And why you shouldn’t do 10,000 flashcards in one month
Guest post by a fellow language learner who is also studying German.
So I just finished absorbing over 10,000 German flashcards and you know what? It wasn’t too terrible, wasn’t life-changing either. To attempt it you’d have to be insane, desperate or just plain bored out of your verdammt Gehirn! In this fabulous region of this sporadic and, at times, inspirational blog I’ll be talking about my beginner steps to German language acquisition, how successful it’s been and of course, the big 10k.
Of course I’ve been following the fantastiche AJATT/Krashen input-above-all method and have been for 2 months prior to blitzing the cards, which might be the reason for any success at all. For some important background, the deck I used was not of my own creation and has been very popular on the Anki shared decks page for a good year or so (it’s recently been reiterated here with better formatting).
Now those of you that have any idea of how successful language acquisition works will know that just pulling in other people’s work is much less effective than making it yourself, for clear reasons I will now explain:
- Little to no context to you. A picture of a dog could mean so many things to different people, for example.
- No love or passion went into the cards, therefore you won’t enjoy reviewing them.
- Half of the learning comes from making the cards, by exporting that essential process you lose half the gain.
These are obvious looking back, hindsight is 20/20, but from the view of a language noob (i.e. me before the 10k) having the effort to compose 10 thousand cards placed upon someone else is a dream come true. After all, why should I waste time and energy when I could be enjoying myself playing games or watching movies in my target language?
Nobody can teach you as well as you can teach yourself – Principle #1 of Adam Robinson’s What Smart Students Know.
These wise words of wisdom ring true in all aspects of learning. In my attempt to be efficient and in a way, cheat the system, I had been doing the opposite. Learning has to be an engaging activity in a way that appeals to your interests and personality, using a shared deck is as cold and uninteresting as a textbook.
So it was a complete failure?!
No, but it wasn’t a success either. I attribute the 70% German I acquired over this period of time to films, games and audio content. The remaining 30% could have been thanks to the deck? Perhaps? Maybe? It’s hard to tell. As I breeze through the deck now, I understand the majority with ease and it was like that from the very beginning. This could have been down to previous input, or more likely, the cards are just too simple.
A well-known component of the Krashen method is learning at an i+1 level, this basically means that if your competence is at level i then you should be consuming/absorbing/devouring content +1 level higher (for more info on Krashen’s kool knowledge check out this page). The deck I was using had the progression of an African land snail and the slope of Flatland.
But you were rushing it!
Yes, the pace I took was also to blame and why the hell was I doing it that fast anyway?! Well for the little gain I was receiving from these basic cards, I wasn’t getting that feel-good confidence boost that keeps the persistence on. I decided to rush more and more cards each day until inevitably I did the math and found I could do all 10k within a month.
“Sure!” I thought, “That would give me more time for other things and I can be super great at German faster than any man before”. How naive I was, alas my dream of mastering German quickly was crushed when I reached the last card in the deck and thought “Is that all?”.
If you applied the brakes and took your time with a shared deck like this, you might have a chance at picking up more, depending on your proficiency and the quality of the deck, but for me it was all mostly for naught.
Top 5 Tips for getting good the proper way:
- INPUT – Fill your head like a database of random, interesting, natural language and eventually when you need to say something, that smart noggin of yours will find it.
- MNEMONICS – Use the memory techniques proven to work, flashcards are especially known to be effective in language learning and even more so if you do them properly. For a really good read on being successful here, check out Gabriel Wyner’s Fluent Forever.
- FUN – If you aren’t having fun or gaining anything, don’t do it! Find something that is and you will learn a gajillion times faster.
- MAKE IT HABITUAL – Habits are the best way to keep pushing towards success, this ties in with fun. Getting addicted to things in your target language ensures you’re making progress.
- IT TAKES TIME – Don’t be impatient like me, if you want to get good, you have to put in the time.
And that’s all for this absolutely 100% accurate and indisputable post, I hope you enjoyed, come back next time where Matt will give you 1000 reasons to donate to him for working hard on this blog.
By Guest Poster
Undergraduate Software Engineer and Language Enthusiast.