I've used flash cards a lot to learn Korean words, and it doesn't take long to memorize words well enough that I can recall them very quickly. It's especially easy to go from English to Korean - I can recall the Korean word very quickly.

However, I feel the knowledge I gain is quite shallow for many words, and often I fail to add that vocabulary to my active vocabulary (words I can actually use). I can recall these words instantly when I use flash cards, but I can't use them when speaking or writing the language. It seems I'm associating the Korean word more with the English words on the card than with the actual meaning.

What activities can I use to deepen my knowledge of words that I've memorized using flash cards?

  • Interesting question. Same thing happening to me. Having a hard time remembering/using words outisde of Memrise ...Whereas I can easily remember/use words I learnt when I was studying in Korea and where our teacher was almost never speaking english to us.. So learning words in context is way more effective than just learning a word for word translation
    – user476
    May 18, 2016 at 15:31

3 Answers 3


It seems I'm associating the Korean word more with the English words on the card than with the actual meaning.

This may be a key part of your problem. Your flash cards aren't teaching you to speak Korean, they're teaching you to translate between Korean and English!

To overcome this problem, don't put any English words on your flashcards.

If you make your flashcards to show L1 <-> L2, you are creating flash cards that teach you to translate between languages. This is (probably) not what you want to do.

I encourage you to re-do your flash cards, replacing all English-language definitions with Korean.

Of course, this can pose its own challenges. The first time you come across a new card, you may have no idea what it means. To aide with this, include pictures. If you're using electronic flash cards, find images on Google Images. If you're using paper cards, draw a diagram, or glue a photo from a magazine (old style cut-and-paste).

Now this approach may have a slight down-side. If you successfully make this change, you may find after a while that you don't know how to translate any more. I have this problem at times, since switching all of my flash cards to be 100% L2 (including the parts of speech, etc). But, for my purposes, this is a very small problem (as I'm rarely translating). And I think learning to translate probably should come after learning to speak (for most language learners).


Part of the problem is that you're dealing with words. Words outside of the context of a sentence are just words. They need to be vitalized by putting them into the context of a sentence.

In order to strengthen a word's position in your active vocabulary, you have to know more than what that word means: you have to know how it's used in that language.

Change up your flashcards: instead of using words and their meanings, put a sample sentence or multiple sample sentences that use the words. This should help you familiarize yourself with the actual usage of the word.

Don't just study the meanings of words, study how they're used as well.


Flashcards help you learn words quickly and effectively. You will be able to understand the written word when you see it in writing.

If you practice high frequency words, they should be helpful in speaking and writing, in the "what's that word" moment.

If you practice low-frequency words, you will encounter the challenges faced when learning any new low-frequency vocabulary, in L1 or L2. The key there is to practice using the word in speaking, writing, and reading exercises. Make yourself a challenge of how often you can use your words, or pick a "word of the day" and use it several times that day. This can help move new words (L1 or L2) to your active vocabulary.

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