By Paul Nitz
The two simple proposals this paper offers are not controversial in foreign language circles: (a) it is useful to learn vocabulary lists; (b) digital flashcards are a good tool to use in learning vocabulary lists. Neither are these two points new. They mimic advice given by Ellis some twenty years ago, “There is a role for sitting down and learning vocabulary, particularly in the early stages of FL learning. Computers can structure training, practice, and testing to optimize the rate of vocabulary acquisition” (1995, pg. 128). While they need no reiteration in the broad foreign language learning community, these two points do need emphasis among Ancient Greek (AG) teachers who use a communicative pedagogy. Communicative teachers of AG have typically objected to flashcard-style vocabulary study.
An Answer to the Objection to Flashcard Vocabulary Learning
The vast majority of AG teaching is carried out via the traditional and conservative Grammar Translation (GT) method, but there is a small group of instructors who espouse a communicative approach. Among the latter group, we would not anticipate resistance to the use of new technology. They are using new and modern techniques, are happily employing audio and visual tools, and are necessarily far less pedagogically conservative than the GT group. However, the pedagogical principles of comprehensible input (CI) has sometimes led this community to eschew the explicit study of vocabulary.
We can see the objections voiced in forums such as Latin Best Practices (Latin, n.d.). This group is fully in the CI camp and also has the most influence on the drastically smaller body of AG communicative teachers. A spin off blog written by a member of Latin Best Practices typifies the opinion most in the CI Latin group have about explicit vocabulary learning.
In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with flashcards, because they do work depending on the task, but there are a number of reasons why they do not always benefit students.
1. Flashcards only work for a certain type of learner - the visual kinesthetic learner. Yet many Latin teachers require all of their students to create flashcards and to turn them in as a grade. Why do we insist that students do this when it only benefits a small percentage of students?