There are various approaches to studying and memorizing information, from practice quizzes and note-taking to outlines or flashcards, and although flashcards may seem like a boring and repetitive way to study, they actually work. Flashcards engage active recall, metacognition (i.e., self-reflection), and spaced repetition. When used properly, flashcards are effective study materials. And making sign language flashcards can help speed your ASL learning.
Using Physical Flashcards
Properly using flashcards involves using spaced repetition (i.e., spacing out your learning over time) and confidence building. If you read a word on the front of a flashcard and immediately know the ASL sign for it, then place it in a pile of discarded flashcards. If you read the word and remember the correct handshape or some other feature but cannot think of the exact sign (so some memory, but you don’t have it memorized), then you haven’t learned it yet, even if it feels familiar. Flashcards with some memory or no knowledge of the associated sign, should be placed at the back of the pile of cards to be revisited.
Over time, keep working with the flashcards and, with more and more repetition, moving the cards to the discarded pile as you learn them. This will increase your confidence.
It’s important to always spend more time with what you remember least. Review the flashcards in the discarded pile at least twice more during future study sessions to be sure that you have memorized them. Also, shuffle the deck of flashcards before each use to avoid seeing the cards in the same order during each run through. Don’t remove cards too early from your study deck. Use the flashcards repeatedly until you have identified them correctly at least three times.
Once you know each sign associated with each word on your flashcards, start taking your learning further by asking yourself questions and applying what you know using your flashcards. For example:
- What are related signs?
- If you see the word “food” and have memorized the sign for it, try to think of the signs for “eat,” “drink,” “hamburger,” “french fries,” etc.
- Which cards have something in common?
- Try to group cards together by themes. For example, question signs (e.g., who, what, when where, why which, how), time signs (e.g., days of the week, months), or family signs (e.g., son, daughter, mother, father, aunt, uncle).
- Can I make a mindmap with these cards?
- Find connections between the cards and try to explain them.
- Who can I use the flashcards with to extend my learning?
- Get together with others and play games with the flashcards to study.
If you’re interested in buying physical sign language flashcards, the options are nearly limitless. Here are a few ASL flashcard sets offered on Amazon:
- 500 Flash Cards of American Sign Language
- American Sign Language SparkNotes Study Cards
- The American Sign Language Handshape Flash Cards Set I
- American Sign Language Flash Cards – 180 Cards to Teach Your Baby, Toddler or Kid ASL
- Teach Your Baby to Sign Card Deck: Illustrated Card Deck Featuring Simple Sign Language for Babies
- ASL Weather Signs Flashcards
- Baby Sign Language Flash Cards
Creating, Obtaining, and Using Flashcards Online
If you’re interested in creating and customizing your own flashcards online, there are several options available. If you’re studying with others, then you may want to use Google Docs, which allows for a group to construct cards together. Click here for instructions about making flashcards on Google Docs.
Other sites well known for digital sign language flashcard creation are Quizlet, Kahoot, and Chegg Prep. What’s even more convenient is that if you can’t or don’t want to make your own flashcards, you can access other people’s ASL flashcard sets on these sites for free, just search ‘ASL’ in the site’s search engine tool. Keep in mind, I haven’t been paid to recommend or endorse any flashcards from Amazon or online tech tools, they’re merely suggestions among many options.
If you want to avoid buying flashcards or using digital flashcards, just do a quick Google Search for ‘free ASL flashcards’ and you’ll find many sites that provide free downloads of various ASL flashcards that you can print from the convenience of your own home.
Other Memorization and Study Techniques
There’s always more you can do than study flashcards to learn ASL vocabulary. You can also:
- Watch (and re-watch) ASL videos.
- Even if you think you know and understand the material, it’s worth watching again.
- Sign to yourself in a mirror or on video.
- You won’t notice your own mistakes until you see yourself signing.
- Practice fingerspelling.
- Work on grammar.
- Practice creating your own sentences using some simple ASL grammatical structures, such as TOPIC+COMMENT or TIME+TOPIC+COMMENT/ACTION.
- Sign with others, and often.
No matter what type of sign language flashcards you decide to use (homemade, digital, store bought, or printable), flashcards promote engagement and motivation, as well as benefit learning. What’s most important is to find a style of studying that works for you. Stay motivated and you’ll eventually be successful in your language learning endeavors. If you’re interested in learning more about American Sign Language, reach out to a TakeLessons ASL instructor.