Are Flashcards Effective For Language Learning?

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Lorea Lastiri
Lorea Lastiri

Learning a new language can seem intimidating. You not only have to begin recognizing a wide variety of words, but you also have to understand the subtleties of their usage.

As with any skill, a well-planned study plan can boost the chances of success in acquiring fluency in a foreign tongue. 

There are plenty of techniques for this intentional type of learning, of which using flashcards is one of the most prominent. 

Flashcards offer efficient memorization and quick, self-paced revisions with an instant feedback loop. As a result, they’re incredibly effective in memorizing words.

Their utility goes well beyond learning languages.

They're suitable for subjects as diverse as mathematics (e.g., for learning multiplication tables or formulae) and history (e.g., committing important dates to memory).

Flashcards have come a long way. 

While their physical form is still widely used, they now have readily available digital versions and are easier to access than ever before.

However, knowing how to use them properly is vital.

This article will help you understand the reasons and ways of using flashcards and your learning potential with their usage. We will also explore potential drawbacks of their use and guide you about situations where they may not be that effective.

How are flashcards used in language learning?

The basic concept of using flashcards to learn languages is simple. You have two sides, one with the question or a cue and the other with an answer.

For example, if you're learning Chinese, you could have an alphabet on one side and its pronunciation or sound on the other.

Wordey's actually brings the words one on top of the other. This way you don't have to flip back and forth. You can also play the word out loud to hear the pronunciation.

Another form could be created by drawing images on one side and writing the words corresponding to them on the other. And you can replace drawings with printed-out pictures downloaded from the internet.

Some folks are visual learners, and the more striking an image, the better for them.

They can make the images associated with a particular word more memorable.

For example, if the word in question is "bicycle," you could perhaps print a picture of your beloved childhood bike.

Such nostalgia can help strengthen the link between the word and the picture, making it easier to remember. 

In language learning, it is also vital to differentiate gender.

So the form a particular word takes based on gender can be symbolized with a specific color on its respective flashcards. 

They can include grammar tests also, for instance, with complete sentences written but with a blank left for a word or phrase. 

These types of flashcards, called cloze tests, can also combine vocabulary and grammar recall.

For example, while testing whether you get the tense or part of speech right in a sentence, you can also see if you get the word right.

Once you've created all the flashcards appropriate for your learning level, you can start testing yourself and improving recall in the process.

What is the best way to memorize flashcards?

If you want to be an efficient learner while using flashcards, spaced repetition is the way to go. The idea is to revise your cards on multiple occasions as time passes. 

To explain further, let's look at one of the most used forms of spaced repetition: the Leitner System

In its simplest form, you start with three boxes. Then, you label each with an appropriate frequency of revision. 

For example, you could tag a box with "Every Day" and another "Every Two Days." 

For questions you feel confident you know the answers to, the "space,"  meaning the time between revisions, can be more prolonged. 

And for those you struggle with, you can schedule a revision session sooner. 

The most important thing is to stay consistent and stick to the revision schedule. 

It is crucial to focus your learning and make it relevant and immediately applicable. You can do this by focusing on the words you are likely to encounter frequently and not waste energy on others that you’ll hardly ever use.

The more direct the benefit you will derive, the more motivated you'll likely stay.

How many flashcards Can you memorize a day?

The ability to memorize flashcards differs from person to person. So does time available to dedicate to such memorization and the goals an individual wants to set. However, we can make a general recommendation, keeping the average learner in mind. 

You can consider adding 20-25 new cards per day if you can spare at least an hour or so to study them. Remember, there will be leftover cards that you got wrong in previous days. So you'll have days with dozens upon dozens of cards to commit to memory. 

Again, you'll have to figure out your learning threshold. 

After you've reached a particular number, your results may decline. That's an indication of memory burnout. 

In such a situation, stop adding more flashcards till you get back to a relatively comfortable point. 

That doesn't mean that you should go too easy on yourself. On the contrary, you want to be in a state of flow

It occurs when you're doing something with total focus while enjoying it. 

And it involves slightly stretching yourself beyond your current ability to do a task. 

In short, do not push yourself excessively nor relax too much. So try and find that balance for yourself. 

Can you learn 100 words a day?

As with many things in life, it depends. If you're only learning the most simple words, you may be able to reach that high figure. However, being too ambitious with the number of words per day can quickly turn exhausting. 

This situation is especially true for beginners. With practice and consistency, perhaps one day, you'll reach that level. But if attempting to do so starts to demotivate you internally, cut yourself some slack.

What are the disadvantages of using flashcards?

The benefits of using flashcards outnumber their disadvantages. The drawbacks are related more to the proper creation and usage of flashcards than any intrinsic flaw.

 For instance, the design of a particular card may be too distracting with its bright color or fancy font. The size of flashcards can also become a barrier to learning. Too small, and they'll be hard to read. Too big, and they'll be challenging to carry around. 

In addition, some learners feel that flashcards represent too much of an indirect step in the learning process. 

They consider having to think of a card, then flip it in your mind before recalling a word (and doing this for hundreds of words) a burden. 

For such students, perhaps it's best to limit the use of flashcards and opt for a different learning method.

When should you not use flashcards?

Flashcards mostly center around learning via memorization. 

For initial instruction related to complex subjects and for conceptual learning, they're not suited. Even with language, if you're memorizing words and learning the basics of grammar, they're effective. But if you want to go into the depth and subtleties of grammar and advanced usage principles, it may be better to use other tools such as mind maps.


Learning a new language poses its challenges. 

A direct way to get better at a language is to memorize its words and basic grammar. 

Flashcards provide a great way to accomplish these goals. They're easy to create, and their design aims at repetitive use, which boosts recall. But, above all, they're flexible. 

You can figure out how to use them based on your needs and unique situation. And with instant results, they can boost motivation. 

However, they should be considered one tool and not forced into every form of learning. And it would be best if you go for doing less but regularly rather than gunning for a lot in one go and giving up after a short while. 

And with the technology available today, you can kickstart your language learning journey with the user-friendly and customizable flashcard platform Wordeys instead of relying on physical flashcards.

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