the translation on the other. Test yourself until you have a good vocabulary of about a hundred words. Then you are ready to use your flash cards to learn complete sentences. Use the words that you have already learned to make sentences to remember. Be sure to ask someone who speaks the language you want to learn to check your flash cards for errors – you don’t want to practise mistakes!

Start learning those words with flash cards and you’ll soon be ready to join a real language class. Once you’ve got a few words and sentences, you’ll really benefit from making conversation with native speakers – it’s up to you to start speaking!


P. said...

I use the free (as in beer and speech) Leitner flashcard program Jmemorize.

This works much better than paper flashcards for me, as I have thousands of French cards, and it would be tedious to have that many index cards. Also, the Leitner system of making difficult cards recycle more often works well for me.

Finally, another advantage over paper flashcards is that one can drag and drop text from a browser into the card creation windows. Over the course of a couple of thousand flashcards those saved key strokes add up.

Jonathan Lewis said...

Thank you for this information, as someone who has worked on online teaching materials as well as my site,, I am not in a position to totally reject computer based learning!

When reviewing your flashcards, do you have to type the responses? That would put me off a little, as I think that simply repeating them out loud is the best way to memorise.

Judy said...

I have been using flashcards to learn and memorize and i found them interesting.

Anonymous said...

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Flashcards are very useful to learn English, especially for visual students. It makes the class very dynamic.

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