Are you sick of flashcards? Hopefully not, because whatever you think of them right now, they remain one of the most indispensable tools in the battle to boost one’s vocabulary in any language!

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The humble flashcard is often used in a method of learning called the “spaced repetition” method, which involves sorting the cards into piles such as “Know,” “Don’t Know,” “Semi-Know,” etc. In today’s piece, we are exploring a related but still alternative method of flashcard use that has been tried and tested over many years. We’re talking about the Leitner Method.

🗂️ What is the Leitner Method?

Named for German science journalist, Sebastian Leitner, this innovative and easy-to-use flashcard method could not only give you a vocabulary boost, but also make the learning process a bit more manageable and fun. It involves putting flashcards into labeled vessels of any size that fits your cards comfortably, and then “evolving” the cards from vessel to vessel.

Right now, it might all be sounding like some game you play on a warship, but in fact it’s quite straightforward. Each of your three flashcard vessels will have a different label, namely:

  • Every Day
  • Tuesday and Thursday
  • Friday

Intriguing, right? Just wait, it gets better. The idea of the Leitner Method is to take your flashcards and first allocate them according to how well you know them. Afterward, you test yourself each day according to the instructions on the vessel, and those cards you now know well can “evolve” and move upward to the next level, which means they’ll be studied less frequently from now on. Cards you don’t get right, however, will be downgraded into the next lower vessel, which means you’ll be practicing it more frequently.

✔️ Using the Leitner Method, Step by Step

For the following procedure, we’re going to assume that we’re starting the test on a Sunday.

Step 1 (Sunday): Prepare your cards and give yourself a base-level test. As you test yourself, arrange your cards accordingly as follows:

  • Knew the answer immediately and correctly with no help – put into “Tuesday and Thursday”
  • Didn’t know at all – put into “Every Day”
  • Knew with some help or hint – put into “Every Day”

Step 2 (Monday): Today, you’re practicing only the cards in the “Every Day” vessel. Test yourself on each word or phrase, and then rearrange your cards as follows:

  • Knew the answer immediately and correctly with no help – put into “Tuesday and Thursday”
  • Didn’t know at all – keep in “Every Day”
  • Knew with some help or hint – keep in “Every Day”

Step 3 (Tuesday): On this day, you will practice both the “Every Day” cards and the “Tuesday and Thursday” cards. Use a similar process as described above, but this time you’ll be able to graduate ones you know well from the “Tuesday and Thursday” vessel to the “Friday” one. Equally, if any words in the “Tuesday and Thursday” box have been forgotten, you need to put them back into the “Every Day” box for another round of learning.

And so, you continue, evolving and downgrading your cards continuously as need demands. There are numerous advantages to using the Leitner Method for vocabulary study.

🗃️ Advantage #1: Shuffling the Boxes

Whereas using fixed piles of flashcards can easily lead us into the memory trap, whereby we start to remember words merely by their order in relation to other words, or by some other visual prompt, the Leitner system ensures that each vessel gets new cards as and when we need. The greater variety creates a natural shuffling effect, which is useful.

💬 Advantage #2: Prioritizing Words

The Leitner system also helps us to prioritize words that we know least, and setting aside those we know best. In this way, we don’t waste time on words that we already know. The extra attention to difficult words pays dividends later down the line. Having one big central pile and going through it all every day is quite wasteful over a long period of study.

😀 Advantage #3: Works for Any Language

Any language with words can be applied using the Leitner Method. It doesn’t matter about the writing system, word style or background culture of a particular language. You could be learning Korean, German or Swahili, it works equally well.

🔉 Advantage #4: Learning Volume and Speed

As you use the method, it may seem slow to set up at first, but once you get going it will become an efficient and well-oiled method of learning. You may find yourself greatly increasing the amount of vocabulary you master each month, which in turn can help you reach your target level at a greater pace.

For these advantages, and even just for the sheer fun and challenge of it, consider the Leitner Method when organizing and using your flashcard collection!

🎉 Get started!

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