What process do you go through to learn a new word in your target language?
Do you write it down? If so, where?
How do you revise it later? How long does it take you to learn it?
How many times do you have to see it before you know it? And how do you know when you really have learnt it?
All relevant questions if you want to get to the bottom of vocabulary learning. Alternatively, if you just want to get the damn words learnt and leave the science to another day, just use a well-endowed piece of software to set it all up for you!
Which one? The best flashcards app for learning vocabulary!
What follows is a review of my favourite spaced-repetition flashcard app, which I've used to help me learn eight languages.
You'll discover what's so great about spaced repetition software in general. And you'll also see inside my process for learning and remembering vocabulary with my flashcard app of choice.
Ready to turbocharge your vocabulary learning? Let's get into my verdict on the best flashcards app.
While flashcard apps can be really useful, apps alone won't make you fluent in the language you're learning.
A technique that ensures nearly perfect recall with minimum possible investment of time via computing optimum inter-repetition intervals.
In other words, you learn stuff quickly and save time. Manifest this in an iPhone and a killer app, and you've got a portable learning machine. No excuses left!
How Does an SRS Flashcard App Work?
I use the appFlashcards Deluxe oniOS andAndroid. I have no affiliation with the following product – I just think it is the best flashcard app for iPhone or Andriod!
There are an awful lot of features on this app, most of which you probably won't need.
Here are the most important features to get you up and running:
Use your own vocab
Write the flashcards out yourself or download pre-made decks from within the app from 4+ million options on Quizlet or FlashcardExchange.
Note: other people's stuff isn't always good – vocabulary is likely to come in isolated words and many things will not be relevant to you – but nevertheless it could prove handy in the early stages.
I recently learnt a short list of Cantonese adjectives, for example, that someone else had made and saved me lots of time.
Review your words
As you review the vocabulary, you indicate how well you know the word with a swipe (up: very well; left: somewhat; down: not well).
The app then uses SRS (or Leitner system, if you prefer) to determine when to bring that card up again to best implant it in your long-term memory.
The SRS is completely customisable, so you can control how many new cards to introduce at one time, how often to bring them back, etc.
Select which side of the card to bring up first – so you can start with recognition (eg. French-English) and then move to production (eg. English-French).
Track your study time in detail
You'll be able to keep yourself accountable if you track how much time you spend on the app.
Have multiple sides to flashcards (useful in Japanese, for example, where you might want to have both the kanji and the furigana on separate sides)(eg. verb, noun, expression), types and statuses to each card so you can filter what you want to study
7 Tips To Learn Languages Using SRS Flashcards
Here are some tips for getting the most out of the features such an app has to offer, based on what has worked for me.
1. Transfer your vocab
Dig out your notebook and transfer the vocabulary you need to learn onto flashcards on the app.
2. Avoid single words
Don't write single words on flashcards – implant them into full sentences and learn the sentences as a whole (here‘s why).
3. Make use of visuals
You can attach photos and audio clips to flashcards (within the app) as a memory aid. Attach relevant photos flashcards if you can – visuals give the memory something else to latch on to. (Learning the word “delicious”? Take a picture of the food you're eating.)
4. Use voice functionality
Similarly, use the voice memo function to attach a recording of a native speaker saying the sentence. You can do this in a language exchange, for example.
5. Adjust the settings
Experiment with the SRS settings. You could, for example, lower the number of new words that are introduced in one study session.
6. Start with recognition
When learning a large amount of vocabulary, begin with recognition only – displaying the target language flashcard first. Only having to recognise the word is easier than the other way around.
7. Writing script
If you use transliteration or phonetic transcription (eg. for Japanese or Chinese), use the 3-sided function to write the original script on a third flashcard.
Is FlashCards Deluxe the Best Flashcards App?
For the price of an espresso, you get a very powerful learning tool indeed.
Transform all those spare 5-minute slots in your day into power study sessions by digging your phone out of your pocket and reviewing that vocab that just won't stick.
You might be too busy studying to remember to enjoy all the progress!
Flashcards are hugely powerful, but you need a good language-learning strategy to make the most of them.
You can learn more about my complete method for learning languages through story and try out the method for free here.
Which do you think is the best flashcards app? What are some of your favourite strategies and techniques for learning vocabulary when learning a language? Share your thoughts in the comments below.