Is it time for me to take a different approach?

Hello everyone. I’ve been learning German for roughly a year and a half now and over time I formed a certain habit, and I’m at a point where it’s starting to seem more strenuous than necessary and that perhaps I should give it up for some other approach. Let me just go over my current “procedure”:

I’ve made extensive use of SRS software (specifically: Memrise) for a good while now, and basically I read/listen to an article/entry from one of a few sources available under “DEUTSCH LERNEN” on the Deutsche Welle website (for example: Alles geplant? | DW Deutsch Lernen), and then I make a note of all the words I don’t know, which I then search in a bilingual dictionary for a couple basic translations, and after that I search in a monolingual German dictionary to paste the definition(s) along with the examples provided into my SRS software, the result is flashcards like this:

Side one:
to document, show, record, deutlich zum Ausdruck bringen, bekunden, zeigen (dadurch wird dokumentiert, wie bahnbrechend diese Leistungen sind), zum Ausdruck kommen, deutlich werden, sich zeigen (sich) (an/in dieser Inszenierung dokumentiert sich die Freude am Experiment), durch Dokumente (2) belegen (Landwirte sollen in Zukunft dokumentieren, welchen und wie viel Dünger sie verwenden), dokumentarisch (2) darstellen, festlegen (etwas filmisch dokumentieren) (den Prozess lückenlos dokumentieren)

Side two:

Everyday, I learn 15-30 such flashcards. What’s more, that results in what many would consider “enslavement” to the software, in that I have to review some 150 flashcards a day to not fall behind. Crazy, isn’t it? So essentially, I’m thinking that I could probably save myself a lot of trouble by giving up such a strenuous method, even if I’m slightly more likely to forget words I encounter. I say “slightly”, because I don’t even think it’s that much of a help to use SRS, especially since I mainly just use it out of compulsion to have all of those words in my deck; it doesn’t help either that I don’t enjoy all of the course-making, -doing, and -reviewing on an SRS system, and I’ve recently been doing a lot of my review without more than half a glance at each flashcard just because I want to get it over with as quick as possible.

Just to note, I also do some passive learning, such as watching German programs and such, but that is besides the topic at hand.

Obviously my method isn’t useless since my German has improved significantly - but am I right in thinking that I could spare the exertions by not using such a software? I could use the time saved (hours!) to read/listen to more articles and more “difficult” articles without having to limit myself lest I bite off more than I can chew and end up with loads of SRS work. I could use the time saved to re-listen to previous entries as well, which, now that I think about it, could be more effective than SRS review with a fraction of the effort involved. After all, dictionaries are meant to be referred to, not studied.

I should mention that I’m not a LingQ user and have only tried it out quickly over a year ago and I’m not planning on using it for German, but I may for French in the future. Nevertheless, I do follow Steve’s YouTube channel which has probably contributed to my reconsiderations.

I came to ask for people’s opinions here since I’m hesitant to drop what I’ve been doing so long (I’ve got several thousand flashcards in multiple decks), and fear that I might be somewhat “aimless” without a specific task to do each time, as absurd as that may sound. Also, if I stop, there’s no going back, because it would be an impossible task to make up for even a week.

Responses are much appreciated.

Are you saying that its specifically the use of flashcards/SRS which you are contemplating ditching in favor of more reading and listening?

Or are you saying that its the process of noting words you don’t know, looking them up, and reviewing them which you’re thinking of ditching?

I don’t do flashcards anymore, but I still do the latter - I do it through LingQ.

I make a note for each word I don’t know, I look at those notes when I read through the text for a second time at a later date. Sometimes I skim through a text, randomly clicking on words which I am very unfamiliar with before I listen to the audio.(I then make a point of listening for those words in the audio).

Before I started reading and listening as a means of language learning, I used memrise to become familiar with the “1000 most commonly used words” kind of list. It was beneficial in that I obviously learned stuff from it, but looking back I’d rather have spent that time listening and reading. I believe I’d have come further than I have if I had done that.

I’m mainly contemplating the first one. If I don’t know a word I would definitely look it up and if necessary note it with a simple translation for when I read/listen to the text another time so I don’t have to recheck the dictionary, but I wouldn’t review the notes just for the sake of it.

Edit: If the text is a newspaper article, I probably won’t come back to it except on the same day I read it in the first place, so I suppose I’d delete any notes for those. I don’t really know.

Well it makes sense that the more you see and pay attention to a word, the stronger your mental association with it becomes until you eventually have a direct association between it and its meaning. Steve has referred to this as ‘noticing’ things I believe in his videos.

So really to pick up vocab one needs to see a lot of words, see them often and notice them as much as possible.

Flashcards are really just a shortcut since you’re not waiting for the word to occur naturally in text you’re reading, but you’re forcing its occurrence through looking at the flashcards.

There are a variety of supplemental techniques such as writing them down, having a picture with the word to which the word can be applied, even ‘acting out’ the word as you say it. They’re all basically tapping into the various ways you can force yourself to ‘notice’ the word.

So the real question is: how much longer would it take to learn words if one simply read various texts and listened to them - letting the word occur as it would naturally.

I suspect it is going to be a longer process. Especially if one is reading different texts and not re-reading them. You’ll probably end up with a lot of words which are familiar (being that you have seen them before and they ‘ring a bell’) but seem to rarely be able to remember them.

You will still undoubtedly be picking up vocabulary, but the pace will slow.

I reread things a lot - just space them out. I find this to be a workable compromise.


  • Repeated exposure over time
  • I’m always seeing the words in context and building up associations with other words they’re used with.
  • Reading does not exhaust me or seem as much a chore as flashcards do.
  • I save a a tonne of time not having to MAKE flashcard lists and update things.


  • It’s not a huge amount of fun. More doable than flashcards I find.
  • Even though I see the word in context, the context(s) is/are always the same because its the same text.

An alternate approach which would be better would probably be intensive reading where I spent multiple days working through texts which were all on the same topic - so I’d have a high likelihood of encountering topic-specific words repeatedly.

Something else which I don’t do enough of is writing in my target language (and this I am starting to do again). If I write about things I’ve previously read, it seems that by me using the word my memory if it is stronger than if I had only read it.

So I think there are ways to build vocabulary without flashcards, and I prefer to investigate them rather than the flashcards. Ultimately I wouldn’t be able to commit to long term language learning if I disliked the process, so I’m finding ways to stop it from being a chore. Since there is no real finish line, I’m looking for a way that I can keep up indefinitely.

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Thanks very much for your input, I’ll be starting a flashcard-free method tomorrow. Good luck with your own learning!

Good luck! I’m sure you’ll have success.THe main thing is consistent exposure to the language. Motivation is key. Do ditch anything you find strenuous and don’t be afraid to change your approach eveey now and then.