3 Steps to Enjoyable Flashcards for Languages

I don’t fall asleep while using flashcards. Most of the time, it doesn’t even get boring. In fact, it is actually one of my favourite parts of my language routine. 

Yep! You heard me right. I love flashcards!

That’s mainly because I have set up my flashcard deck in a way that I actually enjoy reviewing. How do you do that? It’s all in the actual cards that you review. Let me tell you…

Step One: Challenges

The best way to enjoy flashcards is to be properly engaged in it. This means that you are actively reviewing, instead of just flicking through like you are probably doing in this blog post. 

If I put questions at the end of each paragraph for you to answer aloud, you would read with a lot more concentration. What did I just say?

See? If you intended on answering that, you almost certainly went back and reread the paragraph.

The same applies to flashcards - give yourself questions, or parts to fill in mentally. This strategy will keep you active and prevent you from turning into a bored robot reviewer on autopilot. 

 

Step Two: Relevance

Another way to make your flashcards more enjoyable is to have them actually relevant to you. This will stick them in your mind more effectively, and you will see progress much quicker.

The way to do this is to use words that you will use in everyday life. For example, I would be more interested in words about blogging and graphic design than scientific terms. My target for this year is to understand Czech children’s shows, so colours are more relevant to meeting my goals than the rooms of a house. 

It might be the opposite for you. Think about your goals and your normal life when creating relevant flashcards. If you were a student in rocket science aiming to speak to your colleague in their native language, there would be lots of words in your flashcards completely irrelevant to me.

However, sometimes there are words and grammar structures that might not ‘speak’ to you personally. This might be because you are studying vocabulary for an exam, or are working on a rigid set in a classroom. It might just be that it is a basic part of everyday conversation! No matter why you need the words, we can still make them relevant, and engage in learning them effectively.

We can do this by making the images or sentences relevant to you, instead of just the word. For example, I have to learn the word for map (‘mapa’ in Czech) in my course. 

I don’t use maps - my sense of direction is non-existent and it is generally a topic of conversation that I avoid. However, I might have a memory of buying a map on holiday and then trying to use it upside down (cartoon-style). In my flashcard, I will add an image of the upside-down map. I could also write (in my target language) “I used the map wrong.”

Do you see how this can help? I am much more likely to remember a sentence related to me or a picture that jogs a memory than I am to remember a seemingly random word. If you make your flashcards relevant to you, it builds real connections in your brain, with context.

 

Step Three: Context

I know what you are thinking - it is extremely dull and pointless to spend your precious time hammering lists of useless vocabulary into your brain. Guess what? It is.

The entire core purpose of using these flashcards is to help you remember the things you are learning. Are you learning singular words without any teaching on their use in your classes/course/videos? I certainly hope not!

Learning words with their context builds a spider web-style connection in your brain. These connections hold a lot more value in real situations (conversations, watching TV, reading…) than the list of words that you can translate on command.

A great way to build these connections is with sentences on your flashcards. This will not only give you the word but an entire sentence that you can use! This method will introduce you to bonus words and grammar structures without you even realising it!

How do you find these sentences? There are loads of really easy places to find them! 

  • Find sentences in your course (book, videos or in-person - doesn’t matter) containing the word. If possible, customise them to you (eg. take the sentence ‘Sally is tall’ and change it to ‘Kiera is tall’ if you know a tall Kiera).
  • Ask your language partner or tutor for help. (See this post by Go Overseas for more info on language partners)
  • Try to make the sentence yourself. This is a great option as a more advanced learner, but it is great practice for beginners too! You can use a dictionary for words you are unsure of.
  • If you get stuck and don’t have a language partner or tutor (like me!), try using google translate and then correcting the sentence with what you have learned in the past. For example, you will probably need to correct the speaker gender if it is relevant for your language.

Now, get going and make your flashcards better! Let me know how you will be improving them in the comments below...

Obviously, you now need to go and make some awesome flashcards! Remember to give them challenges, relevance and context. Hopefully, reviewing should become an enjoyable and engaging process now. Good luck!

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