Here's a follow-up to this question. I'm afraid that learning L3 may interfere with my L2. I'm wondering about a good strategy for making the two languages separate if I use flashcards.

How to avoid mixing them up? Is it better to make flashcards between L2 and L3, to directly contrast words and constructions in both languages? Or is it better not to see L2 and L3 together? Are there any studies that shed some light on this problem?

In my case L2 is Spanish and L3 is Esperanto. In this question I explained in which way the two languages are similar and what kind of cross-linguistic influences I am afraid of.

  • This depends. Maybe it's due to the lack of knowledge of the correct L2 term for the L3 term (or vice versa, in which in either case would do the latter option in the title). Or maybe it's due to other reasons. – Anthony Pham Oct 23 '16 at 20:21
  • @PythonMaster It's not due to the lack of knowledge of the correct L2 term. It's because of similarity of L2 and L3 terms, which makes it easy to mix them up. – michau Oct 23 '16 at 21:32
  • Please add to your question whether L2 and L3 (and possibly L1) are typologically related, historically/genetically related or both. These factors play an important role in crosslinguistic influence. – Tsundoku Oct 27 '16 at 16:00
  • @ChristopheStrobbe I added the information about L2 and L3. – michau Oct 27 '16 at 19:20

My L2 and L3 are similar, will using L2/L3 flashcards increase or reduce the possibility of mixing them up?

Regardless of your L2 and L3 (or L1 or LN), using bilingual flash-cards teaches you how to translate between your two languages.

Therefore, if your goal is to learn to effectively translate between L2 and L3, you should use flash cards that compare and contrast L2 and L3.

This may lead to "confusion" between the two languages, but if your goal is translating between the two, this confusion is unavoidable, and must be overcome. L2/L3 flashcards can be an excellent way to do this.

If your goal is to achieve fluency in L3, apart from its relationship to your L2, then you should focus on flash cards exclusively in your L3 (i.e. without any text in your L1 or L2 on them). This can lead to a slightly harder learning curve in the early stages of learning, but it's not as difficult as you might expect (I can say this from experience), and the long-term fluency is greatly improved.

So it all really boils down to your goal.

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    So, are you saying that using flash cards that compare and contrast L2 and L3 will increase the chance of mixing up L2 and L3? Is this something you experienced yourself, or is it a conclusion from some scientific study? – michau Oct 27 '16 at 19:25
  • At minimum, it increases your reliance on L2 to speak L3. Suppose your L2 is Spanish, and your L3 is Portuguese. You might see a dog and think to yourself "Perro. Perro in Portuguese is cão." If you study Portuguese without your L2, you'll just see a dog and think "cão" directly. I think this can count as a form of "confusion", but I'm not sure if it fits your definition. But more to the point, I think it demonstrates that L2/L3 flashcard study is not wise, if your goal is fluency in L3. This is based both on personal experience, and the scientific understanding of how neural pathways work. – Flimzy Oct 28 '16 at 8:18
  • I think "cão" is a bad example, because it looks and sounds Portuguese, and hard to think confuse it for a Spanish word. But let's take "polvo". A learner who doesn't contrast the two languages directly might get some vague idea that "polvo" means "dust" and/or "octopus", but be unsure which meaning belongs to which language. But if he directly contrasts "polvo - pulpo" and "polvo - pó", it may become easier to link meanings with languages. – michau Oct 28 '16 at 9:59
  • In my case, I'm afraid that seeing Esperanto sentences such as "vi estas la amo de mia vivo" may cause negative transfer to Spanish and make me say things like "tú estas la amor de mi vida". That's why I'm thinking of contrasting them with correct Spanish equivalents ("tú eres el amor de mi vida"), so that I don't mix them up. But pros and cons of such contrasting are by no means obvious, that's why I hope to learn about some studies, or at least people's experiences. – michau Oct 28 '16 at 9:59
  • The point with perro/cão is that when you study L1/L2 flash cards, you build neural pathways that connect perro with cão, which you don't want. What you want is neural pathways that connect the image/sound/idea of a dog with cão. – Flimzy Oct 28 '16 at 10:30

Gabriel Wyner (Fluent Forever) recommends avoiding translations in flashcards. Instead, he recommends creating L2-only flashcards for L2, and L3-only flashcards for L3. For concrete things, this is usually easy: find an image for the concept that goes on one side of the flashcard, and the word itself on the other side. However, you should find different images for L2 than for L3! If you are still in a phase where you need to work on pronunciation, you can also use recordings (e.g. from Forvo.com). Images work very well for concrete basic concepts (e.g. clothes, types of food such as fruit and vegetables, vehicles, colours, etc.).

For abstract concepts and grammatical words (or function words), you can work with example sentences that you turn into cloze tests. You can find example sentences in course books, grammars and learner's dictionaries. You can still add images to these flashcards, to make them more vivid.

  • The problem with this approach is that I rarely learn individual words with flashcards. I want to learn words in context, so I usually have full sentences in the target language on my flashcards, and by far the easiest method of explaining their meanings are translations into a language I already know. But pros and cons of target-language-only a topic for a separate question, I guess. For this question, I'd like to know wheher L1/L3 or L2/L3 is more effective, regardless of possible advantages of L3/L3. – michau Oct 25 '16 at 12:29
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    @michau With regard to context: that's what the cloze tests are for: you take sentences in the target language and delete the word you want to learn. – Tsundoku Oct 25 '16 at 12:55
  • When you're advanced enough, that's probably a good idea. But if you want to learn your first 1000-2000 words in the language (and that's the situation that motivated my question), I don't think any kind of L3-only flashcards are going to work. – michau Oct 25 '16 at 13:26
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    @michau In my experience with Chinese, that is not true. I'm not at 2000 words yet, and I use image, cloze tests and combinations of these. – Tsundoku Oct 25 '16 at 13:31
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    @michau When using flashcards, I focus much more on recall than on recognition, since it appears to be more effective. If the cloze test is ambiguous with regard what can be filled in, you can (a) add a (near) synonym in parenthesis as a hint, or (b) add something like "not 已經/已经" as a hint. Though sometimes it is hard to find a hint in the target language, and adding a translation is the last resort. – Tsundoku Dec 26 '16 at 1:24

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