Comparing digital and paper-based flashcards

I recently gave an interview for Kerstin Hammes’ book. In her book I discuss pros and cons of paper and electronic flashcards. In the book I only discuss this in a short version so I wanted to do this more in detail on this blog.

Since one of the main features of Antosch & Lin’s courses are electronic flashcards it’s no secret that I do prefer electronic flashcards to paper based flashcards.

Here are the advantages of digital flashcards:

– You can actually listen to the words on the card and there is no way to learn a language without listening a lot. Theoretically it would be possible to write down the pronunciation or romanisation of the word but it’s not the same. If you listen to the word it will stick better in your mind.

– Another great feature of a modern system is that new and old cards are shown to you automatically. You do not have to organize the cards shown to you. You simply tell the system when you want to see the card again and it will arrange the order for you.

– A good system will also allow you to choose the level of new cards. For instance you let the system know you are an advanced user and therefore only advanced words are shown to you. Our system will also let you know various statistics about the card, such as when was the last time the card was shown to you and how often in total. Not absolutely necessary but still a nice feature.

– If you want to practice on a train or a bus you can use your mobile phone. Taking a big box of paper flashcards would just not be practical.

– Our electronic flashcards offer related words, compound words and example sentences for the words you are learning. This is a decisive factor if you learn new words. Learning words without context should be avoided.

– If you are a serious language learner you will have to write thousands of paper flashcards. This seems really a lot of work to me. There is also the problem of writing it down incorrectly. On our website where you can enter your own flashcards and I see users getting the spelling and/or the translation is wrong all the time.

– Digital flashcards also allow you to practice the words in various exercises, such as where you have to enter the words, or multiple choice or sound-based exercises. The best way would be to combine all those exercises.

– Another thing I like about digital systems is that you can track your progress. If you see on a line chart how you get better and better it can give you a necessary boost to keep going, and motivation is everything in language learning.

– A electronic flashcard system will also allow you to share you cards easily. This is not possible with physical cards.

– Electronic cards can be shown automatically to you. You can just lean back, iron your shirt, do exercise, etc and words are shown to you every x seconds.

– Last but not least they are more environmentally friendly as it saves paper.

So what are the advantages of paper flashcards:

– First good thing is that you don’t need to buy an expensive computer, you can get started right away with a pen and paper.

– It might be easier to take notes or draw something on the paper flashcards. Even though a good flashcard system will also allow you to take some additional notes. So this is no longer an advantage restricted to paper-based learning.

I think I would only use paper flashcards for children who can’t use computers yet or if you can’t afford a computer. But then again tablet computers have become really cheap these days.

So all in all it’s clear that electronic flashcards have the upper hand. If you haven’t tried digital flashcards yet, why not give it a go today?

2 thoughts on “Comparing digital and paper-based flashcards

  1. paul walther

    I think you gloss over the learning curve involved in making good electronic flashcards. I am a fan of electronic flashcards but making good ones took a bit of time. I’m the type of person that (sometimes) can spend lots of time on a computer getting something to work but most people aren’t. This is a definite advantage of paper flashcards or just making lists on paper over electronic flashcards.

    People say that making the flashcards is how they really learn – not using them. I think that they are deluding themselves and maybe making excuses for not studying. Whether you go either route, paper or electronic, you can get creative in making the cards which may have a small impact on your ability to remember words. But you will only remember a few words without repetitive study. So if your deck of flashcards is more than a couple of words… well… I’m sorry but you’ll only remember a couple words out of a hundred unless you study them. I am going off my own experience from making flashcards and from what I’ve seen from other students in my language classes. It’s the reviewing and repetition that really gets it to stick. Cramming for a test doesn’t count for anything… as we all know you forget everything you crammed when you walk out the door after taking the test.

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  2. Bruno

    Good article. I think the most important advantage of paper flashcards over electronic, is that (as with every material that you read on paper) is more ‘real’ an though more easy to remember.

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