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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Using flash cards to learn foreign language vocabulary

When you are learning a new language, one method that can be very effective for learning and retaining vocabulary is using flash cards. I’ve used flash cards to increase my vocabulary with German and English, and it works well in all cases.

The method itself of using flash cards is pretty simple. The easiest way is to buy a stack of index cards, write the word you want to learn on the front, and write the meaning on the back. Shuffle the cards and start going through them to see if you can remember the meaning, looking at the back if you can’t remember. To increase my retention of difficult vocabulary, I would pick out the cards of words I repeatedly had trouble remembering to create a separate stack that I could focus on exclusively. I know there are a ton of computer-based and web-based flash card programs, though I haven’t used any of them before. If you have one that has worked well for you, please let me know in the comments.

For German the results of using flash cards to learn vocabulary were more mixed. For me, they seemed to be pretty effective for verbs (in infinitive form), nouns, and adjectives. However, they were decidedly less helpful for certain words I was having trouble remembering. A lot of words are very context-dependent and are very difficult to remember out of context, but anyway you need have previous knowledge. Just try explaining what anyway or nevertheless mean to someone without using an example or explaining the context in which they’re used!

So putting these words on a flash card is not an effective way to learn them because they are not being used in context. A more effective way to learn these words is to pause mentally when you encounter them and absorb the context in which they are used. When you hear them, focus on the intonation. After a while, you’ll pick up the different meanings this word can have and you will be able to use it in the right context.

Overall, I’d say flash cards can be very effective for words that are not very context-dependent, like nouns, verbs, and adjectives. For words that do depend on context, flash cards won’t be very effective and you should try out other methods. And if you make a set of flash cards, use them! Be sure to shuffle each time, and go back to them after a while. You’ll be amazed at how much vocabulary you can pick up this way!

In the Internet you can find a lot of ways how to make flash card on your own, or you can use special software. But about it in the next post.

Falsh makers you can found on kitzkikz and  cambridgeenglishonline.

If you are lazy, and don't won't to create your own cards and lists, you can use   flashcardexchange.

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