There are a lot of differing opinions out there in regards to flashcards and language learning. Many linguists and polyglots will say that they are not an authentic way of learning the language, and therefore should be avoided. Others will point out that at some point memorization plays a role in all learning and flashcards can be a great tool to promote that process.
I tend to subscribe to the latter philosophy, but like many people find making and doing flashcards a bit tedious. I also know that making and storing paper flashcards can be a pain (literal and metaphorical- damn you hand cramp!). Not to mention at some point you are likely to have so many flashcards that the sheer number makes the idea of trying to review them overwhelming.
Technology to the Rescue!
There are Internet applications called SRS- spaced repetition systems. These are digital flashcard systems that keep track of which cards you need to study MOST. You create the cards, set your preferences for max number of cards per day, and review them. The computer program randomizes the order of the cards, of course, but it also provides you with an opportunity to rate how well you remember the card. This could be from not at all to kind of to I got this! Based on how you rate the card, the computer then determines how long it will be until it shows you that card again. This way the I got this! cards don’t show back up for several days, while the “Is that even a word? Did I really type that in?” cards may return in just a few hours or even minutes for review.
The beauty of this is that after the first few days of inputting and reviewing cards, you return to a very manageable number of cards to review. You don’t have to go through all 1001; instead, you can focus on the 50 that are really tough for you.
I personally use the Anki system. I have it downloaded onto my computer but you can actually do everything from the web. (In fact, if I was just starting now, this is what I would do. Makes your cards much more portable.) I believe they do have working interfaces for most tablets and phones so you can make your flashcards as mobile as you are.
Here are 3-4 SRS programs and their sites to check out if you think this is something you might want to try. (By the way, they are all FREE.)
Surusu: http://www.surusu.com/ The writer of the blog AJATT (All Japanese All the Time) recommends this one. My fellow polyglot amigo who I often reference in this blog is also a user.
Mnemosyne: http://mnemosyne-proj.org/ I do not know anyone who has personally used this, but that does NOT mean it’s not a great program- check it out and see if it fits your needs.
Super Memo: http://www.supermemo.com/english/smintro.htm I am not sure if this program *technically* falls into the SRS category. Again, I have not personally used it. However, it does claim to be learning method to improve memorization, so it’s worth checking out.
UPDATE: Memrise is now my tool of choice and beats the rest to me in terms of versatility. I’ll probably do a post just on how awesome they are at some point.
Flashcards AREN’T for everyone. But if you think they’d be a valuable tool for you, I suggest making them as efficient as possible and get the most out of the time you spend reviewing. If anyone else knows of a great SRS program that I’ve not included, please feel free to inbox me so I can let our fellow Polyglots know.
May the language force be with you… and you… and you…
Original Article Posting can be found here. Originally posted 04/07/14.