How to Use Active Recall and Flashcards

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In order to learn Korean and master the language, you have to employ various study techniques to ensure you retain the information effectively. Without an intentional cognitive practice of the material you learn, it will be a waste of time and rather fruitless. The best way to do this is with things like active recall and flashcards.

Here, we’ll detail how to use active recall and flashcards in regards to learning Korean. This will include what active recall is and how you can use it effortlessly. We’ll also talk about using handwritten flashcards as well as ANKI, a type of digital flashcard.

This article will go into all the details as well as how to use them together for the most benefit. Of course, you will want to cater these tips and ideas to suit your personal purposes, goals and milestones. But making a concerted effort to study with these tools will have you speaking and reading Korean quickly.

About Active Recall

Active recall is, essentially, a memorization learning strategy. This involves mentally retrieving information and repeating that process continuously until it ingrains naturally. It improves memory, comprehension and information retention.

While you can use it for any subject, it’s very helpful when learning foreign character languages, such as Korean. This often incorporates some tool, such as flashcards (which we’ll get to in a moment), note taking, practice testing and etc.

But, these alone won’t force you to remember something. You must employ powers of memorization to recall the material from the preferred tool consciously and proactively. Therefore, when you read, see or study something in Korean, like a textbook, workbook or video, you must make a concerted effort to commit it to memory.

Ways to Use Active Recall

This means spending time studying and reviewing previously learned information. For instance, let’s say you read a paragraph from a textbook. Don’t move onto the next sentence as you would a piece of literature. Read one sentence and think about it& truly consider what you’ve read and ruminate the details.

Alternatively, highlighting the sentence or important keywords within the sentence will help you remember the material. Likewise, you could rewrite what you just read as notes or jot down ideas in the margin of the text.

Yet another tip could be to create narratives from what you saw or read. Even connecting certain Korean words that sound similar in English is a form of using active recall. These quick references are very useful in committing the information into your brain’s memory banks.

Efficacy of Active Recall

Simply rereading as a study method is one of the least effective ways to remember information. This is because the human brain remembers brief moments, not long drawn out sentences or ideas.

Several studies dating as far back as 1948 show that people who use active recall intentionally perform 50% better than any other memorization method. That’s considerable, especially for those who struggle with certain topics, like foreign language learning.

Active recall is only effective when an individual establishes recognition of a concept or idea. In other words, you must have already studied the material before you can engage in active recall. You can look at a flashcard all you like but, if you don’t know what you’re looking at, you won’t really remember it.

Benefits & How It Works

Even still, active recall improves cognition, in that it locks information into long-term memory and reduces the propensity for forgetfulness. It also enhances one’s ability to transfer knowledge to other people, to answer questions or to integrate multiple concepts.

This is because, during active recall, the brain is constantly at work, organizing and restructuring the information. It’s particularly useful when studying online and using digital methods for study with things like ANKI, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Handwritten & Digital Flashcards

Of all the methods and tools available for active recall, flashcards are king, whether handwritten or digital. They’re quick, easy and the best way to retain information. This is especially true if particular Korean words, phrases and concepts are difficult to pronounce. Flashcards fully engage the brain while also increasing the ability to comprehend, apply and retain information.


Traditionally, flashcards are recipe cards you can buy at the store or business supply warehouse. One side has the word or phrase written in Hangeul with the translation of that on the other side. Some people will put the pronunciation underneath the Hangul while others accompany it with the translation.

There are a few downsides to using them. One is that flashcards, in any format, is time-intensive and, when you learn more information, the more cards you have to make. Plus, you can only put one fact, image or concept on a card. This can make for a voluminous pile of cards to sift through.

Regardless, the payoff definitely outweighs in its benefits. Writing things out by hand is always an excellent mnemonic device. This is because of how active your brain is in writing, remembering and linking the Korean word with the English one.


Having said all that, though, digital flashcards make the process somewhat faster and easier. While there are many free platforms online, like Quizlet and DuoLingo, the one offered by ANKI is ideal since it’s inherent design intends for learning character languages.

About ANKI

ANKI is unique and stands out because it incorporates active recall. This is an open-source flashcard program, which uses spaced repetition. It runs on a smart device or computer, which mimicks the behavior of physical flashcard use.

Its basic algorithm has been around since the late 1980s and was initially intended to learn Japanese and Chinese characters. In fact, the word “Anki” translates to “memorization” in Japanese. The cards are in HTML, which is useful for online viewing. This is particularly handy for accompanying sounds, images, videos, text or even mathematical equations.

How ANKI Works

The program generates flashcards from information users store as notes into a collective database. Entries can have several various fields in a similar manner as you would physically draw up a flashcard. For instance, the first field is the Korean word, the second would be the word’s pronunciation and a third would be the meaning of the word.

But, you could use this for answering questions, understanding sentences, studying parts of speech, comprehending grammar or any other number of concepts in Korean. It spaces repetition per stack that you or another user created or a “deck” you purchase.

How often you see them will rely on your successful knowledge of and familiarity with them. This means ANKI will sort out the words you find easy versus the ones with which you have more difficulty. Spacing out review sessions in this way has the ability to increase a person’s efficacy by nearly 33%, as indicated in a study from 2016.

Benefits of ANKI

ANKI provides a more personal customization than creating flashcards on recipe cards and removes the need for you to separate them. For example, you may have two piles: one for vocabulary words you know versus another for ones you don’t. This can get confusing and messy, especially if you accidentally mix them up.

What’s great is that, since it’s free and open source, there are over 750 add-ons. These are good for speech practice, generating user statistics, incremental reading, images, editing and batch editing of cards. They even allow for the importation of flashcards from other digital sources, adding a game-like effect to the user interface or modifying the interface altogether.

Another plus to using ANKI is the accountability it gives you on a daily basis. You’ll have so many cards to review each day. But, if you can’t get to it, that assignment carries onto the next day. So, you’ll be able to set goals for yourself, ensuring you get continual exposure to Korean while keeping yourself motivated.

Access & Smart Device Applications

You can use ANKI through their online server, which includes the many add-ons they offer plus deck hosting. But, there are some versions for mobile devices such as AnkiMobile (for iOs devices) or AnkiDroid. Both are excellent for on-the-go learning but you must pay to use AnkiMobile. All others are free.

Since these smart devices open up great learning potential with ANKI, it reduces the need to take huge piles of flashcards around with you. So, it makes traveling and commuting much easier while also accomplishing your language goals in a simpler format.

Methods for Using Active Recall & Flashcards

Below is a basic premise for using active recall in conjunction with flashcards. While it is a tried and true method, you can devise your own way of doing it if you think it will help you better than the suggestions. But, you want each part of the process to be a legitimate exercise in active recall, utilizing all your mental acumen when doing it.

However, regardless of how you choose to go about it, flashcards with active recall is only effective after you’ve learned the material and have a firm grasp on it. This means you should use it as a review and form of practice after every lesson or module you accomplish.

To illustrate, let’s say you just learned the whole Korean alphabet. You’ve reviewed the material a few times but you don’t quite yet remember it to the point where you can think about it without looking at the actual alphabet. Therefore, you should create a flashcard for each letter.

Creating the Flashcards

If you plan to use ANKI for this, it’s ideal if you create the cards yourself. Like handwriting the cards, you will remember them better if you make them. However, you can copy some excellent ones through the website from other users. Since the alphabet is standard, it will be the same for everyone.

However, if you have difficulty in drawing and recognizing the characters, then making the flashcards will be the best way to conquer the challenge. Once you’ve created the cards, put them down and don’t look at the stack you’ve made.

Give yourself at least three hours away from it (more is better) and attempt to forget about it completely. Doing this clears your mind of clutter, confusion and resets it for memorization and absorption.

Returning to Study the Cards

When you come back to the deck, make sure your mind is clear and refreshed. You also want to ensure your environment is free of distractions, noises or anything else that might interrupt your study. This means no music, movies, talking to others people, playing around on social media, interacting with your pet or any other such thing.

If you cannot accomplish a distraction-free environment with the right attitude, you will have problems memorizing the cards. This is because you must place all your concentration and focus onto each card. It’s the only way you’ll be able to remember and retain the information in the most optimal way.

For Physical Flashcards

In the event you’re using physical flashcards, sit in a comfortable position with a flat surface before you. When you look at the card and you get it correctly, put it in one pile. This pile will be ones you can easily identify without trouble recognizing them. When you get one wrong, place it in another pile& these will be your necessary review.

If you have cards you get somewhat right or you’re not quite comfortable with your knowledge of it, place it in the pile of necessary review. The idea is to keep things as simple and succinct as possible.

Physical versus Digital Flashcards

Once you make it through the initial pile, come back to the review ones the next day. Then, review the ones you got right from the previous day. Continue separating and reviewing until you get all of them right.

Of course, if you do this on something like ANKI, you won’t have to worry about making separate piles. The program does it for you automatically, which will come in handy with the more flashcards you create upon learning more material. It will simply shuffle new decks in with older ones you’re still reviewing.

Some Suggestions

With physical flashcards, it isn’t wise to combine them all in such a way so you can remember which subject or concept you’re on. For instance, mixing verbs and their conjugations with the alphabet may prove to be quite confusing later on.

Having said that, it may be a good idea to mix them all up once you advance in the language and want to test your knowhow. Certainly, it isn’t necessary to keep verbs and the alphabet separated if you can recite these without having to look at the flashcards, notes or a textbook.

A great way to use active recall with the flashcards is by associating each card with something you know and identify in English. Also known as a mnemonic device, this will be a little hint or clue to help you recall the information correctly. For example, the Korean consonant for “G” is “ㄱ”, which looks like a Gun.

Make It Fun

The idea here is to make this fun and enjoyable to learn. So, you may want to create games with your flashcards. As an example, in terms of physical ones, you can do a daily affirmation where you pick a random card and try to apply that to your life all day long.

In the event you’re learning with a friend, you could make a card game like Poker with them. But, if you like video games, then get the gamification add-on for ANKI or download DuoLingo for your smart device. If at any time you’re not finding this somewhat amusing, you must find a way to make it so.

Frequency & Timing

Using active recall with flashcards for 15 to 30 minutes each day will help you commit things to memory while being able to remember what they are. But, the best time to do this is about an hour or two before bedtime.

Several research studies strongly suggest that study right before sleeping will assist with information retention indefinitely. In fact, many study participants report being able to recall the information right as they wake up for the day effortlessly.


Using active recall and flashcards is an excellent component when learning Korean. The conscientious use of your mind while looking at the characters with English translations is invaluable in committing it to your long-term memory.

But, it takes a lot of self-discipline and committing yourself to learning. While the sound of that may be intimidating for those who aren’t academics, it doesn’t have to be. Remember, you want this to be as fun and easy as possible. The more fun it is, the more simple it will be to learn.

So, you can make a game out of it or use an app that turns it into something of a video game, like with ANKI or DuoLingo.

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