As seen, flash cards are very common in learning other languages. Flash cards seem to help learners learn words faster and more effectively. Lots of language learning programs use flash cards as well to help their customers learn faster and more efficiently. But I can't seem to get a grasp on why flash cards are effective.

So, what makes flash cards effective in learning vocabulary from another language (as proven by studies and maybe some personal experiences if necessary)?


2 Answers 2


Indeed, there are too many factors.

  1. Flash cards prompt one's memory in a random order (unlike, for example, lectures), hence, building neural connections between the meaning, phonetic value, and spelling.
  2. Flash cards naturally aid repetition, a key for study. Nobody remembers everything from the first try. Our brain takes up to 20% of the entire energy the human body consumes, so memory is naturally lazy; it tries to forget whatever it seems to be unused in order to save energy.
    Only repetition "convinces" our brain that this piece of information is, indeed, important.
  3. Flash cards also aid mnemonic memorizing by linking visual representation and the meaning. Even a minor scratch or paint leak in the corner of a flash card can be remembered well, along with the word being learned. Say, when you learn Chinese, it is easy to make your flash cards of four different colors to quickly remember the lexical tones.
  4. Flash cards are cheap. They are even cheaper than freeware MP3 podcasts you download into your phone for listening.
  5. Flash cards give you an instant feedback. There's no complicated scoring; your answer is either right or wrong. In case of a mistake, it's easy to return the card back into the stock and make any corrections with your course in real-time.
  6. When teaching kids, the process of making your own flash cards is a kind of a game. Gamification is a key technique teaching kids.
  7. Flash cards are confined to a limited (rectangular) space. Rectangular area of a vivid color is a great tool for keeping one's attention.

Having this said, we must realize that everybody is different. Some factor may work better or worse with a certain language student. However, the combination of all factors above make flash cards a really good tool for language acquisition.

  • 4
    Any sources for #7? I've never heard that before.
    – gaeguri
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 12:20

There are multiple ways they help as seen in this site:

  1. Engages Active Recall - As people practice with flashcards, the brain is forced to recall the back of the card correctly and quickly. This helps the brain learn the term(s) faster and stay there longer.

  2. Aids Spaced Repetition - Cramming all the info the day before the exam is less effective than spacing out the practicing apart. With flashcards, this becomes possible. A study by the University of California has proven that 90 percent of all students perform better with flashcards.

  3. Activates Metacognitive Faculties - Basically, flashcards allow correct answers to be turned in knowledge that can be quickly accessed when needed.

  4. Enhances Retention - Flashcards help keep information in the brain longer.

  5. Improves Comprehension Skills - Flashcards can help others learn new vocabulary, allowing flashcards to be effectively used in learning new languages. 93 percent of teachers in a study said that flashcards can help others learn languages.

  6. Allows Visual Learning - Images get to the brain very, very fast, though the brain needs more time to process the information and let it seep into the brain but quickens learning speed

Of course, all factors can differ per person but overall, these are some major factors that make flashcards effective. Using combinations of these factors can also better the learning process of other languages.

  • That study in #2: benefits were from (paper based?) flashcards, or from computer aided spaced repetition itself? Commented May 20, 2021 at 5:37

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