Vocab Wars #3 Testing Smart Flashcards + Long-Term Results of Vocab Wars #1


That what’s close to us is easier to remember.

So it makes sense to couple those things to new information we want to learn.

Let’s say I want to learn the word refrigerator. If I happen to have a big, blue and rusty fridge, a good way to learn this word would be with a sentence like this one:

My refrigerator is big, blue and rusty.

I can then stick this sentence to a flashcard, with the word’s translation on the other side.

This is what Smart Flashcards are all about.

And this installment of Vocab Wars is all about Smart Flashcards.

So how will they work for me?

Read on to find out.

I got the idea of Smart Flashcards from CAMILLE from French Today who suggested it as a good vocab learning method in this Smart Language Learner mega post:


Rules of the Game

In Vocab Wars I test various vocabulary methods and share the results with you.

In four 25 minute learning sessions — spread out over four days — I try to learn 50 Spanish words I don’t know yet.

I then test myself on the 5th day to see how the method’s worked for me over the short term.

I then forget about the words and the method as much as I can, and do a new test two months later to see how it’s worked for me over the longer term.

To sum it up:

  • I pick a vocabulary learning method.
  • I adjust it slightly so it can be used with Vocab Wars’ parameters.
  • Then, I try to learn 50 words in four 25-minute sessions.
  • On day five, I do the short-term memory test.
  • I then leave it all behind until two months later, when I’ll do a long-term memory test. I publish these results later.

So … are all vocab learning methods essentially the same, or are some superior to others? And could weak short-term methods be stronger over the longer term or vice versa? Follow Vocab Wars — by signing up for the Smart Language Learner email updates — to find out.

Disclaimer: This isn’t science. Some methods may work better for me than for you. I also spend some time selecting the words to learn which preexposes me to them, and the time spent won’t be consistent for every method. Note that the words I use are in Spanish. I’m already pretty fluent in Spanish which makes it easier for me to learn new words. In spite of all this, I still believe Vocab Wars could give a good indication of the efficiency of various vocab learning methods.

Vocab Wars #3 – Smart Flashcards

In this 3rd edition of Vocab Wars, I had to spent a little extra time to come up with the sentences. I did not count this toward the total learning time. I spent about a minute per sentence.

It wasn’t hard to create the sentences. Most came easily. The words that took me a little longer were all words that don’t appear much in my life. However, in the end I always found some sort of connection.

So with the sentences on one side and the words´ translations on the other, I set out to test the merit of Smart Flashcards.

When I started learning the words with Anki, I immediately noticed that I already knew most of the words. Just because of the minute or so I spent creating a close-to-home sentence with each word.

I think that’s pretty impressive.

But if you already know most of the words and you have to keep reviewing them, you can expect it to get boring pretty quickly.

And it did:

As soon as the third learning session, reviewing the flashcards became a chore.

I had to tell myself not to check the clock every other millisecond. 😉

Luckily, I managed to get through all the sessions.

And the next day it was time to do the short-term memory test.

Here are the results:

The Results

As you can see, it took me about five minutes to complete the test.

I made two mistakes, which may seem a lot given that, at times, it was so easy that it became boring. But, and I guess this is important, all reviewing was done from Spanish to Dutch (my native language) and not the other way around. The test is done both ways.

I made both mistakes translating back from Dutch to Spanish.

Is this a hint that it’s important to learn by translating back and forth? Perhaps…

Anyway, I believe this is a strong method to learn vocab. You connect something known to an unknown word. You pull the unknown into the known, so to speak.

It’ll be interesting to see the long-term results of my Smart Flashcards learning sessions…

And talking about long-term results.

The long-term results for Vocab Wars #1 are in!

Long-Term Memory Test Results for Vocab Wars #1

Two months have passed since I did the last learning session of Vocab Wars #1.

That means it’s time to do the long-term memory test.

In Vocab Wars #1 the method of choice was basic flashcards. That is: a foreign word on one side of the flashcard, and its translation on the other.

Check out the results in the graph below:

So, it’s clear that I still remembered a significant portion of the words.

I did have to think hard to remember some of them. It took me almost double the time of the short-term memory test, but I didn’t make many mistakes.

Just 13 errors in 100 cards (front and back). You have to take into account that I stopped reviewing these words two months ago.

However, since the method was basic flashcards, it was faster than most methods. Thus, I did a lot of repetitions.

Judging by the results, they were worth it.

Next Up for Vocab Wars: a Slight Change of Procedures

Because almost all methods seem to show near perfect short-term results, I’ve decided to not publish short-term results separately anymore.

Instead, I’ll publish them together with the long-term results to give you more bang for your buck.

This automatically means that the frequency of Vocab Wars posts will be slashed in half. But I prefer quality over quantity.

There will be one exception, though…

And it’s coming next:

In late April/early May, I’ll publish the long-term results of Vocab Wars #2 separately. After that, all Vocab Wars posts will include both short and long-term results.

Hope to see you then!

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