Digital flashcard L2 Vocabulary learning out-performs traditional flashcards at lower proficiency levels: A mixed-methods study of 139 Japanese university students


  • Robert John Ashcroft Tokai University
  • Robert Cvitkovic Tokai University
  • Max Praver Meijo University



Vocabulary, Digital Flashcards, Paired-associates, Autonomy, English Proficiency, Academic Words List


This study investigates the effect of using digital flashcards on L2 vocabulary learning compared to using paper flashcards, at different levels of English proficiency. Although flashcards are generally believed to be one of the most efficient vocabulary study techniques available, little empirical data is available in terms of the comparative effectiveness of digital flashcards, and at different levels of student English proficiency. This study used a mixed-methods experimental design. The between-subjects factor was English Proficiency consisting of three groups: basic, intermediate and advanced. All participants underwent both a digital flashcards treatment and paper flashcards treatment using words from the Academic Words List. For each study mode, the two dependent variables were Immediate, and Delayed Relative Vocabulary Gain. The results of this study indicated that Japanese university students of lower levels of English proficiency have significantly higher vocabulary learning gains when using digital flashcards than when using paper flashcards. Students at higher levels of proficiency performed equally well using both study modes. It appears that by compensating for the gap in metacognitive awareness and effective learning strategies between students of lower and higher levels of language proficiency, digital flashcards may provide the additional support lower-level learners need to match their advanced-level peers in terms of their rate of deliberate vocabulary acquisition.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Robert John Ashcroft, Tokai University

Bob Ashcroft has taught English in Poland, Germany, and Cambodia, and is currently Associate Professor at Tokai University, Sapporo campus, in Japan.He has a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics from Birmingham University, and a Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults (DELTA).His current research interests include CALL, vocabulary learning and teaching English using movies.You can find out more

Robert Cvitkovic, Tokai University

Bob Cvitkovic is an associate professor and currently works at Tokai University in Japan. He is researching feedback and engagement in English learning apps.

Max Praver, Meijo University

Max Praver is an associate professor at Meijo University in the faculty of foreign studies. He received his doctoral degree from Temple University. His research interests lie in teacher self-efficacy, motivation, and technology enhanced learning.


Ashcroft, R. J., & Imrie, A. C. (2014). Learning vocabulary with digital flashcards. JALT2013 Conference Proceedings, 639-646. Retrieved from

Baddeley, A. D. (1990). Human memory: theory and practice. Hove: Erlbaum.

Cohen, A. D. (1993). Language learning: insights for learners, teachers, and researchers. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.

Coxhead, A. (2000). A New Academic Word List. TESOL Quarterly,34(2), 213. doi: 10.2307/3587951

Cross, D., & James, C. V. (2001). A practical handbook of language teaching. London: Longman.

Elgort, I. (2010). Deliberate Learning and Vocabulary Acquisition in a Second Language. Language Learning,61(2), 367-413. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9922.2010.00613.x

Gartner Your Source for Technology Research and Insight. (n.d.). Retrieved March 07, 2017, from

Hirschel, R., & Fritz, E. (2013). Learning vocabulary: CALL program versus vocabulary notebook. System,41(3), 639-653.

Horst, M., Cobb, T., & Meara, P. (1998). Beyond A Clockwork Orange: Acquiring second language vocabulary through reading. Reading in a Foreign Language,11, 207-223.

Hughes, A. (2013). Testing for language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hulstijn, J. (2001). Intentional and incidental second language vocabulary learning: A reappraisal of elaboration, rehearsal, and automaticity. In P. J. Robinson (Ed.), Cognition and second language instruction (pp. 258-286). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Laufer, B., & Shmueli, K. (1997). Memorizing New Words: Does Teaching Have Anything To Do With It? RELC Journal,28(1), 89-108. doi:10.1177/003368829702800106

Lees, D. (2013). A Brief Comparison Of Digital- And Self-Made Word Cards For Vocabulary Learning. Kwansei Gakuin University Humanities Review,18, 59-71. Retrieved June 2, 2017, from

Nakata, T. (2008). English vocabulary learning with word lists, word cards and computers: implications from cognitive psychology research for optimal spaced learning. ReCALL,20(1), 3-20.

Nation, I. S., & Webb, S. A. (2011). Researching and analyzing vocabulary. Boston, MA: Heinle, Cengage Learning.

Nation, I. (2003). Effective ways of building vocabulary knowledge. ESL Magazine, 14-15.

Nation, I. (2005). Language education: Vocabulary. In I. C. Brown (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of language and linguistics (2nd ed., Vol. 6, pp. 494-499). Oxford: Elsevier.

Nation, I. (1995). Best practice in vocabulary teaching and learning. EA Journal, 7-15. Retrieved March 8, 2017, from

Nikoopour, J., & Kazemi, A. (2014). Vocabulary Learning through Digitized & Non-digitized Flashcards Delivery. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 98, 1366-1373.

Puentedura, R. R. (2012, August 23). The SAMR Model: Background and Exemplars. Retrieved March 07, 2017, from

Quizlet. (2017). Retrieved March 07, 2017, from

Reinders, H., & White, C. (2011). The theory and practice of technology in materials development and task design. In N. Harwood (Ed.), English language teaching materials: theory and practice (pp. 58-80). Cambridge: Cambridge University.

Richards, J. C., & Schmidt, R. W. (2002). Dictionary of language teaching & applied linguistics. Harlow: Longman.

Soanes, C. (2010). The paperback Oxford English dictionary. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Suppes, P., & Crothers, E. J. (1967). Experiments in second-language learning. New York: Academic Press.

Webb, S. (2007). The Effects of Repetition on Vocabulary Knowledge. Applied Linguistics,28(1), 46-65. doi:10.1093/applin/aml048






Research papers