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Anki, a computer based space repetition system is what I'm currently using to memorize words. I've also seen one or two paper based systems and think they might be a good complement to a computer based system.

Anyhow, I've got literally thousands of words that I need to memorize, and it seems there should be by now a system for getting it done. I'm not especially attached to the physical dimensions of a flashcard.

So, what are some paper based ways to crank through large numbers of vocabulary flash cards?

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What's your question is? – VMAtm Jul 2 '11 at 13:53
What's the point of paper? Anki runs on Android if you don't have access to a computer. – Christian Jul 2 '11 at 19:00
@Christian, that is an assumption that Matthew has access to an Android. – tehnyit Jul 3 '11 at 17:30
Why paper? I work at the office all day staring at a screen. Everyone in a while, one wants to get a break from the machines. Anyhow, from the standpoint of memorization, it seems it would be more effective to learn something in several contexts other than just in front of a screen. – MatthewMartin Jul 4 '11 at 13:58

My personal preference for learning via flashcard is as follows:

I have two decks of cards, one is the "active" deck (stuff I'm just learning) and the other is the "review" deck (stuff I've already learned.)

Beginning with the active deck, I pick the cards up and starting with the "question" side, say a foreign word, I give an answer, guessing if I have to, and check. If I got it right, I put it in the "correct" pile, if not, it goes in the "incorrect pile." I then repeat this with the incorrect pile, placing correct answers in the correct pile until there is no longer an incorrect pile. I then pick up the correct pile and go again.

I repeat this until I can get all the way through the active deck without a mistake, then I flip and work from the "answer" side, such as the english word. Once I've gotten through it once working backwards, I shuffle the "active" deck into the "review" deck and do the same thing with it.

This keeps me actively reviewing what I know while ensuring I'm spending the most time on what I don't. However, it's still a pretty time-consuming process. Good luck!

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+1 for the two decks! Good idea. Thanks. – Paul T. Jan 10 '13 at 17:05

First of all: when you review vocabulary, you always have to shuffle the set of cards before you go through them. Since our brain is so good at remembering patterns, otherwise you're likely to include the sequence of words as a main clue in your learning. This means that they're dramatically less accessible outside of this sequence (i.e. whenever you actually need to use them).
Going through the cards, start with recognizing the words (passive knowledge), i.e. first look through them on the side of the foreign language, since this is the easier task. Think of the translation or translations, and then turn it over to check. Then go through the other side. If you really need to actively know the spelling, then writing down any particularly hairy ones might be a good idea, since it's easy to kid yourself on this point.
That said: The main thing with vocabulary learning is to get the amount of repetition right. There's no sense in churning through dozens of words that you know perfectly well, only to then miss that one word that has been eluding you, yet again. So the first thing is to sort out the ones that you know during your repetitions, so that you go through a progressively smaller stack.
The second thing is that you can't have just one big stack of "previously known" words, since this quickly gets to entirely unmanageable sizes. You need to establish some spacings here.
For me, personally, I need a lot of initial repetitions, so I'd have a stack for repetition on the next day. The known ones here then go into a stack for repetition three days later, and from there into one for a week, then a month later. From there on you can just divide them into small sets, possibly ones that are thematically related (that's the good pattern recognition in this context), and go through them when you have some time at hand. Any words that you don't remember during any of the repetitions go back into the current stack, and then have to pass through the entire series of stacks again.

PS: About the content of the cards: Since we remember patterns and connections, it is often better to not just have single words on there, but a typical phrase or phrases in which the word occurs. This makes things easier to remember, and additionally provides a way to train entire chunks of language. This first of all improves your active use, since you can then recall the chunk instead of having to construct it as you speak. Additionally it help with other aspects of language such as tenses and word order.

No specific references here, but this is based on teaching English as a foreign language for several years, and reflects mainstream opinion in the field.

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Paper flash cards are becoming more and more obsolete in the digital era. It can still be used to complement the study when you can't use an eletronic device though.


The engine is quite simple. You write down a word in each card and their respective meanings upside-down. The back of the cards is used aswell. That's all. A pack of 100 cards go for around $4.00 - so that's $20.00 for every thousand of words.

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