What are your thoughts on flash cards for language classes?

Sept. 15, 2022

A lot depends on what’s on them and HOW you use them. What’s crucial about any method of study is what mental processes the student engages in and how it fits into a multi-faceted approach to learning what is most important.

Practice at retrieval and self-assessing can be very powerful methods for learning and solidifying knowledge and self-testing with flash cards CAN prompt these mental processes. But, mindlessly running through them probably won’t be very efficient.

For language learning there may be special considerations if one side of the card is not in the target language. Practicing with cards like that could encourage a habit of translation vs. comprehension. You don’t want to get into a pattern of hearing or seeing a word and then always translating it into English. I would ask your language instructor about their thoughts on the role of translation like this in language learning. 

Of course, you can use flashcards in other ways. You can put them into groups and explain their connections or in the case of language learning, use them in a sentence. Doing so prompts active production and making connections—which are crucial to long term learning—and more effective than merely rote review. Think of other ways you might use flashcards the evoke other mental processes important for learning.

I would also consider additional methods even if you do use flashcards—mindmapping related terms in a language course, creating simple sentences to get exposure to the word and practice producing, elaborating on those sentences to build fluency, etc.

Consider asking your instructor about other active ways to engage course material and accelerate your learning.