Effective Listening Skills – A Weird Fact About How We Process Foreign Languages

How often have you wondered how the brain processes sound? After all, that is what contributes to effective listening skills. Not that often. I guess. Why would you?

I know I didn’t.

At least, until I have stumbled across the research of Dr. Emili Balaguer-Ballester and her colleague Andrew Rupp of Heidelberg from Bournemouth University’s (BU). Their goal was to answer the following question…

What Affects How We Hear?

 

Do we hear sounds as they are, or do our expectations about what we are going to hear instantaneously shape the way sound is processed?

Through the use of computational neuroscience models, Dr. Balaguer-Ballester and his team intend to map the way that the brain processes sound. Here is the most interesting conclusion they have come to:

“Almost 80% of connections between central and pre-cortical areas during sound processing seem to be top-down i.e. from the brain to the auditory peripheral system and not bottom-up, which is perhaps unexpected,” he explains. “As sound comes from an external stimulus, it would be fair to assume that most of our processing occurs from what we hear, but that is apparently not the case. What your brain expects to hear can be as important as the sound itself.” – Dr Balaguer-Ballester

This is backed up by the fact that it takes hundreds of milliseconds for sound to be processed along the neurons from the ear to the brain, which does not explain how we can immediately recognize the sex of a speaker or identifying a melody after just a few milliseconds

More information: “Understanding Pitch Perception as a Hierarchical Process with Top-Down Modulation.” PLoS Comput Biol 5(3): e1000301 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000301

Does Your Mind Play Tricks On You?

 

 

Actually, it’s quite likely that you have already fallen victim to this phenomenon! It has happened to me dozens of time. Especially after a longer session of speaking some foreign language. I’m sure you KNOW the feeling!

Your brain switches into the “X language” mode. Suddenly, you hear some voices outside the window. Why the hell are they speaking Swedish?!!! Especially in Poland?! And why can’t I understand what they are talking about? What kind of dialect is it?!

Oh, wait. It’s not Swedish. It’s Polish. Damn you brain! Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me 60 times, I’m an idiot!

Possible Explanation Of This Phenomenon

 

It seems that the most plausible explanation is as follows – the brain is all about expectations and context. Have you ever noticed that when you learn something in one context, like the school, it becomes difficult to recall when that context shifts?

This is because learning depends heavily on how and where you do it: it depends on who is there, what is around you and how you learn.

It turns out that in the long-term people learn information best when they are exposed to it in different ways or different contexts. When learning is highly context-dependent, it doesn’t transfer well or stick as well over the years.

How Does It Affect Your Learning?

Effective Listening Skills

Picture by: Sanja Gjenero

Here are some methods I have come up with which might aid your listening: (and here are over 20 more)

1) Browse dictionary before listening

Just browse. You don’t have to learn any words nor do you have to memorize them.

If you know in the advance what the programme/audition/episode is about, pay special attention to the vocabulary which might appear there. That is pure logic – it’s unlikely that you’ll need to know the names of herbs if you intend to watch an action movie.

Of course, the best possible dictionary which you might use for this purpose is a pocket dictionary. It’s very handy and it contains the most frequently used words and sentences.

So far this technique has been working really great for me! If you test it, make sure to let me know about the results!

2) Read the transcription before listening

It’s not always possible to do so. But there are some listening materials which facilitate this approach. For example podcasts or language programmes for beginners.

You can also read lyrics of the song before listening to it. This method is much more effective than just trying to figure out what your favorite artist is singing about. It’s also so much better than the awkward muttering “mmmnaaaahh” when you forget the lyrics.

That’s also a guarantee that you won’t butcher the song with the stuff you THINK you hear (read more about effective listening here)

3) Read the general outline of the thing you’re going to listen to

Watching TV series in original? Read an episode description beforehand! This way, you will know (more or less) what to expect. And as you have learned so far – it’s all about what your brain expects to hear!

You can find them on IMDB.

Just a word of warning! I’m sure you have heard many times the following piece of advice – watch movies / TV series with subtitles. This is the utter BS.

The ROTI (return on time investment) from this method is incredibly low. You’ll better off just listening to a random radio audition.

Whether you like it or not, our brains are NOT able to simultaneously follow the images, subtitles, sounds and a plot.

What’s more, following this piece of advice gives you the illusory feeling of understanding.

You usually concentrate on reading subtitles and start feeling that you understand most of the things happening on the screen. The bitter disappointment comes later when you try to re-watch the same thing without subtitles.

You have no damn idea what these funny figures on the screen babble about!

Why do I sound so sure? Because I’ve been there! Luckily, I came to my senses pretty quickly and realized that this method is, let’s not be afraid to use this word, absolutely useless.

Summary

 

One thing you should remember after reading this article is this:

What your brain expects to hear can be as important as the sound itself

If you want to acquire listening skills and get the most out of every minute of listening, you should always try to get familiar with the material you are going to listen to.

Do you have any other ideas how this fact might help others to improve their listening skills? Let us all know!

Grammar Cheat Sheet – 6 Reasons Why Every Language Learner MUST Have One

I love how language learners usually approach grammar. Or grammar books to be more precise! These vademecums seem to adapt the form of slimy, leprosy-ridden yet magical gnome. You know that if you rub its butt long enough, it will grant you your wish. You will be bestowed with the knowledge and wisdom of the language of your choice.

The ultimate prize sounds great. But somehow, it doesn't entice you to lay your hands on this filthy creature. Not too often anyway.

No wonder. One look at any enormous grammar book sends shivers down my spine.

Why?

Because opening a grammar book is like teleporting yourself into the middle of a language maze. It's hard to find your way out. Everything seems to be so random and chaotic.

Rules. Rules. More rules. You take a left turn, and you get punched in the stomach. You turn to your right, and you get kicked in the head. Only when you take a few steps back and leave the maze, you begin to see things differently. There are patterns. A lot of patterns. And there is one object, almost the artifact, that can grant you this kind of perspective.

The Grammar Cheat Sheet.


A Case For Grammar Cheat Sheet


It doesn't matter if you're a beginner in language learning or a mean linguistic son-of-a-gun. A grammar cheat sheet should be an indispensable part of your learning arsenal.

Before I dive into some of the main reasons why you should embrace grammar cheat sheets, I want to share with you a story about my youngest student.

I usually don't teach kids. It's a frustrating experience. I am sure that most parents can relate to! Anyway, Adrian is ten years old and a really bright kid. Although amazingly lazy.

Our first lesson revealed that his collective vocabulary amounted to about 40-70 words. After four damn years of his formal English education, he couldn't say, well, anything. Of course, he couldn't even use the words he knew in a sentence.

Not a very promising beginning, right?

However, after explaining the most basic English and writing them on his grammar cheat sheet, something seemingly impossible happened.

He got it, I didn't even expect it, but he got it!

Eleven hours into our English adventure, he is already able to build basic sentences in 4 tenses he knows. Sure, it takes him some time. The sentences are far from perfect. He still needs to resort to the grammar cheat sheet now and then. But again - 10 hours of dedicated learning beat four years of education.

I've had a chance to see more of such success stories with adults. But somehow, this story is the one that stuck with me.


6 Reasons To Create A Grammar Cheat Sheet

 


1) It Gives You Clarity


 Grammar doesn't look half as scary when it is on one piece of paper. Just take a look at the Japanese grammar cheat sheet (don't worry if you don't know Japanese - neither do I.)


Grammar Cheat Sheet 


Everything is presented in a clear and transparent form. One glance at this page makes us want to learn this language!

It also helps you to concentrate on all the most critical aspects of the language. It's much easier to notice different patterns. And pattern recognition is something of tremendous value in enhancing memory, mind you!


2) It Decreases the Activation Energy


 Activation energy is the initial energy needed to start acting. The more time and steps it takes to start doing something, the higher the chance you won't do it.

Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.

SourceThe Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

Guess what? It's much easier to look up a couple of grammar constructions if they are on one piece of paper than:

  • a) recall the location of one of x grammar books you have
  • b) thumb through it just to realize that it's not the right one
  • c) chew off a couple of pages in an outburst of rage
  • d) sit in the corner and cry deeply

3) It Changes Your Approach to Learning


Most language learners flinch at the mere thought of browsing a grammar book because it's dull. Oh, so stupefyingly dull.

The thing is that the more times you experience this unpleasantness, the more you condition yourself to dislike opening grammar books.

The peak-end rule says that:

People exhibit better memory for more intensely emotional events than less intensely emotional events (…), the atypicality of extreme memories can lead people to believe those extreme moments are representative of the “set” being judged.

Repeat this ritual a sufficient number of times, and you end up with the full-blown I-f**ing-hate-grammar syndrome.


The cheat sheet is clear and straightforward and thus should encourage you to learn grammar.


4) It Promotes Learning Independence


Grammar Cheat Sheet


Having just one piece of paper that provides you with essential information about the languages can help you become a more effective independent learner.

Whenever one of my students doesn't know how to create some grammar construction, I always refer them to their cheat sheets. On the surface, it might seem bizarre.

"What the hell is this dude getting money for?"

But the thing is that building a sentence is like doing puzzles. Every piece of a puzzle is a word. Grammar tells us where the given piece should be placed. That's why, after taking a look at the cheat sheet a couple of times, every student becomes intimately familiar with it.

Using the language ceases to be some voodoo magic. It becomes a logical step-by-step process of putting puzzle pieces into their rightful place.

That's also the reason why it's much easier to convince my students to talk with themselves. They don't need me so desperately anymore.

The said piece of paper can substitute a teacher to some degree!


5) It Helps You Relearn Languages


A lot of knowledge we acquire throughout our lives gets forgotten. At least this is how we commonly refer to the phenomenon of not being able to recall information. However, perhaps the more accurate word, in this case, is "inaccessible".

The knowledge you have acquired probably remains in your long-term memory. Here is what the research conducted by the Association for Psychological Science in 2009 has to say about it:


As it turned out, even though the volunteers showed no memory of the second language in the vocabulary test, they were able to quickly relearn and correctly identify phonemes that were spoken in the neglected language.


Psychologists Jeffrey Bowers, Sven L. Mattys, and Suzanne Gage from the University of Bristol found out in another research that:


(...) even though the volunteers showed no memory of the second language in the vocabulary test, they were able to quickly relearn and correctly identify phonemes that were spoken in the neglected language.


Maybe one day, you will be forced to take a break from language learning. Perhaps because of work, family, or general suckiness of life.

Either way, when all the bad things fade away, you will have your cheat sheet to refresh your memory quickly. It will give you an excellent general overview of the most critical parts of grammar. Psychologists Jeffrey Bowers, Sven L. Mattys, and Suzanne Gage from the University of Bristol found out in another research that:


6) It Makes You More Fluent


Grammar Cheat Sheet


There is this great saying I love.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The same goes for grammar. We are cognitive misers. We don't want to use our deposits of cognitive energy if it's unnecessary. That's why we cling to the grammar constructions we feel warm and comfortable with.

Seeing all the other constructions, which you don't use at the moment, in one place can be thought-provoking. It acts as a reminder of different possible ways to express yourself and jars you out of grammar lethargy.

Because, all in all, this is what grammar is - the scaffolding which enables us to build proper sentences. And you can't make even a ramshackle hut if all you got are some measly sticks.


The Most Important Rule For Creating a Grammar Cheat Sheet


There is just one rule you should keep in mind if you decide to create your grammar cheat.


Make it clear and concise


Your cheat sheet shouldn't be bigger than one A4 page. It should only contain all the essential grammar rules. Resist the temptation to jot down all the grammar exceptions and constructions nobody even uses.

Blah, blah. It sounds obvious. But very often, once you start creating your cheat sheet, the urge to include as much information as it is only possible sprouts uncontrollably. All so well known voice whispers, "Dude, don't forget to increase THIS rule. And THAT one as well! Screw it! Rewrite the book! Muahahaha."

The next thing you see is a 40-page behemoth. If you need more information, you can always create a second grammar cheat sheet for more advanced concepts.

However, usually, it is unnecessary. All you need are the essential rules. You will pick up the rest once you start surrounding yourself with a language (and using it).


Grammar Cheat Sheet - Summary


For reasons I am yet to grasp, grammar cheat sheets are underappreciated and underutilized tools in language learning. While it may take some time to prepare one on your own, it is usually a much better choice than buying one.

Reason? Most of the paid ones suck big time. Don't be afraid to put some time upfront. You will reap the benefits of this investment for months (or years) to come.


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

I often talk about what effective learning methods are all about but I have almost never mentioned all the memory experiments I have run which have failed miserably. It might give you the impression that this is the knowledge which came to me easily. On the contrary.

It was like wading through the puddle of crap to pick up something which seemed to be the gem of wisdom. Only to realize later that it was actually a fossilized chunk of crap. Only to realize a couple of months down the road that it was actually a beautiful diamond hidden beneath the dry shell.

I think you get my point. It was a confusing process where I had to rediscover time and time again different truths in different contents.

Of course, my process of reasoning wasn't very rigorous at the beginning. Neither were my memory experiments. I was kind of going with my gut and trying to notice whether I remember more or less.

Only later did I start to actually construct hypotheses and test them. Everything got even easier when I started learning more about memory and reading studies related to this area of knowledge.

Before I share with you my conclusions and failures, let's start with how my experiments were run.


What was the framework of my memory experiments?

 

Over 30 things you can learn from all my failed and successful memory experiments

 

This is a simple blueprint which I have used to run my memory experiments:

  1. 1
    come up with hypotheses
  2. 2
    set yourself a suitable deadline to test the idea (ideally, at least 3 weeks - 1 month)
  3. 3
    test it
  4. 4
    measure the results at the end of your memory experiment
  5. 5
    draw conclusions
  6. 6
    rinse and repeat

How did I choose words for my memory experiments?

 

This is a very important question. Some people think that any words will do. That's far from the truth.

If you want to run a meaningful memory experiment you need to make sure that the words tested are as different from any other words and concepts you know as it's only possible.

The reason is that your current knowledge modulates the new knowledge you want to acquire.

If you know English and you're learning French your results will be immediately distorted. Depending on a source, 40-50% of English words originate from French.

If you want to get unbiased results you need to test the words from languages you know nothing of.

In my case, I frequently tried to memorize words from languages like Basque, Finnish, and Hungarian. They were absolutely foreign to me and I couldn't associate them in any way with my background knowledge.

"Collectively, these findings provide strong evidence that pre-experimental stimulus familiarity determines the relative costs and benefits of experimental item repetition on the encoding of new item-source associations. By demonstrating the interaction between different types of stimulus familiarity, the present findings advance our understanding of how prior experience affects the formation of new episodic memories." - Pre-experimental stimulus familiarity modulates the effects of item repetition on source memory - Hongmi Lee, Kyungmi Kim, Do-Joon Yi, 2018

Also, it's worth noting that a typical batch of items which I tried to commit to my memory was 20. Typically, I tried to memorize between 3-5 batches.


What did I test?

 

Over 30 things you can learn from all my failed

 

Time to get to the nitty-gritty of my memory experiments. As you already know, I experimented almost exclusively with words which were completely foreign to me in order to minimize my background knowledge interference.

Another important part is the methods I used to test my knowledge. I always tested my recalls using the following methods:



Free recall

Free recall describes the process in which a person is given a list of items to remember and then is tested by being asked to recall them in any order. Free recall often displays evidence of primacy and recency effects.

Primacy effects are displayed when the person recalls items presented at the beginning of the list earlier and more often. The recency effect is when the person recalls items presented at the end of the list earlier and more often. Free recall often begins with the end of the list and then moves to the beginning and middle of the list.

For that reason, I always tried to recall all the batches at once in order to minimize the number of learning sessions. That gave me the certainty that my results were warped.


Cued recall is when a person is given a list of items to remember and is then tested with cues to remember the material.

There are two basic experimental methods used to conduct cued recall, the study-test method, and the anticipation method. In the study-test method participants study a list of word pairs presented individually.

Immediately after or after a time delay, participants are tested in the study phase of the experiment on the word pairs just previously studied.

One word of each pair is presented in a random order and the participant is asked to recall the item with which it was originally paired. The participant can be tested for either forward recall, Ai is presented as a cue for Bi, or backward recall, Bi is presented as a cue for Ai.

In the anticipation method, participants are shown Ai and are asked to anticipate the word paired with it, Bi. If the participant cannot recall the word, the answer is revealed.

During an experiment using the anticipation method, the list of words is repeated until a certain percentage of Bi words are recalled. - Wikipedia.

The learning curve for cued recall increases systematically with the number of trials completed. This result has caused a debate about whether or not learning is all-or-none.

 

(un)succesful memory experiments

 

Why did I use both methods? Because they both show you different things.

"Free recall exercises, are good measures of initial learning and remembering (Mayer, 2009). However, transfer tasks, such as the written fill-in-the-blank activity and the problem-solving task are perhaps better measures of true learning (Mayer, 2009)."

Many people have argued with me that just because they are able to recall words after using some method, it surely means that it's effective. As you can see, it's only a part of the story.

That's why it's also so important to test any method for the prolonged period of time. Always give yourself at least 3 weeks to test your hypothesis. Then measure the results (here are examples of the things you can measure in language learning).

“There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you’ve made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery.” – Enrico Fermi


Why even measure it at all?

 


Measuring your results certainly doesn't sound sexy but it's absolutely necessary. You can't know for sure that one method is better than the other if you don't verify it and you don't control your variables. 

What's more, if you don't measure, you can't improve. And that means a great deal in the world of language learning.  Using ineffective methods can literally mean that you will have wasted thousands of hours by the end of your life.

I am not that loco and I was never willing to take such a risk. And I am pretty sure you also don't want to be the guy with a tombstone saying, "It took him 20 years to learn a language to an A2 level, what a moron. Love, family."

Whenever you're in doubt - measure your results. It will help you get to the truth.


What does it mean that the experiment failed?


Under every experiment, you will find an explanation of why a given experiment failed or not. 

What do I mean by that?

Most of the time it means that it either didn't provide me with the results I expected or it wasn't more effective than the method I tested it against.

Of course, in a sense, none of them failed. They all helped me to understand the science of memory better and to improve my memorization skills. Or in more elegant words of Thomas Edison, I can say that:

 "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." - Thomas A. Edison


The list of methods I have tested

 


Below you will find a long list of methods I have tested throughout the years. I can't vouch that I have included all of them. I have a nasty habit of throwing away everything I don't need. Unfortunately, in many instances, the victim of my habit was a bunch of notes documenting my experiment.

All my experiments are accompanied by the main conclusions and complementary articles when needed. Enjoy!


Chapter 0 - The typical school stuff


I guess this is the type of learning which is a baseline for many people. All you do is what they tell you to during a class. You read something, do some grammar exercises, write an essay and so on.


Experiment status:

It failed.


Why did it fail? 

What you give is what you get. I think I simply didn't apply myself to learning hence my results were just terrible.


The main takeaway:

Apply yourself? Learn regularly? Take your pick. 


Chapter 1 - Using a notebook

The first learning system of my own devising was fairly uncomplicated. Ready for it? Every time when I used to encounter any English words I didn't know, I jotted them down.

Next, I rewrote ALL their meanings, collocations and such from an Oxford Dictionary into my notebook. Then I read my notes on my way to school.

You're probably wondering why I didn't just mark these words in a dictionary and read them there, huh?

Well, maybe because I was fed with a lead spoon as a child. Or it has something to do with repeatedly falling down headfirst from a tree.

I don't know. But these are some of the excuses I use. If it wasn't bad enough I used this method for at least 3 or years when I was about 18-22.

 

Things you can learn from all my failed and successful memory experiments

 

Experiment status:

It failed.


Why did it fail?

The method was clearly unsustainable. It took me a lot of time to rewrite all the words I needed. What's worse, there were so many of them that I couldn't review them in any regular way.


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

This was my first system. It was terrible but it also taught me an important lesson. You will always progress, no matter how slow, if you have any kind of learning system in place. Sure, this one sucked but at least it gave me a systematized way of learning new words and their meanings.


Chapter 2 - SRS programs

 

I must have been about 19 or 20 when I discovered Spaced Repetition Software.

The first program of this kind which I bought was called SuperMemo Advanced. It was a brilliant creation which ushered in the new era in the world of my personal learning.

 

SRS Programs

 

Back then, I already spoke quite good English. Or at least that's what I thought. To my surprise, it quickly turned out that out of over 10k words which this program contained, I knew almost none.

My grind started. I started slogging through all these words with dogged determination. I was terrified by the number of reviews I soon amassed but somehow I pulled through. I think it took me about 18 months to cover all the words.


What about the final result?

My vocabulary certainly expanded. Initially, I could recall a lot of words but after some time, the novelty effect wore off. I soon found myself forgetting more and more words despite working my butt off every day.

And thus, I decided to keep on searching for my Holy Grail.


Experiment status:

It kinda failed.


Why did it kinda fail?

The main reason why my experiment failed to some degree is that I didn't create my own sentences. Most programs of this kind give you ready-to-learn sentences. 

Unfortunately, if you don't actively encode words on your own, they will slip your memory anyway. The optimization algorithm which programs of this kind use is an extremely powerful tool.

Maybe even the most universal shield against forgetting we currently have. However, no amount of reviews can guarantee that the words you learn will be transferred into your long-term memory if you don't encode them (Craik & Lockhart, 1972; Craik & Tulving, 1975).


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

The optimization algorithms are your best friend learning-wise. It doesn't matter how much you delude yourself into thinking that you can learn faster by reading, listening or other means.

It won't happen.

Having a ready-to-use wordlist is extremely convenient and can speed up your learning. You won't have to waste your time scratching your head and thinking what's the next word you should learn.

A good idea is to start with frequency lists.


Read more:

 

Chapter 3 - Using a dictionary

 

I enrolled in a language school to master German and after about four years I was ready to sit the Goethe-Zertifikat B2 exam. The last trial before the real thing was a mock exam. I took it, I passed it and life felt great.

 I felt so proud of myself as I was leaving my language school, "Now I know English, German and Polish, there are 7 languages to go".

The life had different plans for me. Just as I was ambling down the street I was approached by an elderly German couple asking me if I speak any German.

"I do", I replied proudly.

"Do you know any good restaurants around here?", they asked.

As they were finishing their question something terrible happened. I froze. I couldn't spew out any coherent answer. I huffed and puffed and floundered until I managed to form some vague answer.

As they were leaving I felt devastated. I spent 4 damn years in a language school and couldn't even hold a simple conversation! On top of this, I just passed a B2 certificate.

Frustrated by this experience I decided to simply pick up a Polish-German dictionary, mark the works I didn't know but I found useful and start creating short sentences with them.

I used to take this dictionary everywhere with me. I kept my nose in it and wandered around oblivious to my surroundings.

I definitely looked strange but at least I had my pants on most of the time and didn't yell "repent sinners" so that's nice.


Experiment status:

It kinda failed.


Why did it kinda fail?

The problem with this method was that it didn't allow me to review my vocabulary in any meaningful way. I was jumping from one word to another.

Oftentimes, I spent way too much time concentrating on the words I already knew. Considering that your average pocket dictionary has usually at least 15k words, it was the problem of considerable size.


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

1. Even though this method didn't seem like much, I consider it a big success to some degree. It was then that I realized that creating my own sentences with virtually any word can boost my vocabulary retention.

Contrary to the common wisdom, it doesn't matter if your sentences don't sound like something that could originate from the silky smooth lips of a native speaker.

You need to encode words on your own and you need many words in order to convey your thoughts.

2. This method further reinforced my conviction that having a ready-to-use word list can positively affect my learning rate.

Up to this day, I remain a huge fan of pocket dictionaries. Even on the days, when I don't have much time, I can encode and learn up to 30 words in 15 minutes simply by picking them up from a dictionary.

Trust me, no other method comes even close to this.


Chapter 4 - Mnemonics


My learning false starts

 

I stumbled across the first mentions about mnemonics in an article when I was about 20-21. Even though I was fascinated by the general idea behind mnemonics, I quickly forgot about it.

A couple of months later, by fate, I discovered a small book about mnemonics. It turned out to be a copy of Harry Lorayne's classic "* How To Develop a Super Power Memory (1957)".

One week later, I was a full-time mnemonics preacher.


How could I not?

Any person, who tried to learn anything with help of mnemonics can attest to their effectiveness. And that's true. Compared to your typical "cram and forget" approach, mnemonics work very well.

It takes some time and objectivity to discover that perhaps mnemonics are not as great as many experts like to believe. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  Here is a list of different memory systems I have tried.


Classic mnemonics

 

If you have never heard of mnemonics, here is, more or less, how they work:

  1. 1
    Find a word you want to learn.
  2. 2
    Inspect it thoroughly and try to spot any associations or familiar word in it.
  3. 3
    Create a funny/absurd picture based on these words or associations.
  4. 4
    Place the picture in some location which is well-known to you (e.g. your home).
  5. 5
    Repeat this process for many words and make sure to connect your pictures with each other.
  6. 6
    Take a mental walk and decode these words.
Example:

Let's say that you want to learn a Spanish word for "trabajar". Upon a closer inspection, you notice that:

a) "traba" looks a lot like "drab"
b) "jar", well, it looks like a "jar".

Next, you combine those words into a short story: you work as a slave at the desk in your room producing enormous "drab jars".

Can you see it?

Great.

The only thing left is to retrieve these words by imagining this entire situation.

If you have never tried this method, it can be quite effective. And, as you can probably guess, that was my initial impression as well.


Status:

It failed.


Why did it fail?

1. I have mentioned before that encoding your own vocabulary is extremely important. If that's true, then why do mnemonics work so badly for long-term memorization and retention?


Two types of encoding:

a) 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.

In our case, it would also be creating meaningless pictures based on abstract associations which has nothing to do with the actual use of the word.

b) deep encoding

The absolute opposite of shallow encoding. This time you are trying to make meaningful information between different items.

The more the better. In the case of language learning, it's simply building sentences with the words you want to learn.

2. The other reason is fairly simple. Sometimes it takes a lot of time to find the right associations. Needless to say, spending 5 minutes on every word in order to do this is pointless.


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

1. Even though this method didn't seem like much, I consider it a big success to some degree. It was then that I realized that creating my own sentences with virtually any word can boost my vocabulary retention. You need to encode words on your own and you need many words in order to convey your thoughts.

2. This method further reinforced my conviction that having a ready-to-use word list can positively affect my learning rate.


Read more:

My system of mnemonics

 

After some time, I decided that the main problem was the time I needed to find my associations. I decided to identify the most important prefixes for any language I was concentrating on at that point.


Example:
The prefix "ent" is fairly popular in German. I decided to substitute it with the word Ent which is a race of tree-resembling creatures from Tolkien's fantasy world Middle-earth.

 

Learning experiments

 

Every time I encountered some word starting with "ent" I could immediately create a picture involving the Ents.

How did this method affect my learning pace?

I started memorizing words lightning fast. Partly because I have created my own "mnemonic picture dictionary" which consisted of over 1000 syllables with their respective pictures.

And yet, once again.


Experiment status:

It failed.


Why did it fail?

Unfortunately, I failed to recognize that quick short-term memorization doesn't equal successful long-term memorization.

Sure, I was memorizing word quicker but I still had problems using them in conversation and kept on forgetting them anyway.


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

Please check the main takeaway for classic mnemonics.


Mnemonics and meditation

 

Another brilliant idea of mine was thinking that if I only improve the vividness and clarity of my pictures, I will be able to retain them much longer.

I decided to include a 30-minute meditation session to my learning schedule. During that time, the only thing I did was revisiting my mnemonic stories and making them more vivid.


Experiment status:

It failed.


Why did it fail?

No matter how clear your pictures are - if you don't apply active encoding to your learning, you will inevitably fail.


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

Please check the main takeaway for classic mnemonics.


Mnemonics with SRS

 

The next step for me was combining mnemonics with SR programs like ANKI.
I figured out that if I only optimize my repetitions, my retention rate will go through the roof.

Even with this method, I was using a lot of variations. Among others, I tried to:

  1. 1
    use Google map images to memorize thousands of words at the same time
  2. 2
    use  virtual and phantom locations and connect them into memory palaces
  3. 3
    shrink my stories to squeeze even dozens of them into one room
Experiment status:

It failed.


Why did it fail?

This is where I gave up on mnemonics. My stats and personal experience were very clear about this method of learning.

It doesn't matter how much I tweak every tiny element of this method - it will always suck as it fails to encapture the very essence of learning - applying contextual learning and deep encoding.


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

Please check the main takeaway for classic mnemonics.


Read more:

Chapter 4 - Traditional approaches

 

I started looking into passive learning years after I started my language learning/memory journey. I didn't do it because I believed they are very effective.

On the contrary, I have never been a fan of passive learning and I don't understand why so many language bloggers promote them.

Passive learning, as appealing as it might be, has been found, time and time again, terribly ineffective compared to active learning. 

The best argumentation for this line of learning I have seen so far is quoting the misbegotten theory of Krashen who was debunked one year after it was published.

As negative as this introduction may sound, I still was very curious how many words I can pick up and activate from passive learning.


Extensive reading


successful memory experiments


Experiment 1:

I have always been a bookworm so this experiment was quite pleasant to me. In 2016 I decided to read about 60 Swedish articles in the span of about 2 months.

At that time I was already on a C1, or maybe C1 / C2 level. That means I could read without any problems.

In total, I read 52000 words, mainly from the major Swedish news outlets. At about 300 words/min, it took me about 17 hours to go through them all and about 2 hours to find something interesting to read.

I didn't write down any words, I was just trying to memorize them while reading (without mnemonics).


The final result?

After a careful analysis of my vocabulary, I found out that I picked up 5 extra words.

In other words, I spend 19 hours and had nothing to show for. To fully showcase how ridiculously slow that pace it's worth reminding you that on a bad day, I can encode and learn up to 30 words in 15 minutes simply by picking them up from a dictionary and encoding them in ANKI.

That experiment definitely echoes the experience of my students. Even though it's only an anecdote.

Over one year ago, a student of mine who learned German decided to read the first two books of the Harry Potter series in German.

At the time, she was on a B1/B2 level. I tried to discourage her from doing it and direct her efforts to active learning but she put her foot down.

After about 4 months she told me that she finished reading them - in total about 1000 pages or so.

The result was once again quite depressing. Once she told me about her intention, I started jotting down EVERY NEW WORD which came up during our classes. It wasn't difficult at all as I taught her from the very beginning. I knew exactly which words she already used.

After 4 months, countless hours, 1000 pages she managed to introduce 0 extra words to her parlance.

 

All my failed and successful memory experiments

 

Experiment 2:

In my next experiment conducted in May 2018, I set off to check how many new words I can pick up from watching English movies with French subtitles. I was pretty sure that this method would be more effective since it involves more sensory channels.

In total, I watched about 60 hours worth of TV series. My level at that time was about B1. During that time I was able to pick up 11 words, most of which I was able to use spontaneously.

I haven't been able to memorize other words than the ones I learned before. In other words, it allowed me to learn more.


Experiment status:

it was a success and a failure at the same time.


Why did it fail/succeed?

1. The experiment was certainly a success because it confirmed something I have been telling for a long time. Passive learning can be an amazing tool if you use it as an adjacent method.

Every day you should do your best to concentrate on active learning. Once you're done and you can't din more words into your head, feel free to read or listen as much as you want.

Spontaneous activation of words is much easier once you already have these words in your head. This is definitely something my experiment confirmed.

Even though I avoided speaking for 2 months, my fluency was actually higher after 60 hours of reading. Mind you that I didn't pick up almost any new words. But the ones I knew came to my mind much quicker.

2. The experiment also failed because clearly reading was subpar to basically any active learning method, I have ever tried.


The main takeaways (i.e. what I learned):
1. "Free recall exercises, are good measures of initial learning and remembering (Mayer, 2009). However, transfer tasks, such as the written fill-in-the-blank activity and the problem-solving task are perhaps better measures of true learning (Mayer, 2009)."

Just because you have a general impression of remembering words after a reading session, it doesn't mean that you've committed them to your memory. The only tests which can confirm involve the active use of the said words.

2. Acquisition of new vocabulary from reading will be terribly slow and ineffective until you learn about 5k words. 5000 words allow you to understand about 98% of most ordinary texts (Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)).

Such a vocabulary size warrants also accurate contextual guessing  (Coady et al., 1993; Hirsh & Nation, 1992; Laufer, 1997). If you're hell-bent on learning this way, make sure that you know at least 3k words as it's the minimum threshold needed for contextual guessing. (Hazenberg and Hulstijn, 1996).

3. Your ability to speak fluently and produce spontaneous speech is dependent to a high degree on the amount of input you expose yourself to.


Read more:

Extensive listening

 

effective learning methods

 

As painful as it is for my analytical heart, I have never run any rigorous memory experiment involving extensive listening. All I have are my anecdotes concerning three main languages I teach (Swedish, English, German). For that reason, please take it with a grain of salt.

I haven't done any form of extensive listening practice for any of those languages until I was at least at a B2 level. In other words, my vocabulary amounted to at least 5k words which warranted quite accurate contextual guessing.

Even though I can't give you any specific number, we're talking about thousands of hours of listening practice for English and hundreds of hours for both Swedish and German. My main listening activities concentrated mainly on watching TV series and movies.


Status:

It succeeded!


Why did it succeed?

Despite the lack of detailed stats, I could definitely notice that my ability to produce spontaneous speech and to understand was greatly increased.

What's more, vocabulary acquisition was also much higher compared to extensive reading. The probable reason is, once again, the wealth of stimuli, which is related to watching movies.


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

1. Extensive listening is certainly the most useful form of passive learning. Especially up to a C1 level. 

2. The vocabulary acquisition rate is also quite high provided that you build your core vocabulary first. I can only speculate that on earlier stages, it would be quite ineffective since the cognitive load would be too high to enable effective learning.

It's worth keeping in mind that extensive listening is still quite a terrible tool of acquiring vocabulary compared to almost any active learning strategy. Once again, it can be treated as a perfect supplement to active learning.


Chapter 4 - Random memory experiments

 

All the experiments presented here reflect a very interesting stage in my memory journey. Back then, I was willing to run almost any memory experiment as long as there is at least one scientific paper behind it.

In hindsight, sometimes I don't know what the hell I was thinking!


Holding my urine

Judge me all you want, I did it. Years ago I read this study whose conclusion was that holding your urine improves decision making before choosing an immediate or a delayed financial reward.

As you can see, it had nothing to do with language learning or memory improvement. Of course, that didn't stop me. The experiment went on for 3 weeks. During that time I almost pissed myself a couple of times but it certainly did nothing for my retention rate.


Fun fact:

a Dutch scientist conducting this study, Mirjam Tusk, was actually awarded Ig Nobel.


Status:

a debacle


Why did it fail?

Because I was a silly and impressionable dummy. But hey! At least I have an anecdote to share!


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

Screw you Miriam and your research.


Learning in nature


failed and successful memory experiments

 

There are a lot of studies which show that spending time in nature helps to boost your memory. Some of them even show that staring at a photo of trees or a brisk walk in the woods can improve your memory and attention performance by 20%.

And obviously, that was a good enough reason for me to try it.

For three weeks in 2014, I spend 1 hour per day learning Swedish in the nearby park. The results were quite clear - no advantage whatsoever compared to studying at home.

Status:

It failed.


Why did it fail?

Because the memory experiment conducted in the lab are usually detached from reality and don't carry over to real life? That would be my guess. Interestingly, I noticed that my attention performance dropped while learning in the park. I was constantly distracted by damn squirrels, dogs, and bawling children. The general conditions weren't very conducive to studying.


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

Learn where there is a minimal amount of distraction in order to maximize your memory performance.


Emotional modulation of the learned material

One of the undeniable laws of learning says that we always remember better items which are emotionally salient. That gave me the idea that if I learn how to modulate this saliency, I could use it to my advantage to boost my retention.

I did lots of weird things to achieve this goal. I screamed foreign words out at the top of my lungs. I made myself furious or jealous with the help of my imagination and then proceeded to memorize short lists of words.


Status:

It failed.


Why did it fail?

Truth be told, I was able to remember a lot of these words right away so the first impression suggests that the method works. But as I usually say, in order to truly discover whether something works you need to run delayed recall tests.

You have to wait at least 1 or 2 weeks before you retest your memory. Only then do you get a clear answer about whether a method works or not. This strategy failed. 

In hindsight, the reason is simple - if everything stands out emotionally, nothing stands out emotionally.


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

Just don't.


Learning before going to sleep

Another great strategy which I have heard about was learning before going to sleep. Like all short memory experiments of mine, it lasted 3 weeks in September 2015. The idea for this experiment was sparked by research showing a correlation between time of studying and how it can potentially improve your recall.

The protocol was very simple. I tried to memorize 10 random words from languages I knew right before going to sleep.

How did I fare?

Not much better than usually. My retention rate was improved by about 4%.


Status: 

It failed.


Why did it fail?

I know that you might think that 4% is not too shabby and it's worth something. However, in my case, I deemed the results less than impressive. Especially considering that I tried to memorize words from the languages I already knew which was a major mistake.

What's more, if we include other co-founders, my results won't be much better than the chance. I had definitely better results with practicing motor skills before going to bed.


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

Try at your own risk - I don't see any super-duper benefits. It's much more important to have a sound sleeping schedule than to practice at any specific time.


Combining learning with physical activity

 

Experiments

 

There is plenty of research demonstrating the benefits of combining physical activity with learning. The general idea is to space your learning sessions and to interrupt them with bouts of vigorous exercise.

Here is a great excerpt from Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative (2011).

One immediate outcome of the research is a process known as spaced learning, in which teachers give short lessons, sometimes of less than ten minutes, before changing to physical activity and then repeating the lesson. In one trial, the pupils scored up to 90 percent in a science paper after one session involving three 20-minute bursts, interspersed with ten-minute breaks for physical activity. The pupils had not covered any part of the science syllabus before the lessons.

I started testing this idea in early 2016. Since I dislike gyms, I decided to weave in quick calisthenics workouts into my learning schedule.

Long story short, such an approach managed to significantly improve my attention span and slightly boosted my recall.


Status: 

It succeeded!


Why did it succeed?

Even though there is a lot of great science which explains in a detailed way how exercise can help you with studying, I think it has a lot to do with Serial-position effect.

Serial-position effect is the tendency of a person to recall the first and last items in a series best, and the middle items worst.

Why do I think so?

Because I have noticed similar improvements while taking so-called meaningful breaks i.e. taking a walk, or just lying down and breathing mindfully.


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

Mixing work-outs with your learning is certainly worth replicating.


Read more:
  • John J. Ratey - Spark, The Revolutionary New Science Of The Brain And Exercise

Learning with pictures

 

1. a traditional approach

I am more than sure that even if you haven't tried using pictures in your own studies, you at least heard how great of a method that is.

Is there any truth to it?

First of all, it's slightly easier to memorize words which are accompanied by pictures. It's related to so-called "Jennnifer Aniston neurons" (I am not making it up!) - the firing of a single neuron for a single image to form a concept.

That's why you definitely increase your chances of memorizing a word by adding pictures (read more about the picture superiority effect).

But the real question which many people seem to ignore is - how much does it really help?

My answer is - not that much. Most of the time you will be able to just remember a picture very well. 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%. At least when you stick to a typical approach i.e. adding random pictures to your ANKI flashcards.

Is there a better way?


2. a different approach

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 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.


Status: 

failure/success.


Why did it fail?

While it's true that it's really easy to memorize picture, I haven't noticed any amazing benefits using a typical approach i.e. inserting a new picture into every flashcard.


Why did it succeed?

I think that my approach to using pictures in language learning is so effective because it mimics a lot how we normally acquire vocabulary as children. It's much easier to memorize names of different objects and phenomena if the same situation occurs frequently.

I have never seen any scientific experiments in this vein, so I hope that the linguistic community will pick it up one day.


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.


Learning with GIFS

 

Learning with GIFS

 

Don't worry, this will be a short one. If you haven't known this before, you can insert GIFs into your ANKI flashcards. Overall, it will give you an additional recall and retrieval boost.

Status:

It succeeded!


Why did it succeed? 

GIFs are very similar to real life situation. There is some dynamism there connected with visual stimulus.

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

It works provided that, once again, you use the same GIF for many flashcards.


Writing vs speaking

Another interesting experiment which I set out to conduct, in 2017 if I am not mistaken, was to settle once and for all what's better for language learning memory-wise - writing or speaking?

I won't elaborate about it since I have already written a full article about this problem (you can find the link below).


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

All in all, my opinion is that for the 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 complex 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 in accordance with it.


Read more:

How my learning pace changed over the years

 

Even though conducting all these experiments might seem like a lot of work, I think it was more than worth it. Especially since I have always been more interested in how memory works than knowing many languages.

I thought that it might be interesting for you to see how my quest for better memory has influenced my learning speed throughout the years. However, please remember that using the right methods is one thing. Another is that with every next language, it's getting easier and easier to learn the next ones.

Of course, even a layman might learn extremely fast if they know how to do it. I have managed to teach a lot of people to a B2 level in a couple of months with just 1 hour of classes per week so it can't be that bad (read more). Heck, some people who took my course Vocabulary Labs managed to do it without any help whatsoever within that time frame.

Side note: the numbers below don't represent my current levels, just how fast I learned these languages to a B2 level.


My learning pace over the years


The languages below are chronologically ordered starting with the ones which I learned first. I never bothered tracking how much time I needed to get a C1 level and beyond in most of these languages. The number below don't represent my current levels, just how fast I learned these languages to a B2 level.

Learning English

When did I start? When I was 12.

Time needed to get to a B2 level: 7  years

Was the level verified? Yes, an FCE certificate

Learning Russian

When did I start? When I was 15.

Time needed to get to a B2 level: 10 years

Was the level verified? Yes, by a private tutor

Learning German

When did I start? When I was 20.

Time needed to get to a B2 level: 4-5 years

Was the level verified? Yes, a mock Goethe-Zertifikat B2

Learning Spanish

When did I start? When I was 25.

Time needed to get to a B2 level: 1-1,5 year

Was the level verified? No

Learning French

When did I start? When I was 26.

Time needed to get to a B1 level: 6 months

Time needed to get to a B2 level: about 2 years

Was the level verified? No

Learning Swedish

When did I start? When I was 27.

Time needed to get to a B2 level: 3,5 months

Was the level verified? Yes, a multifaceted, internal verification in one of the global corporations

Read more about this missionLearn by talking to yourself.

Learning Esperanto

When did I start? When I was 28.

Time needed to get to a B1 level: 3 weeks

Time needed to get to a B2 level: ???

Was the level verified? Yes, by my Esperanto teacher

Learning  Czech

When did I start? When I was 29.

Time needed to get to a B1/B2: 4 weeks

Was the level verified? Yes, two separate online placement tests

Read more about this missionHow to learn communicative Czech in one month

Czech was also the last language I learned. About that time I decided to focus on other fields of science and improving my languages.

Right now, for the most European languages, I don't think it would take me more than 6-8 weeks to learn them to a B2 level. When it comes to trickier languages like Hungarian or any Asian language it's hard to say as I never looked into them deeply. Although probably if enough number of people are interested I will do another language mission in the future and will document my progress thoroughly.


Does it mean that these methods are bad?

 

failed memory experiments

 

As you have seen, I have classified quite many methods with which I have experimented as a failure. Does it mean they are inherently bad? Not necessarily. Depending on your current stage in language learning, many of them might boost your learning significantly provided that the one you're using right now is bad.

Even my results which show modest boosts (e.g. 5%) in recall and retrieval rate should be taken with a grain of salt. For example, if you're a person who is not very physically active, you might experience a significant increase in your ability to recall if just work out more.

Regardless of that, a lot of my experiments should show you rough effectiveness of many of these methods. I hope that one day I will find time to come back to this article and expand my lists of experiments including some others which I missed this time.

You might also wonder why I haven't covered many of the popular apps and learning systems in this article. The answer is very simple - I didn't have to. There are dozens of principles of memory to master in order to learn effectively. Once you acquire them, you can simply disregard many popular solutions because you can spot all the mistakes they are perpetuating. Not every experiment is worth your time.

How many of these methods have you experimented with? Let me know. 


Obstacle Thinking – a Simple and Effective Strategy for Solving Complex Problems

Obstacle Thinking – a Simple and Effective Strategy for Solving Complex Problems


Problem-solving is a skill that ranks very high on my list of evergreen skills. We all struggle with problems of different magnitude. Being able to tackle them in an organized way can make our lives way easier.

Unfortunately, there aren't many people that can pride themselves with being problem-solvers extraordinaire. One part of the issue is that they are not aware of the existence of problem-solving methodologies. Another problem, however, is settling for the wrong strategy. It's as ridiculous as trying to traverse the desert with a pair of sandals and a hamster at your disposal. Not only will you be swallowed by the vastness of possible solutions, but you will also look stupid.

In my years of trying to tackle different learning-related issues, I have come to realize that the right way to start solving any problems is identifying the constraints of an area at hand. Once you do, it's much easier to capitalize on those structural disadvantages and arrive at the right answer. This is the approach I have dubbed obstacle learning


What Is Obstacle Thinking?


Obstacle thinking is the approach to problem-solving that emphasizes the importance of identifying bottlenecks in a given area. Their identification allows narrowing your vision.


This way, you can concentrate on what's truly essential, i.e. avoiding the said obstacles and then adding to the mix the elements that have been proven to work well within a given domain.

You can think about it as entering the invisible maze. If you do it ad-lib, all you will be doing most of the time is headbutting every inch of every wall until your brain convolutions straighten up.

However, the entire process will look completely different if you start with determining the potential constraints. The moment you identify a potential obstacle, a part of the maze materializes, and it allows you to move past it. If you identify enough constraints, you will be able to skillfully move through the maze until you find the exit.

Another way to look at the problem is thinking about doing jigsaw puzzles. Most people don't start assembling them randomly by grabbing a couple of pieces and praying that they fit. Instead, they begin by creating the outline of the picture and then slowly filling out the rest.


Why Not Start With Positive Instances?


Starting the problem-solving process with identifying constraints seems counterintuitive. Thus, the natural question arises - why shouldn't we start with positive instances, i.e. the concepts that are known to be true?

Nassim Taleb has mentioned a great explanation of this phenomenon in his book "Black Swan".


"In a famous argument, the logician W. V. Quine showed that there exist families of logically consistent interpretations and theories that can match a given series of facts. Such insight should warn us that the mere absence of nonsense may not be sufficient to make something true. 


The implications of the above are far-reaching. Just because a solution consists of seemingly true facts, it doesn't mean that the entire solution is indeed verifiably true.

It's one of my biggest pet peeves ever. The internet is rife with various idiots who try to conceal their stupid theories under the disguise of science. If you are not careful enough, they will lull your vigilance with scientific banalities and then sell you on their fallacious solutions.


In other words, hundreds of potential solutions might seem true until you start adding constraints to the system.

I will demonstrate examples of this phenomenon at the end of the article.



Limitations - Why They Are Needed To Think Effectively


Even though starting the creative process with identifying constraints might seem counterintuitive, it's very natural. Everything that has ever existed has been born within the constraints of different variables.

The constraints of physics, chemistry, and geometry have governed life from its origins onward—and even into the technicum. “Underlying all the diversity of life is a finite set of natural forms that will recur over and over again anywhere in the cosmos where there is carbon-based life,” claim biochemists Michael Denton and Craig Marshall.  Life, rather than being boundless and unlimited in every direction, is bounded and limited in many directions by the nature of matter itself.  - Kevin Kelly - What Technology Wants


It's only logical to apply the same logic to problem-solving. Without directing and concentrating your effort within certain boundaries, you are almost guaranteed to fail. A number of choices you will have to face is simply too big.

However, identifying even one limitation shows you that a solution cannot be perfect in a given situation. Think about it.

Even one constraint has the power to disqualify hundreds or even thousands of potential solutions.


What Kind of Constraints Are There?


There are two kinds of limitations that need to be taken into consideration:


(1) Permanent constraints

This is the category we can't do anything about. Those limitations can't be overcome. They are usually specific to a given area of knowledge, but they can also transverse many different disciplines.


Examples: 

(1) Using context in language learning

It's been proven beyond a shadow of the doubt that our knowledge is activated contextually. Any language learning method that fails to consider it can be automatically deemed as ineffective.


(2) Removing harmful compounds while composing diets

Depending on a person and their particular health issues, one must deal with lots of permanent limitations that need to be taken into consideration to maximize the benefits of a given diet.


For example:
  • Thyroid problems - two big steps are removing goitrogen-containing foods and gluten that impair the function of the thyroid.
  • Male fertility issues - removing alcohol, recreational drugs and other factors that increase the production of reactive oxygen species and damage sperm.
  • Etc.

Composing diets for different ailments is such a great example. Very often, the mere fact of identifying (and removing) those constraints (i.e., harmful compounds) will allow us to establish an excellent base for solving a problem at hand.


(3) Differential diagnosis

The very core of being a good diagnostician means you can apply obstacle thinking. Every symptom that doesn't fit the picture is a constraint that decreases the pool of potential options.


(2) Temporary constraints

Even though those limitations are no different from permanent constraints at the moment of tackling the problem, they can be overcome over time.


Examples: 

(1) Budget

Limited budgets are a great example because even though they are an obvious obstacle, they can be increased later on. Alternatively, one might find a way to lower potential costs.

(2) Computational power

Computational power can be a limiting factor in a company for now. However, we know that it's one of the variables that become cheaper with time. It might turn out that it won't be an obstacle anymore in, e.g. two years.

Of course, we have to keep in mind that some factors can be both temporary and permanent, depending on a particular project. Deadlines are certainly one of them. Often they can't be changed because of external obligations. However, in other projects, they are merely a suggestion.

What's worse, some constraints will be self-imposed because of gaps in our knowledge. Once you expand it, it might turn out that they weren't even a problem in the first place.



Requirements for Using Obstacle Thinking Effectively


(1) Ability to amass and manage your knowledge

Most projects are multidisciplinary. They require extensive knowledge from many different areas. If you don't know how to acquire it and manage it, you will never have enough know-how to tackle problems effectively. You will be doomed to forever roam the hamster wheel of knowledge.




(2) Critical thinking and the ability to interpret/analyze data

Expanding your knowledge won't mean much if you're choosing your input indiscriminately or randomly. Not all information is equal. You need to learn how to distinguish primary sources of knowledge from secondary.  

What's more, you should also have a good understanding of how to read and interpret scientific studies and comprehend what their limitations are. That requires a very diverse skillset.


(3) Time

Expanding your knowledge and analyzing data, etc. are all time-consuming processes. It's essential to keep in mind that arriving at the right solution might take some time.


(4) Ability to suspend your opinion 

We live in quite depressing times where people who don't have an opinion on a topic are considered stupid or ignorant instead of being praised for their prudence. Forming your opinion too fast can be harmful to your problem-solving abilities. It's so easy to fall in love with your idea, even when it's demonstrably false. Before you know, you start disregarding any evidence that contradicts your opinion (see confirmation bias).

A much better solution is to suspend your opinion for the time being until you amass enough knowledge to have a bird's eye view on the problem you're trying to solve.

It takes a special kind of courage not to commit to any opinion, even temporarily. But choosing to be an ignoramus, for the time being, is undoubtedly the right choice for any quality thinker.


An Example of Obstacle Thinking in Action


Let's say that just like me, you are obsessed with finding the perfect learning strategy. Instead of starting with a specific method on our mind, let's focus on the potential constraints to quickly eliminate the ones that don't make much sense. In this case, I will skip the part where I analyze countless scientific papers to establish whether the limitations I quote are true.


(1) Limitation #1 - 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).

Passive rehearsal is simply a mindless act of rattling off a cluster of pre-prepared information. It's like trying to desperately rehearse someone's phone number and hoping that it will help you remember it ten years from now.

This tells us that if we try to rely on ready-to-use materials, we will fail. In other words, this one piece of information allows to initially discard the following learning strategies:

  • Any flashcard system/app/method based on ready-to-use flashcards
  • Reading, re-reading and reading aloud
  • Rewriting information from other sources with almost no changes

Limitation #2 - Habituation



Habituation is the diminishing of an innate response to a frequently repeated stimulus.

Each time the brain detects a stimulus, it forms a representation of that stimulus and compares that representation with its memory (that is, existing representations) of previously experienced stimuli. If there is no match, then a response is triggered, such as an orienting response, allowing the organism to study this new stimulus further. On the other hand, if there is a match, then the response is suppressed. In other words, responding to familiar stimuli decreases, or habituates. 

Multiple exposures to the same stimulus are nothing else than habituation. I won't delve more into this topic as it deserves an article of its own. Instead, let's look at the repercussions of this phenomenon.

  • Even if you create your learning material yourself (e.g. flashcards), your brain will quickly stop reacting to it if you don't force yourself to look at it from many different perspectives and to apply it to many different problems.
  • We have to discard mnemonics as an effective long-term strategy. If thousands of pictures stand out, then nothing stands out.
  • Any strategy that doesn't introduce novelty and variety will limit my learning time. My brain and I will get quickly really fast.

The list goes on and on. With every next constraint, we will add into the system, a pool of potential winning strategies will diminish until we arrive at the final answer(s).


Obstacle Thinking - Summary


Obstacle thinking is probably the single most effective problem-solving methodology I know. It allows you to quickly separate the wheat from the chaff. Think about it.

Every potential constraint narrows down your focus by eliminating hundreds of faulty strategies. The more limitations you find, the easier it is to come to the right conclusion.

Unfortunately, simple doesn't mean that it's easy. The requirements for applying this strategy can certainly be considered strict. What's more, often, the right solutions may differ depending on the stage of the process we are trying to improve. For example, we can't expect that beginners and advanced learners will get the same benefits from one single strategy.

Even though obstacle learning thinking a relatively steep learning curve, it's still a must for any problem-solver.


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 20 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.

 


Factors Affecting Word Difficulty I.E., What Kills Your Learning Progress

A list of factors affecting word difficulty

There are many factors affecting word difficulty i.e., your ability to learn and recall them.

No wonder. There are dozens of factor at play here. Unfortunately, typical explanations of what affects these processes are severely lacking. Every time I hear that "you probably don't read enough," I do my best to toss 1 kg of plastic bags into the ocean. Die mermaids, die!

Let's conduct a thorough analysis of the factors that you should take into consideration if you have a hard time learning vocabulary. Some of them will be obvious; others will probably surprise you.


Why words are difficult to remember


As you can imagine, there are lots of elements which you have to take into consideration to fully answer this question. Some of them have marginal meaning and have very little research supporting their validity. 

Others are simply beyond your control. A good example is parts of speech. For instance, research generally shows that they are easier to remember than verbs or adjectives (Philips 1981). They are also encoded in different parts of the brain than verbs

The question is, "Does it matter?" Of course not. You still have to learn both nouns and verbs. The same goes for lexical difficulty.

That's why I am going to focus on the ones which can seriously impair your learning ability.


Factors affecting word difficulty


Factors affecting word difficulty

1. Lack of a learning system

2. Regularity of exposure

3. Timing of repetition

4. Retention intention

5. Pronounceability (i.e., how difficult it is to pronounce)

6. The usefulness of a word

7. Emotional saliency

8. Ease of application (i.e., knowing how to use a word)

9. Lack of context

10. Number of contexts

11. Active encoding

12. Morphological awareness (i.e., derivational complexity)

13. The capacity of your short-term memory

14. Intrinsic cognitive load (ICL)

15. Germane cognitive load

16. German cognitive load (GCL)

17. Mental and physical condition

18. Mental barriers

19. Random variable(s)

Let's discuss them one by one, so you know what potentially impairs your learning speed.


1. Lack of learning system



One of the most surprising facts about how people learn is that most of them have no organized system of learning. You might think that's an exaggeration, but I assure you it's not.

To get a better insight on how students actually learn, we have conducted a survey among the students of our university (HSW — University of Applied Sciences) about their strategies and learning behaviors.

Overall, there were 135 students participating in this survey from all 6 semesters and between 18 and 31 years of age. 68.1% of the participants were male, 31.9% female. Only very few of them deliberately make use of learning strategies, such as spaced repetition or the Leitner system. 94.8% of the participants just repeat the learning topics randomly to have them available during a test.

The terrifying thing is that we're not talking about a bunch of clueless people without any education. We're talking about bright individuals who will shape the future of their nation.

And yet, almost all of them rely on something I call a let's-hope-it-sticks strategy. It's nothing more than spitting on a wall and hoping that something will set. But it rarely does.

You can read, reread and cram all you want. Most of the knowledge you gather this way will be forgotten by the end of the next week.

If you don't have a set way of dealing with words you want to learn, you will fail 9/10. It doesn't matter how bad your strategy is. As long as you have it, there can be some progress.


2. Regularity of exposure to vocabulary


I am sure you have noticed that immigrants who barely know a language still know basic greetings and vocabulary. The reason for this is simple — they are frequently exposed to such words.

"Memorization becomes more difficult the less often given items occur in your learning environment."

Here is a fantastic study showcasing this phenomenon.

"The study examines word knowledge acquisition at different levels. The results showed that greater gains in knowledge were found for at least one aspect of knowledge each time repetitions increased. If learners encounter unknown words ten times in context, sizeable learning gains may occur." Source: The Effects of Repetition on Vocabulary Knowledge

3. Timing of repetition


We have known for over 100 years now that the timing of your repetitions plays a crucial role in the process of learning. Fail to review a word at the right moment, and your retention rate falls drastically.

This phenomenon is presented by the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve. It shows 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.


 the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve


Lucky for you, you don't need to optimize our repetitions manually (e.g., with the Leitner System). You can simply use Spaced Repetition Software.

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 only program of this kind which I relentlessly promote is ANKI. It's free; it's versatile. What's not to love?


4. Retention intention


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 laser-like 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.

A vital 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.


5. Pronounceability of vocabulary


In order to learn the phonological form of a new word, you must be able to hold a representation of that word in some form of temporary memory so that the word as a whole can be committed to long-term memory.

This phonological form is called a phonological representation.

"This temporary storage is provided by the phonological store component of the working memory model. Once you learn the basic repertoire of speech sounds in your target language, the process of learning the form of a new word becomes one of learning the order in which those sounds appear. The primary role of the phonological store in learning new words is, therefore, to retain the order of those sounds." Source:  Dennis Norris, Michael P. A. Page, and Jane Hall, ‘Learning nonwords: the Hebb repetition effect as a model of word learning’ 

What happens when your phonological representations are incorrect?

You impair your ability to both recognize and retain new words.

That's why a decent pronunciation is not just something "nice to have." It's an important aspect of acquiring vocabulary.


6. The usefulness of a word


This item ties back to the mistake of not having an intention to memorize something. It frequently happens that people simply refuse mentally to learn a word because of its potential uselessness.


If you don't consider vocabulary you learn to be useful, then you don't really stand a significant chance of memorizing it.


7. Emotional saliency



It's time to tackle the emotional aspect of learning. Even without any fancy scientific references, you already know that it's much easier to remember things which are emotionally important to us.

"Information without emotion isn't retained." Or, as Ezra Pound said it, "Only emotion endures."

The few experiments comparing the effects of the number of meetings (repetitions) with the quality of the meetings suggest that, of the two, quality has the stronger effect (Laufer, in press; Webb, 2005).

In other words, sometimes it's better to build a couple of emotionally salient sentences with a word of your choice rather than settle for a dozen mediocre ones.

Unfortunately, the main problem with relying on this strategy too much is that you cannot make everything emotionally salient. If everything stands out, nothing does.


8. Ease of application (i.e., knowing how to use a word)


Merely knowing the meaning of a lexical item is not enough. You have to understand how to use the target vocabulary in sentence construction (Larrotto 2011).

That's why it's not enough to simply see a flashcard, or a sentence, made by somebody else to be sure how to use a given word in context.

To be able to use this word correctly, you need to:

  • a) be exposed to language
  • b) make the mental linkage between the word and its uses
  • c) be able to verify whether your assumption is correct

One of the prime example of not knowing how to use a word fall into a category of register restrictions.


Register restrictions

Language register can be understood as the level of formality with which you speak. Different circumstances and people require different registers. Sometimes you will use slang, the other time you will be very formal and polite.

Halliday, McIntosh, and Strevens point out that:

"The choice of items from the wrong register, and the mixing of items from different registers are among the most frequent mistakes made by non-native speakers of a language" (1964:88) Source: Why are Some Words More Difficult than Others? Some Intralexical Factors that Affect the Learning of Words

9. Lack of context


By themselves, words and sentences have little meaning; often they can be understood only in relation to other words and sentences.

In other words: things get connected to things. Words which are not connected to others mean nothing and get forgotten. Providing words not in isolation but in various contexts creates new opportunities to memorize them. Whenever the same word crops up in a new phrase, it will be fixed in your mind in yet another way. 

What's more, the more contexts you can associate a piece of information with, the easier it is to recall it.

The above can be aptly summarized by The Principle of Associations: 

“The human lexicon is believed to be a network of associations, a web-like structure of interconnected links. When students are asked to manipulate words, relate them to other words and to their own experiences, and then to justify their choices, these word associations are reinforced” (Sökmen 1997: 241-2).

10. Number of contexts


difficult vocabulary

You already know that no context is terrible for your learning. But is one context enough? Most of the time no.


Lack of multiple contexts can lead to at least one of the three following problems:

  1. 1
    Problems with information transfer

Sometimes if you learn a word in just one or two contexts your brain might not be able to transfer the meaning of the word from one context to another. 

If you learn the word "severe" in the phrase "severe consequences" your brain probably won't be able to use this word in the phrase "a severe headache." In order to overcome this obstacle and "unblock" some word, you need to use it in at least a couple of contexts, so you have a semantic web that holds this information.

  1. 2
    Problems with retrieving
  1. 3
    Problems with memorizing

The last problem is connected with meaningless contexts. Sometimes you try to memorize a word in some phrase, but it simply doesn't work out. The word won't stick even though you have managed to avoid all the other mistakes which I have mentioned previously.

Why is that?

It might happen because your brain might find this one particular context(s) too boring! You have your preferences and tastes, and some phrases won't strike that special chord in your brain.


11. Lack of active encoding


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

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

As you can see, encoding is 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.

If you skip this step of learning, you can be sure that memorizing vocabulary will become really difficult. Here are results of some studies showing real vocabulary gains from reading in the early stages of language learning.


Real vocabulary gains from reading in the early stages of language learning

Horst, Cobb and Meara (1998) specifically looked at the number of words acquired from a simplified version of a novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, which had 21000 running words. The novel was read in class during six class periods. It was found that the average vocabulary pick-up was five words. 
Lahav (1996) carried out a study of vocabulary learning from simplified readers. She tested students who read 4 readers, each one of about 20 000 words, and found an average learning rate of 3–4 words per book.



12. Morphological awareness


Morphological awareness is explicitly thinking about the smallest units of meaning in language, which are called morphemes. These units include root words that can stand alone as words, prefixes, suffixes, and bound roots, which are roots that must have a prefix or suffix added to become a word.

Morphological awareness is also one of your allies in an uneven fight against mastering a language. It helps you understand why words are constructed in a certain way and remember them better.

In order to fully utilize this concept, you need to become paranoid. Every word, name of every product, movie star, city, dish, or even words themselves should be analyzed.

Most of the time, you will discover that they contain some other words. And it doesn't matter whether that's a pure coincidence or not. What matters is that you found the deeper meaning in words you already know.


13. The capacity of your short-term memory


difficult to learn vocabulary


The main memory limitation every learner has to face is working memory capacity or simply memory span.

Memory span refers to the longest list of items (e.g., digits, letters, words) that a person can repeat back immediately after the presentation in the correct order on 50% of trials. It is limited in terms of chunks.

A chunk is the largest meaningful unit in the presented material that the person recognizes—thus, what counts as a chunk depends on the knowledge of the person being tested.

One interesting conclusion coming from this is that the more languages you know, or the bigger your background knowledge is, the easier it is for you to memorize new words as you can automatically find more meaningful associations for them!

In other words, if you are presented with too much material at the same time, you significantly decrease your chances of remembering a word.


14. Intrinsic cognitive load (ICL)


The Intrinsic Cognitive Load (ICL) is material-dependent, determined by the material's element interactivity. It is commonly understood as the complexity of information.

This complexity depends on the learner's domain-specific prior knowledge (Sweller, 1998). For example, learning single words of a foreign language requires a lower understanding of interacting elements than learning phases of cell division.

The better you are at a certain field of knowledge, the smaller intrinsic cognitive load.


15. Germane cognitive load


This load focuses on all learning-relevant processes which are needed transfer and store information into the long-term memory system.

It is the emotional and mental energy devoted by the individual to the processing of new information presented as part of the learning activity.

In other words, it is connecting that information to the working memory, and imprinting what has been learned into long-term memory.

How do you lower this kind of cognitive load? By having a mental toolbox of effective learning strategies which have been internalized and automated.


16. Extraneous cognitive load (ECL)


The extraneous load (EL) emerges through the design of instructional materials and is directly connected with a decrease in learning-relevant processes.

The extraneous load (EL) is imposed by any form of distractors during learning; hence, this load is often regarded as the ‘unwanted’ or ‘bad’ load.

Hence, every single thing which drives you away from learning is treated as the extraneous cognitive load. Keep in mind that those distractors potentiate one another!

The truth is that those pesky, little things distract us more than we would like to admit.

For example, according to researchers, the mere presence of your smartphone reduces cognitive capacity and impairs cognitive function, even though people believe they are giving a task their full attention and focus. 

Don't forget that attention is the price of admission to the long-term system. If you meed up this step, no learning will ever take place.

What's more, by minimizing the extraneous load, capacity in the working memory can be spared for processing the intrinsic load.

Source: Creating an engaging and stimulating anatomy lecture environment using the Cognitive Load Theory-based Lecture Model: Students' experiences



17. Mental and physical condition


Let's be honest — you can't learn at 100% if you're not feeling at 100%. To improve your learning pace, try to:

  • fix your diet (start with less sugar and processed crap)
  • exercise regularly
  • decrease your stress levels

Of course, sometimes it's difficult to do it right away. Maybe you're experiencing family issues right now, suffering from depression, or taking some medication.

Regardless, keep in mind that these are also factors affecting word difficulty.



18. Mental barriers



Almost everyone can learn a language, and that's a fact. Sure, there are always some exceptions but generally speaking, it's entirely possible with you.

However, our paranoid lizard brain wouldn't be itself if it didn't start infusing your brain with different paranoid thoughts. We are truly experts at undercutting ourselves.

Here are some popular mental barriers which one can use to justify that learning a language is impossible for them:


1. Self-fulfilling prophecy

In short, you are convinced that you are unable to learn and thus you do nothing to learn, and as a result, you don't know anything. Congratulations, you just played yourself.

This category includes self-diversion pearls like: 

"I am too old."
"I don't have time."
"I suffer from social anxiety." (read this to fix this problem)
"I am too stupid."
"Jupiter is in retrogade."
"I am a Scorpio and they are not good at languages." (in this case, take this quiz: how stupid are you?)


2. Lack of psychological safety
In the absence of psychological safety, we fear judgment, reprisal, humiliation, feelings of incompetence, and being unworthy, and may begin to avoid and withdraw from the learning process. Over prolonged periods, this withdrawal also can contribute to burnout and depression (Bynum and Haque 2016).


3. Lack of self-efficacy/growth mindset

Self-efficacy, or the growth mindset, is a common theme often found in the literature; it is the belief in your own ability to achieve learning or performance standards (Bandura, 1991;Latham & Locke, 1991; Sharma & Writer, 2015).

Self-efficacy influences task choice, effort, and persistence, and can also help determine which learning strategies to apply to obtain maximum gain.

Usually, the level of self-efficacy is correlated with goal-setting and achievement:  A student with greater self-efficacy sets higher goals and attains higher levels of achievement Learners with high levels of self-efficacy tend to blame failure on a lack preparation, while those with low self-efficacy tend to blame their lack of ability. Students with low levels of self-efficacy are more prone to allow negative feedback to have a negative influence on their performance and attitudes.


4. Social comparison bias

Spoiler alert! If you keep on comparing yourself to others, you will almost always find somebody better than you. Just don't.


Of course, the list goes on and on, but the examples above should give you a general idea of what to be cautious of.


19. Random variable(s)


A random variable part is an indispensable part of any econometric model. It tries to factor in the unforeseeable into the model's prediction. It might also be used to explain one of the most widespread phenomena in language learning — repeating a word dozens of times and still not being able to acquire it.

Even though this is a really annoying problem, I want to assure you that it's ubiquitous. It also has a perfectly reasonable explanation.


All you need to understand it is a Gaussian function aka "The Bell Curve."


The Bell Curve


Gaussian functions are often used to represent the probability density function of a normally distributed random variable with expected value μ = b and variance σ2 = c2.

What that means is that the bell curve shows you what's the probability of a random variable.

What variables are we talking about?

It can be anything. For example, the variable might take the form of an IQ distribution in society or the size of a biceps among men. Or, in our case, the probability of memorizing a word.

The bell shows you what the chances that a given event will take place are. You can see that most of the time, you won't have problems with memorizing words. The probability of this happening will fall into the 2a range.

However, up to 3% (1a range) of all the words can be treated as outliers. They will either be extremely easy (the right side of the curve) or extremely difficult to memorize (the left side of the curve), and as such, they will require a lot of reviews.

It doesn't matter how much you optimize your learning, this phenomenon will always take place.


Factors affecting word difficulty - the summary


As you have seen, there are lots of factors affecting word difficulty i.e., your ability to remember and recall vocabulary. Effective learning is never about doing one or two things right. It's about combining all the best practices into an efficient learning system. Even then, you can still expect that there will be a small group of words which will be more challenging to memorize. Get used to it.

However, if you have problems with a specific word, I would stay longer with it and analyze it logically — what are its constituents? Is there any logic to it? Can you associate it with something? That should increase your chances of learning this word.

How many of these factors do you incorporate into your learning system? Let me know!


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 47  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.

 


Achieve Full Language Fluency with the Deep Integration of Languages into Your Daily Life

full language fluency of a foreign languages

Achieving full language fluency is certainly not easy. The internet is filled with all sorts of advice on how to do it. And that's on top of all those shiny lists of language learning tools. No wonder, after all, these are extremely important elements in the whole process. However, in a whirlwind of all kinds of language learning discussions, it's easy to lose sight of one thing - the criterion of utility.

The utility criterion tells us one very simple thing - we should preferentially use things that are directly applicable in our lives.

It doesn't matter how much time you spend going through your textbooks. If the language is not part of your life, the textbook will most often be thrown in the corner at the first sign of a life/time crisis.

It is not difficult to imagine that you are going on vacation for 2 weeks and completely neglect your studies because YOLO, and "let's party dude!". Or suddenly you get sick and you feel so weak that you lack the strength to lift a book.

Sure, you can blame this state of affairs on your lack of willpower or the adverse conjunction of the planets, but the fact is that your contact with language has been neglected because it is not a part of your life!


Full language fluency - languages as a versatile tool


Perhaps the entire system of education is to blame. We are used to thinking that language is yet another school subject. Or thinking that learning a language is drudgery and that "I will cram a couple more words and then I am finally free and will do something interesting."

We forget that language is a tool. And not just any! We're not talking about a rusty knife with a bent handle.

We're talking about a cool Swiss army knife!

There are many ways to integrate languages into your daily life to guarantee that you will achieve full fluency.

Remember that the deeper the integration, the greater the chance that you will learn the language not only fluently but also quickly.


Foreign languages as a tool for entertainment


Broadly understood entertainment is certainly one of the easiest changes you can make. There are so many ways to relax after all! What's more, nobody has to force us to do it. I am yet to hear a mom yelling at her son, "Stop learning, you dweeb. Watch something for once. Oh! I have failed as a parent!".

Here are a few "entertainment" categories that you should include in your daily plan:

Remember that no activity is a waste of time if it is done in a foreign language.


1) Full language fluency - Music



Music is not only a great tool to improve your listening comprehension, but it can also help you to remember words better.

If you don't know what to listen to in the language of your choice, I highly recommend the Music Map website. It allows you to quickly find a lot of exciting artists based on your current musical tastes.

In other words - enter the artist's name and enjoy the sweet view of dozens of other artists.


Here is an example for Rammstein:

2) Full language fluency - watching movies / series


Films, and in particular TV series, are one of the pleasures you don't need to convince anyone of. Often, no more than a few days is enough to get an incurable condition called "one more episode-itis".

Here is a list of some interesting sites where you can watch TV series or movies in the original language or dubbed. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comment section.

You can find more resources in my Language Links Database.

I recommend Netflix in particular. You can change a default language of TV series and movies there as well as enable subtitles.

And all this without worrying that the link on the page does not work or that you will see for the 10th time in one day "Do you want to meet singles in your area?". It is one of the best language investments I've made over many years.


3) Full language fluency - exploring interests


Like most people, you are probably quirky. You have your own world, and your own interests to which you can effortlessly devote lots of time. Why not use it to get one step close to achieving full language fluency?

It doesn't matter if you are interested in reading thyme dregs or a 50-meter chinchilla throw. I guarantee you that a little googling is enough to find forums or websites of people who share your passion.


Here are some examples of interesting sites:

4) Full language fluency - gossip magazines


I will say it again - nothing is a waste of time if it is done in foreign languages! The next time your husband catches you reading about Brad Pitt's iron buttocks, just shout shrilly "I'm learning! Do not disturb!" Or do it in German to fluster him. That works better than a pepper spray.

I feel dirty writing this, but here are some recommendations:
  • English (http://hollywoodlife.com/)
  • French (https://www.fan2.fr/)
  • German (https://www.ok-magazin.de/)
  • Spanish (http://www.mundotkm.com/ar/hot-news)

5) Full language fluency - Computer games


If you are hellbent on keeping the last link connecting your childhood with the cold and cruel world of adults alive, I recommend taking up computer games. Especially those that are rich in various dialogues.

The best site where you can find computer games in many languages is Steam.


Foreign language as a tool for professional development



The modern world is not a welcoming place. If you have any hopes of becoming a force to be reckoned with, you need to develop and sharpen your skills continually. Just a moment of inattention is enough to get mangled by the competition, who will then proceed to graciously stomp over your carcass. Terrible. I know.

I recommend finding your preferred sources of specialized information in languages of your choice. This is the easiest way always to be one step ahead of most people in your industry.


Warning - the initial shock

It is worth mentioning that deep integration of a foreign language into life is not all butterflies and rainbows. Initially, you may feel strong resistance from the brain. This pink, slimy bastard will try to talk you out of trying to surround yourself with a foreign language, "John, don't learn Korean! What will neighbors say?".

You should be ready for it. It will pass with time. However, it remains an open question how much time will be needed for this.

If you already have some experience with intensive language learning, you probably won't need much time to get used to new experiences. If you're inexperienced, accept that you'll need up to a few weeks.


Achieving Full language fluency - Summary


Often the main difference between a person who has mastered a language and the one who has given up is the extent to which they have made the language part of their lives.

Each additional activity performed in a given language anchors it even deeper.

Such integration will make your learning fully resistant to the turmoils of life. The border between "cramming" and normal life will begin to blur, and eventually it will disappear.

You will always know when this moment will come, as it is truly unforgettable. It reveals itself in the following question: "Did I read / hear it in a foreign language or in my native tongue?"


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 12 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.

 


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?

 

How to master many fields of knowledge

Photo by Jared Craig on Unsplash

 

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!

 

The Guide To Effective Problem Solving For Beginners

Life is a long fall from the womb to the grave. On our way down we get our solid share of problems to solve. Some are petty. Some are not. But the latter will batter and bruise you if you don't take care of them.

The funny thing is that solving problems is a problem itself. I mean, do you have any method to tackle them? Any tool, maybe? Do you just put on your helmet of optimism and hope and run head headfirst into the robust wall of problems?

I really hope you don't. Like I did for a long time. I was like a retarded chimpanzee who tried to lick his finger and put it in a keyhole. But to no one's surprise, that never worked.


"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Albert Einstein


Because that's the thing about repeating some actions (no matter how stupid they are!) for the long period of time - it's hard to break the vicious circle. I guess that the helmet crumbles away after 10th or 20th time. And then you just keep on hitting the same wall with your bare head.

Until you suffer head trauma. Serious enough to actually convince you that it DOES make sense.
But it doesn't.

REALLY effective problem solving should rely on some systems.

You need some tools. Not a finger. I am familiar with many methods and systems. But there is just ONE I use on the permanent basis.

It's simple, elegant. And it has the power to transform you into the problem-solving beast.

But we will get to the specifics in a moment.


Fortune Favors The Prepared Mind


Do you know how penicillin was discovered?

In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming, a Scottish researcher was experimenting with the influenza virus in the Laboratory of the Inoculation Department at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. He was also well-known for being as untidy as brilliant.

The long story short, Fleming returned from a two-week vacation to find that a mold had developed on an accidentally contaminated staphylococcus culture plate.

After examining of the mold, he noticed that the culture prevented the growth of staphylococci.
And voilà! The discovery was made. Some years down the road the penicillin became the most widely used antibiotic in the world.


Effective problem solving for beginners


It's often described as a pure accident. But was it really? How many other brilliant scientists would have paid attention to this "incident?".
Not many, I guess.

You have to really set your mind on a question or a problem to deserve your "Eureka" moment.

It doesn't happen just like that.

So where can you start?


The Problem-Solving List


The idea is deceptively simple. But it helps you to put some order into the way you solve your problems.

Take a piece of paper and draw a line across the middle. Or use the word document.
Whatever works for you.

Write down the problem you're having on the left.
The right side is reserved for potential solutions or ideas.

That's why, try to come up with as many of them as it's only possible. Don't hold back.

It's worth mentioning that sometimes ideas which (seemingly) have nothing to do with each other can turn into a breath-taking answer to your problems!


Tools To Help You With Producing Ideas


Creativity is like a muscle. The more you use it, the better you become. But you have to start somewhere, right?

Here are two websites which help you produce some ideas. To be a bit more precise, they are random word generators.

Just choose the number of random words you would like to see and click the "generate" button.
And BAM! Magic happens! Ideas!

Treat these websites as your birdbrained buddy. He doesn't know exactly what you want, but he wants to help. So he feeds you some ideas to play with. Let's take a look at the screen-shots to see what I mean.

  • Creativity Games


Effective problem solving for beginners


  • Text Fixer


Effective problem solving for beginners


It might look meaningless. But is it? Let's move to some practical application.


Problem - You Want To Design An Extraordinary Lamp


Of course, you would like to come up with some (relatively) fresh design. But you just keep looking at the damn piece of paper with a blank expression on your face. Frustration sticks out its ugly head. Anger overcomes you. Damn you Muses! But before you break something, let's use some of the words from the random word generator.

Words: ham, rib, gossip, sunburn, speaker, spotlight, boxing gloves, iceberg

Some potential ideas:

rib - I guess it would look cool if instead of a normal, boring lamp, you could have something skeleton-related. Maybe a skull impaled on a spike? Oh, and the switch button can be hidden inside an eye socket! Since we are at it, why not design the entire line of gruesome lamps?!

speaker - why not connect the speaker with a lamp? It might look cool! And will be useful as well!

iceberg and spotlight - I can't help but combine them in my head. The result is a light house.
Don't ask me why. Anyway, the lighthouse as a lamp sounds quite interesting. Doesn't it?


What comes after the ideas?


Another part of the effective problem solving is testing your assumptions. It's great to have some hypotheses. But how can you be sure that your solution will work?

The framework I'm using looks as follows:

  1. 1
    come up with hypotheses as quickly as possible
  2. 2
    set yourself a suitable deadline to test the idea
  3. 3
    test it
  4. 4
    measure results at the end of the experiment
  5. 5
    draw conclusions
  6. 6
    rinse and repeat

No Shortcuts: Being Creative Is Ordinary Labor


You have to come to terms with a fact that your initial ideas might be terrible or average at best.
If you have been neglecting your problem-solving skills for a long time, it might take some time before you get good at it.

Being truly creative requires showing up day by day. Yes, it will be frustrating. Yes, it will be messy. But however frustrated you might get, don't forget that there is a pot of gold at the end of this story (you can read more about doing the work that matters here).


What Will You Do With This Knowledge?


What you know doesn't mean a damn thing.

It's the things you do consistently that really count!

I want you to think about just ONE PROBLEM which has been bugging you for a long time. Write it down and problem solve the heck out of it!

And, of course, let me know about your results!

If you don't know how to push yourself to do it, read how to triple your productivity overnight with one simple strategy!


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 8 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.



How To Quickly Learn Declensions and Conjugations And Other Grammatical Abominations

How To Quickly Learn Declensions and Conjugations In Any Language

 

I’m definitely a weirdo. I enjoy learning grammar! Declensions, conjugations, possessive pronouns.
I love them all! And there is a good reason for that! They are simply one of the easiest things to learn in most languages!

Of course, let’s be perfectly honest – learning them is easy. However, using them without any hesitation is another story. Here are a few methods you might use to learn grammar effectively:

The Classical Method

 

Repeat everything till your eyes and brain start bleeding. Not interested? Read on!

Look For Patterns

Let’s play Sherlock Holmes for one moment. The first thing I do when I learn grammar of some language is establishing some patterns.

 

How To Quickly Learn Declensions and Conjugations In Any Language

 

For example, take a look at the weak declension of adjectives in German (it is used when there is a preceding definite article (“der-word”).

Can you see it? Rock n roll horns created of “-en”

Learn Declensions and Conjugations In Any Language

And the rest of this table is just “e”! Quite simple to remember, isn’t it?

The Four German Cases

Can’t remember the order of German cases? Maybe if I NAG(ge)D you would! 🙂

2. Create Some Stories

This is my absolutely favorite method since you can use it with combination with mnemonics.
It definitely requires some concentration and creativity. It might be difficult at the beginning.
You have to shake up your rusty imagination!

Example 1 – German possessive pronouns.

Here you have a list of German possessive pronouns. It looks pretty random, right? Nope, there is actually some cool story hidden there!

 

How To Quickly Learn Declensions and Conjugations In Any Language
I gave her MINE TIN(y) SIGN – and her EER(ie) UNSER (answer) was really EER(ie). Who knows, maybe it’s too abstract for you. Let’s try something different then. Let’s assume that I(h)R stands for Irina Shayk. Or some sexy pIRate if you’re a woman.

Now our little story can go like this:

MEIN DIME SIGN(s) IR(ina) – my UNSER (answer) is O(h) YEAH! IR(ina) !

As you can see, this method doesn’t always cover the pronunciation in 100%.
But that’s alright. In most cases, your brain is aware of that and can correct these mistakes.

Example 2 – Swedish objective pronouns

What about some (singular) objective pronouns? When I was learning Swedish I memorized them, more or less, like this:

MAYDAY! HOE NO! I wanted HENNE(ssy) .

Declensions and Conjugations In Any Language

Example 3 – Spanish conjugations

Time for conjugations!

How To Quickly Learn Declensions and Conjugations In Any Language

 

There are so many ways to memorize these conjugations! But of course, they depend on many things – your native tongue, other languages you speak and your entire “database” of different names, notions, etc.

Being Polish, I would choose to memorize the first three endings with a word “OAZA” (eng. oasis). I think that this approximation is good enough. AMOS can be easily (for me!) associated with my beloved artist Tori AMOS who puts AIS on AN(t).

Something To Remember

 

Treat this method as crutches. It helps you to unburden your memory by memorizing grammar in an effortless way but it’s not a substitute for practice. You need to use the language to automate the use of grammar,

Quick FAQ

Q: Can you always find some associations?
A: Yep. Just use your imagination!

Q: But what if it doesn’t work?
A: Then try harder! Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Good luck and let me know what you think about this method!

 

Triple Your Productivity Overnight with a Simple Strategy

How to triple your productivity overnight with a simple strategy

Before I get to the meat of the matter and explain to you how you can triple your productivity overnight, let me say this:

willpower is dead.

Yeah, you heard me right. It is cold stone dead. At least for me.

Its demise came absolutely unexpected. There were no tell tales. No gloomy music heralding this event.

Because it wasn't a process. It was an instant. It was enough to read one of the articles of Maneesh Sethi. It gave me a blueprint to refurbish my learning routine and tripled my productivity.

But before I get to that let's take a look at two kinds of motivation.


Triple Your Productivity - Basics


 


Two Kinds of Motivation

 

If you are driven by extrinsic motivation you do things mainly to receive a reward. For example, you might decide to get a new job because it pays better.

If you are driven by intrinsic (internal) motivation, your need to do different thing stems from the meaningfulness of the work you do. You don't need any reward or compensation.

I have always believed that it is enough to feel this internal fire in order to achieve big things.
But I was wrong.

I am quite sure that we are not motivated by good things. At least not as much as we would like to believe it.

What makes me say it?

Well, most things in life are pretty simple.

  • If you want to lose weight, you work out and keep a diet.
  • If you want to learn a language, you learn every day.
  • If you want to get a better job, you acquire additional skills or improve the ones you already have.

The final result is always crystal clear - you become fitter, more intelligent or successful. And you really DO want these things, don't you?

Then why is it so damn hard to start acting?

Because the potential benefits are deferred in time. The day-to-day results you experience when you do any of the activities above are barely noticeable. So if good things don't motivate us effectively, what does?

The fear of loss.


Triple Your Productivity with Betting


The logic behind this strategy is really simple. You will do much more to avoid a loss than to receive a reward. Given that the loss is almost immediate, it's not that strange.

One look at the real-life castaways, or desperate mothers who lift cars, can tell us how the fear of loss (of life in this case) can motivate us.

But you don't even have to look that far. Let's say that you want to learn 60 new German words today. You can either try to do it on your own or bet with me.

In the second case, you know that if you lose, you have to give me your favorite watch. Do you think you would lose? No way! These are just 60 words!


The simplest form of this strategy looks as follows:

  1. 1
    Choose a GOAL you want to achieve
  2. 2
    BET with someone that you'll achieve it in x hours or days
  3. 3
    Choose your PUNISHMENT in case you fail to deliver

Of course, there are some things you should take into account if you choose to use this strategy (and you should!). But first...

Here are just some random results I got thanks to betting within the last 18 months.

  • I created this very website (with over 2k subscribers) you're reading right now
  • I have been interviewed  a couple of times (which is a weird feeling)
  • I have created a Beta-version of a vocabulary learning course
  • I have written a book proposal
  • I have learned Czech to a B1 level within a month
  • I have managed to double my income
  • I have lost over 10 kilos of fat and gained and then bulked up
  • I have read about 30% more than I do normally
  • I have increased the number of words I learn by 20%

And probably many other things I have already forgotten about.

Alrighty then. Let's take a look at what a good bet consists of.


5 Elements Of A Good Bet

 

triple your productivity overnight with a simple strategy



1) Do you know what you want to achieve?

What problem keeps you up at night? What bothers you?

Maybe you don't learn regularly. Maybe you procrastinate too much. Maybe you are too fat.

Identify the most important things you would like to change and set a goal.


2) Is your goal achievable?

You can bet about anything you want but you have to be sure that the goal is within your reach.

It shouldn't be too easy. Such goals will rob you of your satisfaction. But they shouldn't be too hard either. Such goals may nip your enthusiasm in the bud. If you want to bet with your wife that you are going to run 5 km today, analyze how much free time you have on your hands today.

3 hours? Great, then it is certainly doable.

But wait!

When was the last you actually ran more than 1 km? During your studies?
Then I have bad news for you... I hope you see what I am getting at. Always make sure that you are able to deliver.


3) Can you prove that you did it?

This is the key issue. You probably like to think about yourself as a guy who is squeaky clean when it comes to morality.

I know, I do too.

But trust me when I tell you that all morality goes to hell when the deadline of your bet is breathing down your neck with a musty stench of failure.


The questions you should consider are:
  • What are you measuring?
  • How will you measure it?
  • How will you deliver proof?

Most of the time it's perfectly possible to determine the answers.
If you decide to run 5 km, you can use an app to track your distance.

If you decide to learn 100 words today, you can send screen-shots of your ANKI interface.
The list goes on and on.

Sometimes it's worth altering your bet a little in order to make it measurable.

If you want to bet that you won't eat sweets all day, it will be nearly impossible to prove it. However, if you bet that you will lose 1 kg until the end of the week, there will be no doubt whether you failed or not.


4) Is your punishment motivating enough?

Listen, if you bet with your buddy that you will give him $10 if you lose a bet and you know that you earn $30/h then who are you fooling? When the push comes to shove, you will probably shrug your shoulders and pay.

The thing is that you should be REALLY afraid of losing. The perspective of the potential loss should infuse you with fear. Not the paralyzing kind of course. But the motivating one.

Bet $70. Or lend your car to a cousin you hate.

Come up with something which really makes you uncomfortable.


5) Can you be sure that the other person will execute?

As a rule, I don't bet with people who are mushy softies. I don't want to hear, "It's ok, I don't need your money because I know you tried'.

No way.

I want somebody who will take my money and laugh in my face while doing so! "Thanks for the easy cash sucker!".

I have a small group of 3-4 people with whom I bet and that's more than enough.

You can actually convince your friend(s) to bet with you as well. This way you will be motivating each other!

And now time for the bitter truth. Probably 17 out of every 20 people who will read this article won't do anything (and I am being an optimist here).

Why?
Because of excuses.


Triple Your Productivity - Summary


I find it fascinating when people approach me and complain that they have so many plans, but they can't get anything done. When I suggest this strategy most of them freeze and mumble one of the following reasons why they can't do it:

  • Yeah, I know it works, I will definitely try it in the future (code word for "I will never try it")
  • It won't work because money is not that important to me (then choose a different kind of punishment!)
  • I don't want to be forced, I prefer to rely on my willpower (how has it worked for you so far?)

What's going on?! Don't they want to change?

They do. OR at least they think they do.

But the thing is that most of them are simply afraid. Because once you place your bet, there is no turning back. You either deliver or pay up.

If you decide to use this method to boost your motivation, I'd love to hear from you and talk about your results!

Oh, one more thing. Do you know why I have written this article? Yep, bet (thank you, John!).

Good luck with your projects!


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 10 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.


What To Do Instead of Nootropics In Order To Maximize Your Brain Power Permanently

What To Do Instead of Nootropics

Nootropics are certainly one of those things that capture your imagination. You pop a pill and everything becomes clear. You are more vigilant, more observant.

Sure, three months down the road you start resembling a patient with a full-blown neurological disorder. You catch yourself scratching your arms nervously while your eyes twitch.

And if your pill is nowhere to be found you drop on the floor and start rhythmically convulsing.

But hey man! Those moments of clarity!

In all seriousness - nootropics have definitely become a thing in the last couple of years. The appeal is understandable.

At the price of a pack of pills, you can become a better version of yourself.

Is it really the case? Nope.

If you ask me, it's definitely more of a fantasy for the naive. Let me explain step-by-step why it is so and what you can do instead to become this sexy learning-machine.


What Are Nootropics?

 

Not everyone is familiar with this notion. Since I don't want to risk keeping you in the dark, let's delve into it.

Nootropics are natural and synthetic compounds that can improve your general cognitive abilities, such as memory, attention, focus, and motivation.

As a rule of thumb, natural nootropics are much safer and can actually improve the brain's health (see Suliman et al. 2016).

As you can see the definition is very far from being precise.

Let's suppose you go into the panic mode before an important meeting and your colleague bitch-slaps you. You suddenly become more focused and sharper.

Can this backhander be treated as a nootropic?

Once again, the definition is unclear. What is clear is that, even though you might not realize it, you probably take some of them already.


Some Of The Available Nootropics?

 

What To Do Instead of Nootropics

 

Our civilization can pride itself on having a long, rich history of drugging ourselves to feel better and smarter. Here are some of the weapons of the mass enlightening:


Caffeine

If your head bobs like a crazy pigeon if you don't get your daily fix, you are probably not surprised to see it here.

These days, it can be found almost everywhere. Especially in soft drinks, dark chocolate and, of course, in coffee.

Effects: 
At normal doses, caffeine has variable effects on learning and memory, but it generally improves reaction time, wakefulness, concentration, and motor coordination. - Nehlig A (2010). "Is caffeine a cognitive enhancer?". Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.


L-Theanine

L-Theanine, or simply theanine, can generally be found in tea.

The amount is dependent on the kind you drink but generally, you can get more in black tea than in green tea.

Effects:
Increases BDNF and attenuates cortisol-to-DHEAS, also has low affinity for AMPA, kainate, and NMDA receptors.


Curcumin

Great news for any enthusiast of Indian cuisine.

Effect:
Produces neuroprotective effects via activating BDNF/TrkB-dependent MAPK and PI-3K cascades in rodent cortical neurons.


Lithium

Elevates BDNF by inhibition of GSK-3, which also increases skeletal muscle growth.


Asian Ginseng

One of the most famous herbs which can boast such effects.

Effects:
Improved memory, enhanced focus/attention (similar to caffeine), enhanced mood through reduced anxiety, enhanced performance: reaction time, endurance, memory retention.


What About Real Nootropics?

 

I know that you probably want to learn more about "real" nootropics. Here is a short list of some of them.


Racetams

Effects:
Enhanced brain metabolism, better communication between the right and left brain hemispheres


Rasagilin

Effects:
Offers neuroprotection via stimulation of PKC phosphorylation; upregulation of PKCepsilon mRNA; induction of Bcl-X(L), Bcl-w, and BDNF mRNAs; and downregulation of PKCgamma, Bad, and Bax mRNAs.


Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)

Effects:
An antioxidant that also stimulates NGF. Found to be a potent enhancer for the regeneration of peripheral nerves.


Selegiline

Effects:
Elevates NGF, BDNF, and GDNF.


Lion's Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus)

Effects:
Stimulates NGF


Lithium

Effects:
Elevates BDNF by inhibition of GSK-3, which also increases skeletal muscle growth.


Magnesium-l-threonate

Elevation of brain magnesium increased NMDA receptors (NMDARs) signaling, BDNF expression, density of presynaptic puncta, and synaptic plasticity in the prefrontal cortex.

The list goes on and on. As exciting as it all sounds, I would advise against taking most of them. Especially the ones which are intended for the patients with neurological disorders.


Why You Should Stay Away From Most Nootropics



Caffeine is still one of the best nootropics around

 

Maximize Your Brain Power Without Nootropics


If you take caffeine in any form, it might be more than enough for you. Last year, a famous study compared the effectiveness of the CAF+ nootropic to caffeine.

The CAF+ contains a combination of ingredients that have separately shown to boost cognitive performance, including caffeine, l-theanine, vinpocetine, l-tyrosine, and vitamin B6/B12.

It was supposed to be the next big thing in the world of nootropics. Alas, it turned out to be a flop.

Here is the conclusion:

We found that after 90 min, the delayed recall performance on the VLT after caffeine was better than after CAF+ treatment.

Further, caffeine, but not CAF+, improved the performance in a working memory task. In a complex choice reaction task caffeine improved the speed of responding.

Subjective alertness was increased as a result of CAF+ at 30 min after administration. Only caffeine increased diastolic blood pressure.

We conclude that in healthy young students, caffeine improves memory performance and sensorimotor speed, whereas CAF+ does not affect the cognitive performance at the dose tested.

And that's exactly my point. A lot of those compounds which are being plugged shamelessly by different fancy-sounding brain websites are close to useless.

Do yourself a favor and stick to the devil you know.

It's expensive

It's not uncommon to find comments on a Reddit about Nootropics saying that:


"500$ for nootropics is not that much. This is just the price of admission for finding the one which is right for you."


It doesn't sound alarming at all. No sir. Don't think of yourself as a cowardly version of a heroin addict. You're a brave brain-explorer! On a more serious note - a lot of these nootropics are not only shady but expensive as well. Keep that in mind, if you decide to try them out.


Unknown long-term effects

Even though natural nootropics are potentially safe, or even very safe, it definitely can't be said about synthetic nootropics. By taking them you automatically volunteer to become a guinea pig.

Many of the nootropics change your levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamineserotoninGABA and many others.

The thing is that so do many drugs like cocaine.

The long-term effect is usually a strong imbalance of transmitter levels in order to compensate those extremes.

It reminds a lot of enthusiasts of brain-zapping couple of years ago. Even though there were almost no double-blind studies confirming its effectiveness, people glibly jumped on this bandwagon.

Of course, you didn't have to wait long for the first papers showing that brain-zapping might not be as great as we once thought.

As Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir explain in the journal Nature, we don’t know how extended use might change your brain chemistry in the long run.


It's a short-term fix

Call me old-fashioned but if somebody needs a pill every time they want to feel smart or sharp, maybe they are not that smart or sharp? After every use, it's time for a cold and lonely wake-up call.


It's a lazy solution

The important question to ask here is:

what kind of people would like to take such pills in the first place?

There are two groups:


a) lazy-ass slackers and loafers

These are people who have probably never put effort into any of the things they have been doing in their life. I know that you're not one of them because you can read. That takes us to the second group.


b) high-achievers

You know much, you've achieved much but you want more. That's great. That's admirable.

But as a high-achiever, you know that there is no such thing as a lunch for free. Things which are worth your time come with a price.

There are a lot of better, and more permanent, solutions to becoming a person with an extraordinary mind.


What to do instead of nootropics?

 

What To Do Instead of Nootropics In Order To Maximize Your Brain Power Permanently

 


1. Improve short-term memory

Your short-term memory is the bottleneck of your ability to acquire knowledge. By improving it, you can greatly accelerate your learning rate.

Mnemonics are definitely one of the best ways to do it. Read more about improving your short-term memory here.


2. Improve your diet

If you eat like crap (e.g. a lot of processed foods) and you look at a cucumber as if it touched you in your childhood, you should definitely take care of this problem.


3. Fix your dietary indeficiencies

If you have problems with brain fog, concentration, and mental sharpness, there is a very good chance that your diet caused a lot of deficiencies. No nootropics will fix that for you.

Get your blood checked to see what minerals and vitamins you're lacking.

Not sure if you lack anything? Check your nails.

Healthy nails should be smooth and have consistent (pinkish) coloring.

Any spots, discoloration and so on should be alarming.

What's more, most of the time, you can basically assume that you lack Vitamin D3. Especially if you have an office job or don't live in a sunny climate. You probably also lack magnesium unless you're a health buff.


4. Improve your lifestyle

More sport and more physical interactions with people. Both these things will give you a nice dopamine and serotonin kick. If you suspect that nobody loves you, try hugging stray dogs. Even this will do.


5. Learn how to learn faster

Call me biased but no pill will substitute this kind of knowledge. Let's assume that you want to learn a language and you gobbled up a magical tablet. If you use bad learning strategies, you will still get nowhere. This time, however, a little bit faster than before.

Knowing how to learn is a permanent power.


6. Learn how to be more productive and how to focus

If you don't know how to prioritize, nootropics will only make you browse all the cat pictures faster. Here is a good place to start.


7. Learn how to take meaningful breaks

Doing something all the time is definitely one of the worst learning strategies ever. Breaks and a good night sleep are a part of the job.

I should know. I consistently ignore and rediscover this piece of advice.


8. Learn how to make better decisions and how to think

There are dozens of mental models and biases which invisibly shape the decisions you make. Get to know them in order to reason more efficiently.


9. Be consistent and build your knowledge over time

This is probably the best piece of advice I can offer anyone. You need a lot of facts in order to think efficiently and recognize patterns.

Their accumulation won't happen overnight. It can be most aptly explained by one of my all-time favorite anecdotes.


How geniuses are made


Knowledge builds on knowledge; one is not learning independent bits of trivia.

Richard Hamming recalls in You and Your Research:


You observe that most great scientists have tremendous drive. I worked for ten years with John Tukey at Bell Labs. He had tremendous drive.

One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not.

Well, I went storming into Bode’s office and said, How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does? 

He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said,

You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years. I simply slunk out of the office!


What Bode was saying was this: Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.

Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works 10% more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former.

 

The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity - it is very much like compound interest.


I don’t want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate.


Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime.


I took Bode’s remark to heart; I spent a good deal more of my time for some years trying to work a bit harder and I found, in fact, I could get more work done.


Final words

 

As enticing as nootropics might seem, I would strongly advise against using them. There are literally dozens of other, more permanent solutions, which you should try out first.

And I can tell you this - once you try most of them, you won't even remember why you wanted to give them a try in the first place.

Would you ever consider trying nootropics? 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 26 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.


Conversational Topics for Specific Language Levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, etc.)

conversational topics for specific language levels

Establishing which language level you're at can be quite tricky. Not only do you have to know how large your current vocabulary is, but also you have to be able to talk about specific topics.

This knowledge can be useful for three purposes:

  1. To measure your language level more precisely 
  2. To choose a conversational subject for your lessons or speak-to-yourself sessions
  3. To be well-prepared for official certificates

If you fail to meet these conversational requirements, it can be quite difficult to pass appropriate exams. 

Read more: How To Learn German From Scratch To A B2 Level In 5 months: A Case Study

Of course, if you just learn for fun or you don't need official papers, you shouldn't worry too much about being able to talk about all those topics.

Let's dive right in and learn what they are.


Conversational Topics for Specific Language Levels 


A1 - BREAKTHROUGH (requirements)


  • Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.
  • Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has.
  • Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
  • Let's be honest. You don't know much at this level and not much is expected of you. Still, you should be able to discuss the following topics.


    Expected conversational depth level: very superficial
    Expected vocabulary depth: everyone is happy that you know any words at all and that you can string them into semi-coherent sentences.


    A1 Conversational topics


    1.  Personal information and introductions
    2.  Offers and requests (can you ..., do you want to ... ?)
    3.  Free time and daily routines
    4.  Past events, first times, important events in your life (e.g. describing what you did last weekend)
    5.  Describing places, homes (... is big/small/red/etc.)
    6.  Shopping, food (e.g. ordering something at the restaurant)
    7.  Work/study life (What do you do _______?)
    8.  Describe people
    9.  Getting around
    10.  Suggestions/arrangements to meet (e.g. inviting someone somewhere)
    11.  Journeys/visiting places/means of transport


    A2 - WAYSTAGE (requirements)


  • Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).
  • Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.
  • Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment, and matters in areas of immediate need.
  • You know simple words, phrases with very limited reading skills and cannot keep up with conversations in the language. You still second guess your choice of words and constantly refer to guidelines.


    Expected conversational depth level: superficial,
    Expected vocabulary depth: you should know the most basic of all the words. No fancy or precise vocabulary belongs is expected of you.


    A2 Conversational topics


    Here are conversational topics you should be able to talk about at this level (source):

    1.  The individual* personal particulars* appearance* clothing* daily routine
    2.  Partnership* family* relatives* acquaintances, friends* classmates/ colleagues
    3.  Family* family members* family occasions /celebrations
    4.  Place of living* house/flat* furnishing of the living-room /bedroom* kitchen furniture, gadgets* the street, the town* (sharing the housework)
    5.  Traveling/transport* means of transport* timetable/information* buying tickets (bus, train, plane)* traveling documents
    6.  Shopping/shops* shops* special shops* electronics* markets* grocery* clothes shops* departments in a shopping center
    7.  Communication/keeping in contact* post (letter, postcard)* telephone / fax* text messages, e-mails
    8.  Services* restaurant (menu, ordering, paying)* hotel (booking, paying)
    9.  Culture/entertainment–* free time activities* guests* cinemas* theatres* museums* concerts
    10.  Time/weather* seasons* weather* rainy weather/winter weather/snowing
    11.  Health/illnesses* at the pediatrician’s* at the doctor’s* at the dentist’s* some common illnesses(flu, cold)* medication* at the chemist’s
    12.  Sport* popular sports* football* athletics* doing sports* sport and hobby
    13.  Media* television* radio* newspapers* magazines
    14.  Hobby* reading* listening to music* computer games* the candidate’s favorite pastime
    15.  Studying/work* subjects* popular professions* workplaces* colleagues / school-friends* daily routine at home / at work


    Here are sample A2 speaking tests:

    Here is an excerpt from a German A2 exam (passed by those candidates). Even if you don't know any German, just pay attention to the pace of this conversation. If you do, notice the simplicity of the vocabulary which is being used.


    B1 - THRESHOLD (requirements)

     conversational topics

    Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash


  • Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
  • Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst traveling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • Can produce simple connected text on familiar topics or the ones of personal interest.
  • Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
  • This is the level which most people think of when they hear "conversational fluency". The gist of this level is that you can participate in a simplified conversation about popular topics.

    Notice that topic-wise, this level is not that different from an A2. The main difference is that your vocabulary is bigger and hence you can talk about these subjects at a slightly deeper level.


    Expected conversational depth level: you can discuss things at a slightly deep level
    Expected vocabulary depth: you can convey many of your thoughts but you lack precision. Think "It's bad that people like" rather than "it's infuriating that people can be such mendacious scum"


    B1 Conversational topics


    Here are conversational topics you should be able to talk about at this level (source, source 2):

    1.  The individual* personal particulars* appearance* inner characteristics* casual / evening wear
    2. Partnership* relatives, friends* acquaintances, neighbors* classmates/schoolmates/colleagues
    3.  Family* family members* family occasions/celebrations* distribution of tasks in the family
    4.  Place of living* house/block house/flat* furnishing/gadgets of the rooms* furnishing/gadgets of the kitchen and the bathroom* rent and bills* housework
    5.  Traveling/transport* means of transport* public transport* timetable/information* buying tickets/preparation for a journey* traveling abroad/traveling documents
    6.  Shopping/shops* shops/markets* department stores / departments* groceries/household goods* clothing* electric appliances
    7.  Communication/keeping in contact* post (letter, telegram, parcel)* telephone (traditional, mobile, text messages)* Internet (e-mail, Skype, chat)
    8.  Services* financial services (transfer, exchange)* restaurant (menu, ordering, paying)* hotel (booking, paying)
    9.  Culture/entertainment* guests* cinemas* theaters* museums* concerts* library (school, at home, public)
    10.  Time/weather* seasons/weather* weather forecast
    11.  Health/illnesses
      eating and drinking
      at the doctor’s* common illnesses and their symptoms* prescriptions / medication /pharmacy
    12.  Sport* popular sports* national sports* doing sports
    13.  Media* television* radio* newspapers / magazines
    14.  Hobby* gardening / DIY* reading / listening to music* computer
    15.  Studying/work* types of schools* subjects* popular professions/workplaces* daily routine
    16.  European Union* members of the EU* travelling / work / mobility
    17.  Culture and civilization* basic practical information regarding the home country and the target language country (weather, currency, eating habits, daily routine, celebrations, shopping opportunities, etc)* tourist attractions* accommodation / restaurants
    18. Holidays and celebrations


    Here are sample B1 speaking tests:


    • In English

    I find this one especially fitting if you want to understand what this level is all about


    • In German


    B2 - INTERMEDIATE (requirements)

    Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


  • Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization.
  • Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
  • Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options
  • This level can be depicted as a FULL conversational fluency. You can have real conversations with native speakers about a variety of subjects.


    Expected conversational depth level: you can discuss things at quite a deep level
    Expected vocabulary depth: you can convey most of your thoughts but you still, for the most part, lack precision. Compared to a B1 level, you can discuss more topics with more precise vocabulary.


    B2 Conversational topics


    Here are conversational topics you should be able to talk about at this level (source and source 2):

    1.  The individual* behavioral patterns* fashion/clothing/cosmetics
    2.  Partnership* making friends (in person, on the net, etc.)* roles in the family* contacts at work / at school
    3.  Family* family/bringing up children* relationship of generations / living together* marriage/forms of partnership
    4.  Place of living* rental/property/lodgings* buying a flat/buying on credit /renovation* way of living in a town and a village
    5.  Traveling/transport* driving/highway codes* walking, riding the bike* reasons/forms of traveling abroad
    6.  Shopping/shops* shopping habits/commercials, ads* chains/shopping by mail* retail shops versus shopping centers
    7.  Communication/keeping in contact –* reasons for the popularity of mobiles* the role of language knowledge in communication* the increasing dominance of the English language
    8.  Services* car rental / travel agencies* repairs / guarantees
    9.  Culture/entertainment* books versus Internet* cinema, theatre versus TV, video, DVD* he Internet and the social networking sites
    10.  Time/weather* role and accurateness of forecasts* relationship between climate and flora/fauna
    11.  Health/illnesses* outpatient department / hospital / specialists* nature cure – medicines* prevention / screening* healthy diet
    12.  Sport* doing sports – healthy lifestyle –dangerous/extreme sports* ball games / team sports / rules* water sports/winter sports* Olympic Games
    13.  Media* features of newspapers, their columns* sensation and news
    14.  Hobby* pursuing amateur arts* clubs (sport, cultural, professional)* hobby and work* modern/peculiar hobbies
    15.  Studying/work* language knowledge / skills / career* equal chances in education / finding a workplace* unemployment* exchange programs / scholarships abroad / professional development* new forms of studying
    16.  European Union* work in the EU* language teaching/language knowledge/work opportunities in the EU
    17.  Culture and civilization The home country and the target language country* population / ethnic minorities* historic traditions / monuments / cultural values* artistic / ethnographic characteristics
    18.  Public life* public institutions / personal documents* public safety* national holidays
    19.  Environmental protection* pollution (air, water, soil, et)* selective waste management* recycling* alternative sources of energy
    20.  Current topics/events* public life / politics / NGOs* economy
    21.  Education system


    Here are sample B2 speaking tests:


    • In English ​
    • In German 



    C1 - ADVANCED/PROFICIENT (requirements)


  • He/she can understand a wide range of more demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning in them.
  • He/she can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for the right expression.
  • He/she can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • He/she can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing the correct use of organizational patterns, connectors, and cohesive devices.
  • In linguistic terms, proficiency does not translate to the same meaning as fluent. To state you are proficient means you are comfortable with the use of the language in spoken and written form but not at the same level as a native speaker.

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


    Expected conversational depth level: you can discuss things at a (very) deep level (depending on a subject)
    Expected vocabulary depth: not only can you convey almost every thought but your language is also becoming more and more natural. You start using idioms and distinguishing between different shades of meaning of many words.


    C1 Conversational topics


    Here are conversational topics you should be able to talk about at this level (source):

    1.  The individual* ambition/career building* the individual and the society* problems of social integration
    2.  Partnership* forms of partnership* nationalities/minorities
    3.  Family* the social status of families / the system of family allowances* family/career
    4.  Place of living* housing situation/difficulties in building a house* homelessness / its causes/ problems* housing and mobility
    5.  Traveling/transport* problems of city traffic / public transport versus using cars* transport and environmental protection* tourism as a source of income* development in transport / its aspects
    6.  Shopping/shops* consumers’ society* buying on credit/with credit cards/on the Internet* shopping tourism
    7.  Communication/keeping in contact* the Internet in business communication* Fax, e-mail versus traditional letter writing* less widely used languages versus English
    8.  Services* quality/guarantee of services* role, significance of services* electronic services / online ordering
    9.  Culture/entertainment* role of arts in the past and present* public collections and their maintenance / art / historic relics / monuments* mentorship / sponsorship / advertising
    10.  Time/weather* natural catastrophes and their consequences* hole in the ozone layer/dangers of global warming
    11.  Health/illnesses* science/research serving medical care / genetics* alternative methods of healing* health tourism
    12.  Sport* first-class sports – mass sports/doping* professionalism in sports / amateur sports / extreme sports* sport and women (chess, boxing, weightlifting, football)* sport and commercials
    13.  Media* objectivity / impartiality of providing information*  stars / celebrities
    14.  Hobby* promoting traditions* exclusive hobbies (golf, horse riding, scuba diving, etc.)* hobby and/or professionalism?
    15.  Studying/work* (over) qualification/chances on the work market* lifelong education* finding work/mobility* chances of the underprivileged
    16.  European Union* the role of the EU in world politics* common / national currency
    17.  Culture and civilization The home country and the target language country* fame/recognition in the world / their relationship to each other* their image* differences in traditions / customs / ideology
    18.  Public life* the purity of public life / corruption* political parties / elections / referendum
    19.  Environmental protection* prevention in environmental protection* environmental catastrophes and their consequences
    20.  Current topics/events* public life / politics / NGOs* economy / arts / sports
    21.  Globalization* uniformity (dressing, eating, culture, consumer products, etc.)* globalization / maintaining national characteristics
    22.  Current questions on ethics* animal experiments* nuclear experiments
    23.  Current questions on economy/society–* smuggling: goods/people* smoking/dangers of drug addiction


    Here are sample C1 speaking tests:


    • In English


    • In German


    C2 - MASTERY (requirements)

    Photo by Ashton Mullins on Unsplash


  • Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read.
  • Can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.
  • Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.
  • C2 Conversational topics


    No need to waste my breath, or fingertips, here. At this level, you are absolutely fluent and can talk about almost everything. No wonder! You're approaching the level presented by well-educated-native speakers.

    My only advice for you at this level is to dive into details of any topic you decide to discuss. You need to put in lots of effort to activate all those obscure words. Don't talk just about shopping. Discuss "high-impact strategies to increase a wholesale diversification". Or, you know, something of this sort.


    Conversational Topics for Specific Language Levels - Summary


    Knowing conversational topics for specific language levels is crucial if you want to pass any official certificate. Even more so if you decide to do it on your own. Such knowledge allows you to shield yourself from any unpleasant surprises during the speaking part of an exam.

    However, if you feel no need to obtain any official documents, knowing conversational topics for specific language levels can help you prepare better for your lessons or even give you lots of question ideas for your self-talk!


    Side Projects – Rediscover The Joy of Learning and Expand Your Knowledge

    Side Projects – an easy way to rediscover your joy of learning


    The general sentiment towards learning these days never ceases to amaze me. Whenever I mention that I love to study or read research papers in my spare time, I often hear perplexed grunts or shy hollering "burn him!". It's perfectly normal to binge-watch three seasons of some TV series over the weekend. A five-hour session of board games is entirely acceptable. I have this vague feeling that even if I sprinkled my nipples with glitter and pretended to be a pigeon in front of the local police station, the reaction would be kinder.

    Unfortunately, learning, instead of being associated with joy, sounds like a lifetime sentence, especially for adults. Of course, this progression does not occur immediately but almost imperceptibly, step by step. Just look at children. Their unrestrained joy of learning and discovering the world is nothing short of contagious. It usually lasts until they reach the school age.

    Schools are like a grotesque B-rated horror infirmary where kids get their first doses of venom. It poisons their souls and actively discourages them from learning. It all starts innocently. First homework, the ubiquitous sense of compulsion, displeased stare of their teachers are enough to kill anyone's enthusiasm.

    Each of them leaves little scars on their souls that eventually turn into an utter reluctance to learn. For adults, studying is usually the equivalent of working on a galley. You know you have to do it to get your pesos and an extra ration of bread but to enjoy it ?! Only deranged lunatics like learning.

    In this article, I wanted to show you one of the possible ways to rediscover your passion for learning thanks to a simple concept I call Side Projects. I believe it has great potential to change anyone's view on learning, including children.


    What Are Side Projects?


    Side projects, as the name inconspicuously suggests, stand in opposition to your main projects. We can safely assume that your main goals are inevitable. They are necessary to secure your or your family's financial future and to guarantee a high standard of living.

    Side projects have absolutely nothing to do with overwhelming pressure.

    Here is what side projects all about.


    1. Any field of knowledge


    A side project of your choice can concern any field of knowledge. The only thing that matters is your willingness to pursue this goal. Forget about money, pragmatism, profitability, or utility.

    Wanna learn the names of all the saints in Romania? Cool!

    Do you want to explore the life of various species of ants in your home country? Great choice.

    Are you dreaming of becoming a specialist in the field of toilet bowls? Brilliant!

    The only condition is that it charges you with tons of positive energy.


    2. No daily goals or deadlines


    The only set-in-stone rule regarding side projects is this - abandon all that productivity jive that hunts our lives on a day-to-day basis. There are no daily goals or deadlines. Spend as much time as you like on your side projects.


    If, after 10 minutes of reading about a given field, you have had enough, finish your studies for today. Kick up your legs and enjoy your whiskey or rotgut remorse-free.


    3. There may be more than one of them


    What if you're interested in more than one subject? Even better! I find that the best number of side projects is anything between 2-3. If there are more of them, you might use them as a welcome distraction while working on your main project.

    Read more: How To Master Many Fields Of Knowledge - Your Action Plan And Recommended Strategies


    4. A springboard from major projects (the perfect getaway from)


    The side projects should be the equivalent of a Tequila shot at a boring party. If you have already worked a bit on your main project a day, and you feel your brain's convolutions are beginning to unfold, give yourself a jolt by enjoying your project, even for a little while.

    The way you implement this strategy is quite simple. Start working on your project, and once you start feeling burned out, switch your gears and fool around for some time with your side project. Get that dopamine high to revive your focus and energy levels. Once you are done, go back to your primary focus.

    They should be your stepping stone from the routine of everyday life and instill in you unfettered enthusiasm!

    Read more: Make Your ANKI Learning Sessions Longer and More Enjoyable by Manipulating Dopamine Levels


    Benefits of Side Projects


    Don't expect a balanced approach in this article. There are no cons of this strategy in my mind, just pros. How many? Plenty!


    1. Rediscovering the joy of learning



    Perhaps I am largely isolated in my opinion, but I believe that nothing kills the joy of learning like a compulsion. Schools, for most children, are places where enthusiasm comes to die. Kids sit there for long hours, shackled to their desks by obligations and expectations. It doesn't get better once they get back home. There is no mercy. "Do your homework, honey, or you will end up as a car mechanic (that earns twice as much as most white-collar workers)!"

    What's especially sad for me is that institutions that are supposed to promote science really don't give a damn about it. For example, did you know that there is virtually no research of good quality that shows that homework is an effective tool in the learning system? The largest study to date on this issue was conducted in 2006.

    Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement?

    It is a meta-analysis meaning it's a study that summarizes the conclusions of many other research papers. Here is its conclusion:


    "No strong evidence was found for an association between the homework–achievement link and the outcome measure (grades as opposed to standardized tests) or the subject matter (reading as opposed to math).


    In other words, all we have is a very weak correlation that homework is worth our while. Science would dictate that if we fail to find any strong evidence for a given hypothesis, we should abandon it. Of course, that's just a theory. The reality dictates that we should keep on spiraling into this madness and continue doing what we have done for over a century. Let's just ignore countries like Finland that have forsaken this misbegotten and obsolete concept and do way better than the others.

    Does this mean that children or students should not do anything when they come home? No. But there's a clear alternative to homework after all.


    Freedom of choice means more fun from learning

    The flip side of this tarnished coin is freedom of choice. The amount of research that shows the benefits of giving people the freedom to choose what they want to learn is quite overwhelming. It is, among others, correlated with:

    • happiness
    • academic achievements
    • success in life
    • e.t.c.
    Here is a handful of studies on that topic:

    Even though all of these studies are mostly correlative, the question is, do we really have to scour through a pile of academic papers to understand how important choice is?

    When I studied Computer Science and Econometrics, it turned out that my love for mathematics wrinkled and withered like a piss-watered rose. When I studied English Philology, I stopped learning this language at my own time. After one semester, studying it seemed as satisfying as chewing rubble. The same thing happened during my Postgraduate Studies for Sworn Translators and Interpreters. I was so disgusted with them that I quit my job as an interpreter and gave up on any translation-related career.

    Funny enough, it did not prevent me from studying all these subjects on my own after graduation. It also didn't stop me from teaching subjects like statistics subjects and showing people how wonderful they are.

    Freedom of choice is inseparable from the joy of learning and discovering the world.

    Maybe this damned omnipresent feeling compulsion is why most people don't work in the profession upon graduation.

    To sum up, telling someone that they have to do something reminds me of the growing agony on the face of a person who finds out that yes, they are going on a romantic getaway to Paris, but the one in Lamar County, Texas.


    2. Developing the habit of learning



    The freedom of choice and the joy resulting from it always result in one thing - everyday learning. I don't think anyone should be surprised. If we like to do something, we do it often. And the more we do something, the better we are at it. And the better we are, the more we want to demonstrate it to others. After some time, we reach the point where our newly acquired "specialization" becomes a part of our identity. You become "the car guy", or "the diet lady", etc.

    It's worth remembering that side projects have the potential to change your attitude towards any kind of learning. One day you might wake up just to realize that studying every day is as natural to you as brushing your teeth.


    3. Knowledge and development


    I love the fact that all the benefits of side projects seem to overlap. Freedom of choice restores the joy of learning, which in turn leads to the habit of regular learning. The consequence, of course, is the accumulation of knowledge and continuous development.

    Where will they all take you? Nobody knows, and that's their beauty. Good things, as well as bad things, have one thing in common - usually, they come in hordes. Perhaps the knowledge you have accumulated will help you get a raise or a new job. Or maybe you will infuse your children with this passion, giving their lives a wonderful trajectory. You may start waking up with joy, even looking forward to the new day, and your enthusiasm will begin to infect all those around you.

    No one knows what will happen, but be sure of one thing - it will be something breathtakingly positive.


    Examples of Side Projects of Mine


    I have no idea what's in your head or what potentially interests you. All I can do is give you some examples of my current side projects. Note that they are quite bizarre, at least for most people. It doesn't matter. I enjoy them, and that's what counts.


    1. Toxicology


    As a kid, I was absolutely in love with the trilogy "The Assassin's Apprentice" by Robin Hobb. The first part of this series instilled in me a strange fascination with the world of "poisons and venoms." Since then, I have always had this strange desire to delve into the fascinating world of toxicology. Of course, I kept telling myself for many years that I didn't have time for this. After all, it's silly and unproductive! I am an adult, and I need to focus on what's important. Once I implemented a side project into my learning toolbox, I could finally shut those annoying voices of ill-intentioned reason.

    Now, I know a decent bit, as for an amateur, about this area, and I love it.

    Fun fact #1: We can obtain strychnine from an ordinary houseplant called difenbachia. It is found in quite high concentration in the leaves.

    Fun fact #2: Strychnine in doses less than 5 mg can be used as a stimulant.

    Fun fact #3:  Breathing is getting difficult, and I can't feel my fingernails.

    Fun fact #4: Ignore fun fact #2 - stick with coffee.


    2. Geography


    Side Projects – an easy way to rediscover

    Photo by Brett Zeck on Unsplash


    For at least 20 years, in every conversation that touched upon trips, holidays, countries, etc., I felt like a geographic idiot. Heck, I even brought it up myself asking people over and over where a given city or sea is located. I brushed off my ignorance because I always felt that it's one of those things that I can easily google if need be, At the same time, it didn't diminish how silly I felt when it turned out that I don't know quite big towns located literally 50 km always from my hometown.

    It's no surprise that geography became one of my side projects. And man, what a ride down the memory lane it is! I used to spend half of my childhood hiking in different mountain ranges in Poland. I never remembered their names - all I had were souvenirs in the form of pictures. Now I am rediscovering all of them in ANKI.

    Don't get me wrong - I still suck at it more than a 5000 W vacuum cleaner. However, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. And for once, I don't think that's the end of the colon.


    3. DDD (Disinfection, Deratization, Disinfestation)


    Not that long ago, my close friend and I had a brilliant plan to take over his dad's business in that industry and try to expand it. Even though our project fell through for different reasons, the whole undertaking gave me a push to start studying this area. Frankly, I was almost sure that I would drop this field of study the moment I knew that our project would fail but surprisingly, I am still studying it even if just at a leisurely pace.

    Funny enough, some of this knowledge turned out to be useful when pharaoh ants invaded our flat! I managed to quickly fight off this menace without resorting to chemicals. It's the little things that matter!


    How Side Projects Turn Into Serious Ones


    Unpredictability and randomness are inherent parts of life. You never know what a tiny rolling stone may turn into. My experience clearly shows that if you give it some time, it might be an avalanche of monumental proportions.

    So many things that are my daily bread and butter nowadays were alien to me a couple of years ago. The mere suggestion that I could do live off them would be rewarded with a doubting and pitiful smile of mine. And yet, they are all a part of my reality. Isn't it easy to underestimate the smallest of things?


    Investing


    I started investing a couple of years ago after way too many conversations on that topic with one of my students. He often told me about his experiences with the Polish stock market in the 90s. I never thought of myself as someone who could do this. My primary association with investing were sad guys in three-piece suits and their fake bleached smiles.

    After some cogitation, I began to timidly memorize everything I could on that topic on various websites. It took me about 18 months before I finally opened my brokerage account and started investing. Money aside, this project was and still is a lot of fun. That is if we forget about the market crash in March. That was anything but fun.

    Still, in hindsight, it was one of the best decisions of my life and up to this day. Up to this day, investing is an integral part of my week.


    Trichology


    My interest in trichology started very sneakily. My friend, who at the time wasn't even 30, started going bold. Knowing my obsession with medicine and especially endocrinology, he asked if I could help him with that. Even though I had some information on alopecia in my ANKI, and I knew the basic mechanisms behind this process, I felt it was not enough. 

    I started going through different books and research papers in my spare time, and before I knew it, I was head over heels in love with this topic. It got serious enough that I even did my certification as a trichologist, and now I consult clients a couple of times per month.

    I could list many more examples like this, but I think you already know what I mean. You never know where your side projects will take you, but one thing is for sure - it will be a very positive place.


    Side Projects - Summary


    Whenever somebody asks me how to get good or excel in many areas, my answer is always the same. Learn how to learn effectively and then start with side projects.

    Side projects have the potential to revive your joy of learning and make it an integral part of your life. The great thing about such an approach is that you don't need any sophisticated goals, detailed planning or tools.

    Just think about the field that has always interested you, download ANKI and get down to work! Good luck!


    Let me know if you have put some of your projects or interests on the back burner 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 11 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.



    Benefits Of Talking To Yourself And How To Do It Right To Master a Language

     There is no better way to start a piece on the benefits of talking to yourself than to quote Mr. Jones.

    "One advantage of talking to yourself is that you know at least somebody's listening," Franklin P. Jones.

    You must be thinking now - is there a BAD way to do it? Of course. Believe me, It's definitely an art. Just like basket weaving.

    But seriously - we take our ability to talk to ourselves for granted. I tried to google "talking to yourself" in some languages. The result? Usually, people are trying to make sure that they don't have schizophrenia.


    Taking to Yourself - Why so Many Bad Associations?


    Every time, every damn time, when I mention to somebody that I love talking to myself out loud, they give me this weird look. They probably think that I put on my trench coat, get on the bus, sit near some nice old lady, and rub myself while blurting out some incomprehensible words.

    That's a grave misunderstanding. If used the right way, "self-talk," as psychologists refer to it, can be a handy tool in your mental arsenal. It can, I kid you not, improve almost every area of your life.

    No more shameful hiding in the shadows. Embrace your inner voices, and let me walk you through the benefits of talking to yourself!


    Cognitive Benefits Of Talking To Yourself


    What does the research say about the benefits of talking to yourself?


    Research from the University of Michigan found that those who worked through their stress about giving a speech about their qualifications using "you" rather than "I" performed better and were less tormented by anxiety and self-doubt.

    When people think of themselves as another person, "it allows them to give themselves objective, helpful feedback", says Ethan Kross, associate professor of psychology and director of the Self-Control and Emotion Laboratory at the University of Michigan

    In another study, psychologists Gary Lupyan (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Daniel Swingley (University of Pennsylvania) conducted a series of experiments to discover whether talking to yourself can help you to locate lost objects.

    Long story short - they established that speaking facilitated search, particularly when there was a strong association between the name and the visual target.

    You see? Not only children can augment their thinking while doing some tasks!

    Are there any other benefits other than being more likely to stay on taskstaying focused better, and showing improved perception capabilities?

    Sure! Better memory. Think about it - when you talk out loud, you stimulate more sensory channels than when you subvocalize. You hear the sounds. What's more, even though you may not realize it, your body feels sounds as they are conducted through your bones.

    Fun fact: Bone conduction is one reason why a person's voice sounds different to him/her when it is recorded and played back.

    Last but not least, whenever you say something out loud, you engage your emotions. One of the most potent ingredients to boost your memory.

    Research is great. But experiencing something first hand is even better.

    Choose some words you'd like to memorize and shout it out angrily or with joy and afterward start laughing like a madman. I'll be amazed if you can't recall it a few days later.

    Here's a good example. I'm sure you remember this scene if you have seen the movie.



    I hope that by this moment, you're at least muttering to yourself!


    Benefits of Talking to Yourself - Overcoming Stage Fright


    Everybody has his favorite tricks to deal with anxiety. But the one which I find the most effective is preparing yourself for what's about to come.


    Have a presentation?


    Stand in front of the mirror and go through your presentation as many times as it's necessary to turn it into a brilliant performance. Who knows? Maybe you will enjoy it that much that you will join Toastmasters.


    Have an interview?


    Collect the list of 20-30 most frequently asked questions and rehearse the crap out of them!


    Want to confront your boss about the long-overdue raise?


    List all the possible questions that may come up during such a conversation and prepare your answers. Doing so will put you in a much better position when push comes to shove.

    And so on. You get the idea.

    Proper preparation kills stress and anxiety.


    Benefits of Talking to Yourself - Practicing Languages


    What if I told you that you could learn a language without uttering a word to anyone else but yourself? You would probably think I'm crazy. And I certainly am. After all, I'm writing an article about talking to yourself.

    But that doesn't change the fact that I learned Swedish (B2 level) to get the job in less than four months without talking to anyone in Swedish (but myself). And while working 50+ hours per week.

    Talking to yourself is one of the best (and cheapest!) ways to improve your language skills. Conversations with others always impose various limitations on you. It's entirely understandable - It's much more important to keep the talk alive than to experiment with different grammar constructions or new vocabulary.

    Self-talk enables you to concentrate on your weaknesses. Such deliberate practice can significantly improve your language level.


    How to Talk to Yourself?


    All conversations are based on the "action-reaction" principle. Somebody asks you some questions - you answer. It goes on and on. That's why, if you want to prepare yourself for conversations with, say, friends from abroad, you should list potential questions that might come up, together with answers to them. Don't forget about taking into consideration the interests of potential conversation partners!

    Of course, you don't have to come up with all the questions by yourself.

    I want to recommend two fantastic websites which I have been using for many years:

    They cover almost every socially acceptable topic which might crop up during your conversations. Together with some more "unusual" subjects, such as - eye contact or Jamaica.

    If you discuss most of these subjects with yourself, I can guarantee you that you'll be able to talk with every native speaker about almost anything you want. Isn't it a definition of being fluent?



    Overcome Weirdness of Talking to Yourself


    Benefits Of Talking To Yourself


    It's only weird if you make it weird. You don't have to rush to your friends to brag about this, nor do you have to write an article about this (sic!). It's just a tool to make you a better person.

    It's perfectly normal. Do you know that computer scientists do it as well (not that it means anything!)?

    Rubber duck debugging is an informal term used in software engineering for a method of debugging code. The name is a reference to a story in the book The Pragmatic Programmer in which a programmer would carry around a rubber duck and debug their code by forcing themselves to explain it, line-by-line, to the duck. Many other terms exist for this technique, often involving different inanimate objects.

    So don't be a weirdo and don't feel ashamed to talk to yourself!


    Other Benefits of Talking to Yourself


    That's right. You might use the self-talk for various things, such as:

    1. 1
      Energizing and motivating yourself - you can psych yourself up with: "Come on!" "Let's go!" "You can do this!". Martial artists have been using screams for hundreds of years to give them some extra energy. I'm pretty sure there is a good reason for that.
    2. 2
      Playing devil's advocate - find the weaknesses in your argumentation. Try to debunk your theories. Saying your options out loud and elaborating on the pros and cons can help bring the right choice to light, and you might be surprised at the unexpected direction your thoughts take when they're audible.
    3. 3
      Blowing off steam - don't keep it all inside. If your colleague is a massive w*nker, say it out loud and scold him. Scientists found out that swearing can alleviate pain and decrease stress.
    4. 4
      Cheering yourself up sometimes, it just happens that others don't appreciate you enough. So what? You can pat yourself on the back for being a great human being!

    Benefits of Talking to Yourself - FAQ 


    My spouse/brother/friend is talking to himself/herself a bit too much? Should I be worried?

    Generally, no, unless you notice any of the two following symptoms.

    • The self-talk is accompanied by general hostility towards others, cupping some object and calling it "my precious."
    • It turns out that they are talking to the invisible friend called Jimmy.

    Remember, it's not weird until you make it weird!


    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.

     


    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.

     

    1 2 3 4 5 7