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Reviewing with flashcards

People choose to review cards in three general ways:

  • Prompt with target language and try to recall native language (receptive learning)
  • Prompt with native language and try to recall target language (productive learning)
  • A combination of both

A combination of both is recommended; however, productive learning should be strongly preferred over receptive learning. Recalling words and sentences for productive purposes is both harder and more powerful for learning.

Flashcards are great for highlighting grammar as well as words. 

A grammar flashcard will typically use a phrase that utilises the grammar you want to learn, in addition to something that calls it out and explains it if necessary. Flashcards used for grammar should almost always be used productively.

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Make your own flashcards

The best way to use flashcards is by creating your own. If you find vocabulary that you want to know and use sentences that you have chosen, learning them becomes far easier as you are more motivated and pay closer attention to what you are learning. 

This can be time consuming, but many find the time spent building the flashcard deck useful, too. If you use Anki, use the documentation. There are also many helpful videos out there.

There is a learning curve, but once you understand it you can customise your learning and create cards quickly and easily.

Keep your flashcards simple

Learning something new takes focused effort, so you can only really memorise one thing at a time. Trying to do more actually makes your learning slower. 

Learning a sentence chock full of new grammatical constructions and words might seem like an efficient way of learning, but it will actually slow you down. The purpose of sentences is to provide helpful context and having overly difficult sentences defeats this purpose.

At most your flashcards should have one new word and one example sentence. The example sentence should contain at most one unfamiliar grammatical form, and ideally no other unknown words. 

If you have lots of information you want to learn, split it into multiple cards.

At the very beginning, even simple constructions may be completely novel to you, but learning short, useful phrases early is a great way to absorb the language. At the start your sentences will need to be as basic as possible, such as “where is the toilet?” or “how are you?”.

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