I’ve written about using flash cards for learning Spanish before, but most of that has been about using inexpensive or free programs that you can use on your computer. (Scroll down and click on Flash Cards in the sidebar to see those articles.)
Today I want to make a case for using physical flash cards… as well as, or instead of, the computer kind.
Why? Because I consider all flash cards to be an important tool in remembering what you have studied or heard someplace. Physical ones have some benefits I will mention shortly.
The way our memories work, if we review a new word or phrase at increasing intervals, we have a far better chance of its entering our long-term memories than if we don’t review it. Now that I have more gray hair than brown, I really notice the benefits of reviewing, but this concept is true at all ages.
Language scholars have varying ideas about how often you should review, and some of these ideas are worked into the computer programs. In a nutshell, here is a simple scheme that you can use:
Suppose I learn a new word on Wednesday morning, when I am out at the Ajijic tianguis (street market). If I scribble the word in my little notebook, that’s already going to help me remember it. If I get home and later that day, I put the word into my flash cards, that’s another repetition. In these two cases, the act of writing the word also helps me remember it.
(It also happens that I don’t get around to putting the word into flash cards till after some time has passed and some more words have made it into the notebook. Such is life.)
Then it would be good for me to review it on Thursday. If I have it pretty firmly by then, I would take it out of my LEARNING category and put it in my REVIEWING category, which I would be going through once or twice a week. When I felt like I really had it, the word would go into the KNOW category, which gets reviewed about once a month.
So Why Physical Cards?
This summer, while I was on vacation and didn’t have my computer on much, I noticed how many odd moments there were when I could have picked up some cards and done a few of them. Now that we’ve been home in Mexico for about a month, my computer is on all day — but I am noticing that my wrist does get sore from all the mouse-clicking. So I am trying to moderate my computer time according to how the wrist feels. That’s what got me back to the cards.
As the picture shows, I use an old checkbook box which I filled with index cards cut to size. I made three cards taller and put on them Learning, Reviewing, and Know. So I grab a handful of cards and sort them into the three categories, then put them back in place. Remember to use both sides of the card, the English and the Spanish.
Umm… hadn’t done this in over year. Blush to realize how many of the words in the Know category I had forgotten entirely. But then I haven’t needed the word for raccoon! But if raccoons come up in conversation sometime soon, I bet el mapache will roll easily off my tongue!
Several years ago, when we were living in the US, at a yard sale I got a commercially made box of 1,000 cards. I worked some with them but I do find that the act of making the card ensures it’s a word or phrase I really want to learn.
Readers, your thoughts are particularly welcome on this topic!
Filed under: Flash Cards