When I was at university I used flashcards quite a lot to learn Chinese characters and vocabulary in Chinese and Japanese. After I’d learnt each character, I stuck the cards on the wall and eventually they covered almost ever inch of wallspace. Since then however, I’ve rarely used flashcards. They are quite effective, if you look at them regularly, but for various reasons I thought they weren’t for me.

Recently I’ve decided to give them another chance. This time I’m using Mnemosyne, a downloadable flashcard program, rather than paper flashcards. Some flashcard programs, including Mnemosyne, have a built-in spaced repetition system which
tests you after different periods of time depending on your assessment of how well you know the word/phrase/sentence. This apparently helps you to commit the information to your long-term memory.

So far I’ve entered quite a few sentences in Irish from articles on Beo, an online Irish language magazine. I’m using sentences rather than individual words because this enables me to see how the words and grammar is used in context. I plan to add many more sentences and phrases in Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, and maybe other languages.

I found a useful site today, the FlashcardExchange, which provides readymade online flashcards for many languages, as well as for other subjects. You can also make your own cards and share them with your friends. Most of this is free, but a one-off fee is payable for some of the services on the site.

Do you use flashcards or flashcard programs? Do you know of any flashcard programs which you can add sound to?

This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

0 Responses to Flashcards

  1. Ilayde says:

    You can use sounds in Mnemosyne; for some reason, this function is not obvious to find, though. In the Add Cards window you have to either press Ctrl+S or right-click in the entry field.

  2. JRice says:

    Virtually everything I know about Hindi (which isn’t much) I learned via flashcards. I hated them in college, back when I was learning German… now I cannot see why. They are really a valuable tool.

    I use paper flashcards… probably because I use the computer for a living (I’m a coder), so I don’t work on languages when I’m in front of an LCD screen. I use 4×5 index cards, cut them in half, and carry around a handful (30-ish) wherever I go… that way I can review them in those five-minute spaces when I’m walking from one place to another, or waiting in line, or otherwise idle.

    I couple flashcard use with some serious mnemonics… basically, the really visual stuff you can read about in multiple places, though I suggest Derren Brown’s “Mind Tricks” for the best introduction (as well as an all-round amusing read).

    When I’m “in to it” I lean about 10 words a day, using little more than idle time.

  3. Polly says:

    I started to use flashcards. I created a few hundred of them for Russian. I handwrote Russian on one side and English on the other. I would carry the cards around with me at the store in my shirt pocket and whip them out whenever there was a lull in activity.

    But, I have since slacked off mainly because reading modern novels (translations of English) in Russian has boosted my vocabulary considerably and it’s a lot more interesting. I would take the words from online news or from whatever I was reading.

    (I just finished “Hitchiker’s Guide…” and “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” in Russian. There were several hundred words I made cards for from those two books.)

    I’m sure I’ll go back to using flashcards. They are wonderfully effective and lend themselves well to Goal-setting. I can easily set a goal of X number of new words by such-and-such date and monitor my progress.

  4. JRice says:

    BTW, your link to FlashCardExchange is biffed…

  5. Christopher says:

    Byki (a Transparent Language product) is the most full-featured flashcard program available.

    I work for the company, so you better check it out yourself to verify what it’s all about: http://www.byki.com

    Byki doesn’t just present flashcards, it has a tuned mathematical algorithm that tracks your progress for a given word or list. Additionally it includes other games, activities and pronunciation evaluation tools.

    Byki.com allows users to share their own lists with each other. There are currently thousands of lists available.

    The (free) program is available in 65 languages, from Spanish to Tuvan.

    -Christopher O’Donnell

  6. David Snopek says:

    I use flash cards extensively in my study of Polish. I recently wrote my blog about how I am using flashcards to help me read Harry Potter in Polish:


    I’m using Memorati, an online flash card program, of which I am the primary author (so consider this a shameless plug!):


    Its still in the “beta” stage but the underlying code is Open Source and I have big plans for the future.

    I’m almost finished reading Harry Potter now and have over 2,200 flash cards. If it wasn’t for the aggressive spaced-repetition algorithm and my Nokia N800, I probably would have died from flashcard overload. 😉

  7. Farrioth says:

    Great to see someone else is using Mnemosyne. I use it for the various languages I’m learning (Esperanto, Japanese and Russian currently). I’ve also found that Quizlet is a good source of vocabulary lists.

    I’ve been thinking about making printed cards too, however, since I often have a couple of minutes where I could practice, but I don’t want to get my laptop out (or don’t have it with me). I’ve used paper cards in the past, but it becomes difficult to manage all of them, especially with sets for a few different languages. This time, I’ll probably print them out and perhaps use a database to manage them.

    Could anyone recommend a good source of recorded words/phrases to use with a program like Mnemosyne? The phrase pages on Omniglot might be a good place to start.

  8. My spaced repetition flashcard program of choice is Anki. You can add sound, format text and it produces the most wonderful stats and graphs.

  9. Rmss says:

    Yes, I use a flashcard program. Ever since I started studying languages seriously I used a flashcard program. My all-time favorite is Anki (http://www.ichi2.net/anki) which is a freeware program with lots of useful updates on a regular base.

    Although, I abandoned the use of it for words as I found out that adding sentences are just way more powerful. Also, Anki has an online feature which I can use with my mobile phone. So while traveling daily to and from college I can do my daily sentences review. It’s just great.

  10. Ian says:

    I’ve found that I only use flash cards when I start learning a language and I’m not living in the country itself at the time.
    Lots and lots of input through reading things in context and guessing the meaning first has worked best for me.

  11. Patrick says:

    I’ve been a heavy user of Mnemosyne for awhile – and jMemorize for a bit before that. They helped me become confident in my german for sure. Now I want to get back to irish and really learn all the vocab I’m missing. Spaced repetition works. There are websites that have spaced repetition (without fee) (Rememberize.com, FlashCardDb.com). I wish Quizlet had that – otherwise its good too and has some good irish word sets.

    Here’s a story on rte’s new daily irish news:



    I used to read the news in german a couple of times a week and add any “unknown but high-value or interesting” words to my flashcards.

  12. e-zuka says:

    Hi, I’m the one who hooked in learning languages. Especially european languages. (I’m a Japanese)
    And I want to improve my language learning process, I made up a web service which should be helpful to everyone who learn languages.

    In my web site, there’s not yet flash card feature but I implemented word search feature, which you have read or analyze with texts. Try once.

    Won’t you visit my site to see what I’m going to do? And if you like my site or concepts, please register!

  13. Gary Wolf says:

    I’m a fan of Supermemo, by Piotr Wozniak. I wrote a story about Wozniak for Wired that will be coming out soon; discovered the program by accident while searching for flashcard programs and became fascinated by the history of the concept of spaced repetition.

  14. Well, I have personally tried many different ways of study methods to improve my grammar and vocabulary. I have tried flash cards, I have tried small pieces of paper which I made into flash cards, so that I would be able to carry them wherever I went, much like Polly says, and I have tried lists of written words and phrases.

    I believe that lists for me, worked really well, but only when I had someone to study with. After my Spanish classes in Spain, I studied with a friend every afternoon, for an hour before we had dinner… and this really improved not only our knowledge, but also our accent. We would tell each other when we were pronouncing something wrong, and we would be sure to quiz each other on words that we had trouble remembering. I think flash cards and written lists can both work great, but you definitely need to invest time in memorizing!

    I also liked how Polly mentioned reading novels- because I think this is also very helpful if you are not the type of person to sit and go over a list of words for a few hours a day. Reading was another great way that I improved my knowledge of the Spanish language. I would read a paragraph, circle the words that I did not know, write them down, and then look them up straight away, so I would remember the new word and meaning.

    To be honest I had not heard of Mnemosyne before…but it does not hurt to try a new way of learning!

    Thanks for the information…hope that mine also helps out!

  15. Steve Young says:

    I used picture flashcards for learning Azerbaijani a few years ago. The time consuming part was finding pictures that adequately convey the meaning of the words/phrases. I have over 1000 words and pictures available for free at http://www.foreignlanguageflashcards.com that you can check out. There are several languages available, and blank ones so you can make flashcards in any language. Let me know what you think.

    This is the best blog I have come across that gives really good information about some of the online/software flashcard programs around. Thanks.

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