A friend called Jacques has asked me what I think of flashcards, here goes…

A set of flashcards demonstrating the Leitner ...
A set of flashcards demonstrating the Leitner system. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Personally I think flashcards are a reasonable system but they’re not an ideal system. In fact you can get there with less time involved by using the Goldlist method. Flashcards still involve repetition of things you really already know, which is not efficient. Also you can only learn what is in the pack, whereas with Goldlist you learn any material you like the look of. In addition learning off the phone while travelling depletes your battery and you cannot do it in a sunny park as you cannot see the screen. Having a small writing book is a better way and turns out more ergonomic than trying to do every single part of life through computer screens and telephones.

Flashcard systems like Anki and Supermemo are built on the work of Ebbinghaus, the father of the area of psychology that looks at memory, in fact they reflect Ebbinghaus’findings even more closely than my system, which is only an approximation, but they still don’t eliminate waste.

The downside of the Goldlist is that there are mandatory waiting periods of two weeks at least between each distillation, so if someone is in a hurry because they have a trip or an exam coming up, then there may not be enough span of time to use Goldlist, even though Goldlist would give them more long-term memorisation per unit of time spent.

17 thoughts on “A friend called Jacques has asked me what I think of flashcards, here goes…

  1. In case of people learning languages for an exam, I usually recommend Anki too. But in my own case, I’ve just started early enough to cover the material with the goldlist.

  2. Did you know that flashcards were first made out of paper and it’s really easy to make them? To cut off some time from making them all by yourself you can use index cards, which are quite cheap. That way it takes almost the same amount of time as writing a list.
    The paper flashcards solve all the technology-related problems you’ve mentioned. Also, nothing stops you from using flashcards to study the things you don’t know yet and, even in case of the apps, you’re never limited to any ‘packs’. They’re also easier to carry around than a notepad, as you can easily carry them in your pocket.
    It is true that you don’t get an automatic SRS system with it, but you can easily find ways to do it easily by hand on the internet.

    1. Absolutely, I do know that, my friend. As you can imagine, with me being aged 49, when I was first using flashcards there was no other kind but the paper kind. I also used flashcards to learn all the details surrounding about 300 English law cases and precedents while qualifying professionally, which was my best use of them. As far as languages were concerned, I do use readthekanji.com, effectively a flash card system for Japanese to very good effect. But there you have to respond in writing in kana. You cannot just click “I know it”, which is a bit too easy.

      However, when you say that flashcards are easier to carry around than a notepad – a typical A5 hardback goldlist book of say 200 pages weighs very little but has maybe, when quite full at H stage, 4,000 words in it. If you like to have a laugh, just imagine what a person looks like who is carrying 4000 business card sized flashcards in his pockets. They would be, as a former boss of mine put it, “sartorially challenged”. That was, in fact, the biggest reason for abandoning using them. They are OK for little projects, but I would put the cut off at something like 1000. If the project is to go above 1000 then I would leave paper flashcards well enough alone. And I promise you the costs also work out cheaper for stationery with GL at that point also, or even well before.

      1. Where do you shop for hardback books with 200 pages and enough lines? I have never come across that, and none of the stores I called in Oslo had it.

        1. It’s getting harder but there are Polish producers.

          Please can you answer the commenter today who can’t find any articles about the method? The one on your blog is ideal for him

  3. I stumbled across this article already knowing about flashcards, SRS, Anki etc. but I have never heard of Goldlist before. Unfortunately, in this article you don’t explain what it is, nor did you include a relevant link. So I used Google to search for “Goldlist method” and clicked on the first result which was your page http://huliganov.tv/goldlist-eu/ …and after reading another page of text I know now what Goldlist is NOT, but still not what it is. So I clicked the link in that article and discoved that it was broken and links to an error page. I manually corrected the link and it brought me back to this article. I guess I’ll stick to Anki 🙂

      1. Many thanks, Victor. I will have to look into these dead links but all of this which Dennis just wrote certainly is a bit of a kick to actually get on with the goldlist book or at least that step-by-step video series I wanted to do based on Bahasa Indonesia or Tagalog. I may have lost Dennis but I don’t want to lose too many people, as I know that this is indeed the most efficient method. If I didn’t think so I would stop using it. I don’t work on sentiment when it comes to processes, I’m an accountant.

        1. With all due respect, Viktor / Davey, how, serious are you about the book?

          It seems to have been talkware for a long time now.

          I have a feeling that you could finalise it whenever you wanted to, but you just don’t want to.

          What say you?

          Best Wishes,

          Mike Ellwood aka Montmorency

  4. What about iPad apps? I’ve started learning Spanish three weeks ago with a few resources, two of them being Duolingo (free website and iOS app) and Mindsnacks (5$ for 50 lessons). They are very useful for me as a beginner – Duolingo being intuitive, a little bit similar to Rosetta Stone, and Mindsnacks focusing on fun and achievements.
    During those three weeks I learned about 800 words, most of them without much effort.
    I know iPad is not something everybody can afford, I got mine as a gift, but new apps on various platforms are appearing every day.
    Anki and other flashcard systems are also available, but they are not as much fun 😉

    1. If you like something, and enjoy using it and find it handy, then assuming the material is accurate, which is usually the least of anyone’s worries as it usually is fine (most language courses are in themselves quite reasonable, it is only the approach to the material that is more or less effctive), you should continue with it. 800 words is a great start to a language. One turns from beginner to intermediate somewhere not far from there.

        1. My message to Herr von Keine-Ahnung and his hideous Crapcha devise is simple: “digitise this!”

          Instead of giving an honest job for honest pay to those who need it, he manipulates people into doing it for free.

          This is the same mentality as the people who expect everybody to put their rubbish in the bin, take their trays back in the restaurants or return their supermarket trolleys to the bay, and then act all surprised and hurt when they have to pay big taxes to support the unemployed, or wonder why some person with nothing better to do all day has just scrawled graffiti or their shed or stolen their lawnmower for food.

          1. This is why I go out of my way to fill the word recaptcha wants you to digitize with nonsense characters.

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