Saturday, December 31, 2005

CALLT 3/5: Flashcards

A flashcard is a piece of paper, which contains a foreign word on the one side, and a known-language translation(s) on the other side. Usually you have a deck of flashcards, which contain the words for a certain textbook chapter, vocabulary on some specific topic, etc. Flashcards are used so that you look at the known-language side and try to guess the foreign word. Then you turn the card and check the correct answer. Repeat for all cards in the deck. You go through the deck until you have learned the words well enough.

A flashcard program is not only a digitized version of flashcards. The main additions are Leitner cardfile and sessions.

The Leitner cardfile is about ensuring that you spend your time with unknown words. It consists of 3 - 5 piles. The first pile is a New Words pile, and initially all cards are there. The last pile is an Under Control pile. The cards in the Under Control pile are considered learned; however, you may forget them. In addition, there are 1-3 intermediate piles representing increasing amounts of control.

When the flashcard program asks question in a card, a correct answer moves it to the next pile. A wrong answer takes the card to the lowest intermediate pile. For example, if you have 3 intermediate piles, it takes 3 consecutive correct answers to move a card from the lowest intermediate pile to the Under Control pile.

The Leitner cardfile ensures that you keep repeating the card until you learn it. There is no other way to get it to the Under Control pile. On the other hand, you'll spend your time with words, which you don't know yet - soon after you learn a word it is transfered to the Under Contorl pile.

Sessions define the order in which the cards are asked. A session is a "daily" amount of questions, and the basic input is the number of new words you want to learn per day. Suppose you want to learn 15 words a day. Then a session could consist of the following lessons.

  1. New Word lesson: Take 15 new cards from the New Words pile and ask them.

  2. Rehearse lesson: Take 15 cards from the Under Control pile. If you have forgotten some of them, put the cards to the first intermediate pile.

  3. Intermediate Pile 3: Ask all questions. Move correct cards to the Under Control pile and wrong cards to the Intermediate Pile 1.

  4. Intermediate Pile 2: Ask all questions. Correct cards go to Pile 3, wrong ones to Pile 1.

  5. Intermediate Pile 1: Ask all questions. Correct cards go to Pile 2, wrong ones to Pile 1.

In addition, there may be special error lessons. Error lessons happen after the main lessons (listed above) and drill those words which the user failed. The words will be asked again and again, until the user has answered correctly 3 consecutive times to each question. The error lesson happens "outside" the Leitner cardfile, and it doesn't affect where the cards are moved.

A problem with the flashcard methodology is that you don't really learn the word. You merely associate a foreign string to some known-language words. Unless traditional methods are used to learn the word (reading texts, translating sentences, etc.) the word is quickly forgotten.

The reason for this is that the words are not independent entities, but always parts of some sentence. Also from the point of view of learning it is important to see how the word is used in sentences. I would guess that adding example sentences (which are shown, if the user answers incorrectly) will greatly facilitate the efficiency of flashcards. However, I haven't seen any flashcards with example sentences yet.

1 comment:

Susan B said...

Hi, great blog! Can you tell me where to find info about flash card recovery? The only place I've found so far is flash card recovery. Thanks.