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The use of flashcards to study vocabulary is not a new learning drill, in fact, paper flashcards have been used since the 19th century. The use of a two-sided, even three-sided, learning system is common practice to learn new vocabulary, and other information, by most, if not all, students at some point in their student career.  The June 2012 edition of The ATA Chronicle (American Translators Association) has a great article written by Julie A. Sellers, Ph.D., regarding the use of flashcards, that is, oral flashcards. What an innovative and fantastic idea! By using new and developing technology these oral flashcards can be helpful and useful to a foreign language student and language interpreter alike! Dr. Sellers is a federally certified court interpreter, as well as a professor and author of Merengue and Dominican Identity: Music as a National Unifier (McFarland & Co. Inc., 2004). Oral Flashcards: Tapping into Auditory and Vocal Skills to Improve Term Acquisition (pp.24-28) is well worth the read and application, as well as good advice to share with students and colleagues. Hence, I share here, a brief summary of Dr. Sellers’ article with her permission.


Why creating oral flashcards can be the key to a successful and sustained vocabulary practice and development.

  • They are tools for learning new terms or practicing less commonly used terms
  • Easy to create, two-step process, audio recordings of the terms needed to learn and practice
  1. Prepare a list of terms or phrases you want to learn and group them by topic, making sure you have familiarized yourself with the terms and limiting each recording to no longer than five minutes.
  2. Record yourself saying each term in L1(first/native language), leave a brief interval to allow yourself time to respond during practice sessions, and then say the term’s equivalent in L2 (foreign language), as well as creating a second, separate, recording from L2 to L1, creating oral flashcards that can move in both directions.
  • Considerably more portable and accessible than a paper flashcards, making practice and study a daily routine while exercising, commuting, doing chores, waiting, on a road trip, etc.
  • The effectiveness of oral flashcards goes beyond convenience, it also takes advantage of certain neurological theories associated with how we learn and retain information. The article explains these theories further.

Methods to create oral flashcards.

  • Digital Recorders


* Inexpensive option
* Able to create multiple files
* Some recorders come w/ software that allow to upload recordings as mp3 files to computer and then transfer files to a variety of devices


* Unable to customize the list names, appearing as numbers on recorder’s display


  • Podcasts
    • Create podcasts with programs such as Audacity, PodProducer, and WildVoice Studio
    • Transfer to iPod, mp3 player, or computer
    • Customize the names of the term lists created, easily identifiable and searchable


  • GarageBand for Mac
    • Standard application as part of iLife suite
    • User-friendly, “Create New Podcast Episode”
    • Able to indicate a male or female voice, improving quality
    • Editing features: change the timing or recording, split tracks, move portions of a track, insert new portions of recorded material into existing track
    • Good quality recording
    • Easy to export files to iTunes and upload to iPod or burn a CD


  • Windows Sound Recorder for PC
    • Standard application on PCs
    • User-friendly and allows recording directly to computer
    • System requirements: a sound card and microphone


  • Software
    • Free downloads or recording software available, such as Audacity (for PC, Mac, and Linux) AND Free Sound Recorder for PC
    • Software programs with more capacity are also available for purchase, reviews can be found here


  • Smartphone Apps
    • Most smartphones are preloaded with a voice recorder
    • Additional apps for sale to download for voice recording
    • An option is QuickVoice for the iPhone


  • Tape Recorder
    • Old-fashion tape recorder
    • Unable to customize the list names, searching for lists via recorder counter