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Tips on using flashcards

It’s a well known fact that flashcards with phrases can serve as an effective method of absorbing useful structures and phrases. 

Generally, you will choose a phrase you want to have easy mental access to. This is because it can serve as a kind of mental “island” to reduce cognitive load when speaking or because it sheds light upon the usage of a grammatical construct. 

These phrases can function as a kind of template in which you swap out words or grammatical markers as necessary.

We recommend making the phrases personally relevant and interesting to you, since you’re going to be finding them anyway.

It is not recommended to build your own phrases unless you are sure it is native-like (i.e. you have made it with a native teacher). Because of that, you will have to either take the sentences from your content or use services that provide sentences. 

If you are lucky, the language you are learning has a good dictionary that also provides phrases. Otherwise, you will need to use another service.

Anki (a free flashcard application) also provides pre-made decks which often have sentences. These can work too if you like them and the sentences are relevant and at your level. 

They can also save you time if you don’t have the time to build your own deck.


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Should I use pictures instead of words?

Some people advocate using pictures instead of words to learn. 

The theory goes that using words interferes with the learning process by anchoring the learner to her native language. Recall that translations should be considered approximations of the true word only. 

If your chosen translation is understood with this in mind, there is unlikely to be any significant issue caused by using words instead of pictures. 

In addition, the kinds of words that lend themselves to using pictures such as concrete nouns rarely overlap with different words in a way that is different between languages. 

Overall, if you like pictures, use them, but there is nothing wrong with using words.

To increase the strength of the neural pathways you’ve built, don’t forget to study the flashcards from two different angles. This ensures that you fully understand the concept from every direction.

Spaced repetition

Some flashcard programs already incorporate spaced repetition, but for those that don’t, or if you’re making your own, it’s beneficial to incorporate it. 

Spaced repetition is a learning technique where you increase the intervals of time between reviewing previously learned information. 

For example, if you get a card right, put it in a different pile than where you would put a card you were struggling with. Then review the cards in each pile accordingly.

Stay engaged

If you begin to feel like reviewing your flashcards is becoming mindless, then maybe it’s time to take a five-minute break. 

When you read each card you should really stop to think about it. Saying things like “I know this,” or “I don’t know this,” and recalling instances where you’ve used or seen the concept can help you stay engaged.

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