Question: Should we use flashcards in acquiring language skills?
Copyright © Language Bridge Technology, 2015
Flashcards encourage you to believe in one-to-one translations. They make you
narrow-minded and unaware of the language you think you're learning.
When you learn a word in the new language and attach it to a single word or concept in your own language, and burn them together into your mind as a pair, you create the illusion of a world where every language is exactly the same, just with different words.
However, that world doesn't actually exist. “To see” in English can mean what you do with your eyes, what do you when you finally understand something, and even a bid you can make when you're playing poker. “Vedere” in Italian can mean what you do with your eyes, consulting someone, grasping something, verifying something, and so on. They are not quite the same, and if every time you think you want to use “vedere” you have go through an internal verification process (“Oh, right: maybe not the poker thing”) you will speak very slowly and stiffly.
Memorizing with the aid of flashcards can help you learn the names and concepts you need to know for almost any subject, such as law or anatomy. But knowing the names and concepts would not be enough to prepare you to express your thoughts automatically with the natural speed.
A language skill is not information to be remembered. It is a skill to be acquired by your brain while speaking the new language. If you want to speak English you must... speak English. You do it very badly at first, and perhaps not really understanding what you are saying. But the act of speaking develops language patterns in your brain that, bit by bit, make English something you don't have to struggle with, but a language you can use to convince, to amuse, and to inform others. Using flashcards can work against you if you are pursuing the acquisition of conversational language skills.