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  • Prem Sundaram

Flashcards for Language Learning

Updated: Jan 28

Happy New Year 2022! Yup - let's be honest - one of your new year resolutions is to learn a new language. It is the year of the Tiger, so let's channel this powerful energy into achieving the goal and not get overwhelmed!

Photo of female student trying to study
Photo by Olya Kobruseva

Once you have made up your mind on the language you want to learn, you will then likely choose a language book, course, lesson or even app. Once you have started to learn some words sooner or later you will get to the need (want) to use some sort of flashcard or index card method to help you learn the language - particularly lots of vocabulary.


There are many very amazing language learning apps, and also some more generic simple ones. What you choose or which - plural, since many work well together or at different stages of learning, will depend on many factors. There are many great apps where you can create flashcards for language learning including Anki, Quizlet and NoteDex.


And it's not just traditional languages - flash cards can also be used for learning sign language such as American Sign Language (ASL).



In this article we will take an in-depth view into the reasons for using flashcards in language learning, the choices you need to consider, and the options available to you.

We hope that by the end of this article you will have power in your language learning effort - unleash that tiger!


What is a Flashcard?

Simply put a flashcard is a small card (physical or electronic) which is usually two sided with information on the front and an answer on the back.


For example, here is a Hindi language flashcard created using NoteDex using its handwriting ink capabilities (created using a Samsung Galaxy S7 Tablet with S-Pen Digital Pen Stylus).




Vocabulary handrwritten flashcard created using NoteDex
Here in Study Mode using NoteDex you can answer whether you got the symbol right or not. The answer is written on the back of the card (answer is 'Ka'').



Flash Cards for Learning Languages

Many people believe that achieving proficiency in a language requires an understanding of the respective grammatical system. One should not forget, however, that language proficiency requires mastery of vocabulary and sentence construction also. There are many ways people can improve their vocabulary, grammar, and writing skills.


One way is by reading. When you read, your brain is exposed to new words on a regular basis. Alternatively watch movies in your desired language with subtitles - an effective way to be immersed. You can also try to read children's books, listen to audio books, or ideally visit the country! This will give you exposure without feeling like work.


Another way is to take a quiz or exam about vocabulary or grammar.


Flashcards are a simple but effective way to learn language vocabulary and grammar. They are not just for small children learning their first language, people of all ages can use them to improve their vocabulary and grammar skills.


Flashcards can have just a single word, or sentences to help students understand the context of an article. A variety of audio pronunciation tools can be also used to help students practice speech.


As you would expect today there are online courses as well as many language apps, all which feature some form of flashcard method.


Whether it is online or physical you have the choice to make your own flashcards, or buy ones made from the community. There will also be free ones and you will need to check the quality.



Do Flashcards work for Language Learning?

Flash cards can have incredibly good results. When you were a kid in school, flash cards helped you work with and remember more important topics (maths history, geography, etc.). Similarly for languages.


Flashcard language apps are designed to speed up learning, as they present information that is easily remembered and understandable. These tools can be very effective for helping the learner to increase their foreign language vocabulary and also to use space repetition to help memorize vocabulary and aid retention.


The two key factors for effective use of flashcards for language learning are:


1) One item per card (a word, a phrase etc).

2) Use of repetition to learn and review cards over a period of time


You can certainly learn more than one language at a time but you should give your mind time to mentally shift - a break between studying would be a good idea.



Items to Consider when Selecting a Language Learning App

If you are looking for a language app that will work for you, then you should also consider the following items:


1) What sort of vocabulary is your target foreign language?

2) Which words do you need help with? This will be influenced on what type of learner you are -visual, auditory etc.

3) How long have you got? Are you looking for short-term or long-term retention?

4) What is your current level at the target language you want to study?

5) Do you need pronunciation help too?

6) How much time do you have to invest in a day?

7) Will this app help boost your memory and work with spaced repetition learning principles on a daily basis?



Long Term Memorization

The brain's long term memory is built buy repeated exposure to a word. Hence the popularity of spaced repetition features in foreign language apps.


Many apps do include some form of repetition - the most popular flash card app which has repetition is called Anki but there are many dedicated language apps as well which includes some form of repetition. Other apps include simpler but still effective repetition such as NoteDex which implements the Leitner model.


Flash Card apps for learning may feature repetition and allow students to learn more languages. It's therefore important to pick the app that best fits your needs.

Simple or Gaming Learning Style Options

Another item to consider is if you are looking for just a simple learning interface - for example reviewing one flash card at a time - or if you are looking for an app that does more of a quiz or multiple choice type interface.


Many apps make games of learning today and this can be good if you have already learned some of the basic information. You will need to decide what style you want to learn or what feature is important.



How do you Make Flashcards for Languages?

A flashcard consists of a word on one side and the definition on the other. The more you know about a language, the more difficult your flashcards can be. For beginners, it's best to start with simple verbs like "to be" or "to have." You can also make your own by printing or typing.


You may also want to include images onto the cards to help memory retention.


If you want to use a computer and make your own, try the Anki or NoteDex Apps. Anki provides perhaps the most advanced space repetition, but the cards created can be quite simple. NoteDex allows you to make life-like dual sided digital index cards which you can either learn within the app or print out to PDF/Printer but has a less complex study mode with simple spaced repetition.



What is the Best Flashcard App or website for Languages?

This is not an easy question to answer as it depends on what you are looking for. But we have made a table matrix to help you choose between app options.


Many apps have a free version so it's also worth trying these first to see if they fit your needs.


There are many options available for making digital flashcards but the best language learning apps/websites include Anki, Google Translate, Memrise and Brainscape.



What is the best app for learning American Sign Language?

Most flashcard/learning apps focus on voice languages. For ASL there are some more specific sign language apps available and we list them below. NoteDex may also be used to learn ASL by creating custom flashcards - and the flashcards could be drawn with ink using a digital stylus pen. Very cool!


Other apps include:


Signing Mate - ASL Flashcards

Learn American Sign Language (ASL) using pictures. The cards are animated for easy learning. Memorize the signs, build vocabulary and fluency! Features: 1000+ Signs.



What are Montessori language cards?

Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who developed the Montessori method of teaching. Her philosophy focused on helping children learn through their own natural tendencies and interests.


Montessori vocabulary cards are vocabulary cards on whose cards there are also images not only words. It is sometimes known as three component matching cards. It helps students to learn names and items of various objects. It also helps them in integrating with objects in the real universe. It is a useful method for learning. The three part method involves creating a series of 3 cards with progressively different information. Here is an example from a Montessori teacher teaching Chinese to hear students:



Chinese flashcards
Image courtesy of Mandarin Home School


To learn more check out her blog post: Best bilingual Montessori flashcards - Mandarin Home School


One of the nice things about the NoteDex app is that you can easily create very complex flashcards like the ones above, easily duplicate one to create a version of another, and easily share a whole set of flashcards to your student or colleague. Not all apps will let you do it so easily - for instance if you wanted to create a flashcard in Quizlet the interface is not as nice as NoteDex.


Here is an example of the card above created using NoteDex. We did this card in less than 30 seconds using a Samsung Galaxy S7 tablet with pen stylus. Apologies for the poor spelling but you can see how effective it is to create Montessori flashcards with NoteDex



Chinese handwritten flashcard created using NoteDex
We made the card using the NoteDex Android flashcard app. Not a bad try, right?


Sites with Ready Made Language Flashcards

There are hundreds of sites, and many of the apps themselves contain areas to print or download the flashcards. But outside of the apps here are some examples. If we look for Spanish, Korean or Japanese flashcard sites on the internet with language flashcards we will find results like this:


Physical flashcards on amazon: Amazon.com : Spanish Flash Cards

Spanish flashcards for kids Free Printable Spanish Flashcards For Kids (and posters!) | Spanish Mama

Korean Language Flashcards - Learn Hangul | Learn the Korean alphabet known as Hangul quickly and easily! (learn-hangul.com)

Korean Flashcards https://www.studystack.com/Korean

Japanese Flashcards Free Japanese Flashcards (studystack.com)

Free Japanese Flashcards Download free PDF Kanji flashcards with stroke order diagrams for printing - KanjiCards.org


You can see that Study Stack has quite a few options of languages available but they are very basic (text) yet do have audio and mainly online which you can export.

Of course there are many apps with flashcards or features to import so we will take a look at some of these next.




How to Select Flashcard Apps

Flashcards are extremely helpful for learning, especially for those that enjoy using them as a study tool. When evaluating the right flashcard app you might use the following to help define your requirements:

Ease of Use - how easy it is it create cards and how intuitive is the interface? Is it easy to add pictures and handwriting on both sides of the card?

  1. Cost - some apps are free, others are not. You usually get what you pay for.

  2. Spaced Repetition - what level of spaced repetition complexity do you need? Does the app track your progress and completed lessons?

  3. Import and Share - do you have data files from other apps you want to import, or do you need to share your flashcards with friends?

  4. Learning Options - more than seeing just the simple cards, do you want other gaming type options like multiple choice? Do you want to have audio on the cards or fun interactive video quiz? This will be important depending on your learning style.

  5. Apps - are you looking for an app that only works on both iPhone and iPad? iPhone and Mac? iPhone and Windows? Android smartphone? or across all platforms? Can you create on all platforms or only view?


Evaluation of Apps for Language Learning

There are many apps but we have selected the top five and provided a simple summary for you to help you decide. We recommend you look at all the apps and decide what is important for you when you select the app. We did a quick evaluation and give each item a ranking score - High/Medium/Low.

comparison of flashcard apps in table
Comparison of flashcard apps

As you can see each app has strengths and weaknesses but we hope this chart will guide you to pick the app that is right for you.


If you are looking for an app that creates high quality flashcards on all platforms then you won't go wrong with NoteDex - which is also one of the few apps with a simple one-time payment and not subscription payment model.


Conclusion

We are lucky to have so many great flashcard apps to help us learn languages. Such apps will help us to create and memorize the vocabulary and phrases we want. The language apps are typically either dedicated language apps with content, or generic apps that can create flashcards, like our NoteDex app. There are also apps to help people learn sign language.


We will explore more language apps in future articles but for now we wish you well on your new efforts to learn a foreign language! Bon Chance!

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