Learning vocabulary with index-cards

As I persevere in my quest to master Russian (or at least get a tiny bit more comfortable with it) I’ve realised that I have been spending so much time on the grammar that I have somewhat neglected the basics of actual vocabulary learning. I can sometimes start to express myself, using a complex grammar structure and then get half way through the sentence and realise that, although I might know how to say it, I don’t actually know what to say, since I don’t have the words 🙂

I’ve been trying to remember how I memorised vocabulary when learning languages at school. We were given little blue vocabulary books and were tested on them. I only recall this in the early years though – in later years , the words just seemed to ‘stick’ the first time I encountered them. I’m still in the initial stages of learning a language though, and that’s not going to happen for some time yet.  I tried writing down new words from each lesson, doing the ‘look/say/cover/say/check’ method, but it gets tedious at times. I started a little notebook with the aim of adding new vocabulary in alphabetical order but that wasn’t successful. You just don’t learn languages in alphabetical order. I will sometimes learn lists of words on a topic -the current one is parts of the body and illnesses. That has more meaning, but what I am missing is the useful phrases that occur at random in conversations and texts – the ones you might not necessarily be given to memorise in lessons.

In my Masters course this semester we are looking at gamification. There are plenty of language learning apps out there that use gamification methods – Quizlet and Duolingo for example. I didn’t want to spend even more time practising vocabulary online, and it doesn’t help improve my handwriting either. They did inspire me to pick up an old method I have seen suggested by others: index cards. They work like online flash cards – only you have to write the words yourself 🙂 Of course you can computer generate fancy, colour coded index-cards,  but I need a simple solution that involves a pen…

I’ve got a bundle and each time I encounter a word or phrase I want to learn, I put the Russian on one side ad the English on the other side. Then every now and then I can test myself simply by flipping through the book looking only at one language and trying to retrieve the other language. This has the advantages of (a) being a quick, easy way to note down new vocab as I go along learning Russian and (b) not mattering what topic or letter of the alphabet it is and (c) adding a modicum of gamification to the learning. (For me, I think (a) is the most convincing reason! There’s also a (d) – the little book of index cards is handy to carry around and if I make a mistake, I can rip one out without spoiling the rest of a page.

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