Video: why you shouldn't use flashcards

One of the reasons why I never use the review button here on Lingq is because I just don’t like flashcards.
Whenever I use them I have flashbacks of my never ending kanji sessions I used to do at university, and that just wasn’t fun.
After some thought and research, I compiled 7 reasons why flashcards are counterproductive when it comes to language learning, in particular vocabulary acquisition.
I know a lot of people aren’t fond of SRS as well, so I thought I could share some of the info I have. But there are also lots of Anki lovers.
Feel free to prove me wrong, though! Any feedback is appreciated.


Funny thing, I have an extensive guide on how to use Anki here: :smiley:

But yeah, I’ll watch your video, it’s in my watch later list now. I’ll pay close attention to it as I’m also changing strategies on many things, including flashcards.

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Il mondo è bello perché è vario!
Anche io ero una assidua anki user all’università, ma quando ho cominciato a studiare lingue per conto mio mi sono resa conto che non era proprio per me.
Ma sono comunque dell’idea che, per quanto riguarda l’apprendimento delle lingue, se a una persona piace fare una determinata attività deve continuare a farla, indipendentemente dalla efficacia della stessa, perché questo contribuisce a creare un ambiente positivo e di gioco :).
Ho letto il tuo articolo, ed è davvero dettagliato! Ti faccio i complimenti perché non credo di aver mai trovato questo tipo di informazioni spiegate così bene riguardo anki (quelle in inglese sono forse troppo “geeky”).

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I am finding if I just keep reading the same story over and over I am learning the words, along with listening to tons of videos in my target language (German) that i want to learn.

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Grazie per i complimenti. E concordo, ci sono vari modi per raggiungere gli stessi obiettivi ma anch’io ho trovato Anki non produttivo per alcune cose, ma lo sto rivalutando efficace per altre, ma non per i vocaboli. Opinioni contrastanti servono comunque spesso proprio per chiarirsi le idee, nel tempo si cambia spesso, per fortuna.

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Spot on I think. The biggest obstacle to me with flashcards is that you quickly run into a situation where you have so many words that need reviewing. I used Memrise early on with my German learning. I actually do think it was pretty useful for the beginning stages. Whether it’s more efficient than just reading and listening I can’t say at the beginning. Anyway, what I found was that if I took a day off…or heaven forbid, a week off for vacation, I’d have hundreds of words that I would need to catch up on review before I could get to learning new words. Granted I could skip the review and do some new word learning, but still, the point of SRS is to review when you need to. So it became a bit demotivating.

As well…there is a practical limit imo of the number of words that you can actually accomodate with an SRS based system, depending on your free time devoted to langaguage learning. Like you, I have a job, and a girlfriend…I don’t have hours, barely 10 minutes some days! It became clear that I’d be stuck on the same 1000 words reviewing and never get beyond that point.

I also had aspirations of relearning Spanish to a higher level and perhaps Japanese and what not. Imagine doing SRS for all of these languages. No way unless you have like 8 hours a day.

Fortunately I found Steve Kaufman’s videos on youtube and started looking into LingQ and the whole reading/listening/input methods. It sounded like much more fun and perhaps made a lot of sense that it would work.

Well, it does work, and it works quite well as anyone who uses LingQ knows. I’ve progressed so much faster than I would’ve with an SRS method.

You make excellent points about different meanings of words and context. Part of this could be handled in SRS if one were to use phrases or chunks.

Now I think flashcards could be helpful, maybe to work on some words that you get stuck on or as you say for some proficiency tests. The problem with the former is that you still run into the huge list of words that you just somehow get stuck on and it’s going to take some real beating of the word into your brain. I encounter this with the reading and listening too. I eventually decide it’s just time to move on (if it’s a lesson I may be reading repeatedly to try and grasp the new vocabulary). Some on LingQ don’t even repeat the lessons. The new context of the word can help grasp some of the difficult words.

The other great aspect about the input based learning through reading and listening is that you are getting repeated exposure to the most used words anyway? It’s simply much more efficient to spend time in reading/listening.

My 2 cents. Thanks for the great video.


Concordo assolutamente! L’errore più grande è rimanere arroccati nelle proprie idee. Cambiare è la cosa che ci fa crescere di più. Anche io credo che le flashcards possano essere utili in alcune situazioni. Forse l’astuzia sta proprio nel sapere quale metodo sia il migliore in quale contesto.

Thank you for sharing your insights. I relate so much to your situation!
I am one of those who doesn’t like to repeat lessons on lingq, and the reason is exactly what you’ve written: I am confident that I am going to find the same word anyway, so I prefer reading or listening to something new. This is also because I like to focus on activities that I like, in order to maintain a positive attitude towards language learning and help make it a habit.
If you do things you don’t enjoy on a daily basis, you’re setting yourself up for quitting.


I agree! I might add that even if you read something new every day, you’re still going to encounter a lot of the same words (especially if you tend to read things about one specific topic). The most important thing is enjoying the process.
Rereading is so much more powerful than flashcards, because you have the context and ability to play with words in a different way each time you reread.
You can always write example sentences in flashcards to be able to relate with context, but still it’s not the full text. I often find example sentences to be insufficient on their own. I find people often mistake “example sentence on a flashcard” with “context”. To me, context is so much broader of a concept.


I do find it a little difficult to let go of repeating some reading. I do always feel like I’m missing out on the opportunity to see a word again that might be useful. I’m only doing it for relatively short chapters or articles though so I may read/listen a few times. At that point I usually move on regardless of whether I learned all the words or not as I don’t want to get “stuck” on a couple of difficult words to remember. I also think at some point, once you know the story it may be less useful in terms of knowing whether you really know the word vs. memorizing the story.

I do also do some reading/listening where I just read/listen and move on after one iteration.


I didn’t know there was a negative part about flashcards xD I never used them.
My native language is Spanish and I learned English by myself just by reading, listening podcasts and watching movies. Every time I didn’t know a word, I looked it up in the dictionary, I never cared about how many times I looked up the same word, I just knew I would learn it someday. I got used to searching on internet, or ask native speakers about the whole phrase or giving them a context, that’s a lot easier to finally get the meaning. Now I am learning French on LingQ, and I am learning new words by clicking the single word and then the whole phrase, even though it makes no sense at the beggining, I know it will later. (I like to picture any kind of situation in my head while repeating the word or/in the phrase)
Thank you for your post, your video was really interesting :slight_smile:


I liked how you describe getting to know words as like getting to know a person in all their complexity. I was just watching an interview with Russian polyglot Dmitri Petrov in which he says that a language needs to enter through your eyes, your ears, and your heart. He rues the general decline in reading, noting that reading is essential for building vocabulary. For those who know Russian and have interest, the interview is at Как легко выучить иностранный язык / Дмитрий Петров // Нам надо поговорить - YouTube

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I totally disagree. A lot of generalizations. First of all, I create my flashcards in the form of “sentence mining”. Let’s say, if I wanted to learn a word, I would add many example sentences containing that word. So I would be seeing them in different contexts. It is like reading but in a narrow sense. Copying example sentences online is much quicker. (Definitely much quicker than creating them manually and then juggling them around.)

One more thing I use Anki for my academic studies. Whenever I study a chapter with Anki, I always score 100% on my quiz. I do not know why, but active recalling engages our brain cells in a different way. Whenever I need important information, it pops up out of nowhere.

As a beginner when you have to review hundreds of new words, such SRS software really helps once you reach an advanced stage where you can now rely on contextual clues for inferring the meaning of news words then you can stop using it altogether.

It depends a lot on the personality of a learner and if something does not work for me it must not work for others as well. It is like walking on a tightrope. I do not subscribe to this line of thinking.


Here’s the thing.
I don’t think sentence mining/sentence reviewing = context.
To me context is much, much broader than that. If I want to review vocabulary in context, I just read the text again.

SRS can be helpful in academic studies (I used it extensively at university, as I said in the video). But here I am talking about SRS and vocabulary in a foreign language in regards to self-study, so off topic.

As far as active recalling is concerned speaking is, in my opinion, a lot more powerful than flashcards, and more enjoyable.

It all comes down to personal preference: if you enjoy recalling and testing more than reading, listening and speaking, you do you.

But I never ever used flashcards to learn English, Spanish and Korean. In regards to my experience, flashcards are not necessary, contrary to a lot of people’s beliefs.

Thank you for sharing! I’ll definitely watch the interview, as I need to get back to my Russian :slight_smile:
What you said is what I think a lot of people miss out when they start learning a foreign language.
What I mean by that is that practices like srs, grammar drills and workbook exercises kind of spoil the magic of language learning, making it feel more “robotic”, in a sense.
Reading, listening, watching videos, and ultimately communicating with people and sharing thoughts is much more rewarding.
I might have an overly romantic view on this, but after more than a decade spent on learning and analysing languages academically, I just can’t go back to textbooks and flashcards.

Agreed. We all learned our first language without using any SRS software. There are many different lanes/road maps you can choose from to reach your final destination. Just because it is time consuming to create flash cards and to repeat them every single day is a tedious process but that does not mean it can not be used as a supplementary aid.

I am trying to learn German just purely through watching TV series.(very lazy way). I am developing a natural feeling for the language and Now I exactly know where we have to use fixed chunks of the language in what situations.

I simply dived in to the native material right off the bat and initial few weeks were a tough battle but I have survived and I am now witnessing the true benefits of directly jumping into native contents (like TV series).

Again I can go on and say N+1 hypothesis is nothing but it is a one man’s secret formula to get fame no matter how false that formula is.

There are so many lanes to choose from in order to reach your final destination so just pick those that suit your best. Every learner is different. If SRS does not work for you, fine, but it works for others, then, that is also fine. Please go to – The authors swear by the efficiency of SRS in language learning.


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Great video. I’ve tried to use Anki and have failed like 5 different times to use it past 7 days, no joke. I am so lazy haha. It’s not a good thing but whenever I have had to make such efforts in language learning I don’t do anything. So I just watch a lot of TV in Spanish, read books and news on Lingq, and have a vocabulary journal where I add a couple of sentences each day from various sources of input. I probably study that journal at most 5-10 mins a day, but it helps me notice words. Noticing is the goal, not giving myself a headache from drilling vocabulary out of context. Effortless language learning. Very Taoist, very enjoyable. Thanks for sharing your video, I don’t feel so weird now haha.

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Have you ever had the experience where you encounter some concept for the first time and then the next day hear a reference to it in the news, or in an article on idk sourdough bread or the Russo-Japanese war of 1904, and this deepens your understanding and memory. It’s a species of random spaced repetition that strongly reinforces. If you read and think and expose yourself to the world then such phenomena will happen to you on a regular basis. Similarly in language learning, and I just noticed again recently several word groups that I’ve encountered from a variety of sources and now feel quite comfortable with.

So it happens, it works—exposure works—and as far as SRS I can’t, I just can’t, I just hate it. BUT reviewing lingqs of word groups (i.e. I search my vocabulary for all words/phrases using a root—so I get various conjugations, genders, number etc.) and reading those, that I like to do for words that I’ve encountered and want to investigate further, using examples that I’ve collected.

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I love what you said about noticing. It is indeed one of the most important aspects of language acquisition. I have felt such a stark difference from the way I learned languages academically and acquiring them “naturally”. When we have the freedom to remove the unpleasant and learn with pleasant methods (paraphrasing Kato Lomb), language learning really becomes a journey, rather than a routine.

It happens ALL THE TIME. I encountered a yellow word yesterday while reading a novel, and upon seeing it, I immediately remembered where I saw that word for the first time. In my opinion, this happens because we are so engaged with what we read/listen to that it makes words more memorable.

Reading, and exposure in general to meaningful, and - to some extent - comprehensible input works as a “natural SRS”.
Your way of vocabulary review is similar to what I do. Your choice of word roots is extremely interesting, because it allows your brain to see all the words together AFTER you’ve been exposed to them, so you can figure out possible semantic connections, and deepen your vocabulary knowledge. I’ll have to try that too with Korean (using hanja so that I can see what characters are used). I like to do what you do but with grammar structures, to see the same pattern repeated in different sentences to reinforce it. BUT i never do flashcard review on those, I just filter the patterns and look at them.

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