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A lot of language learning methods use flash cards to allow them to remember words and their definitions and to test their memory. Some people hide the words, while others hide the definition, which may have varied results depending on the person doing the flash cards. Some of my friends are wondering which one will allow them to learn more beneficially.

So, which one of these methods is more beneficial when using flash cards: hiding the word or hiding the definition? I am asking for studies that support your answers and some personal experience if needed, not opinions, in your answers.

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They cannot be compared directly, as they are used for entirely different skills.

When you hide a word, and show only the definition, you are testing your ability to recall.

I have a concept in mind; a smallish, round fruit, red in color, crispy when I bite into it, it grows on a tree, and Americans are said to make many pies from these fruits.

Can you recall the word to describe this word?

When you hide the definition, you are testing your comprehension.

What does the word apple signify?

As such, when studying, you ought to study both, as dictated by your language learning goals.

If your goal in language study is simply comprehension (perhaps you're studying literature in another language), then you may wish to focus on (possibly even exclusively) on the comprehension aspect.

If your goal is to have conversations, you'll really need both.

Note that these aren't the only two skills in vocabulary, either. For my flash cards (using Anki), I also have cards which present the spoken word, and to which I recall the definition, and cards which show me the definition, and I have to produce the spoken word. For some words, I also have a card where I must spell the word, after hearing it spoken. These are all different aspects of vocabulary, and the different memory skills tend to strengthen each other, by building stronger memories. But once again, which of these skills you want to learn may depend a lot on your language learning goals.

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One way to look at things is the "definition" versus the "word." Another way to look at them is the "native language" (definition) versus the "foreign" word. Which one to emphasize depends on your goal.

If you are looking to gain reading comprehension, I would show the (foreign) "word" and hide the "definition" so that you learn the recognize the foreign text faster. This process has helped me learn vocabulary faster.

On the other hand, if the goal was "usage" (writing or speaking), then I would work off the definitions in my native tongue and train myself to come up with the hidden foreign words. My experience was that this method was better for learning whole phrases and sentences.

  • Your answer assumes that flash cards will have your native language. The most effective flash cards don't. – Flimzy Apr 11 '16 at 7:28
  • @Flimzy can you elaborate on that? – Ooker Apr 21 '16 at 8:37
  • @Ooker: My answer here talks about this. – Flimzy Apr 21 '16 at 14:43

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