Why I Don’t Use Flashcards (And You Shouldn’t Either)

I know that this post is going to upset a lot of people, but if you believe in something strongly, you can't worry about what other people think. So in spite of the fact that SRS is the hottest thing in language learning right now, I'm going tell everyone to stop using it.

Stop using flashcards. Stop using SRS. Stop learning vocabulary from lists, or decks, or programs. Stop. It doesn't work, it's a waste of time, and it's creating bad patterns in your brain.

When I started this blog, one of the first things I talked about was the way pathways are formed in the brain, and what that means for language learning. But if you haven't read that, or you forgot it, or if you just didn't care, here's the summary: whatever you do repeatedly, whether good or bad, becomes the path of least resistance. And if that doesn't trouble you, it should!

Whatever patterns you strengthen will become your habits. In fact, that's the basic principle you're counting on with those flashcards, isn't it? That's really the whole point, right? You're repeating something, with the explicit intent that it gets burned into your brain.

But what if the very thing you were working to make stronger just happened to be a habit that was actually slowing you down? What if you were working to make a hurdle stronger?

You are. Specifically, there are two things that make flashcards bad. And I don't just mean "bad" as in ineffective... I mean bad as in working against you!

I'll explain...

The translation step

As I said in my original post, learning anything (words, phrases, ideas, whatever) against its translation is creating extra steps in your brain. It's making you slow. It makes you think slowly, hear slowly, speak slowly.

Here's an example. I'm learning Italian this year. Let's assume that I learned Italian vocabulary from flashcards. I might have a card that says vedere on one side, and to see on the other. Learning this way forces my brain to associate the word "verdere" with the word(s) to see.

Then, if that wasn't enough, someone will pull out a verb conjugation chart and tell me I have to remember that vedo is a form of vedere, and so is vedevo, and a few dozen other words, which all get their own one-to-one memorizations.

By learning in this way, when someone says "l'ho visto a casa", my brain would have to do the mental steps of relating visto to vedere, and then translation vedere to see, and then back up through the sentence with that value and start again on the next word. And before the first sentence is over, my mind has already failed to translate what it's heard and the speaker is already on the next thought.

I have a feeling that many of you reading this have experienced this frustration. I have experienced it, and it's horrible. There are few things as frustrating as knowing that you know what something means, but not being able to understand it when you see or hear it.

But the problem is that learning incorrectly is creating a maze that your brain has to run through as it processes every word. You don't do that to yourself in English (or whatever your native language), so why are you doing that with a foreign language?

One-to-one translation

And the other bad side-effect of learning from flashcards is that they encourage you to believe in one-to-one translation. They make you narrow-minded and unaware of the language you think you're learning.

When you learn a foreign word and an English word together, and burn them together in your mind as a pair, you create the illusion of a world where every language is exactly the same, just with different words. But that world doesn't actually exist.

That false reality is where ignorant explanations like "that word is untranslatable" are born. There is nothing that can not be translated. Nothing. But in order to understand that, you must first understand that words in one language do not match up with words in another language on a one-to-one matrix.

In Mandarin and Gaelic (and others), the word "yes" does not exist. In Spanish and Italian, people say "it makes much time" instead of "long ago". In Russian, you have to say "near me is something", because Russians don't use a verb for "to have".

But that fact doesn't fit into the one-to-one world of flashcards. So you end up learning that a word means one thing, and then beating your head on a translation because you can't understand the way it's being used somewhere else.

Don't argue, just accept it

I know that the flashcard lovers are already forming their arguments as they read. Of maybe they've already stopped reading and skipped to the bottom to tell me I'm wrong. But I'm not wrong.

Some will say, "well that's why I use phrases on my flashcards," but believing in one-to-one phrases isn't much better than believing in one-to-one words, and it has the added drawback that learning a whole phrase leaves you incapable of forming your own ideas from individual words.

Others will say, "well three is always three, and blue is always blue", to which I say no, it's not. Three can be три, or трёх, and blue can be синий or голубой. You have to know where to use one or the other.

Maybe you'll say "but when I was a kid, I learned a lot of things using flashcards." But I challenge you to think about what was on those flashcards... because it wasn't a foreign language. You may have had "1+1=__" on one side and "2" on the other. Or you may have had "apple" on one side and a picture of an apple on the other. But you were not learning one-to-one translations. (And at some other time, I'll be happy to tell you that those flashcards were bad, too.)

And this isn't just limited to flashcards. The same problem applies whether you are memorizing against flashcards, or vocabulary lists, or phrasebooks, or anything else. Each of these things has a specific way it was intended to be used, and in which it can be beneficial, whether for review, or organization, or quick-reference, but none of these things were meant for learning.

The only way to ever actually learn, is by using the language.

Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

Leave a comment:

Comment Policy: Comments and feedback are totes welcome but respect is mandatory. Disagree all you want but be nice. All comments and links are moderated.
  • You're so wrong!!111!!!!%%$! :P
    Nah, I actually agree with you. I never got into flashcards until this year. They can be somewhat helpful, but the one-to-one translation is still an arseways way to prioritise a language. I'll bring out Anki when I have time to kill on a bus (it's better than nothing), but my main focus in any language is practising it and learning from natives.
    When I learn something in context it comes to me immediately. When I learn something from my flashcards, it's not just the translation, but I'm so desperate for context that I'm actually trying to remember what the screen looks like, and thinking via translations will always slow you down.
    On one-on-one translations, Irish has three or four ways just to say the number "two" :P These make no sense at all when you tie yourself to direct translations à la flashcard, but in context they seem totally natural.

  • I love to read about language learning. I've heard about SRS a lot and I never really tried this. Okay, maybe but it's not for me. I rather learn a language like you do, through hobbies. I love to read and listen to music, or whatever like that. It's the best. You don't have to try hard and I think it's more fun than flashcards. I can't keep up with flashcards and I don't like thinking of my target language WITH my native language. I like to just think of my target language and I don't compare it with my native.When I watch or listen to something in my target language I notice words I've learned from lessons I've took and when I see a word repeatedly that I don't know, I write it down and look in the dictionary later. I don't worry about understanding everything I just hear it and let it go. I'll hear it again and again and again. I'll be more familiar with the word and I don't have to worry about using flashcards.

  • Exactly! Trying to remember what the screen looked like. That's when you know the flashcards have failed you. God, how many times have I tried to remember a screen, or a page from a book, or a position in a list, only to finally realize I had not really learned the idea that the word represents.

  • Sounds like you've got the right idea!

  • You are absolutely right.
    Besides this "making additional translation step" and "one-to-one translation", I think by using flashcards, language skills are not evenly gotten developed. In other words, the way flashcards work is to "stick" the word to the memory, and they really do. But obviously when listening or talking to someone, you cannot use inactive words or even phrases. All they can help is when someone wants to read something. They even makes the reading pace slow.

  • And a few more problems:
    1) cramming fills your short-term memory, but does nothing to convert it to long-term memory.
    2) flashcard "decks" are typically around a theme - numbers, colors, animals, opposites, etc. - which creates more possibility for the words to blend together in your mind.

  • Sure they are great if you want a quick refresher on the bus, like what benny said, but overall they are more effort than simply delving into the language.For example, if you do try to learn through just srs you have the added disadvantage of doing those grammar lessons you've been trying to avoid, blissfully unaware that as you said, the language does not translate word to word.If you just try and use the language, however, you will end up picking up the grammar and a lot of vocabulary will sink in, which is much less effort. You also get to pick up the most commonly used words without realising it. I tried to do srs with that and it didn't work. Now, reading newspapers helped a lot more.

  • Hi Randy the Yearlyglot!
    (I'm going to do my best to write a good English...)This is my first time I post a comment but this is not the first time I read your blog!
    I'm learning a lot with your posts, thank you!I decided to comment in this post because I just started a blog and I've published a little guide about Flashcards. The first thing I say is:
    'There are Detractors and Devoted. Detractors say it’s a waste of time. Devoted say it’s the best method.' I know now in which side you are ;-)You can read the entire post here:
    https://www.polyglot-abc.com...
    and the summary is:
    I think Flashcards have still their place if we use them at the right moments.Obviously, If I have the choice to speak 1 hour with a native or to learn during 1 hour Flashcards, it's easy to know what to do.Thanks for your tips!

  • I've just read some of your blog and I think it has potential. The only thing is that you have an article saying why it is impossible to become a polyglot but you want to become a polyglot. The article should say: "Why it is possible to become a ployglot"
    Edit: Hang on. I've just read the post. I didn't realise you truly meant you can't be a polyglot.

  • I had a look at your 11 reasons for using flashcards, and I disagree with all of them.Also, like James, I looked at your site and immediately disliked that phrase about it being impossible to be a polyglot. It's not impossible. Plenty of us do it every day. Starting with the idea that it's impossible will limit what you accomplish.

  • I saw the same thing and had the same reaction.

  • I like what you said about them being like molotovs. That did make me laugh!

  • In the post about Flashcards, I tried to make a summary of what the Devoted and Detractors say. It's not me. I'm not trying to discredit your post. The 11 Reasons to use or not to use is what I've read in blogs, forums, etc.In the post about Why is it impossible to become, I admit that the title is a little bit controversial... Do you have read the post? Is my English so bad to don't understand what I say...I'm also trying to become a polyglot!

  • I've actually never liked flashcards, even for review. It feels too much like work. I didn't learn English that way, and I refuse to fool myself by trying to learn any other language that way.If I were a bilingual doctor who needed to review medical terminology, I would get much better review from reading an article in a medical journal than from any flashcards.If I need to review the names of foods, I'll read a recipe. If I need to review travel vocabulary, I'll go look up information on TrenItalia or something. You get the idea.This stuff should just be common sense. The only reason people fill their heads full of words on flashcards is to try to pass tests. If you're using the language in real life (rather than just for the prestige of a certification) it won't be hard to find natural ways to review. For example, my Facebook wall has more Italian content than English!

  • Nevermind the post, it's right there on your sidebar, throughout the entire site!
    " - Am I Polyglot?"
    " I'm not at all Polyglot and I like to think that it's impossible to become Polyglot."But yes, I did read the post, and I do disagree. It's not your English that I disagree with, it's your opinion. :)

  • It's funny because it's true!

  • "If I were a bilingual doctor who needed to review medical terminology, I would get much better review from reading an article in a medical journal than from any flashcards."You have a point there. Afterall, they didn't know that terminology through flashcards but by a constant reading of essays and other material based upon that subject in their mother tongue. There is nothing to stop them doing the same in their second language.Really, going by that, we should just allow ourselves to read, listen, speak etc. and just let it all soak in.

  • I think that my English is very bad because if you disagree... wow

  • Thank you for your compliment. It's great to get advice.

  • I didn't think my first comment in English would be so hard! hahah but I like! ;-)

  • Hi Randy,But surely we can't do without some sort of memorising? I mean - OK, don't use flashcards or phrase-books, but whenever you hear, or see, or read a new word or phrase, your brain does the memorising process with or without you calling it 'memorising'!Flashcards with direct translations in native language are of course, completely wrong - and I'd never use such.On the other hand, memorizing new phrases and word combinations purely in English (I mean - without using my language as an reference medium) is what I do on daily basis. I never learn single words, I memorize them within context, and that helps me greatly to use them when speaking/writing in English!So I suspect you're not against memorising as such, it's just the traditional flashcard principle that you're against...

  • Amen!

  • What language are you learning now, may I ask? You speak english extremely well, better than most people I know, so I just assume you have a different task now.

  • I wanted to say 'Completely'...

  • Your criticisms don't seem to be about flashcards/SRS per se, but rather the way people use them. A flashcard is /not/ a card with a word in one language on one side, and the same word translated on the other; it's a card with question one one side, and an answer on the other. The question could be an entire sentence in your target language. The answer could be blank, or an explanation in the target language of what a particular highlighted word means.The problem doesn't appear to be so much the data structure as the data.

  • Excellent! This is using the language, and that's how you improve. :)Anyone can follow the script they learned from... "hello, my name is ___. where are you from? what do you do?".... but that's not really what language is for. Agreeing, disagreeing, communicating, sharing ideas.... THAT'S exactly the reason I started learning languages!As I like to tell people... nobody cares what language you speak. We care what you say!

  • In English, the word "memorize" carries a certain connotation... it implies only that you gain the ability to recite the information you have memorized, and it says nothing about having understood the information.I don't like the term "memorize" because you memorize a phone number. You memorize an address. You memorize the words to a song.But you should learn a language... language is meaningless if you recite it. It's only useful if you understand it!

  • Redefine flashcards however you like... it won't change the fact that you can not learn from a card with a question on one side and an answer on the other.At best, it's a (mostly ineffective) tool for testing what you already know. But it's definitely not a tool for learning.

  • Totally agreed! All my confusion stems from not having known the subtleties surrounding the word of 'memorizing ' - now I completely understand you're point of view and agree with it!By the way - the phrase that you used 'to carry a connotation' went into my pocket dictionary right away. I had heard the word 'connotation' previously but had never paid much attention to it. Now when I see you use it in this context I feel I should add the word to my active vocabulary. So I write the whole phrase down (instead of a single word!), and will repeat it tomorrow, the day after etc, so that it sticks with me. And of course - no translation in my native language! The phrase alone conveys the whole meaning of it and it's totally sufficient for me. That's my way of 'memorizing' :-), well, learning new English words!To put it in context with flashcards I should have written the word down with a translation in my language and crammed it into my brain....Of course, to use it in a conversation or even writing I'd have to refer to my native tongue which makes the whole process completely unnatural, slow and awkward - just like you say in this article!Thanks Randy!

  • Thank you!

  • I'm a life-long learner of English. About speaking extremely well... You can actually judge only my writing at the moment! Writing and speaking are different sides of the same coin and someone having good English writing/reading skills doesn't necessarily speak fluently! Well, I'm getting there of course, but long years of focusing on cramming vocabulary lists, reading and going through textbooks still have left their mark.Just like Randy I believe there's no better way to learn/improve upon a language than using it/living it rather than going the traditional route and burying yourself in mountains of textbooks and notes!

  • Keep updating about your progress on your blog though. I find it handy by applying your advice in other areas as well, such as español!James

  • I'm not really sure if you're suggesting me that I should update on my progress OR stating a fact that I'm updating on my progress... But I'm not actually doing either! I'm progressing naturally in my daily life, i.e. - I'm living English:-) On my blog I'm helping others with advice on how to achieve fluency.

  • He's asking you to continue doing what you do on your blog, because he finds it helpful.

  • That's a good one... Never thought I wouldn't figure out something that is obvious to a native English speaker! It's just that the word 'though' at the end of the sentence too me aback. To me it implies a disagreement with what's previously said like in 'you'd better do it, though'; I didn't know it can be used a an affirmative statement. I wouldn't say for instance 'you're doing very well, though'...
    Anyway, thanks for the thumbs up! ;-))

  • I used to always get frustrated when I came across a word that I knew I had seen before but I just couldn't remember the meaning of; after starting to use SRS that problem is mostly eliminated. Especially after learning to use it effectively: having a phrase (preferably from the context I first learned the word/expression in), and on the other side I have the same phrase written but with a gap for the key word/expression (as opposed to an English translation, which forces one into the translation way of thinking). Also, quite a few words and phrases that I learned with SRS and wouldn't have otherwise known have been useful to me in conversations; I did have to spend a few seconds recalling them but that beats not knowing them at all, and now that I've used them once they come to mind again very quickly. Which of course proves your point that using the language is more effective than flashcards, but if it wasn't for the flashcards I wouldn't have known these words in the first place. This "translation step" seems like an intermediate stage between not knowing a word/phrase and having it internalised. Flashcards obviously aren't my main learning method, but rather just something I use to reinforce and remind myself of what I've already learned.I'm not saying that I'm massively pro-flashcards and I'm not yet a polyglot so I'm still very much learning about how to learn a language efficiently; I've found them useful but I'll drop them in a heartbeat if I find a more effective method for learning and remembering all these words and expressions.

  • You tell me a word and I'll tell you a way to remember it that's better than flashcards.

  • Ok, go for it... The French verb "flâner", which means "to stroll". It's a typical word I forget since I only come across from time to time rather than daily.

  • Okay! Go read this Wikipedia article, and I promise you will never forget that word ever again. https://en.wikipedia.org/wik...

  • Your definition sounds less like "flashcards" and more like "a puzzle" or a "language exercise". And exercises require you to *use* the language, which is precisely what I'm in favor of.But conjuring grammatical constructs tends to leave the realm of flashcards. There's a reason they're called "FLASH cards", after all. They're meant to be rapid. And that entire line of thinking is completely wrong. We humans simply do not learn like that.So if you do your idea, you can call them "quiz cards", and I'll help you to sell them, because it's a decent idea. But they're not flashcards. :)

  • The danger here is that you are admittedly (by your use of the word "atypical") stretching the argument so far past normal use, in order to prove a phylosophical point that this now runs the risk of justifying flashcards for people by giving them an excuse. Therefore, I can not concede even if I agree in spirit with what you just said.The fact is that what you're suggesting is an activity that could be performed in dozens of more productive ways, and it still doesn't justify the use of flashcards, even if your abnormal "hack" could potentially be a reasonable use.If you want to create a rapid-response conversational scenario, HAVE A CONVERSATION! :) Don't go to the work of doing it with flashcards.Hahah. I like your spirit, though. And you make some good points.

  • In this case, "though" implies a change of topic. It's not necessarily "disagreement", but that what was said didn't "agree" with what was previously being said. I hope that makes sense. :)

  • Yeah, it does now!;-)

  • You tell us not to use flashcards. OK. You write "whatever you do repeatedly, whether good or bad, becomes the path of least resistance." OK.The point is: when you read something unknown like "公共汽車" or hear something like "gōnggòngqìchē", you first need to _understand_. You are not a child, you are an adult. So you will not see a picture of a "公共汽車", you will read or listen to a translation in the language you know best. Do you know a better way?? Later, you will read "公共汽車" and think "bus"!It's a pity that after reading this article about avoiding flashcards you don't tell us about alternatives without flashcards/SRS and without word-by-word translations....

  • How to remember 公共汽車 (gōnggòng qìchē) ?

  • Interesting article (I've never heard that word being used in English before) and I see where you're coming from. Next time I see someone walking around aimlessly the word will probably pop straight into my mind. So could I generalise this to any new word just by finding and reading an article in which that word plays a central role? Seems like more effort than just sticking each new word into Anki, but if it's more effective then I'm all for it.

  • The important point here is not to "go read an article about a word", but to do something that paints a mental picture into your mind and associates it with that word.For example, the best way to learn soccer ('football') terminology would be to simply watch the World Cup. You could do flashcards and vocab lists all you wanted, but they wouldn't mean anything compared to hearing the announcer say, over and over "[player name] makes a corner kick --- it's no good!", etc.If I needed to learn or remember cooking terms, I would start cooking from foreign recipes. If I needed to remember or learn clothing terms, I might go browse web sites of foreign clothing stores. Etc. Anything to create a whole experience in my mind, rather than a one-to-one word translation.

  • I have written over 200 posts on my blog, a large number of them dealing with exactly that -- ways to learn and remember new vocabulary. Without using flashcards.If you want alternatives, all you have to do is start clicking through my site. Or, better yet, just subscribe to my RSS, and then you'll get my new posts three times per week, and you'll see all my suggestions.But complaining that they're not here, in this post, is just fooling yourself. It's creating a straw man out of me so that you can argue to defend your flashcards. You're only hurting yourself.

  • https://www.zhuhaibus.com.cn/I presume you read Mandarin.

  • I was thinking this morning and was wondering as to why people like using flashcards. Then I remembered what people say srs does, "it introduces words before you forget them." I suppose people then think that you remember every word you ever come across with this method and so then employ it, thinking it's the quickest way to fluency. As we know, this is not the case.

  • If you read "公共汽車" and think "bus" then you're translating and it has a detrimental effect on fluency! I personally never translate new words in my language again. Having done it for years, I realized that I simply can't speak fluent English (I'm a foreign English speaker) because I constantly keep referring to my language at the back of the head and it makes my English speech messed up, slow, hesitant and anything else but fluent!So I found a much better way - and it's nothing revolutional!So here is the better way - describe "公共汽車" with other words in the language that you already know, so the translation will be "仓颉 公共汽車 共汽車 車" instead of "bus". This way you'll facilitate thinking in your target language which in turn improves spoken fluency.By the way - here's a great video about what happens if a person tries to learn a language through direct translation: https://www.youtube.com/watc...(Of course - in the early stages of study it is necessary to refer to your native language to get to grips with the basics, but once you're past it - I think it's not needed at all!)

  • I agree. Memorizing isn't quite what you should be doing. You should be getting used to the language. Flash cards, if used in the right way, are excellent. One word translations, are a no go, except maybe in the beginning. Call it the crawling stage. Then move away from seeing the word in your Target Language and thinking in your native one. See the word, and feel the word. Know it. Get used to it. Recognize it. Don't translate it. Then move on to phrases. Once again, you can start off with TL(target langauge) to NL(native language), but with each time you see the card(preferably in SRS), hear the word, read the word, move away from the NL. Understand it for what it is. Forget about your NL. Just get used to it. If you have a phrase you absolutely don't know, maybe slip into your NL, but get out asap. Some are slower/faster than others. Eventually, you will reach the point where your question AND your answer side will both be in the TL, where you are learning the language FROM the language. Of course, this is very advanced, but you'll learn a lot from it, once you are at the level.

  • I find it terribly ironic that you're writing a comment about not translating, and through the course of your comment, you actually introduce forced translation to make your point!Nobody says NL and TL, and your insistance on using those abbreviations forces me to do that same exact painful one-to-one translation step that we're all "supposedly" agreeing is bad.FAIL.

  • Something that I found with flash cards is that the I'm always seeing the words in the same context. I noticed this previously in my studies -- in order to learn something, I need to see it a couple times while studying, but the first time I see it in "real life" (i.e., a totally different context) is when it starts to click for me. The flash cards don't provide new context, just the same academic context. I suppose with 10k sentences (AJATT-style) there might be enough different contexts there, but since the sentences aren't connected to anything (unless you force yourself to remember the context they were taken from every time you see the card), it still just becomes a "see the question, see the answer"-type memorization exercise without any learning attached. When I see a word I've studied but not yet "claimed" into my active vocabulary, there's a bit of an "Aha!" moment. That "aha!" is missing from flash cards, and I think that's why they're less effective for me.Oh yeah, and I also find doing anki reps mindcrushingly dull. :)

  • Exactly! Excellent point!

  • I don't understand "仓颉". I don't see the benefits of your translation "仓颉 公共汽車 共汽車 車".

  • I totally agree! I am in my second year of Italian and I feel like I've failed to learn it the way it should be learned. I typically will understand what someone is saying in Italian, but the time it takes for me to translate it in my brain and then translate it back to Italian is so time consuming. By the time I have formulated an answer, the speak (professor or whoever) has moved on.

  • This is a dumb post, its proven that flashcards are very effective learning techniques, you should remove this, do some research bud

  • There are several different ways to use and make flashcards in different contexts, this posy will only ruin learning in my opinion I speak German and I learned it fast.....guess what, with flashcards

  • Is this discussion still happening?I also think flashcards are a waste of time, I wrote about it here. https://jpv206.wordpress.co...Why? Because flashcards train memory recall, and knowledge of language is not memory recall.

  • It's been long time for this article but allow me to comment on this. Using flashcards can be effective when we use them in a better way.The point is that the learners should not memorize individual words , but to memorize them through the context whether by using flashcard or not. How is that ? the context on the flashcard should be a very short phrase or sentence on the flashcard with the new word marked in another color.Thank you!

  • Flash cards with spaced repetition should only be used to remember what you already know. They don't need to be translations. Learning the days of the week for example then build flash cards with things like which day of week is after Tuesday. Can you spell and say the day after Tuesday, etc in your learning language. You have to be creative. I have currently no reviews for days of the week in Italian well in 2yrs. I think though in general you are correct about the dangers of flash cards, you just need to be sure you are training the correct thing.

  • I think it has to do with how you make your flashcards. I use anki every day for a variety of languages. I write sentences and highlight the word to be remembered. On the back I write a synonym in the same sentence. I write everything in the language I'm learning. I have found them to be effective for increasing my vocabulary - which is the reason I use them.Flashcards won't teach you a language on their own, but they are definitely a valuable resource.

  • I do believe that there is an alternative: Do not include any English translations on the cards, but use images instead. This way you don't translate in your head, and when you think of the word an image comes to your mind instead of English (or your native language).This is what Gabriel Wyner uses to learn languages and I have adopted it to great effect. Since you know longer have a need to translate, speech and conversation become more fluent and less stressful. This is the way that all of us learn our native languages. When we are kids and learning about the world, our parents would teach us simple words like "apple" or "tree" by pointing out real life examples. The result is that when you think of the word "tree" now, an image of a tree appears in your mind.I do not think that SRS is a bad method of learning. On the contrary, it has been found to be one of the best methods for learning and I use it for everything from learning languages to studying for exams. I believe that it is the way people use it that can cause a negative impact.

  • I've using word-to-word translation for years and I don't really like it. I want to search for your posts about alternatives to flashcards. But there's no search button on your page, hard to find those posts.

  • I know this is an ancient post, but I feel compelled to reply. I suppose it's because you are so so assured of your opinion and so casually dismiss a method that has worked for a lot of people.I have wavered back and forth on flashcards. On the one hand, making and reviewing flashcards is time consuming and boring. I usually much prefer to interact directly with native language materials and trust that enough native language exposure will do the trick. On the other hand, I have found that most of my fastest growth as a language learner does indeed come through flashcards. Words I made flashcards for years and years ago are still somehow imprinted in my brain, and I have no trouble recalling them even if it's been awhile since using the language.Of course, there are good and bad flashcards and reviewing methods. The bad ones should be recognized and done away with. But I think you are much too arrogant to throw away flashcards altogether. They are not necessarily a good tool for "learning" but they are an incredible tool for recall. Please give them another look.

  • Old comment and even older post, but I agree with you. I believe the problem with many people's use of flashcards is that they rely on them too much. We don't get all that much speaking practice in language lessons in the UK (the focus is mainly on grammar), so flashcards often are virtually useless since what you're learning isn't being applied.

  • It all comes down to understanding. Flashcards are useless if all you're doing is English word in the front, (insert another language here) in the back and vice versa... Doesn't matter if it's vocabulary or phrases. Language acquisition doesn't work that way. You are just memorizing, not understanding.I think Bruce Lee said it best :"Lets say if you learn to speak Chinese...It's not difficult to learn and speak the words. The hard thing, the
    difficult thing, is behind what is the meaning: what brought on the
    expression and feelings behind those words. Like, then I first arrived
    in the United States and I looked at a Caucasian, and I really would not
    know whether he was putting me on or is he really angry? Because we
    have different ways of reacting to it...those are the difficult things,
    you see?"However flashcards used in the right way really helps. I find that I learn more when I'm writing a short story and using dialogues. I set up a scenario and just learn the dialogues naturally without forcing memorization. Obviously the story will have the words/phrases I'm trying to learn in the dialogue itself, but the difference is that I already understand the story, and thus I end up understanding the whole dialogue.This is why comics are really helpful in learning a language. You have scenarios to work with. Movies are useful as well, depending if it has accurate subtitles for your target language. So it's just like learning languages like a baby. You see, you hear, you understand, you acquire, you put to use.. It's not, You see, you memorize, you memorize, you memorize.

  • Don't argue, just accept it.
    Yes, master...

  • Recall is about chunking knowledge from short term memory to long term memory. Recall is one of the most important methods of learning something and proper flashcard use is "priming" your recollection. What you want to do in conjunction with chunked information is learning to have an abstract understanding in your diffuse mode of thinking (vs focused of flashcards) - this is where you start to let your brain think in the new ways and understand the language in new ways. I think the biggest problem with this post and your reply is that there is a huge assumption of prior knowledge everyone should know/use - when reality is - that type of knowledge is easily re-enforced through srs learning and scientifically proven. Where people fail is focusing entirely on focused learning and not letting the brain connect the diffuse pathways that reflect the rue nature of language. Flash cards aren't a way to teach you what to think, they're a way for you to transfer what you know from short term memory (constrained) to long term memory (diffuse) so that your cognitive load is lower - and lets face it - this post should be about 1:1 translation being high cognitive load - not flashcards as there is no evidence that flashcards are the problem - only slight evidence people don't understand the reason for using them to begin with. They're a tool for our brains to chunk information - and scientifically proven as such. The method of which is to prime and sustain information for you to then learn how to apply/use through practice, experimentation and training.

  • I realize this is a very old post but I do agree with you. After 5 years of Korean study, I started to wonder why I'm so bad at languages. I can read words and translate sentences - my vocabulary is pretty good. BUT, it all falls apart when I really try to have anything but a basic conversation. I've put entire grammar books into Anki and kept trying to change the way I make and use the cards - and also dabbled with the Gold list method. Without ever realizing the very obvious thing that all those hours spent studying were doing exactly that - studying and translating the language - not using it. The things I easily remember and use are things I have never put on flashcards. I'll come across them in a book or whatever content I'm using and skip it because I know it. Why did I know it? Because I'd been USING it. I speak Afrikaans with some of my friends fairly often too - it's not perfect but I'm perhaps at a higher intermediate level. Never studied Afrikaans or made a single list or vocab word in my life. In fact I avoided it. I just heard it a lot and sometimes used it where I grew up. Swap all the hours I spent studying Korean with actually trying to use it and I'd probably be fluent by now.

  • Well, the author is certainly adamant. It's kind of a "I don't care if you understand, I'm still right" approach.

Want to learn a language in 12 months?
SIGN UP:

Language you're learning...
Join