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The Value of Flashcards

I remember that there was once a time when I underestimated the power of flashcards as a learning tool, and now I they’re all I use to memorize new language vocabulary and sometimes grammar concepts.

Though they can be tedious and boring to write out for a large vocabulary list, flashcards have been worth the extra effort that I’ve put into making them.

Here are some of the pros (listed in no particular order) that I’ve found in using flashcards:

- You can easily make them—and on your own time. I love printed lists, but I noticed that they take me more time and effort to make than flashcards. I find that I get too particular and too hung up over small details—the words need to be a certain font, I like for the English side to be a certain color, etc. Also by the time I’m even done making up a list to print, I usually have to wait for a computer at the library to print my vocab list, and then end up waiting behind someone who has 7 print jobs.

Flashcards, one the other hand, are wonderful because you can sit down and make them whenever you want, and you can use them IMMEDIATELY when you’re done making them. Making them can also be a nice break from other more unpleasant work that demands your attention. Anyway, flashcards don’t need to be fancy (I’ve made many plenty of flashcards just out of notebook paper with a ballpoint pen), and they can be finished whenever you want or need for them to be finished by—that means no waiting in line to print anything. Everything is done by your own hand on your own time.

- You can reuse and save them. That’s one of the things I love about flashcards—even when you’re done using them, you can simply dig them back up and repurpose them. I can’t think of all the times that I’ve had a test that covers a lot of old vocabulary, and I’ve gone to my flashcard stash to review. Also, if you’re a language tutor and just don’t need your old flashcards, you can use them during 1-on-1 time, or give them to your students for them to keep.

- You can make separate piles of the concepts/words you know stone-cold vs. the ones you need more practice with. Another great quality of flashcards! I know that I’m less stressed when I divide vocabulary into two piles. They show me which areas I need to devote more of my attention to, and allow me to come up with a more focused study plan.

- You can mix up the flashcards’ order, which is harder to do with a printed list. I used printed vocab lists a lot, and though they’re also a great way to learn new vocab, I noticed that I’d sometimes get too comfortable with the order in which I learned the words. It was also harder for me to remember words when someone would quiz me from my lists at random. So, if you really want to be sure that you know your stuff, mixing up your flashcards is a good way to keep yourself on your toes. It’s also easy to shuffle them!

- The overall amount of vocabulary to learn seems less overwhelming with flashcards. When you see a list of vocabulary with ALL of the words that you need to learn right in front of you, it can feel really stressful and frustrating to see all the work that lies ahead. At least with flashcards, you can clearly divide what you know from what you don’t know, and you can focus on one word at a time versus a list in its entirety.

- You can bring them with you wherever you go. If you find you have some time to kill on the bus or in line at Starbucks, you can always whip out your flashcards for a quick review. I know I’m guilty of doing this! Not only can you quickly quiz yourself in a different and noisier environment, which should also keep you on your toes, but it will help you to learn the vocabulary that much faster. And you’ll look smart!

So if you’re used to studying vocabulary a different way and want to try a new approach, see how well flashcards work for you! Maybe you’ll become my next convert!

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