Learning in Practice: Russian and Flashcards!


Learning in Practice: Russian and Flashcards!

When studying a foreign language one sooner or later must deal with the fact that one needs to learn, and memorize, a lot of new words. Earlier posts on this blog has dealt with websites such as memrise. Another method, probably one of the older, is the use of flashcards. Nowadays, flashcards have however taken the step into the 20th century. Today we will have a look at both the old and new way of using flashcards in your language studies.

A flashcard, if you are not familiar with the method, is basically a card with the same word on both sides. For instance on one side the word “chair” and on the other the translation into your target language, in this case “стул”. This allows you study a bunch of words by guessing their meaning and then flipping the card to check yourself.

The photo above depicts the old type of flashcards. I laid my hands on this particular set on Ebay a couple of years ago. It’s from the sixties (which in this case means that some words are quite outdated) and contains 1000 cards. As you can see, the card for the word “people, nation” gives the translation “народ”. Сo far so good, but the card also gives the derivate “народный”, meaning ”people’s, popular”. This of course means that the real number of words in the 1000-card set by far exceeds 1000.

This set is of course professionally made, with a pretty good selection of words. The advantage of a set like this is of course that I don’t need to do the hard work of writing them myself. On the other hand, writing a couple of hundred cards by yourself is of course a good way of learning them. I suggest making, or ordering, a lot of empty cards and filling them with words that you encounter in daily life or in your lessons. This way you slowly build a steady vocabulary.

Another option is to use digital flashcards. There’s a great number of freeware apps, programs and websites that you might use. I could recommend using “Anki”. It is completely free, additionally there’s an online community where people share their own cards. The picture below shows you how it looks like when you add a new card.


As you can see above, the process is pretty straight-forward. The next picture shows you the study-interface. First, you’ll get the first side of the card and by pressing spacebar you’ll get the next one. When you’ve checked your answer the program allows you to rate your answer. If you did not know the answer, you can make Anki repeat the card more often – and vice versa. If you use the old-school cards this is something you need to do by yourself. I usually put them in different stacks depending on my results. One disadvantage of Anki is that the interface, at least in the beginning is quite hard to navigate.


Wikipedia has pretty good article on the theory about spaced repetition which can be helpful if you want to understand the thought behind flashcards.

At the end of the day, the only one that knows what works best for you – is you. I however encourage you to toy around a bit with Anki and the more old-school flashcards and see what fits you best. Good luck!

This post was brought to you by Vincent, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz

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