Flashcards for Learning Combinations of Letters

Once you can associate a new set of letters or symbols with the sounds of your language (Flashcards for Learning Single Letters), you will want to come to grips with how to put the letters together into larger units such as words. These activities will help you get used to seeing letters and symbols and pronouncing them in context.

Do these activities with a few letters at a time to focus your work instead of getting bogged down working through too many letters at once. After the first time you work through the cards successfully, you should go back periodically to review them. First review every few days, then every week or two. Even if you forget some of the cards each time, the act of remembering each time will strengthen your ability to recall them later.

If you are using a Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) flashcard program (Resources for Making Flashcards), it will take care of the scheduling for you.

Activity 1: Filling in the Gaps

  • Find a different word in the first chapter of your book’s vocabulary or dialogues for each letter or symbol from the script. It should be a short word and contain that letter or symbol.
  • Write the word on the front of a new flashcard with an obvious gap where the letter or symbol should be (i.e. if I were trying to learn the English letter “c” from the word “cat”, I would write something like “_at” on the front).
  • On the back of the flashcard write the full word and its definition. If the word is a concrete item like an animal or object, just draw a picture of what it means (or paste in a picture, if you’re using electronic flashcards). You should use word-based definitions for more abstract things that cannot be pictured, as noted in Flashcards for Vocabulary.
  • If your language has different letter forms for the beginning, end, or middle of a word, find words that contain those forms and make flashcards out of them too, with a gap in the word where the symbol or letter would be.
  • When you practice the flashcards, write down your guess of what the word would be if you filled in the blank, or at least visualize it in your mind. Say out loud what you have written or visualized, then check the back of the card. Do this until you can get all of the cards in the set right.

Activity 2: Distinguishing Similar Sounds with Minimal Pairs

  • This is a useful exercise if you are having trouble distinguishing between two sounds. Find a word that doesn’t contain the particular symbol or letter that you want to practice, but one that you find very similar or that you have a hard time distinguishing from the one you are practicing.
  • Write the word and say it out loud, pronouncing it carefully.
  • Now replace the similar-sounding character with the symbol or letter you want to learn to distinguish from it. Write this new word down.
  • Say the new “word” you have made out loud, then the original one. Try to pronounce them very clearly and to see if you can tell the difference in pronunciation. Focus on the differences that you make in pronouncing them, even if you have a hard time hearing those differences. You could use a recording app, such as voice memos on a phone, to record yourself saying the pair of words and see if you can hear the difference.
  • If you are still having trouble distinguishing two sounds, bring the pair of words you made to your conversation partner and have them pronounce them for you and explain the difference. It can take a while to hear distinctions that are not made in your native language, but it is still important that you learn to make them yourself.