As an educator working hard to overcome the misplaced faith in rote memorization that has long hampered Japan’s ability to effectively learn English, I was extremely disappointed to read Koichi Ko’s July 29 article, “ Web-based flash cards will dazzle language learners.”
To begin with, the types of information contained on flash cards necessarily lacks meaningful context and has been demonstrated by researchers such as Kathy Hirsh-Patek to damage student motivation. The time spent learning isolated information on flash cards could be used to actually communicate in the target language.
If any concrete learning value is to come from the use of flash cards, it would be in the selecting of data and manual recording of it onto the cards. Much like note-taking, this type of task simultaneously stimulates several areas of the brain and creates a synapse that potentially leads to long-term retention. Any educator can tell you that the processing and preparation of materials is never “time wasted” — it is an integral part of studying.
While computers are a tremendous language-learning and communication tool, they can also be misused in the name of education. No matter how you go about it, acquiring a second language takes time, motivation and a lot of energy.
I greatly appreciate the efforts The Japan Times consistently makes toward assisting language learners. However, if it is willing to publish unscientific ideas, I would hope that it would also publish the dynamic research being done in the fields of linguistics, psychology and neuroscience that continues to help us better understand how language is acquired and maintained.