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120 Days to TOPIK #5 – DIY Language Learning Beats the Pants off Rosetta Stone


No one can give you a language; you have to take it for yourself. To succeed, you need to actively participate. Each word in your language needs to become your word, each grammar rule your grammar rule.
– Fluent Forever

All our talk about flashcards and Spaced Repetition Systems has been good, but brings up another KEY POINT that you need to be aware of:

You benefit most from the flashcards and SRS you design and create specifically for yourself.

Why? 10 reasons:

  1. When you create something, it becomes a part of you.
  2. Flashcards are great at reminding you of your original memories, but not at creating NEW memories
  3. Using someone else’s flashcard deck is like trying to create NEW memories by (1) connecting images you didn’t choose with (2) words you don’t have a strong personal connection to
  4. Foreign language vocabulary, particularly the abstract words, requires explanation and context to learn effectively – you can’t just “memorize” them
  5. Creating the flashcards yourself forces you to decide what the key points are and leads to a better understanding of the material
  6. The process of finding images for your flashcards is one of the “most powerful learning experiences you could ever hope for”
  7. If you take just a moment to decide HOW to remind yourself of the meaning of a word, you can recall it much more easily and store it in memory much longer
  8. The analyzing, deciding, and creating process is an extremely satisfying way to learn a language (you get to choose, for example, which movie image to use when remembering the word “movie”)
  9. Using flashcards you’ve created on a daily basis is a “daily self-esteem booster that happens to teach you a language at the same time” because you’ll be surprised at how easily you can remember the vocabulary on cards you’ve created
  10. Making a habit out of it is easy and enjoyable – and we all know that the moment something becomes frustrating is the moment we give up on it

My experience with Rosetta Stone


I’ve used Rosetta Stone in the past (back in 2006, before traveling to Japan) and have personally found it to be a mediocre language learning tool.


  1. Everything is ready for you – it’s a simple matter of firing up the program and getting started
  2. Images + pronunciation (listening) is much better than a simple vocabulary list alone
  3. The interactivity of the software is nice (plus it looks like they’ve added some features since I last used it on my computer):
    1. You can hook up your mic to repeat the pronunciation of words back into the program
    2. After a lesson, you can sign up (online) for a 25-minute studio session to practice the language you just learned with a native speaker


There was only one big disadvantage I experienced, but it was a BIG one:

There were a lot of times where the vocabulary I was learning and listening to was difficult to relate to the image they chose for me.

For example, the verb “jump” had a picture of children jumping off a table. But I didn’t immediately recognize it as “jump.” I thought, “Does this mean ‘children’? Or ‘table’? Or ‘outside in the park’? Or ‘fun’?” Like this, there may be MANY vocab/image combinations in Rosetta Stone (or even a friend’s flashcards) that confuse you for at least a few seconds at first. And that initial confusion (because it’s an emotional response) may pop back into your practice as you’re reviewing the vocab. That’ll make it more difficult to recall accurately and be frustrating.

What are the main problems with this?

  1. I didn’t know the original meaning of the word in English first – I just had to guess until I (thought) I understood it
  2. I didn’t have any personal connection with the image and word themselves – now, the personal connection I’ve (still) got is one of frustration and confusion connected with that image

(For a much LONGER read – and similar analysis of the Rosetta Stone program – see Benny Lewis’ review of it over at


Make (1) Language Learning, (2) flashcard creation, and (3) Spaced Repetition System usage YOUR OWN. Make it personal, get your hands dirty with it, commit to a DIY (“do it yourself”) approach.

This doesn’t mean to ignore all the great books and resources out there, but it does mean to (1) decide for yourself what are the key points to remember and to (2) start creating your OWN study materials based on what you’re learning.

So, today, take a look at your schedule and find/set/make a REGULAR TIME (over breakfast, on the bus, in the morning/evening) to COMMIT YOURSELF to sitting down with your language and working on it. You need to set aside at least 2 (or 3) separate blocks of time (not each needs to be daily):

  1. DAILY: Review your flashcards according to your SRS
  2. WHEN NECESSARY: Set aside a block of time to create NEW flashcards – it could be once a week, or once a month – but it needs to be REGULARLY pushing new cards into your deck
  3. WHEN DESIRED: Study from a book or take a class/lesson – for me, little is more satisfying than working through a new book from cover to cover – but this can’t take the place of flashcard practice, it should be supplementary

A few more tips for flashcards:

There are two types of cards (for vocabulary) that you can create (more if you’re trying to learn different aspects of the word – stroke order for writing Chinese characters, for example):

  1. Comprehension cards (cow = ?)
  2. Production cards (big animal, makes milk, good for hamburgers = ?)

If you find you’re having trouble remembering a Comprehension card, consider adding a Production card for the same word in your deck. Then, you’ll be exposed to the word twice each review session in different contexts until you can remember it easily.


For resources today, I’ll give you the same SRS Leitner Game Calendar I put up yesterday, and also a weekly scheduling calendar that my wife and I have been using regularly to help plan our weeks. It’s quite useful for blocking out chunks of time for certain activities. The only downside is that I’m an early riser and this is reflected in the calendar (5am-12am):

1. SRS Leitner Game Calendar

(Click to download)
(Click to download)

2. Weekly Time-block Scheduler

(Click to download)
(Click to download)

Over to you

Now, let’s go out there and “make something happen”!

How are you going to “get your hands dirty” with your own language learning? What are you going to choose to focus on? And when will you block out time to make this a habit? Let me know in the Comments below or share your replies on social media using #120TOPIK. Good luck!~

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2 thoughts

  1. Dear sir. ..
    Have a good evening. ..
    here’s just only information. ..but i also want koreai books…which is reading n learning is better for me to level test n easy to living korea…
    Thanks. ..

    1. I’ll work on creating a “Books” page later this week with book recommendations and free book resources online.

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