Language Notecard Tips and Styles
February 10, 2005 7:08 PM   Subscribe

What are some good strategies for studying language with notecards or flash cards? Anyone have experience with the so-called Leitner system? Are software/online notecard systems any better than the real thing? Vocabulary-building tips are appreciated, as well.
posted by swift to Education (3 answers total)
Children's books are very useful, since they typically use simple sentence structure, a limited vocabularly and common idiom and speech patterns. Sir Richard Burton (the explorer, not the actor), a very accomplished linguist, used this method when possible.

Also, when talking to native speakers, he would silently repeat what the speaker said, to acquire the speaker's rythmn and accent.
posted by SPrintF at 7:47 PM on February 10, 2005

What are some good strategies for studying language with notecards or flash cards?

Get a list of the most common words in the language (you can probably Google something) and work through that list in order for most to least common. These words are guaranteed to be useful or they wouldn't be used so frequently, so every minute memorizing their meanings and spellings and grammar is a minute well spent.

If you are learning the language for a specific reason, select a useful subset of the more common words. If you are learning for a trip, for example, you will of course need to know about trains and planes and buses and taxis and hotels and arrivals and departures and restaurants. Whether or not they are among the most common words in the language, these words will be a huge part of your personal vocabulary.

After you have a small vocabulary, see if you can write some Dr. Seuss stuff in them.
In May of 1954, Life published a report concerning illiteracy among school children. The report said, among other things, that children were having trouble to read because their books were boring. This inspired Geisel's publisher, and prompted him to send Geisel a list of 400 words he felt were important, asked him to cut the list to 250 words (the publishers idea of how many words at one time a first grader could absorb), and write a book. Nine months later, Geisel, using 220 of the words given to him published The Cat in the Hat, which went on to instant success.
You will fail miserably at this, but it will force you to think about meaning, spelling, pronunciation, and grammar all at once, and it could be fun.
posted by pracowity at 2:13 AM on February 11, 2005

Best answer: I have a remarkably obsessive-compulsive system that goes something like this:

Find a book that's interesting but fairly easy; I went for Harry Potter because it's so ubiquitous. Find a frequency dictionary for the language (this may be the hard part for an obscure language or if you don't have access to a college library).

As you read the text, write down the words you don't know, along with their definitions and any other useful information. MS Access or some other database program is good for this. I try to do about 15-20 words a day.

Once or twice a week, I look up all the just-learned words in a frequency dictionary and record their frequencies in the database. Then I take the top 10% of words and make flash cards for those.

This looks hideously complex, but it has some advantages : I gain a little bit of passive recognition of about 100 words per week. All the words I actually set myself to learning are quite commonly found and necessary. (This is really important as I'm reading Harry Potter; do I need 'toad' and 'sorceror' when I'm still at a beginning/intermediate level?). Plus, I have a context and example sentences for the words I make flash cards for. This works out to be about 10-14 words per week, which I find a pretty manageable level, but you could write down more (or fewer) words per day or take a higher (or lower) percentage if necessary.
posted by Jeanne at 3:08 AM on February 11, 2005 [3 favorites]

« Older How can we get past her figuring out that I'm not...   |   LokiTorrent panic filter Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.