If there's grammar rule that requires a couple of steps of thought in order to create the correct output, how do I put it into flashcards?

For example, Spanish has (as well as imperative) the subjunctive and indicative moods where subjunctive is used by Wishes, Emotions, Impersonal expressions, Recommendations, Doubts and denial, and Ojalá (collectively WEIRDO), and indicative is used by Speech, Perceptions, Occurrences, Certainty, and Knowledge (SPOCK).

If I was being super methodical in doing the grammar of a sentence, I'd look at a sentence like "Espero que vengas a la fiesta." and do the following steps to determine the grammar of "vengas":

  1. "Espero" is a Wish about the verb "vengas".
  2. A Wish is a WEIRDO
  3. WEIRDO uses the subjunctive.
  4. The second person subjunctive present tense of venir is vengas

What approach should I take for putting all of this into my brain? Should I just create a grammar cloze card that basically says

The sentence is "Espero que ____ a la fiesta.", the verb in the blank is venir in the second person present

Or should I create additional flash cards for parts of the process, and if so, how would that work?

The spaced repetition software I'm using is Anki, if that's relevant.

1 Answer 1


The purpose of grammar flash cards is to "acquire" grammar rules rather than "learning" them. I am borrowing this distinction from Stephen Krashen (see Stephen Krashen's Theory of Second Language Acquisition by Ricardo E. Schütz). Learning grammar means that you consciously learn the grammar rules and apply them in exercises. Language acquisition refers increasing your language skills by means of "comprehensible input".

Of course, any self learner will want to speed up the process, which is why many use flash cards, and flash cards force production of language (through spaced testing as opposed to simply spaced viewing). So the question becomes how you can "acquire" grammar rules faster than simply through comprehensible input. The answer is being exposed to "patterns". For example, the use of the subjunctive after "esperar" in "Espero que vengas a la fiesta" would be such a pattern. Grammar rules try to capture those patterns, but Krashen is skeptical about the effectiveness of learning those rules.

So here is what I would do with flash cards that help you acquire "grammar patterns", using the sentence from the question as an example:

  • On the "front", I would just put

    Espero que [(tu) venir] a la fiesta.

  • On the "back", I would put the full sentence, with the solution (vengas) highlighted or in bold. Below the solution, you can put the rule, e.g. "Esperar is a WEIRDO and requires the subjunctive" (or the same in Spanish). The idea is that you have multiple cards that exercise the same rule, so each card exposes you to the same pattern in two ways: first by testing you on it (front of the card), and second by reminding you of the rule, which is mentioned on the back.

This means I would remove all the English content from the front ("The sentence is (...), , the verb in the blank is venir in the second person present") for two reasons: (1) it is not in your native language and (2) it makes the "prompt" too long, or at least longer than it needs to be. I would also translate the rule on the back into Spanish (which in this case requires finding an alternative to "WEIRDO"), so the flash cards are entirely in the target language.

The downside to this approach in Anki is that, as far as I can remember, you can't use Anki's built-in cloze card type for this, since this card type does not allow you to add additional notes that appear only with the solution. Instead, you need to use a basic card type, and manually add the solution and the grammar note to the back.

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