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Having to Learn English vocabulary is no doubt, one of the keys to becoming a better English speaker and listener. A popular technique is to use flash cards to study English vocabulary. Flashcards are a great tool but the technique you use when studying can have a big impact on the speed you will learn your new English vocabulary.

Paper Flashcards versus Technology Based Flashcards

At this point, if you are using paper flashcards that you make yourself, I would encourage you to look into a technology based flash card system to take advantage of something called Spaced Repetition. This type of flash card software system shows you certain flashcards in your list exactly when you need to see them in order to learn them in the quickest way possible. In other words, it shows you the new cards very often and older cards you have seen many times less often.

Although each spaced repetition system has different algorithms (a calculation system), my favorite flash card app has a feature where you decide how well you know the word on a scale of 1 to 5.  If you don’t know the word at all, you mark it as a 1 and you will see this card again very soon. Compared to a word you have classified as a 5, which you know instantly and could use in conversation.

Vocabulary Study Techniques

Regardless if you are using a paper deck or a spaced repetition software system, the most important thing is what you are thinking about when you see each flash card. Only looking at the new word, then looking at the answer is the slowest way to learn new words. I’d like to share some cool techniques that will help you learn words that will be automatically part of your active vocabulary (words you can use when speaking) rather than passive vocabulary (words you recognize or know but cannot remember when speaking).

speaking practice copy e1461874109898Can you use the word in context?

When you look at the new word or phrase, try to use it in a real sentence. If you are in an area where you can speak the sentence out loud, do it! Why not practice your pronunciation and speaking skills while studying words. The important thing here is that you are trying to use the word from the flash card in context.

This process does 2 things. Firstly, you will know if you are able to put it into a sentence easily or not. If this is difficult, you probably just need more information or clarification. It could be that you are unsure of how to conjugate a verb or you are unclear on the exact meaning of this word. Look up whatever information you need to know in order to use this word easily.

Let Old Vocabulary Go

Sometimes we add words to our flashcard deck that seems like a good word at the time but we have forgotten how it was used originally or why it was interesting to us. If you can’t figure out how to use it properly or you have determined it is not a word you will ever use, delete or remove the card. It is very important to include a sentence with each word for this reason.


The second thing that happens when you use a word in context is that you are putting that word into use. It’s not just a word in a boring list. Your mind is being forced to use this new word right away in the same way you would use it if you were speaking. If you continue to use this word in sentences while practicing your flash cards, you will be able to use it in conversation easily.

Studying you study individual words without putting them in your own sentences, they are typically memorized in your passive vocabulary. It’s normal to have more passive vocabulary than active vocabulary but the goal is to have as much active vocabulary as you can so you can be as precise as you want to be when you are speaking.

Remembering is Easier

After you have successfully put the vocabulary words into sentences a few times, you are going to remember that word or phrase a lot quicker than if you do the classic repeating technique. Say the new word, say the meaning… Repeating the word and meaning out loud.

Of course, as you advance your vocabulary, you will find it easier to make connections to other words of similar meaning.

When I reached a high intermediate level (in Spanish), I noticed I had to start creating flashcards in the same language on both sides, no translations. The reason for this is that I already knew 2 or 3 words that had the same meaning as the new word I was trying to learn.

How do you study new words?? Share your techniques and the answer to the question in the comment section below.