IWTYAL 082: The Truth About Flashcards And Language Learning

In this episode I discuss the common criticism of flashcards as an “ineffective” study technique.

In this episode:

Three common criticisms of flashcards:

  1. Involves rote learning
  2. Vocabulary lacks context
  3. Doesn’t work for many people

I address each of these criticisms and discuss why I think flashcard software is one of the most useful and relevant organisational and learning tools for learning foreign languages.

Resources Featured In Today’s Episode:

make words stickI wrote a 72-page guide that describes my complete method for learning languages with flashcards. It costs $7 and you can find it here:

Get the Make Words Stick Guide


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Olly's Top Resources For Learning:
  • This is bloody great. I’ve never thought about using phrases in the way you described. Always thought it would take away the focus from the word you’re trying to learn. I feel like everyone’s brain is hardwired differently when it comes to learning languages, which is why some people don’t like using flashcards. I think flashcards are great. One problem though is that they are a bother to carry around. I am currently experimenting with one-to-many flashcards (i.e. have english on one side, and french and spanish on the other) to see if that’ll help reduce the confusion between some words for the two languages. I think I will shut up now because I’m really passionate when it comes to using flashcards.

    • Cool! Really glad you found it useful!

      • Vusala

        Hi Olliver. Your flashcard advice about the language helps me a lot too. Thank you very much for it. I have improved my language since your advice in a good way ?

  • Victoria Minnear

    Thanks for this Olly. I’ve read a lot of stuff about how flashcards are a waste of time, but I absolutely agree with you. I really struggle to pick up and learn new vocab, but spaced repetition flashcard apps make it so fun and easy for me when used in the right way.

    Plus, I can just take my phone out of my pocket and work through a deck in those spare moments throughout the day. I love them!

    • That’s exactly how I feel too… glad I’ve found a partner in crime! 🙂

  • Алексей Довгань

    Hi Olliver. Thanks for your advices. I really agree with you – if someone think flashcards doesn’t work they probably use it in a wrong way.

    But I have a question. How do you memorise whole sentences? How do you create mnemonics for them? I use a second method for single words, but I can’t realize how to shift it to the sentence. Could you explain your approach?

    • I learn sentences where only one or two of the words are new. That way, I just need mnemonics for the new words.

  • Odette C.

    When can you finally stop reviewing a deck? Once each card’s review date is how far away? Otherwise I feel like it’ll be overwhelming, and I get tired of reviewing the same dang words again and again.

    • I just move on. You’ll find that you’ll learn 80% of the words, and at that point just discard the other 20%… they’re probably not worth learning anyway. As soon as you feel the stress rising up inside you, cut your losses and move on! 🙂