I can't stand memorizing words. I've found that the best way to memorize vocabulary is using (digital) flash cards, however I find studying flash cards to be one of the most mind-numbing and frustrating things I can do.

What are some ways of learning a language that don't involve just grinding out words, or involve it in a lesser degree than "conventional" methods? An efficient method is of course preferably but the most important thing is keeping me motivated, because sticking to a non-optimal method is still preferable to giving up on the most efficient method. The method also needs to be suitable for home learning.

  • Welcome to Language Learning!
    – fi12
    Nov 11, 2017 at 2:41
  • 1
    What did your flashcards look like? Translations?
    – Tsundoku
    Nov 11, 2017 at 14:27
  • @ChristopheStrobbe The core6k Anki deck for Japanese, which has Japanese words on one side and a translation and example phrase on the other side (with audio)
    – Kahr Kunne
    Nov 11, 2017 at 16:30
  • Does that mean you were learning vocabulary that you had not seen or heard before (in a textbook or in other learning materials)?
    – Tsundoku
    Nov 11, 2017 at 17:26
  • Can you give more details on why flash cards don't help you?
    – Ooker
    Nov 12, 2017 at 2:05

3 Answers 3


If you are learning a language, and it is not fun, then you're doing something wrong. See what can be changed.

When your brain thinks that some word is not necessary for your nearest activities, it tries to forget it as soon as possible. Even an adult needs motivation, and two most common kinds of motivation when learning languages are necessity and fun.

Necessity. Make use of the newly learned words. Many learning techniques are based on this. For example, the Pimsleur method assumes that you start practically using the newly-learned words since the very lesson #1. If I know that tomorrow I'll be going to a local shop (in a foreign country) to buy a pancake, my brain will see the reason to remember this word.

Perception. Separate speaking from reading. Some people don't remember well the things that they see (including the flash cards), but instead they better remember from hearing. We don't know what works for you, but if you never try you never know.

Important things go first. Don't abuse the dictionary. Try learning ready-made phrases first. I've seen people who know how to say e.g. "elephant" in a foreign language, but failed to construct a simple phrase (with or without this word).
Again, when being in a market in a foreign country trying to buy an elephant, I would prefer myself being able to say, "I'd like to buy that big gray thing; no, not that one, a bigger one please" (note, all words in the phrase above are usually learned during the 1st month of study), instead of boringly pushing useless "elephant", "giraffe", and "alligator" in my brain hoping that it becomes useful one day.

Fun. Also, don't simply give up with the flash cards, try some other ways using them instead. From personal experience, I found drawing them myself (yes, on paper) works better than my previous attempt to use flash cards in computer.

Find your own fun. All people are different, so experiment to see what works for you better.

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    +1 for stressing that learning experience must be fun.
    – Vitaly
    Nov 13, 2017 at 15:49
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    What do you mean by "all words are usually learned during the 1st month of study"? Surely, you continue acquiring new words as long as you continue learning?
    – Tsundoku
    Nov 13, 2017 at 21:44
  • @ChristopheStrobbe, thanks for correction, it was my poor choice of words. I've made an edit. Nov 13, 2017 at 21:49

It is difficult to give specific advice without knowing what your goals are, so here are some general tips.

  • Do extensive reading using graded readers. (See this question about Japanese graded readers.) Extensive reading or "reading for pleasure" means that you find texts that are roughly at your level so you can read them without consulting a dictionary or first studying a list of new words. (Not every book marketed as "Japanese reader" is a graded reader.) This will allow you to absorb new words through context.
  • Other types of exposure to the language, such as film and audio, can also be effective. Steve Kaufmann is a Canadian polyglot who doesn't memorize vocabulary from lists or flashcards. He finds the deliberate attempt to learn vocabulary in this way very inefficient and boring. Instead, it is important to expose yourself to lots of content, so you encounter the same words in different contexts. See his YouTube video Vocabulary - Is It Even Necessary To Memorize It?. He also adds that meaningful speaking and reading is better than drilling.
  • Learn sentences instead of words. Luca Lampariello, a rather well-known polyglot, listed his arguments against flashcards, and one of them is that "a word in isolation out of a sentence or phrase is like a fish out of the sea".

Finally, a few comments about spaced repetition systems, especially Anki. Anki provides shared decks, so you don't need to create your own. Some language learners see this as an advantage, but it may actually be a disadvantage. Firstly, many decks contain just flashcards that rely on translations of single words, i.e. words outside any context. Second, creating your own flashcards based on what you actually need (for your language classes, your reading etc.) creates associations in your brain that you won't get with pre-made flashcards. Using such deck can lead to a kind of mental exhaustion that can put you off Anki or flashcards for a long period of time. In addition to the tips listed above, there are other ways to memorize vocabulary, such as the Goldlist method and the "summary foldables" described in the YouTube video alternative to flashcards.


I agree with the previous answer's point of having fun with it, but to address that specifically, let me say that the easiest way to learn a language is to learn the words to songs you like in that language. Music makes everything easier to remember. Also, turn on closed captioning on movies in foreign languages and read along as you watch them. Another surefire way is through total immersion: place yourself in an environment where only that language is spoken and you will soon learn because you will have no other choice once you are surrounded by it :) good luck.

  • ‘Previous answer” doesn’t work here. The system re-orders the answers according to popularity (votes).
    – WGroleau
    Nov 14, 2017 at 1:24

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