The Biggest Problem in Learning Effectively and Memorizing Tons of Information

biggest problem in learning effectively

Many people dream of having a fantastic memory. Who can blame them! Being able to recall information on a whim seems to be the hallmark of every genius. 

Yet, not many get close to this lofty goal. In truth, barely a handful of people acquire even decent expertise in their field of interest.

The reasons are plenty, and everyone seems to have their own explanations. Some blame disinterest and apathy of learners, while others claim that our brains aren't created to hold significant amounts of information. While I can't offer any advice in this article for dealing with the former, I can help you with the latter.

Let's see what the biggest problem in learning effectively and memorizing tons of information is and how to overcome it.


How Much Information Can We Possibly Remember?


Many people are under the impression that the capacity of our memory is the biggest problem in learning effectively. That's a myth. Unfortunately, if you try to google the answer to how much we can remember, you will get information that is outdated and doesn't reflect the state of our current knowledge.

That's why I will try to give you a number based on my research.


Previous studies about the capacity of our memory


A recent study from 2009 published by Azevedo and colleagues estimated that there approximately 86 billion neurons in the human brain. We also know that each neuron forms about 1,000 connections to other neurons, amounting to more than an eighty-six trillion connections. Neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time. At the same time, a couple of years ago, scientists from the Salk Institute discovered that instead of 3 synapse sizes, as we previously believed, there are 26 discrete sizes. 

They can change over a span of a few minutes, meaning that the brain might have a far greater capacity for storing information than previously thought. 

In the past, professor Paul Reber from Northwestern University, who at the time believed there were about one billion neurons in the brain, estimated our brain's memory capacity at about 1,5 petabytes.

So what happens if we include the information mentioned above?

 

We would arrive at the number closer to 215 petabytes, and that is without taking into consideration additional synapse sizes. If we include 23 of the newly discovered synapse sizes, knowing that in computer terms, this value corresponds to about 4.7 "bits" of information per synapse, we will get about 860 petabytes.

One petabyte is 10^15 bytes of digital information.

As you can see, that's a scary number. However, it tells us one important thing. 

Your memory's capacity is not what's holding you back. You could learn a new piece of information every second of your life and live to be 500 years old, and you wouldn't even scrape the surface of what's possible.


A Great Example of the Vast Capacity of Our Memory


There is a good chance you've heard of Kim Peek. He was a savant and the inspiration for the character Raymond Babbitt in the movie Rain Man. Many sources claim that he could memorize between 95-98% of almost any book by reading it in about 1 hour. According to The Times newspaper, he could accurately recall the contents of at least 12,000 books.

Is there any exaggeration in his feats? Highly unlikely. There are lots of videos on YouTube that showcase his fantastic memory. Here is an excellent documentary about him. Well worth your time.

Of course, it's easy to dismiss what he was capable of because of being autistic. Nevertheless, I think that what was unusual was his ability to access all the information, not how much he remembered.


Other Problems in Learning Effectively That I Will Omit


Before I get to the meat of the matter, I want you to know that other common learning obstacles may stand in your way.

The most important of them being:

Why have I decided to leave them off? Truth be told, if you used spaced repetition software, you could ameliorate most of these pains. If you think you don't need these programs then, no offense, but you're like one of those guys who think they are at the nudist beach only to wake up naked at a local playground when their acid wears off. In other words, — you might be a tiny bit delusional.

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


What's the Biggest Problem in Learning Effectively?


Remembering is supposed to increase our efficiency in dealing with situations that occur in our lives. 

Think about something as simple as seeing a person with a knife. It's doubtful that your reaction would be anything else than fleeing like a challenged dodo bird. 


In other words, in the perfect world, certain situations or information should trigger our pre-created scripts as a response.


For that reason,

the biggest problem in learning effectively is our inability to connect information into meaningful models (i.e., schemas), which can be accessed easily.

Notice that it doesn't matter how much you try to cling to different information. Most of them fade into nothingness after a relatively short time.

So the real question is, how should you use your memory capacity to remember different information you confront to increase your efficiency with dealing with those situations.


What's Required for a Skill to Be Used?


obstacle in learning

Three things are required for a skill to be used or a behavior to occur (Fogg 2009):

  1. 1
    Motivation
  2. 2
    Ability
  3. 3
    A trigger

1. Motivation

In our case, I assume that you're not plagued by apathy, and you want to use and apply your knowledge. That leaves us with the remaining two requirements.

2. Ability

Ability can be understood as either knowledge, i.e., possessing the right information or psychomotor skills. I have argued that you can't think effectively without the right information. And no — being able to google something doesn't count. Failure to meet this condition will lead you to build automatic responses based on random pieces of information. As a result, both the quality of your thinking and its effects will be subpar. Garbage in, garbage out.

Read more: The Magnet Theory — Why Deep Understanding And Problem-Solving Starts With Memorization.

3. Trigger

A trigger can be understood by one or more things that set off your ability. 


What can be a trigger?

Almost everything can be the trigger. However, they are based on a combination of one of the five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste) and emotional state.

The problem is that not everything should act as a trigger. You don't want to be standing in an elevator and release your inner surgeon. Nor do you want to sit on the beach and suddenly recall how to program in Python. Triggers should be perfectly tied to a given informational set.

There is one more element missing to understand these interrelations fully.

How Is Our Knowledge Organized?


If you want to learn how to overcome the biggest problem in learning effectively, you must first understand the basics of how our knowledge is organized.

The schema theory is probably the best way to do it.


The Schema theory claims that what we currently remember is affected by our background knowledge (i.e., what we already know). In other words, our prior knowledge can significantly influence our current knowledge.

"According to this theory, the knowledge we have stored in memory is organized as a set of schemas, or knowledge structures, which represent generic knowledge about objects, situations, events, or actions that have been acquired from past experience."

"Schemas represent all kinds of generic knowledge from simple knowledge, such as the shape of the letter ``A'', for example, to more complex knowledge such as knowledge about political ideologies or astrophysics. Like the action schemas, knowledge schemas may be linked together into related sets, with superordinate and subordinate schemas. So, for example, the schema for ``table'' would be linked to schemas for ``furniture'', ``rooms'', and ``houses''. 

A schema has slots that may be filled with fixed compulsory values, or with variable optional values. A schema for a boat would have ``boats'' as a fixed value, but has ``oars'' and ``engine'' as variable values. 

Schemas also supply default values. These are the most probable or typical values. If you are thinking about some particular boat, and you cannot remember the color of the sails, the boat schema might supply the default value ``white'' as being the most probable value to fill the color slot. 

``Schema'' is used as a general term to cover all kinds of general knowledge." - Gillian Cohen - Memory in the Real World

`Schema'' is used as a general term to cover all kinds of general knowledge. However, we can also differentiate more specified versions of schema which are called scripts.

Scripts consist of general knowledge about particular kinds of events, or frames, which consist of knowledge about the properties of particular objects or locations (Cohen).

How to Overcome the Biggest Problem in Learning Effectively


1. Do not learn isolated pieces of information


My quest to become competent in lots of different domains started many moons ago. What I couldn't figure out for a long time was why I regularly failed to recall information I previously memorized. It didn't matter if I relied on mnemonics or spaced repetition software. A couple of weeks passed, and all the knowledge evaporated. It took me much time to understand that isolated pieces of information are nonsensical to the brain and have little to no practical value


An example of fallacious reasoning based on isolated bits of information

In one of our discussions my son's nursery teachers mentioned fleetingly that if a child suffers from a persistent cough, it's undoubtedly a sign of parasitic infection. 


Can it be true?

Absolutely. Some intestinal parasites (e.g., Ascaris) can lay eggs that might end up in your lungs. We also know some species of parasites that can be found exclusively in the lungs. However, does one piece of information warrant such a diagnosis? Absolutely not.

Dozens of things can cause a cough. Saying that it's X or Y based on one piece of information doesn't have much sense (or it's plain stupid). 

For example, if it was a parasitic infection, then in this region of the world, there is a chance it would rather be some intestinal parasite whose eggs migrated to lungs. In that case, way before the occurrence of cough, we could notice some other symptoms, e.g.,  gastric discomfort, rash, diarrhea, etc. Even then, we would need to run further tests to narrow down possible causes. 

Conclusions based on isolated pieces of information are almost always fallacious.

2. Provide relevancy to the information you learn


My past self was not only failing to understand that remembering isolated pieces of information is useless. I also couldn't wrap my head around one simple fact.

Abstract information gets forgotten amazingly fast

If this abstract information is also isolated, then the forgetting will happen almost immediately.

Your goal as a learner is to make this information as useful as it's possible. It should be a part of your reality. We didn't evolve to remember rubbish information. Whatever we learned or remembered was usually necessary for our survival. This was and is true for many things like remembering what not to eat, how to perform certain skills to earn your living, etc.

Whenever I teach medical professionals, they are always baffled why I remember some seemingly trivial information. The disappointingly dull answer is - I brute-force myself to make relevant connections.

Example - biophotons:

When I was learning about biophotons, one of the things I learned is that their emission is a type of bioluminescence. It can theoretically be triggered by reactive oxygen species. That led to a forced, but funny (for me!) conclusion that I turned into a flashcard:

Q: How can I use biophotons to light up my room?

A: eat lots of mercury (= inflammation)

The logic being that this action would trigger a massive inflammatory reaction. Is it exactly true? Not exactly, but it helped to cement the concept in my head, and this is what truly counts. 

Read more: How Pretending To Be An Assassin Can Help You Remember Poisons In Food Better.

3. Categorize your knowledge into relevant scripts


You already know that your abilities need triggers. Hence, your goal is to categorize your knowledge into relevant scripts which should get triggered under the right circumstances. Even then, it's easy to overdo it by trying to squeeze too much information into one script, which leads to cue overload.

Cue overload is the phenomenon wherein the slower and less accurate recall is caused by too many associative links (the fan effect; Anderson, 1983a).

Example - lie detection:

Many people, quite naively believe that one gesture is enough to spot a liar — quite the contrary. Real experts usually analyze body language based on clusters of different gestures and cues

In that case, your ability, i.e., analyzing body language or getting suspicious, would be triggered by a specific combination of cues. Without those cues, your abilities won't get activated. It's not like your amazing skills will be activated around the clock.

It's funny to hear some body language experts claiming that their skills are like the curse, and they can't seem to turn it off. I can almost see them watching some low-budget erotic movie thinking, "hmm, judging by the cues he is not a real plumber, and he didn't come here to unclog the pipes".

4. Create many different scripts for every piece of information


The Biggest Problem in Learning Effectively and Memorizing Tons of Information


Just like memorizing isolated information is nonsensical, so is combining it into one or only a few scripts.

Any kind of information is by its nature multi-faceted. You can't expect one script to give you a complete picture.


You should do your best to combine those different facets into many scripts, whereas each one of them presents you with a different perspective. The more scripts you create, the more complete and original your thinking will be.


The Biggest Problem in Learning Effectively - Summary


Way too many people believe that the capacity of our memory is the main problem in learning effectively and remembering a lot. It's not the case, but I do understand this line of reasoning. If you believe that remembering a lot is not possible, then you won't make an effort, and you will end up being right (see self-fulfilling prophecy).


The truth is that you can be an expert in many different areas (or at least very competent) if you only learn how to acquire information and turn it into relevant scripts. Unfortunately, no amount of reading will get you close enough to your goal. It's all about the conscious effort and following the plan.


How to Learn Effectively and Memorize a Lot

  1. Don't learn isolated information
  2. Provide relevancy to the information you learn
  3. Categorize your knowledge into relevant schemas that get triggered by the right cues
  4. Create many different scripts for every piece of information

Do you want to share your own experience with memorizing a lot? Leave me a comment!


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.

 

 

Listening Comprehension in a Foreign Language – 12 Ways to Improve It

Listening comprehension in a foreign language

Improving listening comprehension in a foreign language is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most challenging skills to master. The amount of time needed to understand a language is enormous. Unfortunately, not everyone succeeds in this field.

Not everyone reaches the finish line and has the pleasure of saying, "I understand most of everything I hear."

On the contrary, the bodies of poor souls who surrendered along the way colorfully decorate the entire length of the route. Everyone has their theory of why they failed.
"My ears are too small." 
"I can't listen to German for long because I start to sob."

And who knows, maybe the above is partially true. However, these reasons are not as important as the list you are about to see.

Here are 12 reasons why you have trouble understanding a foreign language.


LISTENING COMPREHENSION IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE - 12 COMMON ISSUES AND WAYS TO SOLVE THEM

Understanding a spoken word is complex. It's affected by many factors.

LISTENING COMPREHENSION IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE - 12 COMMON ISSUES AND WAYS TO SOLVE THEM

1. Limited vocabulary

7. Lack of concentration

2. Problems with pronunciation

8. Problems with interpretation/culture

3. Trying to understand everything

9. Problems with natural (i.e. colloquial) speech

4. Insufficient listening practice

10. No visual support

5. Too fast a pace

11. Passive listening

6. One-time listening to recordings

12. Insufficient knowledge of grammar

1. LIMITED VOCABULARY 


Insufficient knowledge of vocabulary is one of the main culprits. No wonder you have trouble understanding if your vocabulary is very limited! As you listen, each word and phrase at your disposal becomes your foothold.

Think of it as a puzzle - the more elements that fill the outline of an image, the easier it is to see what the picture is. Similarly, when listening, each subsequent word allows you to understand better what the general meaning/message of a given conversation or recording is.

There are two significant milestones for most languages:


1st milestone - 3000 words

Knowledge of the 3000 most frequently used words in a foreign language allows understanding of 95% of texts and conversations (Hazenberg and Hulstijn, 1996). It is worth remembering that, in this case, we count one word as all variations of a given word and its family of words.

For example: "run," "running," and "runner" are counted as one word by this classification.


2nd milestone  - 5000 words

Knowledge of the 5000 most-used words in a foreign language allows understanding of 98% of texts and conversations ((Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)).


The minimum vocabulary required to listen effectively

If you want to be sure that you will understand to some degree recordings and conversations of all kinds, you should aim for a vocabulary of at least 2.5 - 3 thousand words. But as always - the more, the better!

So you don't know that many words? Come on, get to work! Don't be lazy!


2) PROBLEMS WITH PRONUNCIATION


Listening comprehension in a foreign language 12 ways to improve it



Issues with pronunciations are one of the hidden reasons why your understanding suffers; hence, many people are entirely unaware of it. 


How does sloppy pronunciation cause difficulties in understanding?


(I) Incorrect phonological representations

Each of us, as part of the so-called phonological memory, uses phonological representations.


A phonological representation is the way you think a word sounds.


If your phonological representation largely coincides with the actual pronunciation of the word, then everything is fine, and your brain should recognize the word.

It is worse when your interpretation of the pronunciation of a word completely diverges from its actual pronunciation. The result is a complete lack of understanding, although you often KNOW the word (Rixon 1986: 38). You pronounce it in your "specific" way.

For example, if in your head the pronunciation of the word "gist" sounds like / gɪst / with a hard " g," then you may not completely understand it when you hear its correct pronunciation / ʤɪst/.


(II) Lack of knowledge about assimilations


A separate problem is the so-called phonetic assimilation phenomenon


Phonetic similarity (phonetic assimilation) - a common phonetic process in which a sound changes to be more similar to a neighboring sound. The essence of every phonetic preference is coarticulation, whose mechanism of action is the influence of a given sound on the articulation of sounds that are adjacent to it. - Wikipedia

Assimilation simply means that the pronunciation of a letter can change due to the letter before or after it.

A typical example of assimilation in a language is when a word ends in a consonant, and the other begins in a vowel. Most often, such words "merge" in pronunciation and are pronounced as one.


E.g. "It is", which we pronounce as / ɪtɪz / /, not / ɪt ɪz /.


How to deal with these problems?


I) Try to accurately internalize the pronunciation of the words you learn

It will affect not only your ability to understand, but also your ability to learn vocabulary. As research shows (Fowler, 1991; Pierce et al. 2017), phonological representations can affect your coding ability, which is an early step in the process of learning and remembering words.


II) Learn the pronunciation and the International Phonetic Alphabet of the language

I know that most people won't do it, but I recommend delving into the sounds of your target language.

It's worth knowing which of them are in your native language and which are not. With this knowledge, you'll know which ones require your special attention.

Read more: Master Pronunciation of a Foreign Language.


3) TRYING TO UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING

Great, you're ambitious, but the level of ambition should be in proportion to your current level of capability. Efforts to understand everything do not make sense if, after the first hearing of the recording, you do not know whether the conversation is about politics or whether they offend you. 

Listen for the gist, and only then for details - it is the best strategy.

Attempts to pick out individual words by ear make sense only when you can understand the overall meaning of the recording.

If you have not reached this point yet, it is worth listening to the recording again.


4) INSUFFICIENT LISTENING PRACTICE


Good listening comprehension in a foreign language is the most time-consuming language competence. Don't expect 20 minutes of listening a day to work wonders. You should aim for a minimum of 1 hour of listening per day!

I can already hear those moans: "Well, he's crazy! More than 20 minutes! Lord, I have a life! "

Contrary to appearances, it is not so difficult. All you have to do is plan your day well. After all, you can listen to music or recordings almost anywhere! At home, gym, shop, commuting, and often even at work!


5) TOO FAST A PACE



Many people feel that one of the biggest obstacles preventing them from understanding a language well is the high rate of influx when listening.A constant stream of words creates the impression that you always miss essential information, which can make you unnecessarily stressed. Fortunately, it is quite easy to get rid of this problem these days.


(I) Manipulation of the recording speed

Almost every movie and music player nowadays is equipped with speed control. YouTube is a good example. If the average tempo of the recording prevents you from understanding, lower the speed to 0.75. You should immediately notice a big difference.


(II) The word "please."

In the case of conversations with foreigners, the matter is even more straightforward - ask them to speak more slowly and clearly. Most people shouldn't have any problem with this.

They don't want to do it? A quick blow to the temple should subtly encourage them to cooperate.


6) ONE-TIME LISTENING TO RECORDINGS 


Repeated listening to a given recording or conversation is not always possible. However, if it's possible, you should always listen to your materials more than once if you have trouble understanding them.

Here's a simple plan you can stick to:


(I)) Learners at levels A1-B1


Find a recording/video on YT or something similar, and listen to it over and over again.


When should you move to the next recording?

When you understand about 80% of the recording, i.e., you grasp its gist - hunting for particular words at this level is pointless. 

However, it is essential to become familiar with the prosody of the language and to improve the ability to capture the most common words in a given language.

It is a particularly useful listening system when you want to learn a language for which there are practically no listening materials.

At the time when I was doing my first major language project (learning Swedish from scratch to a level B2 in about four months - a full story here), I could listen to one radio program, lasting about 10 minutes, even a dozen times. This is how long the phonetic identification of "theoretically" simple words that I  "theoretically" knew took me.


(II) Learners at B2-C2 levels

Here the matter is much simpler. Assuming that you are indeed at this language level, you should know between 3 and 5 thousand words. Thus, your understanding should range between 95-98%.

Since you are already quite advanced, repeatedly listening to a given recording does not make sense, After all, you are already able to identify the essential words appearing in a given language. At these levels, the most important thing is to listen to as many language users as possible to get used to the variety of accents and language patterns.


7) LACK OF CONCENTRATION


Sometimes, problems with understanding are dictated by nothing else but a good old lack of concentration. Each of us knows the moment when, after 2 minutes of listening to the interlocutor, you completely sail away to ride on a pony in a happy place in your head, while saliva begins to gather in the corners of your mouth.

Where does this state come from, and how to remedy it?


(I) Ditch boring recordings

Listen, you are not in an interrogation room in Guantánamo. Nobody compels you to listen to things you don't enjoy. If the subject of the recording causes your eyes to spasm, then change it. Simple logic works here - the more you like a topic, the more willingly and longer you will listen to it.


b) Chunk your listening sessions

There is definitely such a thing as too much of a good thing.

If the recording is too long, break up your listening session into many parts.

For example, instead of watching one 40-minute episode of a series in one hearing, try to do it in two or three sessions. Everything according to the slogan: "A large elephant is eaten piece by piece."


(III) Avoid adverse conditions

Sometimes the conditions are not conducive to listening. Maybe a bunch of airheads are rehearsing Tibetan throat singing as a demonstration in defense of the rights of bakers. 

In this situation, there are only two things you can do, depending on the nature of the problem:

  • find a quiet place to listen
  • Keep on listening

If this does not help, get into a fight with some guy in the YT comment section to vent off.


8) PROBLEMS WITH INTERPRETATION / CULTURE




Sometimes the culprit of communication problems is the cultural gulf between interlocutors (Underwood). Interestingly, this problem also occurs among native speakers of a given language. There is no simple remedy.

The only solution is to continually broaden your horizons and explore the culture from which your target language originates.

A classic example of misunderstanding is an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Doing so in the Middle East, West Africa, and South America is a delicate suggestion that you intend to violate the dignity of your interlocutor's rectum. A classic faux pas!


9) PROBLEMS WITH NATURAL (I.E., COLLOQUIAL) SPEECH


The difference between the natural, colloquial language spoken by native speakers and the one that is usually taught in language schools, or which can be heard on the radio, can be huge (Hedge).

In real life, a situation where the interlocutor speaks to you very slowly it clearly shows that:


  • a) he will have a stroke soon
  • b) thinks you're "special" and it's not a compliment!


(I) Various accents and dialects

Another problem in this category is the variety of accents and dialects. Unfortunately, the uniformity of languages varies dramatically.

For example, in Germanic languages (e.g. English, German, Swedish, Dutch), after driving only 20 km, we may come across a completely different dialect.

For many, this is a huge shock. They spend years convinced that they understand the language well, and suddenly it feels as if they were starting all over again!

A great example is the Scottish accent, which causes a lot of problems for many people who comprehend classic English very well.

P.S. Here is some stand-up of the most famous Scottish stand-up comedian, Frankie Boyle: YouTube (heads up - it's full of swear words!)

If you want to be sure that you will be able to understand native speakers without significant problems, you need to diversify the materials you listen to. It should always be a mix containing both colloquial (e.g., videos on YT) and more formal speech (radio, news, etc.).

Listening to different dialects is not necessary unless you need the ability to understand them for some reason (i.e., moving to a specific region).


10) NO VISUAL SUPPORT


In real life, communication with our potential interlocutor is more abundant with body language or facial expressions. The value of this additional information cannot be overestimated, as it often helps to understand the meaning of the speech, despite the lack of understanding of individual words.

It would be a mistake to limit listening only to the radio or podcasts.

It's worth enlarging your listening toolbox to include audio-visual materials  (e.g., TV series or YouTube videos). They will not only speed up your pace of understanding but will also make learning more enjoyable!

11) PASSIVE LISTENING



Many people equate listening to a purely passive activity. Nothing needed but crash in your armchair and start your favorite podcast! Of course, there is nothing wrong with it, and I usually prefer this type of listening. But, there is an alternative - active listening.

While listening actively, you should try to make a note of the recording text and words you do not know. Although this is a time-consuming process, it has a positive impact on your understanding.


12) INSUFFICIENT KNOWLEDGE OF GRAMMAR


Lack of (good) knowledge of grammar is one of the last obstacles on your path to full understanding.

It is interesting that the lack of knowledge of grammar does not prevent complete understanding, but only makes it difficult.

I'm sure you know people who went abroad, and after 5 years they still don't know the language. Despite this, they can communicate with native speakers at a basic level, using the requisite words, gestures, and the occasional grunts.

I like to explain this phenomenon, and also the role of grammar in understanding, using the following metaphor.

Imagine that words are building blocks, and grammar is nothing more than a logical mortar holding them together. When we have both, we can create a beautiful "palace of comprehension." If the mortar is missing, the only thing we can do is to stack the bricks on top of one another. This way, we will build "something," but it will certainly not be a palace - more like a swanky privy.

Read more: Master Grammar of Any Language with Deliberate Practice.


IMPROVING LISTENING COMPREHENSION IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE - SUMMARY



As you can see, problems with listening comprehension in a foreign language are very diverse. Therefore, to effectively benefit from the advice contained in this article, you should analyze your particular situation as accurately as possible and choose the tips that apply to you.

Regardless, for many language learners, the two main factors which usually impair their listening comprehension are limited vocabulary and insufficient listening practice - these are always the right places to start.

Good luck!


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. Memorizing things like "phonetic associations"  and such can be really easy!

 

The Truth About Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics In Learning

Would you like to be able to memorize a whole book? What about those boring declination tables?

Silly question. Who wouldn’t?

One way or the other, you have heard of fantastic memory feats of mnemonists – memorizing decks of cards or thousands of digits. And all this seemingly effortlessly.

Mnemonics have the power to stimulate the imagination. They definitely stimulated mine.

This dream, the dream of being able to memorize anything I want, triggered the chain of events which made me embark on a bumpy journey/

Destination? To discover the actual effectiveness and usefulness of mnemonics and master my memory.

Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics In Learning – My First Experience

 

I still remember the first time when I had to use mnemonics practically. I failed one of my exams, and I had to retake it. The problem was that I didn’t know when. I was convinced that the day would be announced very soon.
The days went by, and I didn’t even touch the coursebook. Somehow the notion of the retake blissfully slipped my mind.
One day I was sitting in the corridor, listening to music and reading a book. Suddenly I heard a muffled voice, “aren’t you preparing for the exam?”. “What exam?” I looked up to see the grinning face of my good friend.
“It’s starting in 2 hours,” he replied. Somehow his grin turned into an evil smirk.
“That’s it,” I thought to myself. “I will fail this exam, and I will fail my studies. I will end up homeless and will have to fight sewer spiders for the food.”
After the first surge of panic passed, I started coming up with possible solutions. I decided that my best chance is to use mnemonics. I didn’t have much experience in using them. Sure, I had read two books up to that point but had almost no exposure to back up the theory.
Desperate times call for drastic measures. I rolled up my sleeves and started learning. A bit over three h later, I left the professor’s office. I passed. I don’t know how, but I passed. Thus my obsession with mnemonics was born. My imagination was running wild. Where are the boundaries?
Is it possible for each one of us to become a genius if we just learn to utilize mnemonic strategies? I needed many years to learn the bitter truth. No. Mnemonics will not make you a genius and allow you to absorb tons of information effortlessly.
“So are they useful at all?” you might ask. And what can they be used for?
I will get back to this in a moment.

What Are Mnemonics?

 

Before we move on, it’s good to explain what mnemonics are quickly. In short, mnemonics are devices to aid our overburdened memory.

They are used to facilitate efficient encoding by associating new information with the knowledge which is already stored in your long-term memory (Johnson & Weber, 2006 as cited in Gibson, 2009).

Probably the most common mnemonic device the so-called keyword method coined by Atkinson (1975). It is used to make meaningful auditory and imagery links to remember a word.

For example, if you want to remember that “to buy” in Spanish is “comprar,” you might create a vivid picture of a man who compares prices of products before the purchase. Not that complicated, right?

Let’s see now what science has to say about mnemonics.

Effectiveness and Usefulness of Mnemonics in Learning – an Overview of the Scientific Literature

 

Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics

 

There is a large body of research about mnemonics. However, probably the most interesting study up-to-date was led by Kent State University professor John Dunlosky and released in April 2013 by the Association for Psychological Science.

In a comprehensive report, the group of authors carefully examined ten learning tactics and rated them from high to low utility based on the evidence they’ve gathered.

If you are expecting mnemonics to be among the most useful strategies, don’t hold your breath. They didn’t even come close to the top of the list.

According to the authors, some commonly used techniques, such as underlining, rereading material, and using mnemonic devices, were found to be of surprisingly low utility.

Of surprisingly low utility?! If you look at memory feats performed by mnemonics, you might conclude that scientists must be taking crazy pills.
For example, here is a video of Dr. Yip Swee Chooi.

 

 

What’s so special about him?
He learned a 1774-page Chinese-English dictionary by heart (in case you wonder – it took him almost six months to do it).
Another great example is Simon Reinhard, who memorized a deck of cards in 20.438 seconds.

 

 

Clearly, people with untrained memory would not be able to come close to these results. Still, the report says clearly – mnemonics might not be the best use of your time.

Of course, I must be perfectly honest with you. There are a lot of studies which show that using mnemonics might be very beneficial for (among others):

What’s even more important, some studies showed memory improvement with students with disabilities, as described by Fulk (1994) and Bulgren et al. (1994).

And these are just a few of them and they all state clearly – mnemonics are statistically more effective.

Effective than what?! And why didn’t I include these studies here then?

Problems With Studies On The Effectiveness and Usefulness of Mnemonics in Learning

 

Having read dozens of studies on mnemonics, I can divide the flaws of these studies into the following categories:

a) Statistical sample is not representative

 

Do you know how to recognize bad, bullshit science at first glance? Look at the sample.

To generalize, any number below 100 participants means that researchers just threw your tax money into the gutter.

b) Control groups suck

 

Do you know what the usual control group against mnemonics-using students is? Rote learning students.

Ugh, it’s like watching some bizarre boxing match. “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s gather around to enjoy this very duel – a retarded shrimp vs. quite an ordinary shrimp.”

c) Laboratory settings

 

99,9% of these studies are conducted in laboratory settings. And there is quite a yawning gap between research in areas of everyday memory (i.e., field research) and lab-controlled research.

The Hawthorne effect is one of the things which comes to mind.

A type of reactivity in which individuals modify or improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed

It’s tough to generalize such results to other settings

What’s more, so-called low ecological validity comes into play. The laboratory is clearly an artificial situation. People are directed by an ‘experimenter’ in a psychological experiment. They are removed from their natural social settings and asked to memorize different sets of data.

This is a very unusual experience that raises the question – how do this novel experience and settings really affect their behavior and memory?

Still, lab research is better than no research at all.

d) Time horizon

 

Most studies are conducted over a relatively short period. It’s rarely spread over more than 3-4 weeks. As you will soon read, this is why most studies prove the effectiveness and usefulness of mnemonics.

e) Nature of the tasks

 

How would you feel about memorizing and recalling a list of unconnected words or digits? Seriously, be honest. How would you rate your willingness on the scale from “nope” to “never”?
The detachment of such tasks from everyday life and their general lack of usefulness have led some researchers to question whether their findings can be generalized to real life.

Are mnemonics useless?

Am I saying that mnemonics are useless then? Not at all. They can be insanely useful.

But you must understand what they are and what they aren’t. I quoted the excerpt from John Dunlosky’s report for two reasons:

  • 1) It tested different learning strategies against one another.
  • 2) More importantly, it examined the effects of those strategies in LONG-TERM learning.

And this is what mnemonics are not.

They are not a suitable tool for long-term learning.

At least not in the form they are usually presented.

If you are not pressed for time, you can get by without any problems without using mnemonics.

They are also not a panacea for all your memory problems. It is just another tool in your learning arsenal.

If you have ever read anything by any author, who promotes/sells anything mnemonics-related, you might find it hard to believe. Don’t worry. I also felt disillusioned. And I had good reasons.

Effectiveness and Usefulness of Mnemonics in Learning – My Experiments 

 

Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics

Picture by: Vlad

Since that pivotal moment of my life, my obsession with mnemonics had been growing in strength with each passing day. There was no stopping me. I was the mnemonics preacher. Everybody HAD to know about how mnemonics are great,
After I won the local memory championship, it only got worse. I experimented with the ardor of meth-addicted junkie. I created memory palaces holding thousands of words. I tried to learn entire books by heart just to test the effectiveness of mnemonics. I have memorized tables, law regulations, and checked my recall at various intervals.
T
he effect was always the same — high recall rate at the beginning of my experiments. The feeling of overwhelming joy always accompanied these early results. But it never lasted long.
My recall rate was still good after up to 2-4 weeks after creating mnemonic images and reviewing them, although I could notice some deterioration of my memories.

Inevitable drop in recall rate always came after more than four weeks.

And this is precisely why most scientific studies seemingly prove the effectiveness of mnemonics. They test them in labs in short periods.

Once again, I would like to stress that mnemonics can be immensely useful. Useful both for recalling random information as well as helping you achieve high levels of expert performance. Just not for long-term learning.

Read on, and I will show how they can be utilized best. But first, to have a full picture of what you’re dealing with, take a look at the limitations of mnemonics.

Limitations And Disadvantages Of Mnemonics

 

  • Gruneberg (1998) argues that the keyword method, in general, is inferior to rote learning in the longer-term retention of vocabulary.
  • “Campos and Gonzalez (2003) attribute ineffectiveness of the keyword method to participants ‘lack of training. They investigated in four experiments the effectiveness of the mnemonic keyword method using two groups of adults and adolescents. In all the experiments, the rote method was more effective than the keyword method for both adolescents and adults.”
  • Some people (especially adults) are reluctant to create vivid images and crazy stories.
  • Some people (especially adults) are unable and/or unwilling to resign from using previously learned strategies.
  • Using mnemonic devices for memorizing words is time-consuming (especially at the beginning).
  • Using mnemonics requires more effort (especially at the beginning) than rote-learning.
  • Mnemonics don’t guarantee understanding.
  • Learning with mnemonics lacks context.

 

So if mnemonics are not an excellent way for long-term learning, what are they good for?

How Mnemonics Affect Your Short-Term Memory

 

Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics

 

Short-term memory has three key aspects:

  • 1. limited capacity (only about 7+-2 items can be stored at a time or 3-4 chunks)
  • 2. limited duration (storage is very fragile, and information can be lost with distraction or passage of time)
  • 3. encoding (primarily acoustic, even translating visual information into sounds).

 

And here is where the true power of mnemonics lies.

Mnemonic devices allow you to boost all these three aspects of your short-term memory significantly.

It might not seem like a big deal, but it has tremendous implications for your (language) learning.

Why?

Because short-term memory is a necessary step toward the next stage of retention – long-term memory, you can treat short-term memory as a bottleneck of your learning. After all, if you can’t commit some information, even just for a few seconds, to your memory, how are you supposed to learn?

Some researchers claim that working-memory capacity reflects the efficiency of executive functions. In other words, the ability to maintain and manipulate information in the face of distractions and other irrelevant information. ( Engle, R. W., September 1999).

 

That’s why the best way to think about mnemonics is to treat them as a relatively long-lived external memory with huge capacity.

 

I will get to the most effective use of mnemonics in a second. First, I want to demonstrate something. Let’s take a look at prodigies.

The Short-Term Memory Of Prodigies

 

Studies on the prodigies who reached professional-level performance in their domain (e.g., art, math, music) by the age of 10 show something very interesting.

When Psychologist Joanne Ruthsatz and violin virtuoso Jourdan Urbach administered an IQ test to nine prominent child prodigies (…) there were a wide range of IQ scores among the eight prodigies (from 108 to 147), and their cognitive profiles were uneven.

It turned out that the key to understanding their rapid learning in their domain was not their global intellectual functioning.

Most strikingly, every single prodigy in their sample scored off the charts (better than 99 percent of the general population) in working memory — the ability to simultaneously store incoming information while processing other information.

So how can you approach these levels of intellectual functioning?

Key Information Needed to Understand How To use Mnemonics Effectively

 

1) We learn best by doing
2) Calling information to mind strengthens it and helps in future retrieval
3) Understanding the difference between procedural and declarative knowledge.

 

According to Cohen and Squire (1980):

Procedural knowledge involves “knowing how” to do things. It includes skills, such as “knowing how” to play the piano, ride a bike; tie your shoes and other motor skills. It does not involve conscious thought (i.e. it’s unconscious – automatic). For example, we brush our teeth with little or no awareness of the skills involved.

Declarative knowledge involves “knowing that”. Knowing names of plants , dates, formulas – it’s all part of your declarative knowledge. Recalling information from declarative memory involves, so called, effortfull recall – i.e. information has to be consciously brought to mind and “declared”.

 

Knowing these things can help us stew perfect learning mix:

  • 1) Gather information 

It doesn’t matter whether you want to learn a language or how to master persuasion strategies. Gather the knowledge needed to achieve your goal.

  • 2) Memorize it with mnemonics

As I have written before, mnemonics can be treated as an extension of your short-term memory. Place as much information as you can on this external “hard-drive.”

  • 3) Start practicing right away

You know the theory of how to play the piano or how to program. It’s high time you started putting your knowledge into practice. Try to use as many pieces of information from your memory as you can.

Because every time you bring one of them to your mind, the magic happens. You start creating and strengthening neural networks responsible for the given action.

Repeat this action a sufficient number of times, and you will automate it. From that moment on, you will be able to perform it subconsciously and with minimal effort.

Let’s see how you can use it in language learning.

Effectiveness and Usefulness of Mnemonics in Language Learning

 

Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics

Picture by: Shannon Kokoska

 

When I launched my Czech mission, I already had a rough plan of how to achieve my desired level in record time. This is more or less what I did:

  • 1) I got familiar with grammar
  • 2) I memorized basic declinations and conjugations with mnemonics
  • 3) I memorized about 50 essential words with mnemonics
  • 4) I started producing a lot of sentences by talking to myself and by using the words and mentioned above 
  • 5) I “rinsed and repeated” points 2-4. Each time I increased the number of words and grammar constructions

Of course, there was also listening and reading practice. If someone asks me what the quickest way to learn a language with mnemonics is, I show them this plan. I also tell them to use ANKI or combine those strategies.

Either way, since learning with mnemonics lacks context, I would avoid using it for language learning unless you can produce lots of sentences with the vocabulary you have memorized this way,

Since we have established that mnemonics can be treated as your external memory, take a look at other practical applications of mnemonics!

(Other) Practical Applications Of Mnemonics

 

Mnemonics are useful whenever you need to memorize a lot of information on the fly and remember them for at least a couple of hours.

That’s why you can use them (among others):

  • During parties and meetings to memorize names and information about other participants
  • during last-minute panic before the exam or company presentation to make sure that the data stays in your memory!
  • During speeches.
  • to impress your wife and show her that “you don’t need no damn shopping lists” to remember what you should buy
  • to memorize random information which emerges during conversations

And so on. I think you got it!

Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics – Summary

 

Mnemonics have to be one of the most misunderstood learning tools of all time. They are usually sold as the ultimate solution for all kinds of learning problems, which is far from the truth. As you can see, effectiveness and usefulness of mnemonics can be amazing but only provided that you understand precisely what they do. And what they do is “inflate” your short-term memory for some time.
Manage to review the knowledge you acquired with mnemonics by performing some actions specific to that knowledge, .and you can rest assured that your progress will know no boundaries. You will become that “Robo-weirdo.” And this is what I sincerely wish you.

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 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. Memorize, among others, what working memory is, what are limitations of mnemonics, and much more!

 

 

Important Factors Affecting Listening Comprehension – the Only Two That Matter If You Want to Understand ASAP

 

Listening comprehension is quite universally known to be one of the most, if not the most, demanding language skill.

 

A lot of learners struggle for many years to be able to understand even 90% of a conversation. And it gets worse. The number of language learners who are capable of understanding almost every word they hear amounts to a few percents.

And thus the question arises: is listening really that difficult or maybe there is something else at play here?
To answer this question, we first have to take a look at all the most critical factors affecting your listening comprehension.

 

All The Factors Affecting Listening Comprehension

 

Listening comprehension is a quite complex beast as it consists of lots of smaller sub-beasts, or sub-skills if you will. As you will see in a moment, almost everything can affect your level of listening comprehension.

 

1. Your pronunciation

For every word you encounter, you create your internal phonetic representations (i.e., how you think that a word should be pronounced). Next, you confront them with the external representations (i.e., how the words are really pronounced).
If they overlap considerably or are identical, and you can fish them out from the recording, you should be able to understand a given word.

 

This is the exact reason why you might understand a typical accent from a given country but you will struggle with a dialect. Simply, at this point, your internal representations are not broad enough to encompass new external representations.

Read more: How to improve your pronunciation.

 

2. Your grammar

It’s much more difficult to understand the deeper meaning of an utterance if you don’t know how different words come together. Don’t worry. You don’t have to concentrate on learning every single grammar construction in your target language. Simply start with the functional grammar.

 

3. Knowledge of how sounds merge or get reduced

Unfortunately, not everything is what it seems. It certainly seems to be the case with sounds. In almost any language there is a tendency of different sounds to be reduced (e.g. vowel reduction) or to be merged (read more about phonological changes).

If you don’t grasp how these changes happen, it will take you much longer to decipher the ongoing stream of speech.

 

4. Your overall listening time

 

IMPORTANT FACTORS THAT AFFECT YOUR LISTENING COMPREHENSION

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

 

It happens way too often that I get an e-mail from one of my readers who complains about their listening skills. Asked how much time they devote to their listening practice, I get a shy “10 minutes per day”.
What a fantastic pace and dedication!  Call me in 2045 to tell me whether you can finally understand your first movie dialogue.
Listening takes a lot of time. That’s just the way it is.

 

5. Visual support

Listening becomes much easier once you can see somebody’s body language. A lot of things which would get lost in the tangle of speech seem more understandable on the screen once you catch a glimpse of an ironic smirk.
Plus, nobody can take away from you the pleasure of fantasizing about starting a new life with a main actor/actress. And calling your first child, “Chad.” What? No, obviously, it has never happened to me. Mind your own business!

 

6. Vocabulary size

 

It’s as clear as day. The more words you know, the easier it is to fish them out of a recording. If your current vocabulary is, say, 1000 words and you can’t figure out why you don’t understand much, this might be the reason.

Read more: The Word Substitution Technique – How To Increase Your Vocabulary Size Considerably.

 

7. Concentration

As much as I like the idea of listening to recordings in the background, you won’t get far if you can’t focus on the activity at hand. You have to strap your butt to a chair and listen.
Just for the record, I want you to know that in the literature, you can find a couple of other factors that affect your listening comprehension — for example, problems with interpretation, inability to identify signals, and such. I decided to skip them as they have so little bearing your ability to understand. I don’t want to expand this article artificially.
Let’s now take a look at what are the two most important factor that affects your listening comprehension.

 

The Two Most Important Factors Affecting Listening Comprehension

 

It’s always crucial to know what constituent of some skill is the most important. Skills are difficult enough as they are. However, without any semblance of prioritization, you might spend too much time floundering about desperately.

You might think about what I am about to propose to you as yet another application of the Pareto principle.

As a reminder:

 

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

Wiki

And, as you will shortly see, even among these two, there is one which is clearly more important.

 

1. The total amount of listening practice

 

 

In order to increase your comprehension, you have to spend a lot of time listening to people or recordings. The more often you do it, the faster you can expect to progress.
However, is the total amount of listening practice the ultimate answer? I doubt it. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be that many people who live abroad surrounded by a language that still struggle with listening comprehension.
I have a good friend of mine who watches everything in English passionately. TV series, movies, news, you name it. Yet, after all these years, his comprehension hasn’t changed that drastically. And it would be surprising if it wasn’t for the fact that he doesn’t have any vocabulary acquisition system in place.
And that leads me to the factor no 2.

 

2. The size of your vocabulary

 

There is a very good reason why the name of my language learning course is Vocabulary Labs and not something else.

 

The size of your vocabulary is the most reliable predictor of language progress there is. Without knowing a lot of words, improving your listening comprehension will prove very difficult.

Let me demonstrate it.

First, improving your listening comprehension can be understood as:

  1. getting used to the prosody of your target language
  2. picking up words you know from the ongoing stream of speech

 

What’s more, we know from the literature that for most languages, 3000 words allow you to understand about 95% of most ordinary texts (Hazenberg and Hulstijn, 1996). 5000 words, in its turn, will enable you to understand about 98% of most ordinary texts (Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997))(read more about levels of comprehension and vocabulary size).

It’s somewhat agreed that getting accustomed to the prosody doesn’t take that much time. That leaves us with the second task you have to face: fishing out words from the stream of speech.

If your vocabulary size is 200, how many percents of words are you able to pick up?

 

Calculate Your Listening Effectiveness

 

Let’s calculate this, and let’s treat 5000 words as our perfect reference point as this number of words would allow you to understand most of the things you would hear.

200/5000 = 0.040 = 4%

We have arrived at the number 4% but what does it really tell us?

It means that your listening effectiveness per 1 minute or hour of listening practice is 4%.

So yeah, you can spend hundreds of hours trying to improve your comprehension, but it may turn out that it won’t change too much.

What if you started listening to recordings with the vocabulary of 1000 words?

1000/5000 = 0.20.= 20%

At this point, your listening effectiveness would increase fivefold! Let me formulate it slightly differently – learning just 800 words can greatly increase your listening comprehension.

 

And this is the exact reason why I advocate listening practice only once you master at least 2000 words (or even more). Having such a vocabulary optimizes your learning time and allows you to progress much faster than others without having to waste more hours.

One exception to this rule (i.e., what drastically increases your listening comprehension)

 

THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS THAT AFFECT YOUR LISTENING COMPREHENSION

Photo by Noah Näf on Unsplash

 

Of course, keep in mind that my listening effectiveness model is simplistic in one aspect.

 

If you learn a language which is already similar to the ones you already know, your passive vocabulary knowledge will allow you to pick up words which are similar to the ones you are familiar with. 

For example, if I decide to learn Russian, which shares about 40% of words with Polish, my starting listening comprehension will be about 40%!

However, that still means that if you increase your vocabulary size with the words you don’t, your listening effectiveness will go up even higher!

 

Important Factors Affecting Listening Comprehension – Summary

 

I first published my article “How to learn German from scratch to a B2 level in 5 months,” a couple of years ago. Back then, one statement of mine seemed to spark a lot of controversies.

 

I forbade Mathew to read and listen to anything for first three months. Actually, if you know how to acquire vocabulary, you do not context to do it. You can learn first 3-5 thousand words simply from frequency lists. It allows you to save a lot of time simply by not being forced to go through all those crappy dialogs in textbooks.

And I get it. This piece of advice went against everything most people have been taught in schools. It also contradicted almost every strategy proposed by my fellow polyglots. However, as time goes by, there seem to be more and more studies that confirm this theory.

 

Studies confirming the importance of the aforementioned factors affecting listening comprehension

[[ … ]] it was revealed that the ability of learners to make connections between highly common English words appears to be dependent on the number of words they know. The more words they know, the more connections they are able to identify. At present, it is not known whether this ability to make connections is a cause or a result of knowing the meanings of more words, or if it is a combination of both.

[[ … ]] it is also hoped that new avenues shall be explored that focus more deeply on what it means to know a word and the role of lexical retrieval and memory in L2 lexical processing. At present, to its detriment, the field of L2 vocabulary studies remains remarkably insular.

 

The conclusion is as follows – if you want to improve your listening comprehension asap, you have to, first of all, increase your vocabulary size. Only then does it make sense to devote a lot of time to listening practice.

 

My advice to you is this – if you want to improve your listening comprehension, you should concentrate on expanding your vocabulary size first (don’t forget about mastering functional grammar). Only then should you gradually increase your overall listening time while still increasing the numbers of words you know.

 

Do you agree with my theory that the vocabulary size is the most important factor affecting listening comprehension? Let me know in the comments!

 

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 about 25 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. Memorizing things like “internal phonetic representations” can be really easy!

 

 

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.

 

How To Learn To Speak a Foreign Language With Social Anxiety

 

Not everyone is equal in the kingdom of languages. There is one group that is mercilessly oppressed — one group which suffers from a crippling disease called SOCIAL ANXIETY.

It’s a terrible, terrible malady. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to keep your fears and anxiety in a padded cell of your brain. They always scrape their way out to feed your soul with poison. Even if only through the cracks.

But does it mean that you can’t learn a language because of it? Hell no!

I used to suffer from anxiety-induced panic attacks in the past. I sat in my room for days with curtains closed until I ran out of food. Those days are, luckily, long gone. Although anxiety still looms the dark corners of my mind.

So if you are also a victim of this condition – don’t worry. Here is the list of six ideas that you can use to learn to speak a foreign language with social anxiety.

 

How To Learn To Speak a Foreign Language With Social Anxiety

 

1) Don’t find a teacher, find a friend

 

How To Learn To Speak a Foreign Language With Social Anxiety

 

There is a good chance that you don’t want to talk to others because you don’t know them.

You don’t feel comfortable baring your soul in front of them. Every cell in your brain sends you warning signals – watch out; they are out to get you.

But you don’t feel this way around friends or people you trust, do you?

That’s why this is probably the best way to approach language learning for those anxiety stricken. You won’t be able to get any panic attacks or feel anxious with a friend by your side.

Discussing anything becomes much easier when you grow attached to another person. You don’t even have to suffer from anxiety to be able to benefit from such a relationship.

Having such contact with another person drastically changes the way you experience lessons.
You don’t sit in front of a stranger who doesn’t give a shit about your day or well-being. You sit in front of someone who cares. Such a bond makes all the conversations much more meaningful and memorable, as well.

 

That’s why you should pay close attention to a person who will become your language partner or your teacher.

 

Look for similarities. Try a lesson to make sure that this person is trustworthy. And, what’s most important, don’t be a weirdo. “Hi, my name is Bartosz. Do you wanna be my friend?”. Ugh.

 

2) Talk To Yourself

 

Talking to yourself

 

What 99% of people seem to miss is that you don’t necessarily need countless hours of talking with others to be able to communicate freely in your target language.

Why?

Because almost all hard work is done in solitude.
Learning vocabulary, grammar, listening. All that you can do on your own.

Of course, it’s great to have some private lessons from time to time to make sure that you are on the right track. But other than that – you will be fine on your own. You can create your feedback loops to make sure that you are speaking correctly.

But how can you practice speaking on your own?

 

How to Practice Speaking with Yourself

The basic technique goes like this:
  1. visit iteslj.org/questions
  2. choose a subject you want to discuss
  3. start answering the questions and do it out loud!

 

Don’t know a word? Write it down. Do you know a word? Try to find a synonym! Depending on your preferences, you might look it up immediately or save it for later.

You can even scribble these questions on a piece of paper and write down needed vocabulary on the flip side. It will allow you to answer the same question again in the following days.

 

EXAMPLE:
Q: Why do you hate Kate? (translated into your target language)
A: (needed vocabulary) brainless chatterbox, pretentious

 

Don’t Be Too Serious – Have Fun

As you can see, you don’t need to be serious when you answer these questions.
Heck, the questions themselves don’t need to be serious!

Have fun!

Q: Have you ever tried eating with your feet?

Q: If you were a hot dog, what kind of hot dog would you be?

The greatest thing of all about learning to talk like this is that nobody judges you. You might mispronounce words in your first try. You might forget them.

And guess what? Nothing. Nothing will happen.

 

Once you get good and confident enough, you can start talking with others.

 

I find it quite often to be more effective than real conversations. I know, I know. On the surface, it might seem absurd. There is no interaction, after all.

However, if you look beyond the superficial, you will be able to see that self-talk offers you a lot of opportunities that real-life conversations can’t.

 

For example, self-talk gives you a chance to activate less frequent words.

 

I can talk for 20 minutes with myself about cervical cancer. Could I do it with someone else? Let’s try to imagine such a conversation.

– “Hi, Tom! Wanna talk about cervical cancer? It will be fun! I promise!”
– “Stay away, you weirdo!’
– “Cool! Some other time then.”

Read more: Benefits Of Talking To Yourself And How To Do It Right To Master a Language.

 

3) Write instead of talking

 

How To Learn To Speak a Foreign Language With Social Anxiety

 

Talking doesn’t necessarily mean discussing philosophical treatises face-to-face. It’s perfectly fine to stick to written communication. In the era of the internet, you are just a few clicks away from millions of potential language partners.

Here is a list of websites where you can find some language exchange partners:

 

Don’t want to talk to others? Don’t worry. You still might activate your vocabulary. Start writing daily. Anything really will do. It can be a diary, a blog, some observations.

Make it difficult for yourself and choose some difficult subject to jog your mind. It can even be some erotic novel! “The secret erotic life of ferns,” for example. Yep. I like this one.

Read more: Writing or speaking – what is better memory-wise for learning languages?

 

4) Condition yourself

 

We might be the pinnacle of evolution, but in some regards, we are no different from your average gopher or a sloth. You can easily get conditioned to react to specific circumstances in a given way.

Why? Habituation. That’s why.

 

Habituation is a form of learning in which an organism decreases or ceases to respond to a stimulus after repeated presentations. Essentially, the organism learns to stop responding to a stimulus which is no longer biologically relevant. For example, organisms may habituate to repeated sudden loud noises when they learn these have no consequences.

Habituation usually refers to a reduction in innate behaviours, rather than behaviours developed during conditioning in which the process is termed “extinction”. A progressive decline of a behavior in a habituation procedure may also reflect nonspecific effects such as fatigue, which must be ruled out when the interest is in habituation as a learning process. – Wikipedia

 

Once you learn that all that gloom and doom is only in your head, you can start modifying your behavior (you can read more about it in Dropping Ashes on the Buddha: The Teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn. Highly recommended!)

You can leverage this rule and condition yourself to become a braver version of yourself. Maybe you won’t get I-will-slay-you-and-take-your-women brave in two weeks, but it will get you started.

Your action plan is simple but not easy.

 

Find situations where you can expose yourself to stressors

 

As Oscar Wilde used to say, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” And only you know how deep you are stuck in this anxiety gutter.

Choose your first task accordingly, and move your way up from there. Don’t make it too easy or too hard on yourself.

Some of the things you might do are:

 

Learn To Speak a Foreign Language With Social Anxiety – Conditioning Strategies

 

a) HIGH ANXIETY LEVELS – post your comments:

 

  • in one of FB language groups
  • under a YT video
  • popular tweets
  • an article on Reddit or some other website

In other words, just leave a comment somewhere. You don’t even have to go back to check responses!

b) MEDIUM ANXIETY LEVELS (exchanging messages)

 

  • register at Italki.com and write to just one language exchange partner
  • download HelloTalk and write to someone
c) LOW ANXIETY LEVELS (face-to-face conversations)

 

  • go to a nearby language café and talk with others
  • find the nearest language meeting on MeetUp.com and go there

 

Any start is a good start as long as you start.

 

5) Reframe your thoughts

 

Social Anxiety - Condition Yourself

 

There is a good chance that you have heard about reframing your thoughts. The basic premise is very simple.

 

Every time you catch yourself being anxious about some situation, you should look at it from a different perspective.

 

Instead of saying, “Gosh, she sure wouldn’t like to talk with me,” you can change it to, “I bet she is bored right now and would love to have a nice chat with me.”

I know. It sounds corny.

The first time I heard this piece of advice, I felt as if a ragged hobo tried to jam a lump of guano in my hand, saying, “Just pat it into your face, and you will gain superpowers.”

Little did I know that this advice is as brilliant as it is simple. Much water passed under the bridge before I finally started applying it.

But why does it work? Because such is the nature of memories. They are not set in stone and perennial.

Research conducted by Daniela Schiller, of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and her former colleagues from New York University, shows us something truly amazing.

 

Schiller says that “memories are malleable constructs that are reconstructed with each recall. We all recognize that our memories are like Swiss cheese; what we now know is that they are more like processed cheese.

What we remember changes each time we recall the event. The slightly changed memory is now embedded as “real,” only to be reconstructed with the next recall. – Source 

 

So what does it all mean?

It means that adding new information to your memories or recalling them in a slightly different context might alter them.

How much? Enough for you to recalibrate how you perceive the world around you! It’s up to you how much you want to reshape your perception of reality.

 

6) Decide whether you really need to speak a language

 

Learning Languages - Strategies

 

It seems like a strange statement. But the truth is that not everyone needs to learn how to speak a language.

Before you dive into the language learning process, be sure that it’s something you want. You shouldn’t feel pressured into doing so just because others do. You don’t want to spend hundreds of extra hours on something you are not going to use.

Remember that every language, even the tiniest of them all, is a skeleton key to the vastness of materials – books, movies, anecdotes, etc. It’s fine to learn a language to be able to access them all.

 

Learn To Speak a Foreign Language With Social Anxiety – Your Strategies

 

Here is a quick summary of all the strategies mentioned above.

  1. Don’t find a teacher, find a friend
  2. Talk To Yourself
  3. Write instead of talking
  4. Condition yourself
  5. Reframe your thoughts
  6. Decide whether you really need to speak a language

 

How To Learn To Speak a Foreign Language With Social Anxiety – Summary

 

Overcoming your language learning anxiety can be hard, but it is certainly doable. When in doubt, always keep in mind that our reality is negotiable to a large degree – if you believe you can change, it is possible.

What’s more, you shouldn’t forget that the real work is always done in solitude. Teachers or language partners might show you what to concentrate on, but it’s up to you to put this knowledge into practice.

You don’t have to limit yourself to activating your vocabulary only through speaking. Writing is also a very desirable option.

Lastly, remember that changing your diet can also be very helpful. You can do it, for example, by introducing anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric.

Back to you.

 

Can you share any tricks/methods which helped you overcome your language learning anxiety?

No advice is too small or trivial. As always, feel free to comment or drop me a message.

70 Amazing Advantages and Benefits of Language Learning

 

Advantages and benefits of language learning

 

There are just a few things in this world which make me angry and sad at the same time.
But the one that takes the cake is reading almost every month for the past few years that soon, oh so very soon, learning languages will become obsolete.

Sure, it is pointless. Why bother? Technology will solve the problem of interlingual communication. So better not waste your time. You’ll be better-off watching re-runs of The Kardashians.

How many people have given up even before they started? Without even realizing that many, oh so many, years will pass before any translation software or magical devices will be able to do a half-decent job.

But is it really only about communication? Have you ever wondered what other benefits language learning has to offer?

The following list includes 80 benefits of language learning. Some obvious, some surprising.
I’ve been hand-picking them for many months from different scientific sources.

The list is a work in progress. I’ll keep on updating it every couple of months.
Feel free to write to me if you spot somewhere some benefit which is not on the list.

It’s also worth noting that there is a large body of research to confirm each of these benefits of language learning.
Although, I usually quote results of just one or two studies to keep this list more concise.

Purpose of the list

The main purpose of this list is to make you realize how many benefits of language learning there are.
I hope that such knowledge will help to pull you through all language-learning plateaus.

What’s more, I also hope that it will help you to inspire others to pursue language learning.
Your children, spouse, parents. It’s never too late.

Treat is a language-learning manifesto. Print it, hang it on the wall. And every time you feel like giving up, hug your dictionary and stare at this list for a couple of minutes.

Amazing benefits of language learning

 

If you learn a foreign language…

 

1. Your brain will grow

 

Johan Martensson’s research shows that after three months of studying a foreign language, learners’ brains grew in four places: the hippocampus, middle frontal gyrus, inferior frontal gyrus, and superior temporal gyrus (gyri are ridges on the cerebral cortex).

What happens when you learn languages for more than 3 months and you’re serious about it?

The right hippocampus and the left superior temporal gyrus were structurally more malleable in interpreters acquiring higher proficiency in the foreign language. Interpreters struggling relatively more to master the language displayed larger gray matter increases in the middle frontal gyrus

References:
(Johan Mårtensson, Johan Eriksson, Nils Christian Bodammerc, Magnus Lindgren, Mikael Johansson, Lars Nyberg, Martin Lövdén (2012). “Growth of language-related brain areas after foreign language learning“.)

 

2. You will have better memory

 

According to research conducted by Julia Morales of Spain’s Granada University, children who learn a second language are able to recall memories better than monolinguals, or speakers of just one language.

When asked to complete memory-based tasks, Morales and her team found that those who had knowledge of multiple languages worked both faster and more accurately.

The young participants who spoke a second language had a clear advantage in working memory. Their brains worked faster, pulling information and identifying problems in a more logical fashion.

When your brain is put through its paces and forced to recall specific words in multiple languages, it develops strength in the areas responsible for storing and retrieving information (read more about improving your short-term memory)

References:
(Julia Morales, Alejandra Calvo, Ellen Bialystok (2013). “Working memory development in monolingual and bilingual children“.)

 

3. You will have better listening skills

 

Do you remember how hard listening was at the beginning of the language journey? Pure nightmare!
And since the brain has to work really hard to distinguish between different types of sounds in different languages, being bilingual leads to improved listening skills (Krizman et al., 2012).

Further references:
Lapkin, et al 1990, Ratte 1968.

 

4. You will have higher verbal and non-verbal intelligence

 

In 1962, Peal and Lambert published a study where they found that people who are at least conversationally fluent in more than one language consistently beat monolinguals on tests of verbal and nonverbal intelligence.

Bilinguals showed significant advantage especially in non-verbal tests that required more mental flexibility.

References:
Peal E., Lambert M. (1962). “The relation of bilingualism to intelligence”.Psychological Monographs75(546): 1–23.

 

5. Your attention span will improve

 

Photo by Lex Mckee

Photo by Lex Mckee

 

A study from 2010 shows that bilinguals have stronger control over their attention and are more capable of limiting distractions.

When asked to concentrate on a task, the study’s bilingual participants showed an increased ability to tune out distractions and concentrate on the given task.

They were also better equipped to interpret the work before them, eliminating unnecessary information and working on only what was essential.

References:
Ellen Bialystok, Fergus I. M. Craik (2010). “Cognitive and Linguistic Processing in the Bilingual Mind“.

 

6. You will slow down cognitive decline

 

Great news everyone! The recent evidence suggests a positive impact of bilingualism on cognition.

So what exactly does it mean?

The research found that individuals who speak two or more languages, regardless of their education level, gender or occupation, experience the onset of Alzheimer’s, on average, 4 1/2 years later than monolingual subjects did.

What’s more, even people who acquired a second language in adulthood can enjoy this benefit!

References:
Thomas H. Bak, Jack J. Nissan, Michael M. Allerhand, Ian J. Deary (2014). “Does bilingualism influence cognitive aging?“.

 

7. You will be better at multitasking

 

I’m not a fan of multitasking since it’s harmful to your productivity.

However, according to research conducted by Brian Gold, learning a language increases brain flexibility, making it easy to switch tasks in just seconds. Study participants were better at adapting and were able to handle unexpected situations much better than monolinguals.

That’s great. But the real question is – why were they better?

The plausible explanation is that when we learn a new language, we frequently jump between our familiar first language and the new one, making connections to help us retain what we’re learning.

This linguistic workout activates different areas of our brain. The more we switch between languages, the more those brain zones become accustomed to working. Once they’ve become accustomed to this type of “workout,” those same areas start helping to switch between tasks beyond language.

References:
Brian T. Gold, Chobok Kim, Nathan F. Johnson, Richard J. Kryscio and Charles D. Smith (2013). “Lifelong Bilingualism Maintains Neural Efficiency for Cognitive Control in Aging“.

 

8. You will be more creative

 

Learning a foreign language improves not only your ability to solve problems and to think more logically. It can also increase your creativity, according to Kathryn Bamford and Donald Mizokawa’s research.

Early language study forces you to reach for alternate words when you can’t quite remember the original one you wanted to use and makes you experiment with new words and phrases.

It improves your skills in divergent thinking, which is the ability to identify multiple solutions to a single problem.

Language learners also show greater cognitive flexibility (Hakuta 1986) and are better at figural creativity (Landry 1973).

References:
Kathryn W. Bamford, Donald T. Mizokawa (2006). “Additive-Bilingual (Immersion) Education: Cognitive and Language Development“.

 

9. You will improve executive functions

 

It sounds impressive, doesn’t it? But before we move on, let’s clarify what executive functions are:

Executive functions (also known as cognitive control and supervisory attentional system) – is an umbrella term for the management (regulation, control) of cognitive processes, including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving as well as planning and execution. – Wikipedia 

The body of research has shown that bilingual individuals are better at such processes; suggesting an interaction between being bilingual and executive functions.

As Anne-Catherine Nicolay and Martine Poncelet, a pair of scientists from Belgium, discovered in their research, learning a language improves individuals’ alertness, auditory attention, divided attention, and mental flexibility. The more you immerse yourself in the new language, the more you hone your executive functions.

In another study, Bialystok gave study subjects a non-linguistic card-sorting task that required flexibility in problem-solving, filtering irrelevant information, as well as recognizing the constancy of some variables in the face of changes in the rules.

Bilingual children significantly outperformed their monolingual peers in this task, suggesting the early development of inhibitory function that aids in solving problems that require the ability to selectively focus attention.

References:
– Bialystok E. (1999). “Cognitive complexity and attentional control in the bilingual mind“. Child Development 70 (3): 636–644)
– Anne-Catherine Nicolay, Martine Poncelet (2012). “Cognitive advantage in children enrolled in a second-language immersion elementary school program for three years“.

 

10. You will be better at problem-solving (even at maths!)

 

In one study, bilingual children were presented with the problems of both mathematical (arranging two sets of bottle caps to be equal according to instruction) and non-mathematical nature (a common household problem represented in pictures) and were asked to provide solutions.

They were rated on scales of creativity, flexibility, and originality. The results confirmed that the bilingual children were more creative in their problem solving than their monolingual peers.

One explanation for this could be bilinguals’ increased metalinguistic awareness, which creates a form of thinking that is more open and objective, resulting in increased awareness and flexibility.

References:
Mark Leikin (2012). “The effect of bilingualism on creativity: Developmental and educational perspectives“.

 

11. Your children will develop (much) faster

 

Benefits of language learning

If you want to create a crazy brainiac, teaching your child another language is a way to go!

According to new research, babies exposed to two languages display better learning and memory skills compared to their monolingual peers.

The study was conducted in Singapore and was the result of the collaboration between scientists and hospitals. Altogether, the study included 114 6 month-old infants – about half of whom had been exposed to two languages from birth.

The study found that when repeatedly shown the same image, bilingual babies recognized familiar images quicker and paid more attention to novel images – demonstrating tendencies that have strong links to higher IQ later in life.

Amazingly, children seem to absorb (even) multiple languages effortlessly.

“The power to learn a language is so great in the young child that it doesn’t seem to matter how many languages you seem to throw their way…They can learn as many spoken languages as you can allow them to hear systematically and regularly at the same time. Children just have this capacity. Their brain is ripe to do this…there doesn’t seem to be any detriment to….develop[ing] several languages at the same time” according to Dr. Susan Curtiss, UCLA Linguistics professor.

Past studies have shown that babies who rapidly get bored with a familiar image demonstrated higher cognition and language ability later on as children (Bialystok & Hakuta 1994; Fuchsen 1989).

A preference for novelty is also linked with higher IQs and better scores in vocabulary tests during pre-school and school-going years.

References:

Leher Singh, Charlene S. L. Fu, Aishah A. Rahman, Waseem B. Hameed, Shamini Sanmugam, Pratibha Agarwal, Binyan Jiang, Yap Seng Chong, Michael J. Meaney, Anne Rifkin-Graboi (2014). “Back to Basics: A Bilingual Advantage in Infant Visual Habituation“.

 

12. Understanding of your own language will increase

 

You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.

Geoffrey Willans 

How many monolingual speakers know what adjectives or gerunds are? Not many. It’s natural. They simply don’t need such knowledge. However, learning a second language draws your attention to the abstract rules and structure of language, thus makes you better at your first language.

Research suggests that foreign language study “enhances children’s understanding of how language itself works and their ability to manipulate language in the service of thinking and problem-solving.” (Cummins 1981).

Read more about improving your listening skills here.

 

13. You will read more efficiently

 

The research shows a high positive correlation between foreign language study and improved reading
scores for children of average and below-average intelligence. (Garfinkel & Tabor 1991).

Read more about reading more efficiently here.

 

14. You will enhance your career opportunities

 

It sounds like a cliche but let’s say it out loud – your chances of employment in today’s economy are much greater for you than for those who speak only one language.

Multilingual employees are able to communicate and interact within multiple communities. With the rise of technology which enables global communication, such an ability becomes more and more valuable.

What’s more, knowledge of a foreign language conveys, among others, that you’re an intelligent, disciplined and motivated person.

Even if being bilingual is not completely necessary in your field, being fluent in another language gives you a competitive edge over your monolingual competitors.

Of course, feeling that the above is true is one thing, but what about cold hard facts?

In a survey of 581 alumni of The American Graduate School of International Management in Glendale, Arizona, most graduated stated that they had gained a competitive advantage from their knowledge of foreign languages and other cultures.

They said that not only was language study often a decisive factor in hiring decisions and in enhancing their career paths, but it also provided personal fulfillment, mental discipline, and cultural enlightenment. (Grosse 2004)

 

15. You will enhance your confidence and sense of achievement

 

Confidence always increases when a new skill is mastered. Learning a foreign language is no different.
It boosts your self-confidence and makes you feel this nice, warm feeling inside.

Knowing a language also makes you more interesting and let’s face it – who doesn’t want to be more interesting?

Evidence from several studies shows language students to have a significantly higher self-concept than do non-language students. (Masciantonio 1977, Saunders 1998, Andrade, et al. 1989).

 

16. You will score higher on standardized tests

 

 

Photo by Dennis Skley

Photo by Dennis Skley

Bilingual students consistently score higher on standardized tests in comparison with their monolingual peers, especially in the areas of math, reading and vocabulary.

How much better are their results?

Results from the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test ) show that students who completed at least four years of foreign-language study scored more than 100 points higher on each section of the SAT than monolingual students. (College Board 2004)

Even third-graders who had received 15 minutes of conversational French lessons daily for a year had statistically higher SAT scores than their peers who had not received French classes. (Lopata 1963)

 

17. You will think faster

 

In a small study, bilingual people were about a half-second faster than monolinguals (3.5 versus 4 seconds) at executing novel instructions such as “add 1 to x, divide y by 2, and sum the results.”

Andrea Stocco and Chantel S. Prat of the University of Washington who conducted the research say the findings are in line with previous studies showing that bilingual children show superior performance on non-linguistic tasks.

References:
Stocco, A., Yamasaki, B. L., Natalenko, R., & Prat, C. S. “Bilingual brain training: A neurobiological framework of how bilingual experience improves executive function.” International Journal of Bilingualism.

 

18. You will have better job security

 

Mastering a language is a skill that requires a lot of time, discipline and persistence.
Many people start learning and give up half-way.

That’s why employees who have knowledge of a foreign language are much harder to replace.
Of course, the rarer and /or more difficult the language, the stronger your leverage.

 

19. You will earn more

 

It comes as no surprise that the knowledge of languages can add a little something to your salary.
However, the amount you can get varies significantly from country to country.

So how does it look like for the citizens of the United States?

 

Albert Saiz, the MIT economist who calculated the 2% premium, found quite different premiums for different languages: just 1.5% for Spanish, 2.3% for French and 3.8% for German. This translates into big differences in the language account: your Spanish is worth $51,000, but French, $77,000, and German, $128,000. Humans are famously bad at weighting the future against the present, but if you dangled even a post-dated $128,000 cheque in front of the average 14-year-old, Goethe and Schiller would be hotter than Facebook. – (www.economist.com)

 

In the UK, employees who know a foreign language earn an extra £3,000 a year – a total of £145,000 over their lifetime

Companies are prepared to pay workers earning the national average of £25,818 as much as 12% more if they speak or learn a foreign language. For higher earners, the figures are even more startling.

 

Those earning £45,000 could see a potential cash boost of 20%, amounting to an extra £9,000 a year or £423,000 over a lifetime. – (www.kwintessential.co.uk)

 

As you can see, knowing a foreign language can be certainly profitable. But please bear in mind that people who know 2 foreign languages earn much more and the reports typically don’t take rare languages into consideration.

 

20. You will enjoy increased mobility

 

There are many reasons why people leave their homeland and move to other places.
Some look for a better life, others try to find political freedom, love or religious tolerance.

Whatever the reasons might be, knowing foreign languages significantly increases your mobility by removing language barriers and increasing the chances of employment.

What’s more, a stay abroad can positively influence your employability even if you come back to your motherland.

 

The risk of long-term unemployment after graduation was 50% lower for mobile students than for non-mobile students. Even five years after graduation, the unemployment rate of mobile students was still 23% lower. Also 50% fewer mobile students (2%) than non-mobile students (4%) needed more than 12 months to find their first job. – The Erasmus Impact Study

 

References:
The Erasmus Impact Study – Effects of mobility on the skills and employability of students and the internationalization of higher education institutions” (2014)

 

21. You will learn how to prioritize

 

The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first. – Steven Pressfield

 

Learning a foreign language is one of the most complicated skills out there which one can master.
It’s not your typical “to-do list” which usually consists of just a few, simple tasks. To arrive at your final destination (i.e. mastering a language) you need to learn how to prioritize effectively.

Every language learner faces dozens of decisions each day – what should I learn? When to do it? Should it be reading? If yes, what should I read? And so on.

The constant flood of problems you face every day, helps you to become an efficient learner who knows what is important and what is not.

 

22. You will make new friends for life

 

Photo by Sanja Gjenero

Photo by Sanja Gjenero

Arguably, this is one of the most phenomenal benefits of language learning.
Your language skills tear down all communication barriers in the world. In the era of the internet, you can find friends in every corner of the world. Africa, Asia, New Zealand are just a few clicks away.

 

23. Your memory retrieval will improve

 

Research at the intersection of cognitive science and education has shown that retrieval improves learning in significant ways. Each act of retrieval changes your knowledge, improving the ability to retrieve knowledge again in the future.

References:
Nunes, L. D., & Karpicke, J. D. (in press). “Retrieval-based learning: Research at the interface between cognitive science and education”.

 

24. You will become a better decision-maker

 

According to a new study, multilingual speakers are more resistant to conditioning and framing techniques, making them less likely to be swayed by such language in advertisements or political campaign speeches.

It seems that foreign-language speakers are more sensitive and observant when it comes to the words they hear and read.

References:
Albert Costa, Alice Foucart, Inbal Arnon, Melina Aparicid, Jose Apesteguia (2014). “Piensa” twice: On the foreign language effect in decision making“.

 

25. You will increase pattern recognition

 

According to new research, the ability to learn a second language may depend less on linguistic skills and more on the ability to recognize patterns.

In the said study, Frost and colleagues measured how well American students in an overseas program picked up on the structure of words and sounds in Hebrew. The students were tested once in the first semester and again in the second semester.

The results showed a high positive correlation between recognizing patterns in the shapes and learning another language.

“These new results suggest that learning a second language is determined to a large extent by an individual ability that is not at all linguistic,” says Ram Frost of Hebrew University in Jerusalem who conducted the study.

“It’s surprising that a short 15-minute test involving the perception of visual shapes could predict to such a large extent which of the students who came to study Hebrew would finish the year with a better grasp of the language,” says Frost.

The findings could have broader implications beyond language learning.

“This finding points to the possibility that a unified and universal principle of statistical learning can quantitatively explain a wide range of cognitive processes across domains, whether they are linguistic or non-linguistic,” concluded the researchers.

References:
Ram Frost (2012). “A universal approach to modeling visual word recognition and reading: Not only possible but also inevitable“.

 

26. You will find it pleasant

 

Researchers from Spain and Germany found that the process of learning a language and acquiring a wider vocabulary has the effect of stimulating the same part of the brain as having sex or eating chocolate.

Language learning triggers a part of the brain known as the ventral striatum, a pleasure center that is activated when people are involved in activities such as sex, drugs, gambling or eating sugary foods.

References:
Pablo Ripollés, Josep Marco-Pallarés, Ulrike Hielscher, Anna Mestres-Missé, Claus Tempelmann, Hans-Jochen Heinze, Antoni Rodríguez-Fornells, Toemme Noesselt. “The Role of Reward in Word Learning and Its Implications for Language Acquisition”.

 

27. You will increase your general vocabulary

 

The results of the recent study showed that bilingualism is highly correlated with the breadth of vocabulary knowledge and reading skill.

In other words, bilingual participants have a larger size of vocabulary knowledge and they enjoy better word reading skills.

References:
Zohreh Kassaian, Saeedeh Esmae’li (2011). “The Effect of Bilingualism on L3 Breadth of Vocabulary Knowledge and Word Reading Skill”.

 

28. You’ll enjoy other cultures much better

 

Photo by Steven L. Shepard, Presidio of Monterey Public Affairs.

Photo by Steven L. Shepard, Presidio of Monterey Public Affairs.

 

That’s right. By learning a new language you will be able to gain insights into a different culture, access and enjoy the different entertainment, arts, and customs that have developed in different regions over the centuries.

You won’t have to be forced anymore to listen to movies with mediocre dubbing. No more awkward mumbling while singing songs of your favorite Japanese band!

 

29. You will be a more aware spender

 

I must admit that I didn’t expect that language learning can have such a side-effect. But hey!
Would science lie?

Anyway, speakers of multiple languages have also been shown to be more self-aware spenders, perceiving “hypothetical” and “real” money (the perceived difference between money on a credit card and money in cold, hard cash) more similarly than monolinguals.

One of the implications of the study, according to its authors is that “people who routinely make decisions in a foreign language rather than their native tongue might be less biased in their savings, investment, and retirement decisions, as a result of reduced myopic loss aversion.”

References:
Boaz Keysar, Sayuri L. Hayakawa and Sun Gyu An (2012). “The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases”.

 

30. You will increase information exchange and flow of ideas

 

If you think English is enough to get all the information from your area of expertise, think again.

Knowledge of languages improves international information exchange thus contributing to various improvements and developments at a national, regional and local level.

Speaking other foreign languages enables you to tap into the vast ocean of information which was not previously available and to pass it on to others.

 

31. You will increase your global (political) awareness & understanding

 

While studying another language, you not only learn how to communicate in that language, you also get to know a lot about the country, the culture, and the people. As you progress, you begin to better understand and sympathize with the people who speak the language.

Discovering their history, you experience their pain, share their victories. You begin to see the world through their eyes. And then the magic happens –  you create a connection between your own culture and language to theirs and you develop a deeper understanding of your own language and culture.

That often makes you more aware and appreciative of the unique qualities within your own language, people, and culture.

 

32. You will learn other languages faster

 

I know. Learning your first foreign language is always hard. You have no plan.
You have no idea what you’re doing and where you’re going.

However, mastering one language teaches you the mechanics and structure behind any language (ok, maybe except Basque). That makes learning another language much easier!

 

33. It will be easier to find a spouse

 

Loneliness sucks. But thanks to your awesome language skills you might be able to drastically increase your options pool.

You will gain instant access to millions of new people who might be your potential partner.
Even ordinary holidays might turn into a love story!

 

34. You will learn consistency and persistence

 

Achieving conversational skills in a language takes anywhere from 4-12 months.
If you aim at native-like fluency it might take much longer.

The language learning journey is fraught with obstacles. Overcoming these adversities is what boosts your confidence and builds character. Every victory, no matter how small, makes you better equipped to handle future challenges and build consistency and persistence.

 

35. You will improve the chances of college acceptance, achievement, and attainment

 

Photo by Sigurd Decroos

Photo by Sigurd Decroos

The study conducted in 2011 found that students who were in rigorous programs in high school—that included three years of foreign language study—were more likely to get better grades in college and less likely to drop out. (Horn &Kojaku 2001)

Another study showed that high school seniors with two or more years of foreign language study showed significantly improved performance on achievement tests in English when compared with non-foreign language students. (Bastian 1980)

 

36. You will improve basic skills development 

 

A study of 13,200 third and fifth graders in Louisiana public schools showed that, regardless of race, gender or academic level, children taking foreign language classes did better on the English section of the Louisiana Basic Skills Test than those who did not. (Dumas 1999) 

37. It will benefit academic progress 

 

benefits of foreign languages

In Other Subjects According to the 2007 report by the National Council of State Supervisors For Language: 
  • Strong evidence shows that time spent on foreign language study strongly reinforces the core subject areas of reading, English language literacy, social studies, and math.
  • Foreign language learners consistently outperform control groups in core subject areas on standardized tests, often significantly. (Armstrong & Rogers 1997; Saunders 1998; Masciantonio 1977; Rafferty 1986; Andrade 1989; Kretschmer & Kretschmer 1989)
  • One study found students scored significantly higher in math and language arts after one semester of foreign language study 90 minutes per week. (Armstrong 1997)
  • Students who started kindergarten in the first Kansas City foreign language magnet schools in 1988 had surpassed national averages in all subjects by the time they reached fifth grade. These foreign language students performed especially well in mathematics. (Eaton 1994)
  • Foreign language students within an urban magnet program scored well above anticipated national norms in both reading and mathematics and higher than the average of all magnet two school participants, even though they represent a broad cross-section of the local community. (Andrade 1989)
  • Mastering the vocabulary of a second language enhances student comprehension and abilities in reading, writing, mathematics, and other subjects. (Saville-Troike 1984)
  • Bilingualism fosters the development of verbal and spatial abilities. (Diaz 1983)
  • Students learning a second language in elementary school surpassed those who were not in English reading and language arts tests. (Mavrogenes 1979). 

 

38. You will outperform others on IQ tests 

 

Bilinguals outperform similar monolingual persons on both verbal and nonverbal tests of intelligence, which raises the question of whether ability in more than one language enables individuals to achieve greater intellectual flexibility (Bruck, Lambert, and Tucker, 1974; Hakuta, 1986; Weatherford, 1986). 

 

39. You will improve your communication skills and adaptability

 

Constant struggles with expressing your thoughts in the early stages of language learning force you to change your approach to expressing yourself. You adapt and simplify your thoughts to facilitate communication. The unusual side-effect of this process is that you become a more effective communicator! 

 

40. You will learn how to manage time effectively 

 

Most of us have a job, study, family and other stuff to take care of. That’s why learning a language requires some serious time management skills. Students of foreign languages become experts at using time productively. After all, how many other people listen to language podcasts on their way to work or at the gym?

 

41. Second language study benefits understanding and security in the community and society

 

Research suggests that attitudes about other groups and peoples are formed by the age of ten and are often shaped between the ages of four and eight. Learning a language at a young age helps connect a child with another culture while they are still open-minded and have not yet begun to restrict their views of others whom they perceive to be different. (Curtain & Pesola1988)

Source: Foreign Language – Acquisition, Academics and Attitudes

 

42. You will have more business ideas 

 

Using foreign languages in work

Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

 

Many people dream of having their own business. The main problem they usually encounter is deciding on what they should do. There are thousands of companies of different kinds. How can you make sure that yours is special?

The answer is easy – copy, or to be more precise – copy ideas from other countries. It doesn’t matter whether you want to open a restaurant or start a tech business. Start googling in the language of your choice and soon enough you will find lots of ideas you can copy!

 

43. You will be sexier

 

A report commissioned by Michael Thomas, the Hollywood language teacher who has taught celebrities such as Doris Day, Emma Thompson and Woody Allen, highlights some exciting benefits of language learning. According to a report commissioned by Michael Thomas, Britons who learn a foreign language tend to be happier, richer and are considered as sexier than those who can only speak English.

Although the report is about Brits, I would say that it’s a safe bet that language speakers are universally more attractive!

 

44. You will be more intelligent

 

The American Academy of Neurology has conducted research which shows that speaking more than one language increases the number of neural pathways in the brain, allowing information to be processed through a greater variety of channels. They’ve also begun to demonstrate that multilingualism improves development in the brain’s areas of executive function and attention, regardless of learner’s age.

 

45. You will find it easier to learn

 

Embracing foreign language learning increases your global awareness and understanding. This way, not only do you learn how to communicate in that language but also get to know a great deal more about the country, the culture, and the people. This knowledge is invaluable!“Connecting and joining together with people we have never met and are not related to goes to the very soul and core of our being as humans.” Source:  http://www.qlanguage.com.hk/language-learning-increases-global-awareness-understanding/

Learning a new language inspires and encourages you to explore a culture that you have previously only had a slight knowledge of or, worst still, no knowledge of whatsoever. As you progress, you begin to better understand and empathize with the people who speak the language, you learn about their struggles, their history, and even their idiosyncrasies. Simply put, you get a much closer and fascinating insight into what makes them tick!

Moreover, as your empathy and knowledge of their culture grow, something magical begins to happen: you form a connection between your own culture and language to theirs, and you begin to gain a deeper and more profound understanding of your own language and culture. Very often, you become more aware and appreciative of the unique qualities within your own language, people and culture.

“In an age of global interdependence and increasingly multicultural and multiethnic society, early foreign language study gives children unique insight into other cultures and builds their cultural competency skills in a way that no other discipline can do. “The age of ten is a crucial time in the development of attitudes toward nations and groups perceived as ‘other’ according to the research of Piaget, Lambert and others. At age 10, children are in the process of moving from egocentricity to reciprocity and information received before age ten is eagerly received.” (Curtain & Dahlberg 2004)” 
  • “Exposure to a foreign language serves as a means of helping children to intercultural competence. The awareness of a global community can be enhanced when children have the opportunity to experience involvement with another culture through a foreign language.” (Curtain & Dahlberg 2004)
  • “The positive impact of cultural information is significantly enhanced when that information is experienced through the foreign language and accompanied by experiences in culturally authentic situations.” (Curtain & Dahlberg 2004)
  • Experiences in learning a second language and learning another culture will facilitate teachers’ interactions with their students’ learning experience. Competent teachers understand that positive self-concept and positive identification with one’s culture is the basis for academic success. (Lemberger 1990)
  • Foreign language learners are more tolerant of the differences among people. (Carpenter & Torney 1974)

 

49. You will learn how to learn complex skills

 

Many people disregard this fact but learning a language is one of the most challenging skills out there. To acquire native-like abilities in understanding, speaking, reading and writing a language, as well as a knowledge of the culture of those who speak it, could take anything from five years to a lifetime.

To achieve your goal, you need to :

As you see, there are many skills you have to learn to master a language. But there is a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. 
Once you learn how to master a language, it becomes easier to tackle other skills.

50. Language learning gives you a better understanding of the arts

 

Another benefit of learning a foreign language is being able to understand and appreciate the arts of another country at a more profound level. As you learn the language and history of Greece, for example, you begin to understand Spanish music, films, and literature.

Let’s take the literature as an example. Very often, the true meaning of words is lost during the translation. Some things simply cannot be translated. Your native language doesn’t have the same words or phrases as every other language. Learning a language will allow you to truly explore the texts you’re reading.

 

51. It narrows achievement gaps

 

There is a large body of research proving that learning languages can narrow achievement gaps (source: NEA Research, December 2007)

Children of color, children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and English Language Learners make the most significant proportionate achievement gains from foreign language study.

Early foreign language study is less dependent on previous verbal learning than most other elements of the elementary school curriculum, and this allows some students to succeed who have otherwise experienced repeated failure in school. (Curtain & Dahlberg 2004)

  • A study of 13,200 third and fifth graders in Louisiana public schools revealed that, regardless of race, gender or academic level, children taking foreign language classes did better on the English section of the Louisiana Basic Skills Test than those who did not. (Dumas 1999)
  • Foreign language study can help to alter the trajectory for children of average intelligence and narrow the achievement gap. (Garfinkel & Tabor 1991)
  • Cincinnati’s Foreign Language Magnet Program has a student population that is 57% African American and 43% Caucasian, with 52% of the total receiving free and reduced lunch. Achievement for these children far exceeds national norms in both reading and math and participants in the foreign language magnet program on average score higher than the average of all Cincinnati’s many magnet programs. (Andrade, Kretschmer & Kretschmer 1989)
  • In a four year study by McGill University, working-class students did just as well in a foreign language as middle-class students even though their English skills were not as good. (Holobow 1988)

 

52. It makes your traveling more exciting

 

“The limits of your language are the limits of your world” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Knowing only one language (i.e. English) is very helpful – no one can deny it. But it can get you only as far as the most popular tourist attractions and resorts. On the other hand, knowing more than one language opens up your vacation destination possibilities. Speaking the language of a given country allows you to travel freely and get off the beaten path. And no, you don’t have to be fluent.

Most locals appreciate and reward your willingness to communicate in their native tongue. I’m not a much of the traveler myself, but whenever I spoke the language of the country which I was visiting, the reaction was nothing short of heart-warming! I was encouraged and praised for my language skills, even though I made dozens of mistakes.

 

53. You won’t be left behind

 

Many would argue that bilingualism is becoming a progressively necessary and essential skill for anyone who wants to keep up with today’s rapidly increasing global economy. As more and more people recognize the importance of learning an additional language, those who only speak one language will begin to get left behind in our shift towards a more integrated and connected global society.

 

54. Language learning benefits higher-order and abstract thinking

 

Advantages of language

Speaking a different language means that you are constantly confronted with new ways of thinking about the thing you thought you knew.

Mixed metaphors and phrases change the way you think, and benefit abstract and creative thinking since you acquire multi-faceted view on the world.

As your brain works to process a new language, memory, reasoning, and analytical thinking are heightened.

 

55. You will get access to information of higher quality

 

Your information is only as useful as your sources of information. Looking for it in only one language isolates you from thousands of other sources, research results, etc. Very often, they are the ones who offer an interesting angle on the matters of your interest because of cultural differences.

 

56. You will improve your general communication skills

 

The above is true in many ways. The apparent benefit of language learning is that a new language gives you the ability to communicate with different people on more meaningful levels.

The less obvious is that by practicing it, you also hone your communication skills generally. You acquire new perspectives and skills that help you express yourself better and understand others more completely.

Finally, learning a new language makes you think differently about your own, providing clarity, complexity, and a deep understanding of others.

 

57. Your business will become more international

 

75 % of the world doesn’t speak English at all. Do you know what it means for your business? It means that you’re limiting your pool of potential customers. Sure, it might not be the case if you have a small grocery shop. But for others conversing in the client’s language helps to understand his needs.

 

58. You will become better at playing instruments

 

Advantages of knowledge foreign languages

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

Several of the studies reviewed in a 2011 paper by Finnish music and education researcher Riia Milovanov and her colleagues, showed that mastery of more than one language as well as mastery of music involves higher levels of executive control.

These are the mechanisms responsible for the overall management of cognitive resources and processes – including attention shifts, working memory, reasoning, and switching between tasks.

Other studies reviewed in the same article showed that musical training correlates with better language-learning skills. Learners with a musical background were found to be better at pronouncing the sounds of a second language and at perceiving the relevant contrasts between sounds in that new language.

 

59. Your brain connectivity will increase

 

Learning and practicing something, for instance, a second language, strengthens the brain,” said Ping Li, professor of psychology, linguistics and information sciences and technology. “Like physical exercise, the more you use specific areas of your brain, the more it grows and gets stronger.”

Li and colleagues studied 39 native English speakers’ brains over a six-week period as half of the participants learned Chinese vocabulary. Of the subjects learning the new vocabulary, those who were more successful in attaining the information showed a more connected brain network than both the less successful participants and those who did not learn the new vocabulary.

The researchers also found that the participants who were successful learners had a more connected network than the other participants even before learning took place. A better-integrated brain network is more flexible and efficient, making the task of learning a new language easier. Li and colleagues report their results in a recent article published in the Journal of Neurolinguistics.

The researchers defined the efficiency of brain networks in terms of the strength and direction of connections, or edges, between brain regions of interest, or nodes. The stronger the edges going from one node to the next, the faster the nodes can work together, and the more efficient the network.

Participants each underwent two fMRI scans — one before the experiment began and one after — in order for the researchers to track neural changes. At the end of the study period, the researchers found that the brains of the successful learners had undergone functional changes — the brain network was better integrated.

 

Such changes, Li and colleagues suggested while reviewing several related studies, are consistent with anatomical changes that can occur in the brain as a result of learning a second language, no matter the age of the learner, as they reported in a recent issue of Cortex.

 

“A very interesting finding is that, contrary to previous studies, the brain is much more plastic than we thought,” said Li, also co-chair of the interdisciplinary graduate degree program in neuroscience. “We can still see anatomical changes in the brain [in the elderly], which is very encouraging news for aging. And learning a new language can help lead to more graceful aging.”

Meanwhile, Li and colleagues have begun working on interactive ways to teach language using virtual 3-D-like environments with situation-based learning to help the brain make some of those new connections more effectively. Such studies hold the promise that the process of learning a second language as an adult can, in fact, lead to both behavioral and physical changes that may approximate the patterns of learning a language as a child.

Source: News.psu.edu

 

60. You will make better decisions

 

Another study from 2017 hinted that foreign-language speakers turned out to be less averse to violating the taboos that can interfere with making utility-maximizing choices. As a consequence, they can make better decisions.

Source: ScienceDaily (2017)

 

61. It will help you maintain your knowledge

 

Learning a language is always a challenge. It takes sweat and tears.
But amazing things happen once you achieve at least communicative fluency.
At that point, you can relax and use your language skills to acquire new knowledge effortlessly.

For example, I spend at least 2-3 hours per day learning medicine in English, German, and Spanish.

This way, I can improve my language and general knowledge at the same time.

 

62. You will have a wider perspective and more options

 

Another great news for language learners is having more opportunities to find a job and develop professionally.

A wider perspective and more options is based on in-depth interviews with humanities graduates from the 1970s onwards and captures something of the diversity of career paths followed by graduates in so-called ‘non-vocational’ disciplines.

References: 2006 report by the Higher Education Academies

 

63. It will help you to avoid “cognitive traps”

 

cognitive traps

Photo by Freddie Sze on Unsplash

The research from 2014 shows that simple mistakes in spelling or comprehension that our brains tend to make when taking linguistic shortcuts (such as how you can easily read “tihs senetcne taht is trerilby msispleld”), are easier to avoid for multilinguals.

Reference: Albert Costaa, Alice Foucart, Inbal Arnon, Melina Aparici, Jose Apesteguia; “Piensa” twice: On the foreign language effect in decision making (2014)

 

64. You will see and experience more

 

Another benefit of language learning is having a chance to experience the world in a much richer way.

 

“Thierry et al. studied how having different words for different colors in one language might affect the perception of that color as compared to a language that does not discriminate between those colors. In Greek, “light blue” is distinguished from “blue”, not simply as a different shade but as a whole different category of color. In this study, bilingual and monolingual Greek/English participants were shown different shades of blue and light blue as well as green and light green (for which a distinction is not made in Greek) and ERPs were recorded. Electrophysiological measures showed a distinct pattern for the bilinguals indicating that they were perceiving the two colors as completely separate.”

 

Another study confirmed that learning a language influences the perception of color as well as the categorization of objects.

This phenomenon is also evident in Japanese. The language has basic terms for light and dark blue, which may help you perceive the color in different ways (Athanasopoulos et al., 2010).

 

65. It will change the way you think financially

 

Language has also been shown to change the way people think financially. A study covered by Jessica Gross on the famous TED.com found that “Futureless language speakers are 30 percent more likely to report having saved in any given year than future language speakers” (Chen) because their language was tailored to the present.

Knowing more languages can help you in the long run economically, as you will have more ways of thinking about the same things. So, in the long run, learning, a second language is an investment in your future.

 

66. It will encourage you to engage in a critical dialogue with yourself

 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lonely cowboy roaming the language wasteland or you learn in a group. Language learning encourages the development of self-management skills.

An essential part of these skills is engaging in a critical dialogue with yourself by continually questioning whatever you’re currently doing. Not a day goes by without asking yourself the following questions.

 

Am I using this word correctly?

Should I use this or that grammatical construction?

Does X sound natural?

Etc.

 

Reference: Honeybone, A., Brossier, V. (2000) ‘The University of Hertfordshire environmental French program’ in King, A. (ed) Languages and the Transfer of Skills (London: CILT), pp. 102-109

 

67. It will teach you patience and increase your  determination

 

Have you ever heard of delayed gratification? If yes – congratulations, if not, please allow me to quote the omnipotent Wiki:

 

Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later.[1] A growing body of literature has linked the ability to delay gratification to a host of other positive outcomes, including academic success, physical health, psychological health, and social competence.” Source: Wikipedia

 

So what does it have to do with languages, huh? Language learning is the pinnacle of delayed gratification. Maybe with the exception of the beginning of this process.

So what does it have to do with languages, huh? Language learning is the pinnacle of delayed gratification. Maybe except the beginning of this process.

You see, initially, the language gains are massive. You seem unstoppable and find great joy in learning. However, after some time, most learners hit the language learning plateau.

Gains are not that significant anymore. You can learn for many weeks and still have doubts about whether you make any progress. This trial by fire teaches you patience, humility, and determination. This is the skill which many learners transplant into other areas of their life like improving their health, learning how to play an instrument,m, etc.

Read more about how to overcome a language learning plateau.

 

68. It can teach you teamwork

 

Better memory

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

Many language courses involve working in groups and making formal presentations in front of an audience. It’s just the sort of teamwork and presentational skills which employers tell us they are looking for.

By carrying out such tasks, language learners ae in reasoning clearly and in presenting focused arguments.

The mention of such courses in your CV might be a welcome addition for many employers.re trained to think structurally.

Reference: King, A., Thomas, G. (1999) The Guide to Languages and Careers (London: CILT)

 

69. You will improve your ability to formulate problems

 

I have already mentioned that one of the benefits of language learning is being able to tackle complex issues. A side effect of this skill is being able to formulate problems clearly. After all, you can’t solve anything if you don’t know what stands in your way.

Reference: Centre for languages, linguistics & area studies

 

70. It will raise your aspirations

 

Ordinary people are often perplexed why serious language learners devote so much time to their passion, “What’s in it for them”? “Why do they have to be so weird?!”.

The truth is that most language learners start small. They want to learn one language for the sake of work/relationship, etc. However, once they get the taste of success, they want more. So they learn another language and then yet another one! The party never ends. Let’s be honest. For most of us, the first language is just the beginning.

 

Pictures and Images in Flashcards – Are They Even Useful?

Have you noticed a trend that has been going on for quite many years now? Almost every app out there seems to be using pictures. It's been touted as a magical cure for your inability to learn.

But is it really the case or maybe it's another thinly veiled attempt to talk you into buying a premium version of some crappy app?

Unfortunately, it seems to be the latter. Yes, learning with pictures has its benefits, but they are relatively tiny compared to the effort and other potential strategies you might use.

Let's investigate step by step why it's so!


Potential benefits of learning with pictures


One picture is worth 1000 words, as the saying goes, and I am pretty sure that every child who ever wandered into their parent's bedroom in the middle of the night can attest to this. But what's important to you, as a learner, is how many benefits can learning with pictures offer you. After all, you wouldn't want to waste too much time adding them to your flashcards if they are useless.


The Picture Superiority Effect (i.e. you remember pictures better)


Pictures and images in your flashcards - are they even useful?


If we want to discuss advantages of using pictures, we much touch upon the picture superiority effect. This is a go-to argument of many proponents of this approach to learning.

The picture superiority effect refers to the phenomenon in which pictures and images are more likely to be remembered than words.

It's not anything debatable- the effect has been reproduced in a variety of experiments using different methodologies. However, the thing that many experts seem to miss is the following excerpt:

pictures and images are more likely to be remembered than words.

It just means we are great at recognizing pictures and images. It has its advantages but it's not should be confused with being able to effortlessly memorize vocabulary.

Let's quickly go through some studies to show you how amazingly well we can recognize pictures.


Power of recognition memory (i.e. you're good at recognizing pictures)


In one of the most widely-cited studies on recognition memory. Standing showed participants an epic 10,000 photographs over the course of 5 days, with 5 seconds’ exposure per image. He then tested their familiarity, essentially as described above.

The participants showed an 83% success rate, suggesting that they had become familiar with about 6,600 images during their ordeal. Other volunteers, trained on a smaller collection of 1,000 images selected for vividness, had a 94% success rate.

But even greater feats have been reported in earlier times. Peter of Ravenna and Francesco Panigarola, Italian memory teachers from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, respectively, were each said to have retained over 100,000 images for use in recalling enormous amounts of information. - Robert Madigan - How Memory Works and How To Make it Work For You

Now that we have established that we're pretty good at recognizing images, let's try to see if pairing words with pictures offers more benefits.


Boosting your recall

 

Another amazing benefit of using pictures as a part of your learning strategy is improving your recall. This process occurs in the following way:

During memory recall, neurons in the hippocampus began to fire strongly. This was also the case during a control condition in which participants only had to remember scene images without the objects. Importantly, however, hippocampal ativity lasted much longer when participants also had to remember the associated object (the raspberry or scorpion image). Additionally, neurons in the entorhinal cortex began to fire in parallel to the hippocampus.

The pattern of activation in the entorhinal cortex during successful recall strongly resembled the pattern of activation during the initial learning of the objects," explains Dr. Bernhard Staresina from the University of Birmingham." - The brain's auto-complete function, New insights into associative memory

It's worth pointing out that even the evidence for improved recall is limited and usually concerns abstract words and idiomatic expressions.

Farley et al. (2012) examined if the meaning recall of words improved in the presence of imagery, and found that only the meaning recall of abstract words improved, while that of concrete nouns did not. A possible interpretation of this finding is that, in the case of concrete nouns, most learners can naturally produce visual images in their mind and use them to remember the words.

Therefore, the Vocabulary Learning and Instruction, 6 (1), 21–31. 26 Ishii:

The Impact of Semantic Clustering additional visual images in the learning material do not affect the learning outcome, since they are already present in their mind. However, in the case of abstract nouns, since it is often difficult for learners to create images independently, the presentation of imagery helps them retain the meaning of the words they are trying to learn.


Jennifer Aniston neurons

 

Jennifer Aniston neurons


It seems that this improved recall is caused by creating immediate associations between words and pictures when they are presented together.

The scientists showed patients images of a person in a context e.g. Jennifer Aniston at the Eiffel Tower, Clint Eastwood in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Halle Berry at the Sidney Opera House or Tiger Woods at the White House. They found that the neuron that formerly fired for a single image e.g. Jennifer Aniston or Halle Berry, now also fired for the associated image too i.e. the Eiffel Tower or Sidney Opera House.

"The remarkable result was that the neurons changed their firing properties at the exact moment the subjects formed the new memories – the neuron initially firing to Jennifer Aniston started firing to the Eiffel Tower at the time the subject started remembering this association,” said Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, head of the Centre for Systems Neuroscience at the University of Leicester." - Researchers Make a “Spectacular Discovery” About Memory Formation and Learning 

To sum it up, we know that:
  • we're great at remembering pictures
  • we're great at recognizing pictures
  • we're great at recalling pictures 

Let me make it clear - these benefits are undeniable, and they have their use in the learning process. However, the real question is - how effective are pictures at helping you memorize and recall vocabulary!


How effective are pictures at helping you memorize and recall vocabulary

 

Before I move on to the science, let's start with my personal experiments. Contrary to a lot of "language experts" online, I rarely believe anything I read unless I see lots of quality scientific support for some specific claims. And believe me, it's not easy. Most of scientific studies are flawed on so many different levels that they shouldn't be written at all.

Once I have gathered enough evidence, I start running long-term statistical experiments in order to see what benefits a given approach brings to the table.

Read more about experimenting: Fail Fast and Fail Epicly – The Best Way Of Learning Languages

What's the answer in that case? Not that much. Most of the time you will be able to just remember a picture very well. Possibly, if the picture represents accurately a meaning of a given word, you might find it easier to recall the said meaning. Based on my experiments I can say that the overall benefit of using pictures in learning is not big and amounts to less than 5-10%.


Effect of pairing words and pictures on memory

 

Boers, Lindstromberg, Littlemore, Stengers, and Eyckmans (2008) and Boers, Piquer Píriz, Stengers, and Eyckmans (2009) investigated the effect of pictorial elucidation when learning new idiomatic expressions.

The studies revealed that learners retain the meanings of newly learned idiomatic items better when they are presented with visual images. Though there was no impact for the word forms, such presentations at least improved the learning of word meanings.

In other words, using pictures can improve your understanding of what a word, or an idiom, means.

One of the problems I have with most memory-related studies is that scientists blatantly ignore the fact that familiarity with words might heavily skew the final results. For that reason, I really love the following paper from 2017.

Participants (36 English-speaking adults) learned 27 pseudowords, which were paired with 27 unfamiliar pictures. They were given cued recall practice for 9 of the words, reproduction practice for another set of 9 words, and the remaining 9 words were restudied. Participants were tested on their recognition (3-alternative forced choice) and recall (saying the pseudoword in response to a picture) of these items immediately after training, and a week after training. Our hypotheses were that reproduction and restudy practice would lead to better learning immediately after training, but that cued recall practice would lead to better retention in the long term.

In all three conditions, recognition performance was extremely high immediately after training, and a week following training, indicating that participants had acquired associations between the novel pictures and novel words. In addition, recognition and cued recall performance was better immediately after training relative to a week later, confirming that participants forgot some words over time. However, results in the cued recall task did not support our hypotheses. Immediately after training, participants showed an advantage for cued Recall over the Restudy condition, but not over the Reproduce condition. Furthermore, there was no boost for the cued Recall condition over time relative to the other two conditions. Results from a Bayesian analysis also supported this null finding. Nonetheless, we found a clear effect of word length, with shorter words being better learned than longer words, indicating that our method was sufficiently sensitive to detect an impact of condition on learning. - The effect of recall, reproduction, and restudy on word learning: a pre-registered study

As you can see, conclusions are not that optimistic and almost fully coincide with my own experiments. That's why I would suggest you don't add pictures to every flashcard. It's too time-consuming compared to benefits. However, if you really enjoy learning this way, I will suggest to you in a second a better way to utilize pictures.


Test it for yourself!

 

I know that the above could be a bit of a buzz-kill for any die-hard fan of all those flashy flashcard apps and what not. But the thing is, you should never just trust someone's opinion without verifying it. 

Run your own experiment. See how well you retain those pictures and if it really makes a difference result-wise compared to the invested time. Our time on this pancake earth is limited. No need to waste any of it using ineffective learning methods.

It doesn't take much time and it will be worth more than anyone's opinion. If you decide to go for it, make sure to run it for at least 2-3 months to truly verify of pictures offer a long-term memory boost.


How to use picture more effectively in your learning


Use picture more effectively in your learning


Since my initial results with this method weren’t very satisfying I decided to step it up and tried to check how different kind of pictures affect my recall. What’s more, I also verified how using the same picture in many flashcards affects my learning.


What kind of pictures did I use?

I concentrated on pictures which are emotionally salient. I tried everything starting from gore pictures to porn pictures. The results, especially with the latter, weren’t very good. I was sitting there like a horny idiot and couldn’t concentrate even one bit on any of the words. It’s like having a sexy teacher in high school. You can’t wait till you get to your classes but once you do, you don’t hear any words.

Funny enough, I remember most of the pictures, but now words, from this experiment to this day which only further proves to me that your typical approach won’t work here.


So what kind of pictures did work?

Pictures from my personal collection. I found out that if I use one picture in a lot of flashcards where every flashcard concentrates on one word, I am able to recall words extremely easily. In addition, my retention rate has also been improved, although not as significantly as my ability to retrieve words.


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

If you want to use pictures in your language studies, don’t waste time trying to find a new picture for every word. Choose one picture and use it multiple times in different flashcards. Each time try to memorize a different word.

What's more, if it's only possible, try to stick to pics from your personal collection - a weekend at your grandma's, uncle Jim getting sloshed at your wedding. You know, good stuff!


Summary


Pictures are a definitely a nice addition to your learning toolkit. However, in order to be able to use them effectively you need to understand that they won't help you much with memorizing words. The best thing they can offer is a slight boost in remembering words and significantly improved recall for pictures. That's why don't waste your time trying to paste a picture into every flashcard. Benefits will be minuscule compared to your effort.

If you really want to get the biggest bang for your buck learning-wise, try to use one picture to memorize many words. That's a great way of mimicking the way we originally started acquiring vocabulary. And it's not very time-consuming.

Once you try this method, let me know how it worked for you!

What are your thoughts on using pictures in flashcards? Let me know in the comments!


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 9 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.

 



The Rule of 2 – How Many Words You Should Know (For Every Language Level)

How Many Words You Should Know

 

I love words. They are like tiny, beautiful puzzle pieces. Choose the right ones, and you can assemble beautiful and meaningful sentences. Sentences that convey your thoughts with surgical precision. Choose the wrong ones, and you will get a stinky bag of confusion.

 

But there is a lot of confusion around how large your vocabulary should be for each level. I have heard dozens of different versions. That’s why I decided to come up with an easy rule on how to remember how many words you should know at every language level.

 

The Rule of 2 – How Many Words You Should Know for Every Language Level

 

 

But first things first. If you have no idea what a language level is, refer to the Common European Framework of Reference for Language Learning.

Now back to the rule! It is as simple it gets — the number of words needed to advance to every level doubles.

How Many Words You Should Know (for Every Language Level)

Language Level Number of Base Words Needed
A1 500
A2 1000
B1 2000
B2 4000
C1 8000
C2 16000

 

Add or deduct up to 20% of the given values. This way, you will get the approximate range for each language level.

 

Why up to 20%? Because words you choose to learn matter that much! If you were to concentrate on words from the frequency list, you would definitely have to deduct 20% on higher levels (B1-C2). However, if you, for some reason, started learning names of trees or birds, you would have to add 20% to the said levels.

What Is a Word?

 

It needs some clarification since this term has changed its meaning in Linguistics in the last few decades. In the past, “a base word” was the base word itself and all its inflected forms. For example, “tough,” “toughen,” and “toughness” used to be treated as 3 words.

 

Nowadays, “a base word” indicates “the word family” and consists of the base word and its inflected forms and derivations.

 

According to a renowned linguistic researcher Paul Nation, if you use the 1.6 factor to base words, you should get (more or less) the number of “separate” words (i.e., inflected words).

 

“Why Do I Need to Know How Many Words You Should Know for Every Language Level?”

 

 

A fair question, I guess. It’s not a fun fact which you can rub in somebody’s face. There are two good reasons:

Vocabulary size is a good indicator of your current level

The number of words you know is one of the most reliable indicators of your language level. If you track the size of your vocabulary, you should be able to tell (more or less) what level you’re on. Assuming, of course, that you learn the right words. Memorizing the names of plants won’t get you far!

 

Vocabulary size can be your milestone

Not knowing where you are heading can be frightening. It’s like straying in the fog. You don’t know what lies around the corner. Knowing your goal can give you a sense of direction. Even if you fall,  it will be on a pile of cushions, not the sharp rocks.

 

How Many Words You Should Know for Every Language Level – Milestones

 

 

How Many Words You Should Know

Photo by: John Spooner

 

There are 4 most important vocabulary milestones in language learning. They are a great way to establish what your current language level is and how big a distance you have to cover to get to the next one.

Just in case you wonder – the following rules stand roughly true for most of the languages. Be it Asian or European. But since languages tend to differ from each other quite a bit, please take it with a grain of salt and use these calculations only as a landmark.

 

1000 words

1000 words allow you to understand about 80% of the language which surrounds you, as long as it is not too specialized (Hwang, 1989; Hirsh and Nation, 1992; Sutarsyah, Nation and Kennedy, 1994)

In theory, it sounds great. JUST 1000 words, and you understand that much! Unfortunately, the remaining 20% is what really matters. Just look at this sentence:

“I went to the … to buy …. but they told me that they couldn’t… .’ Sure, you understand a lot of words. But does it help?

 

3000 words

3000 words allow you to understand about 95% of most ordinary texts (Hazenberg and Hulstijn, 1996).

It seems like a lot. Sure, on this level, you will be able to hold a decent conversation. You will also be able to get the general ideas and concepts of most of the articles.

BUT…general comprehension is not the same as full comprehension, as it involves some guessing.

Still, there is no shortage of enthusiasts who claim that such level is high enough to start picking up new words from context. However, researchers tend to disagree and say that the “magical” number of words which allows learning from the context is….(drum roll)

 

5000 words

5000 words allow you to understand about 98% of most ordinary texts (Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)). Such a vocabulary size also warrants accurate contextual guessing (Coady et al., 1993; Hirsh & Nation, 1992; Laufer, 1997).

It means that you can function surrounded by this language without bigger problems. Sure, you will struggle if you want to formulate your thoughts precisely, or when you encounter specialized vocabulary.

But other than that, you will be fine.

 

10000 words

10000 words allow you to understand about 99% of most texts (Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)). It is the pinnacle of language learning — a counterpart to having the vocabulary of a college graduate.

With that many words, you can express yourself with fantastic precision and pass for a native speaker if your accent is good enough. It is the minimum goal for every language I learn. It makes me feel like a citizen of a given country.

 

If you want to download frequency lists for your target language, visit this website.

 

How Many Words You Should Know for Every Language Level – Summary

 

 

Knowing how many words you need to know to get to the C1 level gives you some perspective on how much effort it takes to achieve this monstrous goal.

I’m writing this because many of us get depressed after seeing dozens of videos on YT of people speaking or claiming to speak 10 or 20 languages.

But the truth is that there is a yawning gap between being good and being great at a language (or anything else for that matter).

 

Any person who has truly mastered a language (i.e., achieved C1/ C2 level) could have learnt 2-4 languages to B2 level or 4-8 languages to A2 level in that time

 

Remember it the next time gloomy thoughts start creeping up on you, my friend.

 

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 about 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.

 

 

The Goldlist Method – A Scientific Critique And Why It’s a Waste of Time

Choosing the right learning methods has always been one of the most daunting tasks for most language learners. No wonder. Around every corner, you can find yet another popular learning strategy.

But how do you know it’s effective? Is it actually based on any real science?

Most people can offer you just their opinions. I am here to show you step-by-step what are the biggest flaws of various language learning methods. In other words, I am going to scrutinize them and show you what their authors don’t know or don’t want to reveal.

The first position on the menu today is the Goldlist method.

Before I start, it’s worth mentioning that this article is not meant to offend the author of the Goldlist method nor disparage anyone who is using it but to show one simple fact – it’s extremely easy to come up with a method but it doesn’t mean it’s effective memory-wise.

The Goldlist Method – What Is It All About?

 

Unless you are into experimenting with various learning methods, you may not have heard of the Goldlist Method. For that reason, I will try to outline what’s all about so we are on the same page.

First of all, here is a great video that sums up what this method is all about.

 

If you are old-fashioned, here is a description of how it works.

 

  • Get a large (A4 size) notebook. This is going to be your “bronze” book.
  • Prepare the materials (i.e. words) you’re interested in. The items you choose will go into your “head list”.
  • Open your book and write the first twenty-five words or phrases down, one below the other, on the left-hand side of the individual page. Include any integral information such as gender or plural forms of nouns or irregular aspects of a verb’s conjugation. The list shouldn’t take you more than twenty minutes to do.
  • When the list is ready, read through it out loud, mindfully but without straining to remember.
  • When you start the next piece of the head list, number it 26-50, then 51-75 and so on.
  • The first distillation – after at least two weeks open your notebook and cast your eye towards your first list of 1 to 25 (or, 26 to 50, or 9,975 to 10,000) depending on which double spread you’re at. The “two weeks plus” pause is important. It’s intended to allow any short-term memories of the information to fade completely so that you can be sure that things you think you’ve got into the long-term memory really are in there. Make sure, then, that you date each set of twenty-five head list items (something I haven’t done in my illustrative photos for this article).

David James says that there is no upper limit to the gap between reviews, though suggests a maximum of two months, simply to keep up momentum.

 

  • Discard eight items, and carry the remaining seventeen into a new list, This will be your first “distillation”.
  • Repeat the process for the second and third distillations (the third and fourth list on your double spread). The interval should be at least 2 weeks.
  • For the fourth distillation, you start a new book, your “silver” book.
  • The “gold” notebook works the same way, the hardcore items from the “silver” notebook’s seventh distillation are carried over to the “gold” for new head list of twenty-five lines (distillation number eight) and distillations nine (17 or so lines), ten (twelve or so) and eleven (nine or so).

 

How to Use the Goldlist Method – Summary

 

  • Grab a notebook and write there 25 words which interest you.
  • After at least 2 weeks check if you remember them and discard 30% of all the words. The rest of the words becomes a part of the second “distillation”
  • Keep on repeating the same process over and over again. The only thing that changes is that the older “distillations” get rewritten to other notebooks.

 

The Goldlist Method – Claims

 

The Goldlist Method

Photo by Bookblock on Unsplash

 

The author of the Goldlist method maintains that:

  1. The method allows you to retain up to thirty percent of the words in your long-term memory.
  2. It is also claimed that the process circumvents your short-term memory – you are expected to make no conscious effort to remember words. Thanks to this the information will be retained in your long-term memory.

 

The Goldlist Method – A Scientific Critique

 

1. The Goldlist Method doesn’t circumvent short-term memory

One of the big claims of the Goldlist method is that it is able to circumvent your short-term memory. Somehow, thanks to it, you are able to place all the information straight in your long-term memory.

Is it possible? Not really. I have noticed that 99% of claims of this kind come from people who have never had much to do with the science of memory. That’s why let’s go briefly through what is required to “remember”.

According to the author of the Goldlist method, David James:

 

” [[ … ]] we are alternating in and out of these two systems the whole time, we switch ourselves into short-term mode by thinking about memorising and switch out of it by forgetting about memorising.”

 

Unfortunately, this is a bunch of hooey. This is what the actual science has to say about memorization.

 

The working memory consolidation

In order to memorize a piece of information, you have to store it in your short-term memory.

This process is initiated by allocating your attention to the stimuli you want to remember.

In other words, initiation of consolidation is under conscious control and requires the use of central attention. The mere fact of looking at a piece of paper and reading/writing words activates it.

Any stimuli that capture attention because of their intrinsic emotional salience appear to be consolidated into memory even when there is no task requirement to do so.

Next, the items you learn undergo working memory consolidation.

Working memory consolidation refers to the: transformation of transient sensory input into a stable memory representation that can be manipulated and recalled after a delay.

Contrary to what the creator of the Goldlist method believes, after this process is complete, be it 2 weeks or more, the short-term memories are not gone. They are simply not easily accessible.

Our brains make two copies of each memory in the moment they are formed. One is filed away in the hippocampus, the center of short-term memories, while the other is stored in cortex, where our long-term memories reside.

You probably have experienced this phenomenon yourself many times. You learned something in the past. Then, after some years, you took it up again and were able to regain your ability relatively quickly. It was possible because your memories were still there. They just became “neuronally disconnected” and thus inaccessible.

 

The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve

There is one more proof that shows clearly that the method doesn’t circumvent short-term memory. The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve shows us how fast the incoherent information is forgotten.

What we mean by incoherent is that this is not the information which you can associate with your background knowledge.

This is very often the case when you learn a new language or when you’re at a lower intermediate level.

 

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

 

What’s more, the Ebbinghaus curve’s numbers are based on the assumption that the learned material :

  • means nothing to you
  • has no relevance to your life
  • has no emotional load and meaning for you

On the curve, you can see that if you memorize information now and try to recall after 14 days, you will be able to retrieve about 21-23% of the previously memorized knowledge. Mind you that this is the knowledge that is incoherent, bears no emotional load and means nothing to you.

What happens when you start manually writing down words which interest you or when you are able to establish some connection between them and your life? Well, this number can definitely go up.

 

Keep in mind that your recall rate will also be affected by:

  • frequency of occurrence
  • prior vocabulary knowledge
  • cognateness.

Advanced language learners can get away with more

Since most advanced language learners have a benefit of possessing broader linguistic background knowledge, they can get away with using subpar learning strategies. Their long-term memory modulates short-term memory and thus decreases the overall cognitive load.

 

Is there anything nothing magical about the Goldlist method and the number “30”?

Nope. It follows very precisely the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve which takes into account your short-term memory. Sometimes this number will be higher, sometimes it will be lower depending on your choice of words.

You can check it yourself how low this number can get. Simply choose a language that is from a different linguistic family than the ones you already know. Track your progress and see how this number inevitably goes down.

 

The Goldlist Method is just a spaced repetition method with bigger intervals. That makes it less effective than most spaced repetition program right off the bat.

 

2. The Goldlist Method is impractical and time-consuming

 

Relatively high activation energy and time-consuming

One of the most important concepts in productivity is the activation energy.

The activation energy is the amount of energy needed to start conducting a given activity.

Even though the Goldlist Method has initially the low activation energy, it starts growing considerably with each and every distillation. Having to carry with you a couple of A4 notebooks seems also very impractical to me.

 

Limited usefulness vocabulary-wise

However, the biggest problem I have with this method in this department is that it suggests I only learn words I am interested in. There are hundreds of situations where one has to learn words that they are not interested in.

 

Good learning methods should work for any kind of vocabulary.s

 

And they should work particularly well for the vocabulary you’re interested in.

 

3. The Goldlist Method is inflexible

The Goldlist Method - A Scientific Critique

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

 

This is one of the methods which collapse under their own weight i.e. it’s inflexible. The Goldlist method suggests that you learn vocabulary in 25-word batches.

If I need to master a language quickly and I want to learn at least 40-50 words per day? After 10 days I will be forced to go through 20 distillations. After one month this number will start hitting insane heights. More and more of my attention will be required to keep up with all the reviews. This seems very off-putting.

Another important quality of effective learning methods is that they should automate the learning process. The method which necessitates more and more conscious decisions on your part the more you want to learn simply doesn’t fit the bill.

 

4. Lack of context

The enormous red flag for any language learning method is the exclusion of context from the learning process.

 

Simply repeating information in a mindless manner is called passive rehearsal. Many years ago it was actually proven that passive rehearsal has little effect on whether or not information is later recalled from the long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973).

 

This is just the first problem with the lack of context.

The other one is that almost all the knowledge you possess is activated contextually. If there is no context, it will be extremely difficult for you to retrieve a word when you need it.

 

In other words – you will remember the information but you will have a hard time using it in a conversation.

 

As a result, soon enough you will forget a word because there will be no network of other information holding it in your head.

 

5. The Goldlist Method is detached from reality

The problem with the Goldlist Method is encapsulated in a famous adage used by Marines:

‘Train as you fight, fight as you train’

I can’t stress enough how important these words are.

Always try to train for reality in a manner that mimics the unpredictability and conditions of real life. Anything else than that is simply a filler. A waste of time. It gives you this warm feeling inside, “I have done my job for today”, but it doesn’t deliver results.

Tell me, is rewriting words from one notebook to another actually close to using your target language?

 

6. Lack of retention intention

Another elementary mistake that we tend to make way too often when we fail to retain a word is actually not trying at all to memorize something.

 

You see, everything starts with a retention intention.

 

This fact is even reflected in the simplified model of acquiring information:

  1. Retention intention
  2. Encoding
  3. Storage
  4. Retrieval

 

A retention intention sets the stage for good remembering. It is a conscious commitment to acquire a memory and a plan for holding on to it. As soon as you commit to a memory goal, attention locks on to what you want to remember.

 

This is how attention works—it serves the goal of the moment. And the stronger the motivation for the goal, the more laserlike attention becomes and the greater its memory benefits.

 

In other words, you can watch as many TV series and read as many books as you like. It will still have almost zero effect if you don’t try to memorize the things you don’t know. The same goes for the Goldlist method.

A key feature of a retention intention is the plan for holding on to the material. It might be as simple as rehearsing the memory, or it might involve one of the memory strategies described later. Whatever the plan, when you are clear about how you intend to retain the material, it is more likely you will actually carry out the plan, and this can make all the difference between a weak and strong memory.

 

7. Lack of encoding

Take a peek once again at the simplified model of acquiring information.

  1. Retention intention
  2. Encoding
  3. Storage
  4. Retrieval

What you can see is that the second most important part of the process of memorization is encoding.

Encoding is any attempt to manipulate the information you are trying to memorize in order to remember it better.

Shallow and deep encoding.

Encoding can be further divided into shallow and deep encoding.

In the world of language learning, deep encoding is nothing more than creating sentences with the words you intend to memorize. In other words, it’s creating contexts for the items you want to learn.

Shadow encoding encompasses almost everything else. Counting vowels, writing down the said items and so on.

Deep encoding is the fastest and the most certain way of memorizing information and maximizing your chances of retrieving it.

If you skip encoding, like the GoldList method does, you immediately revert to mindless repetitions of words (i.e. passive rehearsal).

And we all know how it ends.

Mindless repetition of words has almost zero effect on your learning. If you want to increase your chances of memorizing them permanently you need to use the new words actively in a task (Laufer & Hulstijn (2001:14).

To be honest, I could add some more mistakes which this method perpetuates. However, I think enough is enough – I think I have pointed out all the most glaring ones.

 

Read more about factors affecting word difficulty i.e., what kills your learning progress.

The Goldlist Method – Potential Advantages

 

The Goldlist Method - A Scientific Critique

 

There are two things I like about the Goldlist method

  1. It gives you a system which you can follow. This is certainly the foundation of any effective learning.
  2. It jogs your motor memory by making you write words.

That’s it.

The Goldlist Method – Suggested Modifications

 

The Goldlist method is too flawed to fix it in a considerable manner but let me offer you this suggestion.

Instead of rewriting words, start building sentences with them for every distillation.

This way you will incorporate some deep encoding into your learning process. You should see the difference progress-wise almost immediately.

The Goldlist Method – The Overall Assessment

 

There is no point in beating around the bush  – this is one of the worst learning methods I have ever encountered. It violates almost every major memory principle. If you were contemplating using it – just don’t.

If you have nothing against using apps and programs to learn, I would suggest you start your language learning journey with ANKI.

Here are two case studies which will show you how to do it

The Goldlist Method – Summary

The Goldlist method is one of the best examples of something I have been saying for years – anyone can come up with a learning method. Sometimes it’s enough to sprinkle it with some scientific half-truths to convince thousands of people to try it.

My opinion is this – you’re much better off using many other methods. This is one of the few which seems to be violating almost all known memory principles.

 

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 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.

 

 

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