7 Reasons Why You Should (Not) Use Flashcards

After my posts about flashcards, a small, but extremely vociferous minority of people have decided to carry on a raging holy war in the comments section of my blog. These few people seemingly never sleep, commenting at all hours of the day, keeping the war alive and reminding me, through sheer persistence and strength of will, that they're right and I'm wrong.

So I give in. I admit that I was completely wrong about flashcards. Apparently, they're really awesome, and I just needed to be more open-minded. And after I finally sat and thought about it, and gave them a fair chance, I realized that there actually are several things that are really great about flashcards.

They help you to take action

As they say, "perception is everything", and there will always be some people who are more concerned with seeing action taken than they will ever be with getting effective results.

So whether it's yourself who you're trying to fool, or the people around you, flashcards are a good tool for the job. You can be seen "doing the work" that's necessary to learn. Wow, won't your friends be impressed when they see you've decided to keep that New Year's resolution to learn a language!

They make you a better person

You believe in hard work as a virtue, and you are philosophically opposed to the idea that anything worthwhile can be fun. Perhaps you're that really irritating guy (everybody knows that guy) whose entire identity consists of how hard he works. If so, flashcards are perfect for you! It takes work to make them, and it takes work to use them, and it's a really great way to feed that martyr complex of yours.

But the benefit doesn't end there, because after you give up, when you're not getting the results you wanted, you can get sympathy from people by whining to them about how hard you've worked and studied.

They help to give your life meaning

You spent hundreds of dollars on the latest, greatest smartphone, and you think it's the neatest thing since sliced bread, but when people ask you what you need that for, you're left with a blank look on your face because you can't really justify the novelties you buy.

Now, thanks to your flashcards app, you can justify that Google phone or iPhone or iPad or Kindle, or whatever shiny object it was that finally got you off of your ass and into the store to spend your money. Now when people ask what you need that for, you can proudly proclaim that it helps you to learn languages!

They help you learn exactly what you want

Flashcards give you all the power to learn exactly the words you want to learn, while conveniently allowing you the freedom to completely avoid learning all those pesky words you need. Study the words you want to know, no more, no less.

Learn how to say really useful words like choking, bondage, untie, prostitute, underage, illegal, bribe, and prison — you know, really important words that you'll probably use a lot — but don't waste any time on rare words that people never say, like download, install, deposit, investment, boil, fry, air conditioner, etc.

That other guy does it, so it must be great

Who can argue with such pristine logic? That other guy — Khatzumoto, or Kaufman, or name anyone else — uses flashcards, so that means they're great.

Yup. And Kobe Bryant is a polyglot who plays professional basketball, so maybe we should all start practicing our jumpshot, because you know, if it worked for him it will work for me too!

They can help you make friends

Sturdy, lightweight objects can make a great way to get someone's attention. Language hacker Benny Lewis has found a fantastic way to use flashcards to meet new people:

Yes, flashcards are very useful. You can use them to flick at an interesting looking person from a few metres away to get their attention. It's like a poke on Facebook. They'll yell "why the hell are you doing that??" and a beautiful friendship would have begun.

That sounds like a great idea to me!

They make you strong and powerful

You know what they say... there's strength in numbers! And apparently, if you use flashcards, you know all about running up numbers. Flashcard users have honed their skills for repetetive, boring tasks, which makes them really good other useful tasks, like returning to a blog every hour or two, in order to write another argumentative response and keep a battle going.

I'm sure this same skill is also useful in many other areas of life, such as returning to the same job you hate every morning, ordering the same combo meal you eat every day for lunch, or telling the same stale lies to your spouse about where you where when he or she called. I'm sure we could all think of a situation where flashcards could help make us better the repetition of mundane tasks.


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

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  • I haven't been involved in the flash card holy war and I haven't read any of your posts on it up until now, but isn't this overkill? People are going to do what they're going to do, and just because it doesn't line up with your belief system doesn't make it wrong. If somebody wants to use flashcards to learn a language, who the hell cares? I mean, you specifically mentioned Steve Kaufman and his use of flashcards, but he speaks nine(?) languages pretty well, so if he likes to do that and it works for him, why does it matter to you?You said in here, "like returning to a blog every hour or two, in order to write another argumentative response and keep a battle going," but isn't that exactly what you're doing? Your blog is by far one of my favorite language blogs, but not when your temper gets so in the way that you spend days provoking these battles. I would like to hear more about your progress in Italian or your philosophy, not hear you bash everybody whose philosophies don't match up with yours.


  • My intent is not to bash everyone who doesn't agree.... but I will proudly admit to bashing those who came here to argue with me.This is my blog. MY blog. I invest the hours of my life in creating it and making it work, and in sharing my thoughts with people... and I appreciate their opinions, even when they disagree with me.But what I DO NOT appreciate is the intense holy war, the name-calling, the insults, the drama that ensues when people don't like what I say. If they have a different idea, they are welcome to write it on THEIR blog, and disagree to their heart's content.This week has driven me to very strongly consider completely turning off comments here.As for whether or not returning to a blog every hour or two and writing an argumentative response is "what I'm doing", as you asked, consider for a moment that every single comment, of them nearly 200 comments I've gotten on this topic, comes to me in an email. I can "take a break" and not spend every moment reading them, but what is very hard to do is to pretend there aren't several utter assholes out there, who seemingly never sleep, and who have no better value to give to the world than to argue with some guy who wrote something on his blog with which they don't agree.I hope this doesn't come across as venting at you -- though I guess if I'm honest with myself, that's what it is.Anyway, you say you want to hear about my philosophy, and that's exactly what my flashcard posts have been (with the exception of a few comments in this one)... so the fact is, that I'm really not failing to do exactly what you want. Apparently, it's the comments section that you don't care for, which leads me back to where I was considering shutting them off...

  • I understand where you're coming from, but I think you're just perpetuating the problem by continuing to post on it. If you moved on to a new topic, none of us would have to deal with it any more. I know it's your blog, but I still suggest moving on from it.

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