Sunday, January 08, 2012

words vs. sentences

If you review your newly learned items in a foreign language by use of flashcards, what is the best way? Should you put a target word on the one side and a translation word on the other? Should you use whole sentences instead of individual words? If so, then what do you put on the back side of the card? A translation of the whole sentence?

Here's an idea. Put a target word on the front and a sentence using the word on the back. This way, both sides are in the target language. When you test yourself, look at the target word and recall the sentence written on the back. If you can do that, you will be able to remember how to use the word in a sentence. When you don't remember the sentence, you just look at the back side, of course, but seeing the sentence should remind you of what the word means. Assuming, of course, that you understood the sentence before putting it on the back of the card.

I believe it is much easier to remember the meaning of an entire sentence than an individual word. The individual word has no context; nothing to clue you in to what it means. The sentence, however, can remind you of the entire situation that it came from, thereby making a translation on the card obsolete.


  1. That makes a lot of sense. Have you tried it yourself?

  2. That's definitely worth a try! Thanks for the idea.

  3. Keith, I've blogged quite a lot about flashcards in recent months, but I'd like to make some specific comments to your above post.

    In the beginning I just used words on flashcards, but over time (once I got past hot/cold/car/eat :-) I realised the context was important, and I needed sentences. So now I simply do not add individual words.

    I use Anki, and with each 'fact' I enter (English, Chinese characters, pinyin), the deck creates 3 cards: E-CP, C-EP, P-EC. All three card types come up when I'm revising. This give me a chance to practise what my brain does when I'm thinking in Engish and need to speak Chinese, to practise reading, and to effectively practise 'listening' by being able to see the pinyin and know the sentence.

    It's just another approach, but it works for me.


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