In the world of vocabulary, there is some controversy (argument where people have very strong opinions).
On one hand, there are people who really love a traditional method: making flashcards. People who like them talk about how important repetition is for learning. And they are correct!
On the other hand, there are people who absolutely hate flashcards! People who don’t like them talk about how learning vocabulary without context is not very helpful. And they are also correct!
Whether you love them or hate them, if you are a language learner, you have probably used them. In the old days (before the internet and smartphones), there was only way to do it: Get lots of paper and start writing! Most people don’t like doing it this way now because it takes much longer to make the cards than if you use an app.
However, there is actually a benefit to writing your flashcards that you can’t get if you use a computer, and the benefit is that it’s slower! Let me explain: Typing on a computer is very fast. It’s so fast that your brain doesn’t have time to think about each word you type — your brain is already thinking about the next word and the next sentence. But, when you actually write something with a pen or pencil, your brain is moving slowly enough that it has time to think about what you are writing in that moment — and so you remember it better!
Of course, it takes much longer to make your flashcards this way, and then you have to carry them around to use them, and they can get wet, lost, or damaged. If you use the right app, you don’t even have to make them — you can download a deck and start studying immediately, and you can carry thousands of digital cards on your smartphone.
But what about our original question? Is using flashcards even helpful?
The answer is that it depends on how you use them.
The problem is that we do need context when we are learning new words. Just because you learn a new word, does that mean you can use it in a sentence? Can you understand when someone else uses the word? Maybe not. This why I don’t recommend using flashcards for learning new words.
However, I think flashcards are great for remembering the words that you’ve already learned! Think about it: How many times have you wanted to say a word in English and could not remember it, but you know that you learned this word in the past?! Isn’t that a frustrating feeling? And I’m sure that it happens to you every day when you are trying to speak English! These are the words that flash cards can help you remember, because they are words that you already know.
If you know the word, can pronounce it correctly, can use it in a sentence, and can understand it when you hear someone else say it, then add it to your flashcards. It’s a great way to make sure that you remember all the words that you have already learned, and don’t forget!
If you want to learn more great strategies for how to Build your English Vocabulary, make sure you come to a special Masterclass that I’m hosting next week with Sabrina Fletcher of Calm English! Click the image below to reserve your spot!