JP hates flashcards

It’s not a secret to anyone who knows me or who has followed my teaching career:  I hate flashcards, I discourage anyone and everyone from wasting their time with them when it comes to language study.

I know some people like them.  I know some people swear by them, and swear that flashcards have been integral to their language acquisition; I call bs.  On the SpanishPod website I was once chastised for allowing my limited personal bias to cloud my judgement and give terrible advice regarding a tried-and-true study tool that millions of people have meow meow meow meow meow meow.  Regardless, I maintain that flash cards are a horrible waste of people’s lives; they do zero for language acquisition, and that advocating for flashcards actually victimizes people who could be using their time and energy on activities that are actually beneficial.

In my professional opinion, it is unethical to advocate for the use of flashcards.  In my personal opinion, it is at best a waste of time, at worst a form of sabotage.

Ok, let’s all calm down.

I used to have a long, reasoned lecture about why flashcards were a stupid waste of time, but nowadays I’ve boiled it down to a couple of simple sentences….

Flashcards train memory recall; language acquisition is not memory recall.  

Memory recall is great.  It impresses people, it will help you pass quizzes and exams that reward discreet item recall.  I wish I had better memory recall.

Language acquisition, however, might as well be a different organ.  Multilingual people can feel the difference between recall and language acquisition… whether or not they advocate for flashcards.

Memory recall is trained; it is practiced.  People use association and other techniques; to some people these are intuitive; others attend high energy seminars to learn how to build memory mansions and rhyme “one” with “bun” and “two” with “shoe” and to fixate on someone’s big nose to remember that their name is Nathan.

Language acquisition, however, is instinctive.  When people talk about language acquisition, they say things like “pick up;” he picked up a British accent after two weeks; where did that kid pick up all those swear words?    They’ve been in Japan for seven years and haven’t picked up a lick of Japanese.

Language professionals and experienced multilinguals will tell you… with words… that language acquisition is a function of meaningful communication; entire languages are “picked up” because humans are driven to be part of a conversation.  That’s why your language teacher keeps trying to have real conversations in the target language about the vocabulary; that’s why students who are too cool to engage in real conversations suck at remembering the vocab.  Suuuuuuuck.

Look at me, do you think I study vocabulary?  Hells no.  I use it; that’s the reason for all my language learning successes.  If I don’t know vocabulary in a given language, it’s because I haven’t used it yet.

Anyway, some monolingual people are not ready to hear this yet.

Check out this video:  5 Canadian polyglots are trying to explain to a reporter that language acquisition is different from memory.  The reporter remains incredulous.

Seriously, five polyglots…  how many polyglots does it take before she will believe that memory is different from language acquisition?

This is the source of a lot of frustration in my professional life.  People ask me who to become a more successful language learner, and then when I tell them, they disbelieve.

Later they tell her that language keeps growing even when you stop using it, and she doesn’t believe that either.  I’ll have to write another post about that later… but for now, you should know that that’s totally my experience as well… my French sounded like garbage while I was in France, but sounded great a year later.

That may not square with monolingual logic.  Well, kids, if you want to stop being monolingual, you will have to start letting go of monolingual logic.

PS.  I hate flashcards.

26 thoughts on “JP hates flashcards

  1. Front: Flashcards train recall
    Back: Recall is not speech

    O.K. I’ll add it to my deck 😉

    Collecting words wont enable you to speak a language any more than collecting spices will enable you to cook. I was thinking the other day about the word enchant/encantar and how presumably it once meant to affect/change with song which surely is the whole point of language. Words are like tools that are honed through use and that rust with neglect
    I would agree that using words to say what you want to say is almost certainly the best way to develop a proficiency with a language. However; rapid access to a mental thesaurus is a lot more convenient than carrying books around just in case you might need them.
    As a child I had to learn my times tables by rote. It didnt make me a brilliant intuitive insightful mathematician but it’s a bloody useful trick nonetheless. 🙂

    • donperigo, I love the spice rack analogy.

      Here’s my problem with flashcards: I don’t believe the human speech facility really has rapid access to a mental thesaurus that you gained through recall. I see this every day in the classroom; my students will cram for a quiz, they’ll get an A on it, and then when I ask them something about their lives they choke. At the beginning of the school year, 3rd and 4th year students still choke on saying their own NAME.

      I found that the Chinese were champions of rote memory; they could memorize something and recall it so effortlessly, I regarded that kind of sharp memory as an expectation of their culture. They used that kind of killer recall to pass the 12 years of English classes they were all required to take by the government. So how was their English after 12 years? The vast majority will tell you they retained nothing, they choke when they say their name, they don’t understand a lick… HOWEVER if you ask them what a word means in Chinese, they can probably come up with the English version. This was a shock to me, because they were coming up with abstract words like “economy” and “refrigeration.”

      So obviously they had a huge mental thesaurus… but their speech facility didn’t have access to it. I think that presumption that speech facility has direct rapid access to recall is a shaky monolingual assumption.

      I like recall memory, I wish my memory was better. But I do not rely on it for language acquisition. I don’t begrudge people who do flashcards, but I do think if they genuinely wanted to engage their language acquisition instinct, they’d do better to engage in meaningful communication, spoken and written.

      • 12 years? ouch ,dont they have oral exams (with a native speaker) ?
        personally I find flash cards tedious and I just get annoyed with myself for getting them wrong which i know is not healthy. I learned much of the spanish I know by looking on the net for the answers to my questions then “using it in a sentence”. So my researching and writing skills came on a treat but It still takes me a while to put my spanish “speaking” head on.
        If you ask me about my life all you get is errr. or pues.. (on a good day)

      • donperigo, I doubt that the average Chinese student ever talks to a native speaker. It’s been my experience that Chinese people at all levels feel that native English speakers are not necessary; certainly reading the grammatical errors on the big board at the Chinese Consulate General corroborated that. Anyway, Chinese instruction of ESL emphasizes the test, so it’s no surprise that they are amazing test takers… and not proficient English speakers. Those (many!) that do achieve proficiency will have stories about practicing speaking.

        As far as your flashcard experience goes, I’m glad you quit using flashcards. They are tedious and infuriating, and also counter productive. Because they train memory recall. And language acquisition is different from memory recall.

  2. Hi JP

    As you probably saw from my blog, I’m one of the big proponents of flashcards. I’ll venture to say that you have made two generalisations (read: generalizations) that I disagree with …

    1. [Not everyone is the same]: If flashcards work for you, then you should use them. If you find them annoying then don’t use them. I personally have progressed massively from flashcards, and will continue to use them.

    2. [It’s not a matter of either/or]: Again, you seem to imply that people who use flashcards can’t use other methods for what you call “language acquisition”. I use flashcards for learning words, podcasts for practising listening, reading for broader inhaling the language, radio for immersion, conversation for listening & speaking & enjoying, etc.

    Not for everyone? Agreed.
    For for you? I’m convinced!
    Not for me? I would never be close to where I am now without them!!

    As always, thanks for saying exactly what you feel 🙂
    Greg

    • Hi Greg, I’ve been out of town, so I’ve had a few days to have a good think about how to reply to you. On the one hand, I don’t want to alienate you, as I’m a big fan of your blog.

      But then again, I have never ever not in my entire career have been able to convince people to stop using flashcards, so there is really no danger in my saying it: I HATE FLASHCARDS. DON’T USE THEM. STOP TELLING PEOPLE TO USE THEM.

      I’ll address your points:

      1) [Not everyone is the same.] Ah yes, the old “learning style” argument. The position that I have to take is that everybody is absolutely the same… and that’s my position. Every human being on the planet that is cognitively normal and exposed to meaningful communication has gone from zero to native speaker in the first five years of their life… without flashcards. What’s more, if you analyze what a native speaker knows, it is an enormous system. Think about it; we do not yet have computers that can interface with us in human language… the problem is not acoustical or technical; it’s grammatical… our grammar is still too complex for any and every computer on the planet. We still have to use artificial languages to interface with computers; computer generated language sounds laughably non-human. Yet every cognitively normal five-year-old on the planet, regardless of language, is good enough to be called a “native speaker.”

      Flashcards? They’re not killing anyone. However, they pale in comparison to the efficiency of your language acquisition instinct.

      2) [It’s not matter a either/or]. Greg, I’ll be specific so that you don’t mis-infer what you think I might be trying to imply: ANY use of flashcards is irrelevant to language acquisition, no matter how small a part of your language-study-kaleidoscope it is.

      This is where I alienate people, because I genuinely know and believe that flashcards have, indeed helped people… maybe they’ve even helped them a lot. I’ve wrestled with that fact: I should just shut up now, because people are deriving some benefit from them. Maybe someday someone will convince me to shut up and let people have their flashcards… they’re not hurting anybody.

      That, of course, is the point of the Placebo Effect. A sugar pill will alleviate a headache, if the patient believes in it. Flashcards are a placebo; they are helpful to people because they believe they are helpful. So now, should I shut up?

      No I should not. To extend the analogy of the sugar pill placebo, it would be unethical of a medical doctor to prescribe placebos in place of real, proven medicine. Likewise, it would be unethical for me as a professional educator with an advanced degree in linguistics to recommend flashcards.

      What do I say to the people who say that flashcards have been a tremendous help to them? I would say that they are tremendous learners, and that it wasn’t the flashcards; it was probably all the other things that they were doing.

      Even when it comes to literacy… people say that visual recall will help at least in literacy, right? You know what, sure, training visual recall with flashcards may help you learn to read. You know what’s even more effective than flashcards though, right… ACTUAL READING.

      Here’s the thing; children learning their native languages do not use flashcards. People that study European languages do not use flashcards; that’s laughable. Chinese people learning a local dialect do not use flashcards. Chinese people learning English or other European languages do not use flashcards. People all over the world are learning languages every day, and as a rule, they are not using flashcards.

      You know who uses flashcards for language study? Westerners learning Asian languages. Maybe Japanese people. That’s it. Sure, you’ll find somebody somewhere trying to bone up on their Spanish or French using flashcards, but in no other language study context is flashcarding considered even to be common.

      Ok, I’ll concede here that I don’t have any data; but it’s certainly true in my experience, and I have quite a bit of experience. Why are Westerners learning Asian languages so flashcard-happy? I would posit that since the methodology for teaching Asian languages is so backward and antiquated, that people are eager to latch onto placebo home remedies (flashcards) and snake oil (Rosetta Stone).

      Anyway, I’m not trying to win an argument; I’m trying to free people from something that is a waste of their time, so that they can spend that time practicing actual language skills. Be free, people, be free!

      But JP, I *really* believe that they help me, you say. Fine, go ahead and use them, you’re not hurting anybody, tell all your friends. I’ve never been able to change anyone’s mind, anyway, everyone’s too willing to believe that memory recall and language acquisition go together frick and frack.

      If you’re looking for my advice, though, as a career educator, a life long language-learner, and a multilingual with a master’s degree in linguistics (foreign language pedagogy, second language acquisition) then here it is: DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME WITH FLASHCARDS. Under the right conditions, your brain is capable of absorbing new language faster than you can manage flashcards. Spend you time finding those conditions; not drilling your visual recall.

      I, personally, do not use flashcards for language study; I’m too busy studying language.

      • Hi JP – I don’t want to turn this into a big debate, since I’m pretty sure that neither of us will convince the other. But I did think a few points were worth making. I will put them in no particular order.

        – Firstly, don’t worry about alienating me 🙂 I’m happy for you not to use flashcards if that’s your preference, but my results have been really good, and you couldn’t change my take on that. And I really appreciate that you took so much time to write your response.

        – There is a difference between ‘efficiency’ and ‘efficacy’. Sometimes I have dead time, on a train or bus for example, and I can quickly go through some flashcards, but wouldn’t be able to do much else during that time.

        – Yes, young children become fluent without flashcards, but listen to their parents talking to them. Constant repetition, new words, revision of old words, “show me your nose, show me your nose”. I don’t have the attention of a native speaker like that, so I have to rely on flashcards to give me that same repetition.

        – Yes learning style exists. Some people can’t motive themselves and the only way they continue is because they have classes to attend. That kills me – I get bored in group lessons. I want to go at my own pace, so I have personal lessons. I enjoy flashcards, others hate them. In fact, in the year AFTER I started learning new words, compared with the year BEFORE, I must have learned 10-20 times MORE.

        – Flashcards don’t make me fluent, or give me the ability to converse, but they do give me a large passive vocab. And when I’m taking, I actively draw words out of the vocab I have created. And when I listen to radio, I hear words and immediately recognise them from sentences I’ve learned along the way.

        Anyway, as I say, I hear you and you hear me. And to twist what you said … I, personally, DO use flashcards for language study; I find them a great way to enhance my study of language.

      • Hi Greg,
        If passive vocabulary is what you’re after, I’ve got two activities that will boost your passive vocabulary better than flashcards: 1) reading for pleasure, 2) “show me your nose (adult version).” (get your minds out of the gutter!)

        Reading for pleasure, of course, is a real-life language skill.

        “Show me your nose” is not a language learning technique, but here it stands for meaningful human interaction, which is infinitely better than flashcards. Flashcards are, at best, a quiz of visual recall, which is simply not a real-life language skill.

        Greg, I know I’m not going to convince you or change your mind, but I’d like to clarify for my other readers…

        While I may be flippant in my use of “show me your nose (adult version),” when I use the term language acquisition, I’m using it in the technical sense, the way that linguists and cognitive psychologists use it. When I say something like “learning style” I’m not using it loosely; I’m using it in the technical sense, as in the topic educational psychology… not the popular psychology.

        And to be perfectly clear, I don’t doubt that Greg enjoys and benefits from flashcards. I think he is a tremendous learner *regardless* of his use of flashcards, and he would continue to be so even if he abandoned flashcards.

        Notice what he has to say about hearing something on the radio that he recognized from a *sentence;* in this case, the benefit is being derived from sentence review, not repetition-drilled visual recall.

        Greg’s blog, btw is Mandarin Segments, by the way, and it’s one of the many Mandarin-learning blogs, one of the very few I genuinely enjoy reading.

  3. JP, thanks for your thoughts. I like the idea of the adult version of “show me my nose” – will spend some time thinking about what variations of that are possible!

    I hear what you say about reading for pleasure too – at one stage I just felt frustrated at how many words came up that I didn’t know – so I focused on just flat learning new words. But I recently bought myself a somewhat simplified version of 围城, which I need to start working through that – perhaps that will increasingly become my dominant medium in future, having reached this level.

    Thanks again for a great topic for discussion.

    • Greg, thank you!

      A brief word about reading for pleasure. I’ve learned and internalized (i.e., acquired) an astounding amount of vocabulary through reading, words that I wouldn’t learn in every day life. I was a crazy intense reader as a kid, but as an adult I rarely finish a book; too impatient.

      So I’ve come to appreciate short stories, fables, and folk tales. I’ve done fables and folk tales in Spanish, French, Italian… In Spanish, the short story (cuentos, microcuentos) is a very serious genre, much more so than in English language literature, and I’ve read everything I could find written in the “fantasía” genre (i.e., magical realism). The stories are riveting and beautifully told, so I’m motivated to read for meaning… rather than punish myself with that “no pain, no gain” philosophy. AND since the stories are short, I can get that “mission accomplished” feeling in one sitting.

      A few years ago, I read and finished my first novel in Spanish in many many years; it was Harry Potter y el prisionero de Askabán. I learned truckloads of new words, most of them without having to look up. Much of it I internalized unconsciously… I couldn’t tell you which ones they were… but the wizarding magic words stood out; the words for wand, hex, curse, charm, etc. I’m so glad I learned them in context, because now I know them forever, without ever studying them. If I had learned them through study and review, I’m sure they would be forgotten by now.

      Now for Mandarin I’m working through the Tales and Traditions series. http://goo.gl/ERoXd

  4. Hi JP. Love hearing discussions about language acquisition. I was wondering what your take is on learning multiple languages at the same time. I’ve spent a lot of time on Spanish this past year (in no small part to the wondrous SpanishPod!), but I’m now turning my attention to French for an impending trip next year. I do have a base of French back from my high school days, but I’m finding that everything kind of gets jumbled up if I split time between both. Don’t want to lose all my hard-earned progress and put Spanish on a shelf, though. You’re obviously able to manage a whole bunch of things at the same time… thoughts? I was encouraged by the idea here that any language acquistion strengthens what you’ve already got. Thanks very much for sharing your insights.

    • Hi Sarah,

      It’s never wrong or bad to study another language, even if there’s one you’ve been concentrating on. If you find yourself in a confused, mixed-up stage, don’t worry; that’s just a stage that you can push right through. Keeping them separate is just a matter of forming a habit to keep them separate.

      I find it helpful to really concentrate on having a good accent; I imagine if the two languages sound and feel different as I speak them, that I’m filing them in different parts of my brain. I could be making that up though, but it helps me develop my habit.

      It is a monolingual fallacy that you can languages compete for space inside your head, or that they crowd each other out. There are billions of bilingual and multilingual people in this world, and you deserve to be one of them. I don’t subscribe to any theory that says that learning a language has a detrimental affect on another one.

      You know, in replying to this comment, I’ve written several paragraphs, and then erased them, and then taken another approach, and then erased it… the idea the languages interfere with each other is just so weird and improbable to me.

      It might take you longer to reach the mythical land of fluency if you’re studying more than one language at once, but who cares? It’s not a race!

      Maybe you’ll make mixed-up language mistakes… but so what, people make mistakes whether or not they’re studying a third language; later you’ll learn to not make them. Maybe you’ll get rusty in one of the languages, but so what, people get rusty whether or not they’re studying a third language… you just get back into it, right?

      Maybe, worst case scenario, you totally forget part of a language you once knew… So what? You just learn it again. It didn’t hurt to learn it the first time, it won’t hurt to learn in the second time.

      I would rather speak a handful of languages and make mistakes all the than speak only two languages perfectly but live in fear of making mistakes.

      • Hey Sarah, I published a comment, and then though, that’s not what I wanted to say… so I edited it (above)… but it looks like you read my original draft… which I don’t even remember anymore.

        There’s something about the question that gets me fired up 😉 the whole idea that language study causes some kind of permanent damage to previously learned languages is just crazy backwards to me.

  5. Hey JP – don’t worry, your encouragement came through and it really made me feel better. My problem is that I’m impatient, and I constantly question whether it would be better to achieve a certain level in one language before adding another one rather than going for both at the same time. I found it so helpful to flood my brain with Spanish – the podcasts, the Spanish channel on the radio, Univision, etc, and I now feel like I’m distracting my brain by throwing French in, particularly because the pronunciation is so different even though the words often look alike. On the plus side, sometimes if I know a word in one of them it can help my recall in the other one, and you’re right that the different sounds help keep them apart somewhat. But there’s, like, this checklist in my brain I have to go through when I’m trying to construct sentences now… the word pops up, is it Spanish or French?, choose the correct one, are you pronouncing it correctly?, etc. It feels like it takes forever. In the wild hopefully my brain would be able to adapt and focus in on whichever one I needed at the time, and I guess that would just happen more naturally the further along I get anyway. So I wil take your advice to heart and just keep going. I remember once reading that if you forget something you had already learned, it only takes half the time to learn it again, so there’s that too. 🙂 Cheers.

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  7. More than half of the vocabulary in English comes either directly from Latin or from French, so if you’re learning a Latin language you may not need flashcards. Of course, you’ll have a much better vocabulary if you do use them, but you can get by without them. However, if you’re learning a more difficult (for an English speaker) language such as Chinese, Arabic or Japanese, flashcards will be far more efficient.

    • You’re wrong. Flashcards train recall; linguistic memory is separate from recall. I doubt that my non-flashcard knowledge of Spanish vocab is worse than someone who drills their recall with flashcards, and I have no doubt that my Spanish vocab is way worse than someone who reads in Spanish for pleasure.

      I’m a native English speaker that learned French, Spanish, and Italian as an adult, and the vocabulary came to me (and everyone around me) faster and steadier than I could manage flashcards, so I call BS on that side of your argument. If you’ve activated your language instinct, flashcards are irrelevant.

      I don’t know why people are so reluctant to disabuse themselves of the myth of flashcards. What I’m trying to tell you is good news; practicing language (rather than drilling it) is faster, easier, and more fulfilling than drilling your recall with flashcards.

      Finally, languages are not “more difficult” or “less difficult.” Every language is learned by native-speaking babies in five years, regardless of language. Some languages may take longer as second languages, but that doesn’t mean it’s because they’re “more difficult.” Native English speakers leaning Chinese may take longer to learn Spanish, and it’s because they have more to learn… and more to assumptions to unlearn. That doesn’t make them “harder.”

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  9. I am very late to this party, but I wanted to say thank you for this post.

    I am learning Dutch, which I really love, mainly by reading parallel texts that my husband makes for me using Hunalign. I also use these texts in conjunction with audiobooks.

    I’ve long felt insecure about my active vocabulary, and attempted to do flashcards, but found I hated it with a passion. I especially resented the time it took to make the damn things — it took precious and fun time away from actually reading. I have thought at times that I was doing myself a disservice, since Anki and the like are all the rage and are lauded as being the best way to learn.

    But it seemed to me at times that a lot of the on-line discussion was either bragging about the size of an individual’s decks or how many reps they did. It seemed dull, banal and pointless. I couldn’t imagine the sheer overwhelm, not to mention tedium, of having to slog through a vocabulary/phrase/sentence deck of 10,000 or whatever!

    Anyway, I stumbled upon your blog after googling “learning languages without flashcards” because I wanted to hear about the experiences of people who weren’t chained to this method. I was sure that there must be people out there who weren’t them. I

    Thanks for your intelligent and spirited argument against flashcards. It has given me some much-needed confidence. I can return to my reading now with a lighter heart and unworried mind.

  10. Hi JP,
    I stumbled across your blogpost when someone linked it from Reddit, and I just have to say ‘Thank you!!” I’m currently learning French, and almost all the books, posts, comments I’ve read about studying a language on your own have all praised the virtues of SRS-es, Anki and the like. Where spending hours and hours each day creating flash cards was seen as a badge of honor, and the guaranteed and proven way of learning a language. But for me I couldn’t really get behind it, but since everyone online said that it’s the surefire way to learn a new language, I went along with it.
    I’m Filipino too, but only started learning to speak Tagalog when I went to school in the Philippines when I was 7 yrs old, and again when I was started college. And although there is the argument that I had the advantage of immersion, I didn’t use an SRS but was able to learn the language through other methods.
    So thank you for providing a well versed argument against using flashcards, I’m going to read more of your articles on your site and hopefully can re-evaluate my methods to do without flashcards. Salamat!

  11. exactly !!!!! memorizing is not actual reading…. very cute all the videos of small babys socalled reading but even though its still smart they are just memorizing the visual image of certain words and given a new word or book they cant read it..

  12. Wow, this appears to be years after the original post, but here’s a few thoughts I’d like to share. Sorry in advance for what will probably be a long-winded post. 🙂

    I totally agree with the feeling of not liking flashcards. Typically, I don’t like them. However, I do stop and question the merits of that feeling from time to time. Is it right to feel that way or is it just how I feel and should I change my mind?

    If you are prepping for a question-and-answer style test of some kind (in other words—not actual use of a language), containing bits of totally randomized information where context will be lacking on the test as well, then flashcards sound like they are practicing something close to what you will do on that test. I’m at least open to the idea. At least if the material and kinds of questions suit that. Flashcards have been proven effective in certain studies, yes. But the kind of memory encoding and recall that they practice; how easily does it lend itself —for example—to training yourself to listen or speak?

    I don’t think it’s necessarily ‘bad’. If you like it, great…

    But if you don’t like it, like me… How useful is it and is it useful enough for my language skill goals that I should reconsider my current feelings and views? My feelings are just that. If something is worth doing in spite of some feelings, I will attempt to tackle how I feel for results.

    I want to make the best use of my time as possible. It’s as simple as that.

    I will admit I still currently have a few modest Anki decks. However, I would describe these as both ‘Q&A style bits of information more indirectly related to languages than actual language practice’ and might also be ‘things I might want to recall in isolation on or during a written test/exam someday’. For example, a few grammar-related questions and things like Heisig’s recognizing a Japanese kanji character in isolation and how to draw it. I don’t expect any of this to be practice that will propel me forward in ability to actually use the languages in question. Even the Kanji, as I expect that will only slowly come someday in a more meaningful way when I attempt to actually read for real in Japanese. I’m only going through Heisig’s book (when I have time for a little Japanese) because I find it quiets the “Holy f$^@#$^!!!” reaction to seeing a mass of strokes, and turns it into “Oh wait, I’ve seen this kanji before. Now how is it actually used in this instance in a real word?” Grammar questions might be “What are the German dative prepositions?” or “When do you use ‘mon’ in French in front of a word even when it is feminine?”

    Actual language ability tends to be more complex than that, and a lot of the time (perhaps almost all of the time when listening and speaking) ‘natural speed’ (like with fluency) is automatic or almost so. It becomes more of a skill—something you’ve conditioned—rather than a field of knowledge on a subject that you are attempting to draw facts from. Memory and recall are still involved in ‘complex mental models’ such as with motor skills and so on, but these kinds of implicit versus explicit forms of knowledge are not exactly the same.

    I don’t know what the research on physical skills and social/communicative/language skills is with regards to SRS principles. Usually when people are discussing intervals for SRS, it’s for practice/review of more explicit knowledge for more ‘typical academic subjects’ (if there is such a thing). I see nothing wrong with SRS principles being applied to language practice. If it can be applied to football or soccer training, then why not also languages? It doesn’t have to be only with flashcards.

    I recently read a book about learning and memory, where the authors brought up two very good points among many others, and then in other sections seemed to go on as if they had forgotten about them somewhat. One was a sports quote: “practice like you play and you will play like you practice”. The other point was that effective learning comes with engagement.

    We can use SRS with flashcards. We can also use other good learning techniques such as pre-answer ‘generation’ efforts, elaboration techniques and trying to create associations, using mnemonics and so on. These are all good habits that can be used in any learning strategy, including flashcards.

    If we personally don’t like flashcards, though, that might be creating a disconnect and a loss of ‘engagement’. This is just one factor, and if the method is effective then maybe trying to look at it a different way might be warranted. If you like flashcards, then this isn’t a problem of course.

    After all, even though language skills are separate (ie: learning to write, or developing explicit knowledge of grammar rules for example doesn’t necessarily mean you have good speaking ability) there can sometimes be overlap or perhaps shared knowledge that different skills may be accessing. For example, knowing what words mean… For me, successful listening practice seems to transfer learned vocabulary especially well to later speaking efforts, although if I don’t also practice speaking that access will generally be slow and difficult. So, if you learn a bunch of words or phrases from flashcards, at least you got some information about them in your brain somewhere. Something was done and some knowledge is in there somewhere, even if the skill practiced was ‘answering a bunch of question-and-answer cards’ instead of practicing reading skills, listening skills, speaking skills and so on more closely to how these skills will actually be used. Some people say they use flashcards apps during ‘dead time’ or moments when they don’t feel comfortable reading something, listening to something, and so on.

    I guess I get that. Again, trying to keep an open mind…

    For me, my current decision to stick with my feelings about not liking flashcards for general language practice comes from the “practice as you play” quote. For me at least, the activity feels further removed from actual language use and I feel more like I’m prepping for a quiz that training myself for listening or speaking. However, I still wonder about that conclusion and question it from time to time.

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