Why Use Flashcards?

When you learn a language, you have to be ready to learn and commit to memory thousands of items of information during your time learning it. Unless you have photographic memory, you will need some external way to both keep track of what you have already learned and learn new words and concepts that you encounter over time.

Flashcards, as mundane and traditional as they may seem, are among the bests methods for learning and retaining large amounts of information over time. There are many reasons for this:

  • The process of making a flashcard is, in itself, a way to form a memory. So when you put a new word on one side and a picture or definition on the other, you are already practicing the association between the two items of information. It’s important to make your own set for this very reason, instead of borrowing other people’s.
  • Flashcards can be reviewed. So after you have put in the time to make cards for vocabulary or new grammatical structures and have practiced until they are memorized, you can revisit the cards again after a certain amount of time and refresh your memory. This is very important, since everything in learning a language builds on what you already have learned about it.
  • Flashcards help organize study and give you a sense of accomplishment. While learning something as massive and detailed as a language, it can be hard to keep your study regular and structured and to keep motivation up. When you study flashcards, you just work with one word at a time, and each time you successfully remember a word or construction it will give you a concrete, positive result of what you are able to learn. When repeated almost-daily and done in chunks instead of all at once, flashcards can even be a lot of fun.

In our list of flashcard resources, you will see that most of the electronic flashcard programs are Spaced Repetition Software (SRS). An SRS program makes you rate how well you remember each card whenever you review it on a scale (the lowest score, for example, could be “Don’t remember”, and the highest score could be “Easy”).

It takes this information and brings back a certain number of cards each day for review, showing cards that you had a harder time with sooner and more often, and putting longer amounts of time between the review of cards that were easier for you.

For different ways to use flashcards, refer to:

  • The other articles on flashcards in this section.
  • Another good resource for using flashcards in language learning is the book Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner. You can find resources to help your own languages study and parts of his excellent book on his website.

Of course, flashcards will only help so much without an effective plan for studying. For tips on structuring your language study, see the articles under How to Study.