Brainscape is a website that offers flashcards on a variety of topics – more than just foreign language vocabulary – using graduated intervals for maximum repetition and reinforcement of least-known items. This learning technique goes by many names (spaced repetition seems to be the most common among language learning sites) and it is indeed based on actual scientific research that you can read about in scholarly journals. Brainscape explains the cognitive science behind their system and cites their sources, which is extremely important to a researcher like me who values empirical data and facts over random anecdotes of personal failure or success.
The concept is simply to rate how well you felt you knew each item on a numerical scale, starting at 5 for perfectly down to 1 for not at all. The items that you rate lower will reappear more often so that you can focus your attention on them rather than spending time on the ones you already know fairly well. Currently there are flashcards available in the subjects of Test Prep (GRE & SAT vocabulary plus Driver’s Ed), Languages (Spanish, French, Chinese, ESL and survival Russian & Portuguese), and Knowledge Junkie (random facts for nerds like me). Audio is provided for many of the language cards and will be continually added for languages that do not already include it. Keyboard shortcuts are also available (spacebar and numbers) so you aren’t required to click constantly.
At this time, all of the flashcard sets are available for free on the website. Just create an account or sign in with Facebook and add them to your library. You can also create your own cards or import lists of items in XML or CSV format as well as share them with other users on the site. If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, Brainscape also offers apps for each of the flashcard sets. More than half are free through iTunes’ app store. Eventually there will be a single app for accessing your library and syncing your progress between the website and app so that you can start learning on one platform and continue on the other with no interruption.
Even if flashcards are not your thing, Brainscape’s blog is still worth checking out for articles on learning, memory, cognition, education, etc. They update it quite frequently and have great guest bloggers and interviews.
Finally, I have five promo codes for the French Vocab Genius app for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch (normally $7.99) which includes nearly 3,000 audio flashcards. The first five people who e-mail me at ielanguages [at] gmail [dot] com requesting a code will receive one! [EDIT: All of the codes have been given away already!]