Using Flashcards

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There’s no way around it.  If you want to learn a language, you’ll have to memorize thousands of new words and phrases.  So which memory technique is the best?  Well actually, the trick isn’t how you memorize something, it’s when.

Timing Your Learning

The first test of whether you know a piece of information, is whether you can remember it after some time passes by.  Can you remember a word after not thinking about it for a minute?  How about five minutes?  Ten?  An hour?  A day?  In the past, people would quiz themselves with flashcards, to make sure they didn’t forget new information, and also to try and move it gradually into their their long-term memory.

In recent years, technology has made flashcards much easier to use.  A large number can be amassed without having to fill dozens of shoe boxes, or waste time shuffling and organizing.  They can be downloaded from the internet, stored on your smartphone, and practiced anywhere you go.

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Probably the biggest advancement in flashcards is the Spaced Repetition System, or SRS.  An SRS is a computer program that remembers which cards are easy for you, and which ones you’re struggling with.  You load up the SRS, it presents you with a card, you guess the answer, and then you tell the program whether you got the card right or wrong.  If you get it wrong, it will come back again in the next round.  If you get it right, it won’t come back right away, but you will see it again after a certain amount of time passes.  Continue getting it right, and the amount of time before it returns will get progressively longer and longer; from minutes, to hours, to days, to weeks, to months.

This method of gradually increasing the interval between recalls, or Spaced Repetition, has been proven effective at moving information from short-term to long-term memory.  Combined with Contextual Learning (seeing the word used in real life) and Production (using the word yourself in a conversation), it forms one of the three pillars of language study.

Flashcards Deluxe

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I use the Flashcards Deluxe app on my smartphone, and my flashcards can be downloaded from their Shared Flashcards Library for free (the app costs $3.99).  You can find the app on iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon (Kindle devices only).  It is not available for PC.

General information about Flashcards Deluxe can be found on the official website, here.  Instructions on downloading and using my flashcard decks can be found in later lessons; but don’t worry about all that today.

I spent a long time trying out different flashcard programs, and Flashcards Deluxe is the best I’ve found so far.  However, if you have a different flashcard program you prefer to use, you’re welcome to download my cards in spreadsheet format from the list below.

Phase I: Bopomofo

Phase I: Basic Phrases

Phase I: Kangxi Radicals

Phase I: Basic Phrases (Hanzi)

Phase II: School Books

Topics: Numbers

Topics: Food

Today’s Quest

On your smartphone or tablet, go to iTunes (for iPhones and iPads), Google Play (for Android devices), or Amazon (for Kindle) and buy Flashcards Deluxe.  After installing the app, take a minute to read through the intro decks.

Tomorrow, we will start learning Pronunciation, with the Chinese version of ABCs ~~ Bopomofo.

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Next: Bopomofo