Monday, July 29, 2013

Why I use flashcards (and you should too): Learn more with flashcards than without

There are two main reasons why you should use flashcards. The first is that, with a spaced-repetition system, they allow you to learn more quickly than exposure alone. I'll turn to that in my next post.

The second reason—and the one I'll cover in this post—is that they let you learn words that you otherwise wouldn't be able to learn.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Why I use flashcards (and you should too): How much to use flashcards

Flashcards should be taking up about 10% to 20% of your language-learning time. To see how I've arrived at that range, let's start by considering the two extremities of the flashcard use continuum.

Point A is no flashcard use at all. This is Randy's stance. Point B or thereabouts, on the other hand, represents the other extreme: you're using flashcards as your main way to learn a language. When I read Randy's criticisms of flashcards, it comes off to me as if he's throwing those criticisms at someone who's at or approaching point B as their language-learning method, i.e., pretty much the only thing they're doing is using flashcards.

I think Randy's completely correct in that, as a language learner, you don't want your language-learning time to be anywhere near point B. If you simply try to remember a string of facts without every actually applying them, Randy's completely right: you're going to struggle to ever get your speaking off the ground.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Why I use flashcards (and you should too): When to use flashcards

You'll want to use flashcards during "trapped time", i.e., time in which you can't otherwise efficiently gain meaningful exposure to your target language, and minimize their use at other times.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why I use flashcards (and you should too): How to use flashcards the right way

This post is part of a series on using flashcards written in response to Why I don't use flashcards (and you shouldn't either) and other related posts on
  1. How to use flashcards the right way
  2. When to use flashcards
  3. How much to use flashcards
  4. Learn more with flashcards than without
  5. Learn faster with flashcards than without
  6. Translation is not the end result of flashcard use
  7. How to deal with the lack of one-to-one translations
A few years back Randy on wrote some posts arguing that you should never use flashcards in language learning: "Why I don't use flashcards (and you shouldn't either)", "The flashcard holy war rages on!", and "8 ways to learn a language without using flashcards", and it's a constant theme of his posts generally.

In the second of the above-mentioned posts, Randy remarked:
I have a strong suspicion that the biggest advocates of flashcards are people who haven't yet finished learning their first foreign language. And I expect that the number of polyglots using flashcards is extremely low.
It's high time that a big advocate of flashcards and polyglot explain why Randy's advice is wrong.

Randy argues, in short, that you should learn only through reading, listening to, writing, and speaking the language (with an emphasis on reading), looking up unknown words as you come across them or learning them from context. My position is that you should learn through reading, listening to, writing and speaking the language and supplement that with flashcard review because that'll allow you to learn more in less time, and each problem Randy raises about flashcards is either incorrect or can be overcome without detracting from your learning.