Here Is Why Most Spaced Repetition Apps Don’t Work and How to Fix It

 

Regardless of whether you use Spaced Repetition Apps or not, you can’t deny that there is some controversy among language learners whether such programs are truly effective. Some people swear by it while others prefer more old-fashioned pen-centered strategies. It gets even better! Even among SRS enthusiasts, you can find different militant fractions. Some claim that Memrise is the best. Other that Quizlet is the way to go.

 

For many, it can be quite difficult to wrap their head around what’s true and what’s not. Let’s sort it out so you can finally know the answer.

 

What’s the scientific consensus about Spaced Repetition Apps

 

 

If you have ever seen one of the aforementioned squabbles online, the first thing you need to know is that opinions that SRS is ineffective are completely detached from reality. Spaced repetition is among the most thoroughly researched memory-related phenomena in the world. Its efficacy has been replicated in hundreds of comprehensive and extensive studies (read more about choosing the best language learning methods).

 

It is effective on a variety of academic fields and mediums. 

 

Spacing effects can be found in:

 

  • various domains (e.g., learning perceptual motor tasks or learning lists of words) such as spatial44
  • across species (e.g., rats, pigeons, and humans [or flies or bumblebees, and sea slugs, Carew et al 1972 & Sutton et al 2002])
  • across age groups [infancy, childhood, adulthood, the elderly] and individuals with different memory impairments
  • and across retention intervals of seconds [to days] to months (we have already seen studies using years)

 

Source (probably the best article online about the spaced repetition, well worth checking out)

 

The benefits of spaced study had been apparent in an array of motor learning tasks, including:

 

  • maze learning (Culler 1912)
  • typewriting (Pyle 1915)
  • archery (Lashley 1915)
  • javelin throwing (Murphy 1916; see Ruch 1928, for a larger review of the motor learning tasks which reap benefits from spacing; see also Moss 1996, for a more recent review of motor learning tasks).

 

Heck, there are almost no exceptions to this phenomenon. Sure, there is maybe 5% of studies which haven’t replicated these findings. But upon reading more about their design and methodologies used, one might conclude that they are often an example of bad science.

 

The only notable exception I have seen so far is that children can often fail to exhibit a spacing effect unless they process learning material in a certain way. This, however, is a topic for another article.

 

Where does all this controversy about the effectiveness of SRS programs come from then? I will get to it soon.

 

First, let’s concentrate on what makes learning truly fast and effective.

 

Encoding – the most important criterion for effective learning

 

 

A simple model of memory

 

 

Here is why most Spaced Repetition Apps don't work for you and how to fix it

 

The process of memorization can be depicted in the four following steps:

  1. Retention intention
  2. Encoding – involves initial processing of information which leads to the construction of its
    mental representation in memory
  3. Storage – is the retention of encoded information in the short-term or long-term memory
  4. Recall – is the retrieval of stored information from memory

 

Let’s concentrate on the second step of this process. Clearly, you can see that it’s a gateway to the land of remembering. But what does encoding really mean?

 

Encoding is any kind of attempt of manipulating a piece of information in order to increase your chances of memorizing it.”

 

What’s more, there are two kinds of encoding.

 

Two types of encoding

 

 

Shallow encoding

 

 

Shallow encoding doesn’t help you to connect the piece of information with other meaningful information nor does it help you to further your understanding of it.  It usually concentrates on meaningless banalities.

 

Example: you are trying to memorize the word “skada” (Swedish for “to damage”). The prime example of shallow encoding would be to start counting the number of vowels or consonants in this word.

 

Deep encoding

 

 

The absolute opposite of shallow encoding. This time you are trying to make a meaningful connection between different items. The more the better.

 

Deep encoding is so powerful for your learning that it even shows up in brain scans as increased activity in key brain areas associated with memory. It is this activity that appears to give deep processing its memory advantage. (source: How Memory Works–and How to Make It Work for You).

 

So what’s the example of deep encoding in the world of language learning? Creating sentences or saying them out loud, to be more precise.

 

Interestingly, every time I say it, there is always someone who seems surprised. I guess the reason being that we don’t appreciate enough how complicated it is for our brains to create a sentence.

Why creating sentences is so complicated

 

 

Why most Spaced Repetition Apps don't work for you and how to fix it

In order to create even the simplest of sentences you have to:

 

  1. remember actively the words you are currently learning
  2. remember all the other words in the sentence actively
  3. connect them in a meaningful way
  4. apply all the known grammar rules
  5. choose the appropriate register of the sentences (i.e. a form of a language used for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting)
  6. remember the pronunciation of all the words in the sentences
  7. pronounce all the said words by using your muscles

 

As you can see, it’s not that trivial to produce a sentence. And that’s why this process is so meaningful and memorable for your brain.

 

Initially, a lot of my students grumble about having to create many sentences. They say it’s too exhausting. I agree. The thing is that producing sentences equals knowing and being able to use a language!

 

To make your inner geek happy, it’s worth mentioning that encoding is very often connected with two other principles of memory which make your learning even more effective:

 

The level of processing effect (Craik & Lockhart, 1972)  – the more you process a given piece of information, the better you remember it.

 

The generation effect (Slamecka & Graf, 1978) – active production of a given piece of information increases your chances of permanently storing it in your long-term memory.

Read more about optimizing your language learning here.

 

Interesting, right? Now it’s time to answer the most important question – what if somebody is too lazy to actually go through all the trouble of producing sentences?

 

Consequences Of Lack Of Encoding (i.e. why most Spaced Repetition Apps don’t work)

 

 

I hope that the following paragraph will help you make a very important decision – never ever use or buy any learning app. I don’t care that you read that Gabriel Wyner is working on a revolutionary app or that Memrise has a better algorithm now.

 

The most important and effective thing you can do for your learning is to create multiple contexts (i.e. sentences) for a word you want to learn. Simply repeating ready-to-use flashcards, especially the ones without any context, won’t work well. This simple fact renders all the memory apps combined useless. ANKI is really all you need.

 

Think for a second about the solution those apps dish out to you. Most of the time they simply give you ready-to-use flashcards, often without any context! Or meaningless games which perpetuate shallow encoding. Or even when you see a flashcard with a word in the context, it was not encoded by you and thus it will be way harder to remember.

 

Time to stop looking for magical solutions. You won’t find them in apps.

 

To my chagrin, I don’t see any big company talking about this. Of course, the reason is obvious. If you pay for an app, you have to be convinced that it’s truly magical and life-changing. I don’t think they would sell well if the owners started screaming from the rooftops “They are sh*t! What’s truly magical is the effort you put into encoding your vocabulary”!

Read more about Common Language Learning Mistakes and How To Fix Them With Lean Language Learning.

 

SRS programs are just a white canvas

 

 

SRS programs

 

The right way of thinking about such programs is seeing them as a white canvas.

 

Algorithms underpinning them are close to perfect in themselves. Unfortunately, some people crap in their hand and insist on smearing it until they get a one-eyed unicorn. The next thing you know is they are running around the internet and screaming that SRS programs don’t work. You can’t be lazy when you learn.

 

I know that doing ready-to-use flashcards seems “quicker” to use because you don’t have to invest too much energy into producing them. However, in reality, they are more time-consuming in the long run because you need to spend more time repeating words unnecessarily.

 

It has to do with the mechanism of passive rehearsal which is simply a mindless act of rattling off a cluster of pre-prepared information. Many years ago it was actually proven that it has little effect on whether or not information is later recalled from the long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973).

 

If you ever want to use such flashcards, simply treat them as a source of vocabulary to learn. Other than that, simply encode your vocabulary and you will be fine. All ready-to-use flashcards can do is create the illusion of time-efficiency while slowing your progress down at the same time.

 

To sum up, currently there is no other technology, including virtual reality, which is as effective as spaced repetition programs. However, if you don’t actually put in the effort and try to produce sentences for the words you learn then you waste most of the potential of this software.

 

Quick learning is not about time but about the effort.

Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 30 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. 

 

 

How To Read Books Fast Without Speed-Reading (Which Sucks Anyway)

 

Being able to read books fast is undoubtedly a fantastic skill and a very tempting one.

Can you feel the thrill of endless possibilities? If you just knew how to do it, you could read, like, ten books per week!

No wonder speed reading is a huge business. There are probably thousands of books written on the subject. And 99% percent are crap – promises-flavored crap.

Sure, everyone would like to be the guy who picks up a thick book, thumbs it through in two minutes to say, “Do they have to dumb down everything these days?”.

Can you become such a person? Definitely no. Can you become a person who reads very fast? Yes. However, if you are looking for a quick and easy solution, you will get severely disappointed.

Let’s start with some basic facts to help you read books fast without speed-reading.

 

Want to Read Books Fast? Forget About Speed Reading

 

Read Books Quickly Without Speed-Reading

 

I know that some might take this statement very personally or even be offended. 

“How dare you smear the good name of the speed-reading community?!” However, it has to be said as it frustrates me endlessly.

Almost anywhere I go, I encounter opinions that it is entirely possible. From Tony Buzan’s classic to Tim Ferris’ article, everyone claims that reading with a speed of 1000 words/min is entirely achievable.

Some even go a step further. Comments under any article on speed-reading usually spiral into some bizarre contest.

“800 wpm (words per minute)? That’s laughable, man. Try getting to 2000 wpm, like me, to see what REAL speed reading is!”

Sounds great, right? It doesn’t work. 

Before we get to the specific methods, I think you should know a thing or two about my reading background.

 

MY EXPERIENCE WITH SPEED-READING

I started my speed reading journey about 12 years ago. I have always been a great believer in the capabilities of a human mind. No wonder, I quickly got sucked into the speed-reading world.

Initially, I thought that I was a speedy reader. It quickly turned out that my typical reading speed of >300 wpm was pitiful.

Wouldn’t you feel that way?

You start reading about people who underwent a special kind of speed-reading training. About some super-geniuses, or so I thought, who can read with 3000 wpm or even 8000 wpm?

I felt inadequate.

I started reading every speed reading book I could ferret out. There were good books, and there were terrible books. Ok, mostly they were awful.

Some titles sound as if a shitfaced magician concocted them. Here are some of them. But just a word of warning. Don’t buy them. They are crap. Get yourself drunk instead. Or buy your horse a three-piece suit, It will be a better use of your money

 

  • A Course in Light Speed Reading A Return to Natural Intuitive Reading
  • The Alpha-Netics Rapid Reading Program
  • The PhotoReading Whole Mind System

 

Did I get better? Yep. At least in some way.

 

Trying to Read Books Fast – My First Results

After a couple of weeks of training, I could read with a speed of 1000 words per minute. Then I pushed myself even more, and I got to 1400 wpm. 

There was just one problem I couldn’t spot back then. The speed was there, but I understood almost nothing.

I guess Woody Allen summarized it quite brilliantly when he said, ” I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.”

It was a very disappointing experience. I needed some time to digest the burden of this conclusion. When I did, it became clear that:

 

1) Nothing worth reading can/should be read fast.

 

and

 

2) You can read books fast, but you can’t understand and analyze information quickly.

 

That’s why, as far as I am concerned, anyone who is selling “photographic reading courses” should be pilloried while a fat dude named Stanley sticks a tongue in his ear (so-called “seashell”).

Ok, we got this covered. Let’s move on to the things which can help you read faster.

 

How To Read Books Fast – Strategies

 

  1. Know Thy Goal
  2. Separate Learning from Reading
  3. Learn What You Read
  4. Skim
  5. Learn Core Vocabulary
  6. Build Core Knowledge
  7. Read a Lot
  8. Use the Knowledge You Learn

 

1) Know Thy Goal

 

Read Books Fast Without Speed-Reading

 

    Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed,
    and some few to be chewed and digested. –

FRANCIS BACON (1561–1626)

 

When in doubt, trust in Bacon. He was definitely onto something.

The very first thing you should do before you open a book, and a waft of the paper hits your nostrils, is to decide why you want to read it.

It doesn’t sound sexy. I know. You are a bad boy, and you’d rather slap that book open right away. However, you need to restrain yourself as it is a crucial step.

You might not feel it, but your decision, subconscious or not, will weigh heavily on what your mind concentrates on. And on what you extract from the text.

You usually read for

  • knowledge
  • inspiration
  • relax

 

Try to choose one of the said purposes. 

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the exact purpose of reading. Nevertheless, you always do your best to determine it as precisely as you only can

 

2) Separate Learning from Reading

You are ambitious – that’s great. It’s even admirable. And very likely, it is an invisible burden that hovers over your head and stops you from reading faster.
Why?
Let me guess. Are you trying to read and analyze information at the same time? You see something thought-provoking, adjust your monocle and say, “Oh my, utterly marvelous. Let’s ponder over it for a while.”
Do you?
Then if your goal is to read books fast, you are setting yourself up for failure. There is one crucial lesson here you need to understand.

 

Reading is not learning. Learning is not reading.*

*it’s a good tattoo idea if you ever need one

 

Your brain is not a computer. It can’t switch effectively between two different activities. Do it for a short period, and you will burn through all the glucose stashed in your brain.

Result? Headaches, the feeling of general fatigue, malaise, and so on. After a while, your brain becomes impervious to new information. This method of reading is not very sustainable.

Mind you that I am not saying that you can’t read and learn at the same time. I am just stating a simple fact that it is not a very effective method of reading.

 

Read Books Fast Without Speed-Reading

 

How to Separate Learning from Reading

To be honest, I have struggled with this problem for quite some time until the two beautiful words dawned on me.

*whispers sensually”

 

Batch working.

 

I am sure you are familiar with the term but just to be sure, let’s explain it:

 

Batch working is a process of grouping items because they are similar, or because we plan to do something similar to them.

 

For instance, it wouldn’t make much sense to make a massive omelet without preparing products beforehand. Can you imagine how ineffective it would be?!

“I need twenty eggs to make this omelet.”

*takes two and cracks them open into a bowl*

“I need two more.”

*opens a fridge and takes another two*

Doesn’t it sound frustrating?

That is why you should always try to group similar tasks. It is the method which, I am pretty sure, saved my sanity.

 

1) First mark/highlight

Whenever you stumble across something that is

  • interesting
  • thought-provoking
  • vague
  • incomprehensible
  • you don’t agree with

mark/highlight it in some way.

Jot it down on a margin or copy it into some file. Don’t try to dismantle any of the concepts you have read about. The time for that will come.

Done? Good. Keep on reading. Have you marked another fragment? Good. Keep on reading.

 

2) Learn/analyze

After reading a certain number of pages, set aside some time for a more detailed analysis.
Go crazy, analyze the heck out of everything.

Refute, digest, criticize to your heart’s content.

Learning is demanding enough on its own. Don’t mix it additionally with reading.

 

3) Learn What You Read

 

Learn what you read

 

This one comes from a very frustrating experience.

About two years ago, I was binge reading about 3-4 books per week. Of course, being a sensible learner, I took notes and scribbled my remarks about everything, even mildly interesting.

In quite a short period, I amassed notes from over 40 books. The bad luck had it that I hit a rough patch and didn’t have so much time anymore. After everything settled, I came back to reading. I didn’t do anything with the notes, mind you. They just sat soused in my notebook.

Fast forward year and a half, I was reading some interesting excerpts from a book on cognitive neuroscience. My eyes lay on a particular sentence, which solved one of the biggest obstacles I had at the time concerning my memory experiments.

I was freaking ecstatic! The worst part?

A couple of months ago, I finally strapped myself to a chair and started going through the notes mentioned above. A couple of minutes into the reading, I saw it. There it was, guffawing blatantly at my helplessness — the same damn fact.

The miracle solution was there all along. I didn’t learn it. In the process, I wasted myriads of hours on useless experimenting.

Lesson learned:

 

Before you move to the next book, learn what you have read before.

 

Almost Every Book Is a Treasure Trove of Knowledge

It makes perfect sense, even more so if you want to specialize in some area. Your average author spends hundreds of hours researching his book or summarizing his knowledge.

Without notes, you will spend dozens of hours reading it and end up with almost no knowledge. You will remember just a couple of main things. Nothing more. And it would be a damn shame.

Thanks to this strategy, your ever-growing knowledge will help you go quickly through most of the books.

How quickly?

It’s not unusual for me to read a 400-page book in less than two days. There is not enough new information for me to absorb. Sometimes you have to do the hard things first, so it gets easier.

Read more: How to Master Many Fields of Knowledge – Your Action Plan and Recommended Strategies.

 

4) Skim

 

Skim While Reading

 

You don’t have to read everything.

 

You can skim through some paragraphs or descriptions. Nobody will judge you.

 

I am yet to hear, “John is such a filthy, primitive animal, I have heard he skips paragraphs. He sickens me!”

What is important for an author might be meaningless to you. Take this article as an example. I thought it was essential to include my personal experiences. But maybe you don’t care. That’s ok, skim through such passages until you catch a glimpse of something more interesting.

 

5) Learn Core Vocabulary

A specific lingo permeates every industry and area of specialization. Love it or hate it; it’s still something you must learn.

My main area of specialization is learning/memory and everything in-between, like productivity.

Not knowing what the hippocampus, the dentate gyrus, or the Premack’s principle is, would have the paralyzing influence on my reading ability. It would be equivalent to kneecapping myself and expecting to run.

 

If you care about being good in the area of your choice, always try to master every word you encounter.

 

6) Build Core Knowledge

 

In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you. – MORTIMER J. ADLER

 

I can safely assume that whatever you read, you read because you want to learn more. Or you want to master a given field of knowledge. In any case, you should know that initially, your pace of reading will always be slow. But that’s good.

 

Slow is new fast. This deceptive sluggishness is the speed of light in disguise.

 

Look at this excerpt.

 

In an imagery study by Okado and Stark (2003), increased PFC activity for false memories was localized to the right anterior cingulate gyrus. Given the role of the anterior cingulate in response competition and conflict (Kerns et al., 2004), the authors concluded that this reflects the increased effort involved in incorrectly endorsing an imagined item as “seen.” ERP studies also support the conclusion that frontal regions may distinguish between true and false memories, and be engaged in greater monitoring and evaluation associated with false retrieval (Curran et al., 2001; Fabiani, Stadler, and Wessels, 2000; Goldmann et al., 2003; Nessler, Mecklinger, and Penney, 2001; Wiese and Daum, 2006).

 

It is a typical excerpt from a book on neuroscience. If you have no scientific foundation, it can be hard for you to read even a couple of pages from such a book. Let alone an entire book.
It is precisely where building core vocabulary and knowledge comes together.

 

It’s one thing to get familiar with the nomenclature. But do you really understand how these terms interrelate?

 

Do you understand, at least superficially, what is their function? If not, you have to analyze it. Only then can you move on. It’s not fast. It takes time. But there is not even one discipline in this world where you can skip basics.

Read more: The Magnet Theory – Why Deep Understanding and Problem-Solving Starts with Memorization.

 

7) Read a Lot

 

Read Books Fast Without Speed-Reading

 

The more you read, the more efficient the reader you become. The reader who knows the ins and outs of different styles of writing. The one who knows when to skim and when to read deep into a text.

 

These benefits alone explain well why you should try to read as much as possible. But there is one more reason.

 

The spiral theory of knowledge.

 

The Spiral Theory of Knowledge

The spiral theory of knowledge describes a fascinating phenomenon.

First, when you encounter a particular idea, you might not notice or comprehend it. Not fully anyway. Then you move on to something else. You learn other subjects, read other books. Then, after some time, you reencounter the same idea, and only then can you get your Eureka moment.

“How could I not understand it before?! That was so easy. The answer was there all along!”

And that’s a great question. How come you didn’t understand this concept before? Your knowledge was to blame. At the time, it was patchy and full of gaps. You were not ready to comprehend the full scope of the idea then.

The potential answer to whatever questions that might be bugging you, consciously or subconsciously, lies in yet another book.

Yes, there is a door behind the door. But you will never know if it has the answer written on it until you open it.

 

8) Use the Knowledge You Learn

Many people love to brag about the number of books they read every month. They are like beautiful shiny badges. The phenomenon is so well-known that Issac Watts wrote about it in his book “The Improvement Of The Mind” in 1821!

 

Such persons are under a great temptation to practice these two follies. (1.) To heap up a great number of books at a greater expense than most of them can bear, and to furnish their libraries infinitely better than their understanding. And (2.) when they have gotten such rich treasures of knowledge upon their shelves, they imagine themselves men of learning, and take a pride in talking of the names of famous authors, and the subjects of which they treat, without any real improvement of their own minds in true science or wisdom. At best their learning reaches no further than the indexes and table of contents, while they know not how to judge or reason concerning the matters contained in those authors. And indeed how many volumes of learning soever a man possesses, he is still deplorably poor in his understanding, till he has made those several parts of learning his own property by reading and reasoning, by judging for himself, and remembering what he has read.

 

Don’t be one of those people.

 

Try to find even the slightest use, if it is only possible, for whatever that is you’re reading. Impress someone or help a friend with some problems. Find a better job. Anything will do.

 

Just don’t let it go to waste as I did for such a long time.

Years ago, I used to learn every single fact about almost anything. And I am sad to inform you that it was mostly wasted effort. I don’t remember almost anything I learned.

Why would I?

My brain didn’t find this knowledge useful, nor did I find it helpful – and so it had to go.

 

How To Read Books Fast – Summary

 

We are wired to follow the path of the least resistance. No wonder. We are drawn to, seemingly, easy solutions such as speed-reading.

But you already know the truth, don’t you? There are no easy fixes. There are no easy solutions. And yet it is still possible to read fast. Even very fast. But first, you have to put effort into building a foundation.

The very same effort which will make your newly acquired skill taste so sweet. Enjoy it.

 

How to Master Many Fields of Knowledge – Your Action Plan and Recommended Strategies

How to master many fields of knowledge

 

Growing-up has to be one of the saddest things ever from the outside perspective. It’s like a backward evolution. You see how amazingly curious creatures turn into mindless corporate drones. You see how the pursuit of knowledge turns into the pursuit of money.

I believe that curiosity and the power to create are the very things that can ward off all the negative in the world. However, for those qualities to survive, you have to feed them continuously. The problem is that modern times actively discourage people from becoming a polymath.

What’s more, we live in the conviction that there is not enough lifetime to master many areas of expertise.

I want to show you that it’s possible if you play your cards right. Within your lifetime, you can become great at many things. But before we get to the specifics, let’s start with a fundamental question:

 

How to Master Many Fields of Knowledge – Is It Worth It?

 

 

I like to think of knowing many things as of the magical glasses – the more you know, the more you can see.

 

Being stuck in one field of specialty is nothing short of being blindfolded. You can go throughout life without being able to spot all those enchanting intricacies coming from the expanded perspective.

 

Everything starts making sense. You know why leaves are green. You know why bread turns brown.
Unfortunately, being good at many things is not encouraged these days. We want everyone to be ultra-specialized, which breeds ignorance in almost all other areas.
Kant elegantly touched upon it years ago:

 

It is so convenient to be immature! If I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all.

I need not think, so long as I can pay; others will soon enough take the tiresome job over for me.

The guardians who have kindly taken upon themselves the work of supervision will soon see to it that by far the largest part of mankind (including the entire fair sex) should consider the step forward to maturity not only as difficult but also as highly dangerous.

Having first infatuated their domesticated animals, and carefully prevented the docile creatures from daring to take a single step without the leading-strings to which they are tied, they next show them the danger which threatens them if they try to walk unaided.

Now this danger is not in fact so very great, for they would certainly learn to walk eventually after a few falls.

But an example of this kind is intimidating, and usually frightens them off from further attempts.”

 

It couldn’t be any more accurate. Of course, we don’t have to know everything. But will it hurt to learn just a little bit from many areas of knowledge? Were we created to be stuck in one groove all of our lives?

 

Why You Should Master Many Fields of Knowledge

 

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

~ Robert Anson Heinlein

 

Even though it’s advisable to master at least one field of knowledge intimately, it’s usually not necessary to do it for more than one.

 

How to Master Many Fields of Knowledge – the Pareto Principle

 

 

One of the first logical foundations which will allow you to build a wide array of skills is the Pareto Principle.

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

 

In other words, find out what’s essential in a given field of knowledge and learn it. This way, you will be able to double-down on what’s important and save a lot of time in the process.

 

How much time is needed to be good?

Of course, just telling you to apply the Pareto Principle would be lazy. We need more specifics.

From the work of K. Anders Ericsson, we know that to be world-class at something, you need about 10k hours of deliberate practice.

Of course, throughout the years, many other researchers have proven that this number might vary depending on, among others, the complexity of a given skill.

However, for simplicity’s sake, I will stick to this number.

 

Even though the number looks scary, you should not forget that you don’t need to become world-class in every field of knowledge. With just about 1-2k hours, you might become an ordinary expert.

 

If you apply the Pareto Principle to this number, you will see that with just 200-400 hours of your time, you will be able to understand most of the things in this field.
Yikes. Maybe that still looks way too scary. But there is one more thing you can do to learn even smarter.

 

Working smarter – The Pareto Principle of the Pareto Principle

 

 

Once again – the Pareto principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. However, if you apply the Pareto principle to the Pareto principle, you might see that roughly 64% of the effects come from 4% of the causes.

 

It means that if you can determine the absolute essentials, you will be able to become good at something while spending only 4% of your time/effort.

 

In other words, with just between 40-80 hours, you will know your way around a given discipline.

Example 1

For example, what if you don’t trust your endocrinologist and would like to, sort of, become one.

Easy, it’s enough that you learn:

  • what hormones are
  • how they function
  • what are the main hormones in our body
  • how they are produced
  • sprinkle on top some knowledge about Type 1 and 2 Diabetes, thyroid disorders, PCOS, cortisol- and testosterone-related disorders.

As difficult as it’s to believe, most specialists deal with the same old cases day in, day out.

 

Remember – you don’t need to know every possible exception to every possible rule to be good.

 

Example 2

What if you want to be a semi-professional gourmet? No problem! Memorize the scale for describing foods and start tasting!

Mayonnaise, for example, is supposed to be evaluated along:

  • 1) six dimensions of appearance

(color, color intensity, chroma, shine, lumpiness, and bubbles)

  • 2) ten dimensions of texture:

(adhesiveness to lips, firmness, denseness, and so on)

  • 3) and fourteen dimensions of flavor split among three

subgroups:

a) aromatics (eggy, mustardy, and so forth);

b) basic tastes (salty, sour, and sweet);

c)  chemical-feeling factors (burn, pungent, astringent).

 

Example 3

What if you want to get good at persuading people (because manipulation is such a dirty word)? I would dare to say that reading Cialdini’s classic book should be enough to be at least decent at this craft. The rest is practice and the automation of those rules.

A famous quote by Bruce Lee echoes that thought:

 

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

 

Oftentimes, you might discover that a slightly smaller knowledge that is automated is much better than knowing a lot of theory.

Read more: The Curse of the Hamster Wheel of Knowledge – Why Becoming a Real Expert Is Very Difficult.

 

Your Action Plan

 

Even though we are talking about mastering potentially a lot of fields of knowledge, we all have to start somewhere. Here is a simple list that might help you with the preparation process.

 

1. Make a list of all the things you want to learn and choose no more than 3

Once you master those fields of expertise, you will be able to move on to the next ones.

 

2. Make sure they are potentially applicable to your life

I want to emphasize that you can learn whatever you want. However, if you choose useful skills at the beginning, you will find it much easier to find time to practice them.

Learning practical things is also extremely rewarding and can help you keep your motivation high.

 

3. Choose how much time you want to devote to them daily

 

I don’t want to be too lax in my calculations, that’s why I am going to assume that being good enough at something requires 100 hours.

 

That tells us that with about 1 hour per day for each field of knowledge, you should be able to know them relatively well in a bit over three months.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the more you know, the easier it will be for you to acquire even more skills and knowledge (so-called the Snowball Effect).

Remember that you don’t have to cling to these numbers religiously – they are here to impose some general guidelines.

 

4. Determine what you should learn

You can try to google what are the essentials of the given area of specialty or contact somebody who does it for a living. That should do the trick.

 

5. Get your learning materials

Once you know what to learn, this step shouldn’t be too difficult. The only thing I can add here is this – make sure that your source of knowledge is reliable. You don’t want to waste your time remembering things that have no reflection in reality.

 

How to Master Many Fields of Knowledge – Recommended Strategies

 

Your action plan and basic strategies

 

Congratulations! Now you know roughly how to organize your learning. It’s time you familiarized yourself with the strategies which might help you achieve your goals faster and with less effort.

 

1. Use deliberate practice

 

Deliberate practice is a highly structured activity engaged in with the specific goal of improving performance. – source.

 

Common characteristics of deep learning:

  • it gives you a specific goal
  • it requires your full attention
  • it’s energy-devouring and exhausting but not time-consuming
  • it gives you feedback

 

In other words, deliberate practice gives you a goal and tells you to mercilessly concentrate on a given concept until you’re ready to move on to the next one.
I will be the first to admit that it’s not the most pleasant learning strategy. However, if you power through it, you will find out that it’s the quickest one out there. For me, a little pain for a lot of gains is undoubtedly a trade-off I am willing to make (read more about deliberate practice here).
 

2. Combine skills (aka laddering, skill transfer)

 

It’s important to realize that a lot of different skills might be combined to save you time and make your practice sessions more productive.

 

For example, you can:

  • exercise and listen to a lecture at the same time
  • learn a language and use it to master a particular area of knowledge
  • learn how to negotiate to get a job in a different department where you will be able to use your newly acquired programming skills

The number of combinations is endless. Give it some thought and contemplate what kind of combinations might work for you.

I like to watch pointless YT videos from time to time, but I never do it without a work-out session.

 

3. Use and automate your knowledge 

Not every skill has to be useful, but it’s certainly much easier to maintain it if you automate its use, and you can use it. At least on a semi-regular basis (read more about automating your skills here).

 

4. Do interesting things / choose difficult projects

Simple tasks don’t require much brainpower – probably that’s why soon multifunctional AI blenders will replace 50% of our planet.

If you want to let, your talents shine, always strive to take up challenging projects which involve the use of many different skills. It doesn’t matter whether they are a part of your job description or just a personal project. Try to make them relatively challenging relative to your current skill set (read more about doing the hard work here).

 

5. Help others

Helping others has to be one of the best ways to master many fields of knowledge. There are thousands of people in the world who might benefit from your expertise. Find them and do your best to help them alleviate at least part of their problems.

 

Not only will you feel slightly better and decrease your chances of becoming a skull ashtray for all the hellish abominations below us, but you will also consolidate your skills significantly better.

 

Why?

Because the more you’re able to embed your knowledge in reality, the easier it is to remember it.

 

How to Master Many Fields of Knowledge – Summary

 

Many people think that trying to master many fields of knowledge is silly. Why bother if you can pay somebody for their expertise or do something less taxing.

However, the truth is that doing so can be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life. Once you wrap your head around main concepts from many different disciplines, your life will improve. You, in turn, will become more confident.

And the entire process doesn’t have to take that much time if you stick to the strategies mentioned in this article. Good luck on your journey!

 

Writing or Speaking – What Is Better Memory-Wise for Learning Languages?

What is better for learning new words — writing or speaking?. It is one of the questions that come up frequently in different language-related discussions.

I have seen many different answers to this question. Some were quite right, some plain wrong. That’s why I decided to show you a memory-based/science-based answer to this question.

Let’s dive right in!


Writing or Speaking — Why Both Are Great

 

I don’t want to be this terrible host who welcomes you with a creepy toothless smile and spits on your back as you walk in. I want you to feel comfy and cozy! That’s why I would like to begin on a positive note — both writing and speaking are great learning methods.

There are many reasons for that, but let’s start with the three, which can be deemed as the most important.


1. The Production effect


The “production effect” was initially reported by Hopkins and Edwards in 1972. Unfortunately, for many, many years, it has escaped the attention of the scientific world.

The production effect indicates the improved recall for any information which is produced actively compared to the one which is just heard or read silently.

For example, we tend to remember better words that are read aloud compared to words that are recited silently (MacLeod, 2011).

Simply put, learning actively helps you to remember better.


2. Deep processing (aka The levels-of-processing effect)


This phenomenon was identified by Fergus I. M. Craik and Robert S. Lockhart in 1972,

The levels-of-processing effect suggests that information is better recalled when it has been actively and effortfully processed.

In other words, deeper levels of analysis produce more elaborate, longer-lasting, and stronger memory traces than shallow levels of analysis. Depth of processing falls on a shallow to deep continuum. Shallow processing (e.g., processing based on phonemic and orthographic components) leads to a fragile memory trace that is susceptible to rapid decay. Conversely, deep processing (e.g., semantic processing) results in a more durable memory trace. — Source.

In the world of language learning, creating sentences is one of the most meaningful ways of achieving deep processing of words. That’s one of many reasons why I am against using mnemonics in language learning (in most cases).

 

Writing or speaking - what is better for learning languages?

 


3. The reticular activating system (RAS)


Another cool advantage of both writing and speaking is that they activate a part of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS).

Why is it important? Let me explain.

Even though the RAS is a small part of a brain, it plays a vital role — it’s the filter of information that is let into the conscious mind 

Every second of every day, it tirelessly scours through the tons of information provided by your sensory organs to choose the relevant one. Without the RAS, you would be continuously flooded with excessive amounts of information, which would virtually overload your brain and impede thinking.

Fortunately, that doesn’t happen as the reticular activating system helps your brain capture what matters most to you and what is relevant to you based on your values, needs, interests, and goals.

As you can see, both speaking and writing help put the words you use at the forefront of your mind.



Additional Benefit of Writing in Language Learning

 

The previously mentioned benefits are undoubtedly great. However, let’s dive into some other advantages which are more specific to writing.


Writing is a great learning method for advanced students


Many people, once they move past the B1 level, tend to get stuck at the so-called intermediate plateaus. They use the same old grammar constructions, the same trite expressions, and speech patterns.

 

It’s tough to get out of this rut unless
  • you consume the staggering amount of input
  •  start making an effort to use new grammar constructions/words

Can you do it just by speaking? Not really.

Speaking with others, more often than not, requires keeping a conversation alive. You have to think “on your feet” to express your thoughts as quickly and precisely as you only can — if you flounder or stall too long, you might be able to notice a silent agony on your interlocutor’s face.

Writing, however, gives you all the time in the world to jigger your words into something resembling an elegant thought as opposed to the typical intellectuals' slurry.

If you puke a little bit in your mouth every time you hear yourself saying, “The movie was nice because actors were nice and it’s good that it was nice,” you know what I mean.


Memory Benefits of Writing in Language Learning

 

memory benefits of writing in foreign languages

 

Some research suggests that writing seems to tickle the RAS, and memory centers in your brain a tad harder than speaking. Here are results of one of such studies

“The results show that on the immediate post-test, the Sentence-writing group performed the best, followed by Gap-fill, Comprehension-only, and Control. On the delayed post-test, the Sentence writing and Gap-fill groups equally outperformed the two other groups.” – ScienceDaily.

However, as you will soon discover, it’s only a half-truth.

As a side note, experiments that I have conducted regarding the efficiency of writing vs. speaking show almost no difference between those two.

Read more: Over 30 Things You Can Learn from All My Failed and Successful Memory Experiments

Longhand vs typing?


Interestingly, most findings of research papers concern longhand writing, not typing. That causes people to believe that the latter is an inferior method.

In the 2014 article published in Scientific American, we can read that:

“When participants were given an opportunity to study with their notes before the final assessment, once again those who took longhand notes outperformed laptop participants.  Because longhand notes contain students’ own words and handwriting, they may serve as more effective memory cues by recreating the context (e.g., thought processes, emotions, conclusions) as well as content (e.g., individual facts) from the original learning session.”

On the surface, it might seem true. After all, the cognitive and physical effort needed to write manually is bigger than the one required for typing.

Most of these studies, however, measure the effectiveness of writing/typing under pressure – the said study took place during lectures. It doesn’t have much to do with the organized process of composing an e-mail or an essay at home.

The extra time you have for deliberation and a coherent formulation of your thoughts should equalize (more or less) any potential difference between writing manually and typing.

That’s why you shouldn’t feel pressure to choose just one of them to reap memory benefits. Choose the one you feel most comfortable with.


Disadvantages of Writing in Language Learning

 

As with every method, there are some potential problems you might run into.


1. Not Everyone Needs to Write


I would dare say that the vast majority of the population of almost any country in the world doesn’t write that much.

Why would they?

If your job is not strictly connected with this skill, you might not find it useful.


2. You Need to Learn a New Writing System


If learning a new language system takes you half the time you needed to speak and understand your target language, it’s understandable that you might be reluctant to do so.


Writing — Recommendations for Language Learners

 

Best suited for
  • advanced learners (B1-C2) level
  • anyone who likes (or needs) to write

Other benefits of speaking

 


1. Speaking is repetitive


When you write, the fruits of your labor are limited only by your imagination. You can contemplate different word combinations, weave brilliant thoughts.

However, when you speak, you have to be quick. You have to rely mostly on the automated speech patterns and words which are already activated well in your brain.

That’s why most of the things we say every day, even in our native tongue, are very far from being full of imagination. The point isn’t to unleash your inner Shakespeare but to get the point across.

For the same reason, sentences produced by native speakers are also simpler!


2. Speaking is more natural than writing


The world in which people would use the sophisticated language, which previously could be only found in books, would be a hilarious place!

“Alas, the chains of palpitating agony fell on my little toe as I rammed it into the mighty oakiness of a cupboard!”.

Compared with, “I f*** hit my toe against a cupboard.”

The truth is that we usually speak in a much less formal, less structured way. We do not always use full sentences and correct grammar. The vocabulary that we use is more familiar and may include slang. We usually speak spontaneously, without preparation, so we have to make up what we say as we go.

That’s why if your goal is being able to communicate, speaking should be your default language learning strategy, at least until you get to a B2 level.


Memory Benefits of Speaking in Language Learning

 

 


1. It involves many sensory channels (i.e. it’s great for your memory)


Speaking is a vibrant, sensory experience. It activates almost all sensory organs and thus creates more stable memories.

In one of the studies about the production effect, we can read that:

Many varieties of production can enhance memory. There is a production advantage for handwriting, for typing, and even for spelling, although none of these is as large as for speaking (Forrin, MacLeod, & Ozubko, 2012).

 So what about some studies which say that writing is better for our memory than speaking? Well, they might be some truth in it:

The data suggest that immediate form recall is better when words are learned in the word writing condition than in the word voicing condition, though this advantage seems to disappear after one week – (sourceWord writing vs. word voicing : which is a better method for learning L2 vocabulary?)

As you can see, most of the benefits of writing usually disappear upon finishing this activity.


2. It is more time-efficient than writing


As I have mentioned earlier, even though some research suggests that writing gives your memory some boost, this fact loses its importance once we factor in how much output we can produce with writing compared with speaking.

Here are the results of one of the studies which considered this seemingly irrelevant fact.

The written group produced almost 75% less language than the spoken group did in the time available. This complements previous research discussed in section 3.6 which found more opportunities for language learning in the spoken mode compared to the written mode (e.g., Brown, Sagers, & Laporte, 1999).


Disadvantages of speaking in language learning

 


1. It Requires a Relatively Good Activation of Your Target Language


Even though I am a big proponent of learning a language via speaking, there is just one small hiccup. If you want to chat with foreigners, the command of your target language should already be good.

That means knowing at least a couple of thousand words and having a decent knowledge of grammar.

What would be the easiest way of circumventing this problem?

If you want to increase your oral output without having to speak with native speakers, you can start talking with yourself (learn more about here and here).

Read more: Why Speaking Can Be A Bad Language Learning Strategy.

2. The risk of fossilizing mistakes


If you don’t receive feedback regularly, consider yourself at the high risk of consolidating dozens of small and big language mistakes. You don’t need teachers or tutors for that. However, you do need to create feedback loops.


Speaking — Recommendations for Language Learners

 

Best suited for
  • anyone who learns to communicate
Relatively-well suited for
  • anyone who learns to consume media in his target language

Even if you only learn a language to watch media in your target language, you should still spend some time learning how to speak. It will help you to understand language much quicker due to your improved mastery of grammar and vocabulary and their interrelations, which will, in turn, increase your language comprehension.

It is one of the cases where you get two for the price of one.


Writing or Speaking — The winner is … 

 

Writing or speaking - what is better for learning languages?

 

All in all, my opinion is that for most people out there, speaking is the superior learning method as it allows you to practice what probably matters to you the most — being able to communicate.

What’s more, writing offers almost no benefits memory-wise compare to speaking.

Having that said, you should remember that the ultimate answer might be more complicated for you. Some learn a language to write, some to watch movies and some to talk. Choose your goal and choose your preferred learning method accordingly.

Question for you:

What is your preferred way of using a language — speaking or writing? And why?


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 21 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.



Work Hard and Smart – Recover from Fluffoholism and Make Your Time Count

 Never enough time. There is never enough time to get in shape or learn a language. Or even when there is time, you don't seem to make much of the progress.

It doesn't seem normal.

And it isn't. There is a good chance you have contracted something I call "fluffoholism". It's a terrible ailment.

Fluffoholics are individuals who are very busy doing silly and insignificant activities. As a result, they either feel inadequate for not making progress or make some progress but can't find time for anything else in their lives.

Of course, the truth is that we are all fluffoholics to some degree. The person who would concentrate only on relevant tasks would seem like an absolute genius to us mere mortals.

Let's get it over with. My name is Bartosz, and I'm a recovering fluffoholic. This is what I have learned.


Work Hard and Smart - 3 Categories Of Activities

 

I like to categorize activities in the following way:


1. Low-intensity activities


It is a counterpart of lying in a cozy bed under a wool blanket with a mug of hot chocolate while your spouse scratches your head.

These are the tasks we tend to do the most. The "feel good" activities — the fluff which masks the real work. Usually, they have very little to do with making any progress.

Many industries prosper around these activities. It's the apparent honey pot for the naive and lazy.

  • "Learn how to pick up a girl without washing yourself"
  • "Learn in your sleep"
  • "Lose weight by eating Tacos and marshmallows".

Duolingo - the Lazy Way to Learn Languages

In the world of language learning, it's Duolingo. I get a lot of messages like this: "I have been using Duolingo for x months, and I completed all the levels, but when I talk to native speakers, they don't seem to understand me. Oh, also, when I read, I don't understand most of the things."

Go figure.

Sure, it's motivating. And it's a pleasant past-time to have. But it isn't nearly as effective as a lot of other activities. Like speaking, for instance. Other, almost evergreen and legendary language learning methods which allow an individual to achieve fluency include:

  • "Learning by listening"
  • "Learning by playing computer games"
  • "Learning by watching TV"

How to tell if I am doing low-intensity activities?

Typically, you can do them for hours without any particular signs of fatigue. That's all you need to know. If you feel like "that was fun," it's not the real work. It also means that you spend 5-10 x more time than people who do activities from the third category and get comparable results.


2. Moderate-intensity activities


It is a counterpart of getting out of bed and sitting down at the desk.

These activities require some energy from you, but they are not that tiring. It's running 5 km when you already know that you can run ten if you want to. You still need to put your shoes on. You still need to go out and sweat. But in the end, the overall progress is not so significant.

In the world of language learning, it's a B2 level. You can talk and express yourself relatively fluently.

You can read most of the articles you want. So you do. And you note down some words. But not too many because you're already quite good.

 

 


How to tell if I am doing moderate-intensity activities?

Usually, you feel that you have to push yourself a bit to start. But once you do, it's not that bad. Signs of fatigue tend to appear after 1-2 hours.


3. High-Intensity Activities (i.e., the Real Work.)

 

Work Hard And Smart

 

It is a counterpart of being mauled by a bear and teabagged by the seven muses at the same time. 

It's when you'd rather have a colonoscopy instead of carrying on with what you're doing right now. The absolute opposite of "if it's not broken, don't fix it" approach. It's the "there is always something broken, and I'll find it" philosophy. It feels terrible. But it delivers incredible results.


How to tell if I am doing high-intensity activities? 

After you finish learning, you're sobbing softly and want somebody to hug you. And you feel damn proud. I like to think that it is our small Everest which we should climb daily.


It's difficult to work hard and smart


I know that I should write every day to publish articles regularly. But I fail. Because they are never good enough, they are never inspiring enough.

I have read somewhere that the average time for writing an article is about 5 hours. It depresses me. It makes me feel like a failure. And I know I should come up with ideas daily. About three years ago, I read on the blog of James Altucher about the concept of becoming the idea machine.

The concept is simple - if you try to come up with ten ideas per day, in 6 months, your life should change significantly. Three years down the road, I'm still struggling to come up with ten ideas once every 3-4 days.

It's disheartening, and it makes me feel like crap. But now and then, I manage to come up with great ideas. And my face lightens up when I send them to others. And I'm pretty sure their faces light up as well as these ideas change their lives. And that's what it's all about.

Remember - If you do not push, you are not practicing.


High-intensity Activities In Language Learning

 

One of the notoriously difficult activities in language learning is speaking.

  • On an A1-A2 level, stringing more than a few words feels like a crucifixion.
  • On a B1-B2 level, the challenge is to learn enough words (while improving your grammar) to be able to express yourself quite fluently.
  • On a C1-C2 level, the challenge is to continually substitute the words you already know with dozens of other synonyms. It's where you have to start saying "atrocity" instead of "that ugly thing," or "marvelous" instead of "great." (see The Word Substitution Technique)

It's damn easy to play with Duolingo or Memrise for 1 hour. It's much harder to open your mouth and start saying something.

Read more: Why Speaking Can Be A Bad Language Learning Strategy

Exemplary Results of Regular Conversation with Yourself


I like to highlight my students as an example. If they want to learn with me, they have to accept one condition - they have to bet with me. Each day, from Monday to Friday, I have to get a 10-minute recording of them talking to themselves.

It's only 10 minutes. And yet, after three weeks, their level changes drastically. It's almost unbelievable. The side effect is that they probably hate me, but, oh well - it works!

Not accidentally, talking to myself is how I learned Swedish to B2 level to get the job in less than four months without talking to anyone in this language.

 


How to Fix Your Learning Plan to Work Hard and Smart

 

It's a deceptively simple recipe. But it's hard to implement.

 


1. Define High-Intensity Activities in Your Domain


You can do it on your own or ask someone much better than you in a given domain. But the truth is that very often you already know what the problem is and what you should be doing.

 

It's a task which you are always postponing. It's a task which you can't do for more than a few minutes without having to distract yourself with a mobile phone or other distractors.


2. Start Doing Them at the Cost of Other (i.e., Low- and Medium-Intensity) Activities


Start small. You don't have to do it for more than 20 minutes daily. Break this time into smaller chunks if you have to. With time, as you toughen up, the overall time spent on practice should be extended.


Remember - High-Intensity Activities Change with Time

You have to be aware that high-intensity activities change with time. They morph into medium- or low-intensity activities. What once was a nightmare can become a breeze with enough time. You should keep it in mind and adjust your learning strategies as you progress.


How to Work Hard and Smart - Summary

 

Being able to work hard and smart is not about perfectionism or turning into a workaholic. It's about using whatever time you have to in the most efficient way. The critical step is identifying high-intensity activities in your target domain and executing them daily with relentless consistency.

It won't be pleasant, but the results will speak for themselves. After all, if you decide to spend time to do something, make it count. 

An added benefit is that once you learn how to work hard and smart, this skill that will benefit you all your life.


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 18 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 

 

Optimize Your Repetitions to Accelerate Your Language Learning (Part 2)

 

It’s time for part two of my miniseries on optimizing your learning! If you haven’t read the first part – click here. This time I will show you how to optimize your repetitions.

People like to see effective language learning, or any learning for that matter, as something mysterious. The opposite is true. There are just a couple of essential principles which you should follow if you want to become a quick learner.

Don’t get me wrong – effective learning gets more complicated; the faster you want to learn. And the more long-lasting memories you want to create.

Still, these principles can be applied by anyone, regardless of his sex, or age because the very little known truth is that we all learn, more or less, the same.

Forget about learning styles – they do not exist. I know. It sounds shocking. And it is probably even more surprising than you can imagine – one study showed that 93% of British teachers believe it to be exact! 

But you and I, my friend, are not glittery and special snow-flakes. There are rules. And they are not to be treated lightly.

Let’s dig in.

 

How To Maximize Effectiveness Of Your Learning

 

Optimized Repetitions In Language Learning

 

Below you can find my list of the essential rules affecting your language learning progress. It’s far from being complete.

There are other rules and limitations, but the ones below are one of the easiest ones to implement.

To maximize your learning, you should make sure that:

 

1) Focus on active learning

If you only concentrate on reading and listening, you won’t get far. Your brain is terrible at memorizing things that you encounter occasionally.

Why?

I will get to this in a moment. But first, let’s start with basics – the process of memorizing can be depicted in the following three steps.

 

1) Encoding – involves initial processing of information which leads to the construction of its mental representation in memory

2) Storage – is the retention of encoded information in the short-term or long-term memory

3) Recall – is the retrieval of stored information from memory

As you can see, the first step in this process is encoding. I can’t stress this enough – if you don’t encode the information you learn, probably you won’t retain it. You should always, ALWAYS, do your best to manipulate the data you try to learn.

Let’s try to prove it quickly.

If I told you right now to draw the image of your watch, would you be able to do it? Would you be able to reproduce the exact look of the building you work in? Of course not, even though you come into contact with these things multiple times per day.

You do not try to encode such information in any way! If the human brain were capable of doing it, we would all go crazy. It would mean that we would memorize almost every piece of information which we encounter.
But this is far from the truth. Our brain is very selective. It absorbs mostly the information that:

 

a) Occurs frequently in different contexts

b) We process (encode)  –in the domain of language learning, the simplest form of processing a given piece of information is creating a sentence with it

c) Is used actively

 

2) Optimize Your Repetitions

One of the best ways to optimize your repetitions is by using SRS programs. But what is Spaced Repetition?

 

Spaced repetition is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect.

 

Alternative names include spaced rehearsal, expanding rehearsal, graduated intervals, repetition spacing, repetition scheduling, spaced retrieval, and expanded retrieval.

 

The science behind SSR

 

How does the program know when to review given words?

Most of such programs base (more or less) their algorithms on Ebbinghaus forgetting curve (side note: it has been replicated many times in the last 50 years)

The curve presents the decline of memory retention in time, or if you look at it from a different perspective, it demonstrates the critical moments when the repetition of the given information should occur.

 

 

Curve Of Optimized Vocabulary Repetitions

 

In theory, it takes about five optimized repetitions to transfer a word into long-term memory. But come on! Learning would be damn easy if this rule would be true for most of the people!

There are a lot of other variables which come into play:

 

  • the difficulty of the learned material
  • understanding of the material
  • how meaningful it is
  • representation of the material
  • physiological factors: stress and sleep (among others)
  • the size of the material
  • processing of the material

 

And many others. Still, SRS programs give you the unparalleled upper hand in language learning!

 

3) Constantly step out of your comfort zone.

Why use the words which you already know, when you can use dozens of synonyms? You should always try to find gaps in your knowledge.

Of course, using SRS programs like ANKI is not to everyone’s liking. I get it. But let’s look at the list of alternatives, shall we?

 

 

What Happens If You Don’t Optimize Your Repetitions with SRS

 

Spaced Repetition Software

 

Every learner has to face the following problems to learn new words (effectively).

 

  • What process do you go through to learn a new word?
  • Do you write it down? Where?
  • How do you revise it later?
  • How long does it take you to learn it?
  • How many times do you have to see it before you know it?
  • And how do you know when you really have learned it?

 

These aren’t some petty, meaningless decisions. These are the decisions that will heavily influence your progress curve.

Here’s an idea that a lot of people have: when you learn a new word, you write it down in a notebook. Then, every few days, you open the notebook and review all the words that you have learned so far.

It works well at first — you no longer forget everything you learn. But very soon it becomes a nightmare.

After you exceed about 1000 words, reviewing your vocabulary starts taking more and more time. And how do you know EXACTLY which words you should review or pay more attention to?

Usually, after no more than a few months, you throw your notebook into the darkest corner of your room and try to swallow the bitter taste of defeat.

 

Reviewing Algorithm Is the Foundation of Learning

It has to be said aloud and with confidence: you will never be as effective as programs in executing algorithms. And choosing when to review a word is nothing more than that – an algorithm.

Many oppose this idea of using SRS programs. And it is indeed mind-boggling why. At least for me. The results speak for themselves. 

Currently, I am teaching over 30 people – from students, top-level managers to academics. And one of many regularities I have observed is this: Students of mine who use SRS programs regularly beat students who don’t.

 

How big is the difference?

 

Who should use spaced repetition software?

 

One student of mine, Mathew, quite a recent graduate of Medicine faculty, passed a B2 German exam in just five months. He started from scratch and only knew one language before our cooperation.

At the same time, a Ph.D. from the local university barely moved one level up the language learning ladder. The only difference between them is that Mathew was very consistent with using ANKI (and other strategies).

Really. That’s it.

And it is not that surprising. The technology has been topping the most celebrated human minds for years now. Different AI programs have beaten top players at games like: chess, scrabble and quite recently Go.

Last year, deep learning machines beat humans in the IQ Test. It might seem scary. But only if we treat such a phenomenon as a threat. But why not use the computational powers of a computer to our advantage?

It would be ridiculous to wrestle with Terminator. It’s just as absurd trying to beat computers at optimizing repetitions.

But should everyone use such programs?

 

Should You Use SRS programs?

 

Optimize Your Repetitions in Language Learning

 

I know that you can still be unsure whether or not you should be using SRS programs. That’s why I have decided to create a list of profiles to help you identify your language learning needs:

 

1) I am learning only one language

If you are learning only one language, it’s reasonable to assume that you can surround yourself with it. In this case, using ANKI is not that necessary.

However, things change quite a bit if you are learning your first language, and you have NO previous experience with language learning.

In that case, better save yourself a lot of frustration and download ANKI.

 

2) I am a translator/interpreter (or pursue any language-related profession)

My imagination certainly has its limits since I can’t imagine a representative of any language-related profession that shouldn’t use SRS programs. The risk of letting even one word slip your mind is too high.

Just the material I have covered during my postgraduates studies in legal translation and interpreting amounts to more than 5000 specialized words.

If I wanted to rely on surrounding myself with languages to master them, I would go batshit crazy a long time ago. Who reads legal documents for fun?!

Even if you are not a translator/interpreter yet, but would like to become one in the future, do yourself a favor and download ANKI.

 

3) I learn 2 or more languages

Then I would strongly suggest using ANKI, especially if you would like to become fully fluent in them.

The math is quite easy. Getting to C1 level in 2 languages requires you to know about 20 thousand words. Of course, you should know at least 50-60% of them actively. This number might sound quite abstract, or maybe not that impressive, so let me put it in another way.

Knowing about 10 thousand words in a foreign language is equivalent to having an additional master’s degree. And you know damn well how much time it takes to accumulate this kind of knowledge! It is not time-efficient to acquire this knowledge without trying to optimize your repetitions.

Of course, you can find an exception to every rule. It is not that mentally taxing to imagine a situation where somebody uses one language at work and then another foreign language once they leave the office. Then maybe, just maybe, you can do without SRS programs.

 

Why You Should Optimize Your Repetitions – Summary

 

Trying to hold a vast body of knowledge in your head is challenging, yet entirely possible. The first step in the right direction is understanding that you have to optimize your repetitions. At least if you want to get to the finish line asap.
That’s why using Spaced Repetition Software like ANKI is undoubtedly a must for any serious language learners.

Read more: Here Is Why Most Spaced Repetition Apps Don’t Work For You and How to Fix It.

 

What do you think about SRS programs? Have you ever used any? Let me know, your opinion is important to me!

 

Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 16 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go.