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,
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 "
"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. -
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
One of the prime example of not knowing how to use a word fall into a category of 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
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:
- 1Problems 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.
- 2Problems with retrieving
- 3Problems 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:
- 1Encoding — involves initial processing of information which leads to the construction of its mental representation in memory
- 2Storage — is the retention of encoded information in the short-term or long-term memory
- 3Recall — 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
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.
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:
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:
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.
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."
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.
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.
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:
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.
Growing-up has to be one of the saddest things ever from the outside perspective. It’s like a backward evolution. You see how amazingly curious creatures turn into mindless corporate drones. You see how the pursuit of knowledge turns into the pursuit of money.
I believe that curiosity and the power to create are the very things that can ward off all the negative in the world. However, for those qualities to survive, you have to feed them continuously. The problem is that modern times actively discourage people from becoming a polymath.
What’s more, we live in the conviction that there is not enough lifetime to master many areas of expertise.
I want to show you that it’s possible if you play your cards right. Within your lifetime, you can become great at many things. But before we get to the specifics, let’s start with a fundamental question:
How to Master Many Fields of Knowledge – Is It Worth It?
I like to think of knowing many things as of the magical glasses – the more you know, the more you can see.
Being stuck in one field of specialty is nothing short of being blindfolded. You can go throughout life without being able to spot all those enchanting intricacies coming from the expanded perspective.
“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.
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.
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.
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
a) aromatics (eggy, mustardy, and so forth);
b) basic tastes (salty, sour, and sweet);
c) chemical-feeling factors (burn, pungent, astringent).
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
- 1come up with hypotheses as quickly as possible
- 2set yourself a suitable deadline to test the idea
- 3test it
- 4measure results at the end of the experiment
- 5draw conclusions
- 6rinse 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!
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.
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.
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”).
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
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!
Now our little story can go like this:
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) .
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,
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!
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.
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:
- 1Choose a GOAL you want to achieve
- 2BET with someone that you'll achieve it in x hours or days
- 3Choose 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.
And probably many other things I have already forgotten about.
Alrighty then. Let's take a look at what a good bet consists of.
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.
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:
Most of the time it's perfectly possible to determine the answers.
If you decide to run 5 km, you can use
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'.
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).
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:
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!
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.
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?
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:
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.
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, 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.
Great news for any enthusiast of Indian cuisine.
Produces neuroprotective effects via activating BDNF/TrkB-dependent MAPK and PI-3K cascades in rodent cortical neurons.
Elevates BDNF by inhibition of GSK-3, which also increases skeletal muscle growth.
One of the most famous herbs which can boast such 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.
Enhanced brain metabolism, better communication between the right and left brain hemispheres
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.
An antioxidant that also stimulates NGF. Found to be a potent enhancer for the regeneration of peripheral nerves.
Elevates NGF, BDNF, and GDNF.
Lion's Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus)
Elevates BDNF by inhibition of GSK-3, which also increases skeletal muscle growth.
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
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 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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
- To measure your language level more precisely
- To choose a conversational subject for your lessons or speak-to-yourself sessions
- To be well-prepared for official certificates
If you fail to meet these conversational requirements, it can be quite difficult to pass appropriate exams.
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)
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
- Personal information and introductions
- Offers and requests (can you ..., do you want to ... ?)
- Free time and daily routines
- Past events, first times, important events in your life (e.g. describing what you did last weekend)
- Describing places, homes (... is big/small/red/etc.)
- Shopping, food (e.g. ordering something at the restaurant)
- Work/study life (What do you do _______?)
- Describe people
- Getting around
- Suggestions/arrangements to meet (e.g. inviting someone somewhere)
- Journeys/visiting places/means of transport
A2 - WAYSTAGE (requirements)
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):
- The individual* personal particulars* appearance* clothing* daily routine
- Partnership* family* relatives* acquaintances, friends* classmates/ colleagues
- Family* family members* family occasions /celebrations
- Place of living* house/flat* furnishing of the living-room /bedroom* kitchen furniture, gadgets* the street, the town* (sharing the housework)
- Traveling/transport* means of transport* timetable/information* buying tickets (bus, train, plane)* traveling documents
- Shopping/shops* shops* special shops* electronics* markets* grocery* clothes shops* departments in a shopping center
- Communication/keeping in contact* post (letter, postcard)* telephone / fax* text messages, e-mails
- Services* restaurant (menu, ordering, paying)* hotel (booking, paying)
- Culture/entertainment–* free time activities* guests* cinemas* theatres* museums* concerts
- Time/weather* seasons* weather* rainy weather/winter weather/snowing
- Health/illnesses* at the pediatrician’s* at the doctor’s* at the dentist’s* some common illnesses(flu, cold)* medication* at the chemist’s
- Sport* popular sports* football* athletics* doing sports* sport and hobby
- Media* television* radio* newspapers* magazines
- Hobby* reading* listening to music* computer games* the candidate’s favorite pastime
- 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)
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
- The individual* personal particulars* appearance* inner characteristics* casual / evening wear
- Partnership* relatives, friends* acquaintances, neighbors* classmates/schoolmates/colleagues
- Family* family members* family occasions/celebrations* distribution of tasks in the family
- Place of living* house/block house/flat* furnishing/gadgets of the rooms* furnishing/gadgets of the kitchen and the bathroom* rent and bills* housework
- Traveling/transport* means of transport* public transport* timetable/information* buying tickets/preparation for a journey* traveling abroad/traveling documents
- Shopping/shops* shops/markets* department stores / departments* groceries/household goods* clothing* electric appliances
- Communication/keeping in contact* post (letter, telegram, parcel)* telephone (traditional, mobile, text messages)* Internet (e-mail, Skype, chat)
- Services* financial services (transfer, exchange)* restaurant (menu, ordering, paying)* hotel (booking, paying)
- Culture/entertainment* guests* cinemas* theaters* museums* concerts* library (school, at home, public)
- Time/weather* seasons/weather* weather forecast
eating and drinking
at the doctor’s* common illnesses and their symptoms* prescriptions / medication /pharmacy
- Sport* popular sports* national sports* doing sports
- Media* television* radio* newspapers / magazines
- Hobby* gardening / DIY* reading / listening to music* computer
- Studying/work* types of schools* subjects* popular professions/workplaces* daily routine
- European Union* members of the EU* travelling / work / mobility
- 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
- 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)
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
- The individual* behavioral patterns* fashion/clothing/cosmetics
- Partnership* making friends (in person, on the net, etc.)* roles in the family* contacts at work / at school
- Family* family/bringing up children* relationship of generations / living together* marriage/forms of partnership
- Place of living* rental/property/lodgings* buying a flat/buying on credit /renovation* way of living in a town and a village
- Traveling/transport* driving/highway codes* walking, riding the bike* reasons/forms of traveling abroad
- Shopping/shops* shopping habits/commercials, ads* chains/shopping by mail* retail shops versus shopping centers
- Communication/keeping in contact –* reasons for the popularity of mobiles* the role of language knowledge in communication* the increasing dominance of the English language
- Services* car rental / travel agencies* repairs / guarantees
- Culture/entertainment* books versus Internet* cinema, theatre versus TV, video, DVD* he Internet and the social networking sites
- Time/weather* role and accurateness of forecasts* relationship between climate and flora/fauna
- Health/illnesses* outpatient department / hospital / specialists* nature cure – medicines* prevention / screening* healthy diet
- Sport* doing sports – healthy lifestyle –dangerous/extreme sports* ball games / team sports / rules* water sports/winter sports* Olympic Games
- Media* features of newspapers, their columns* sensation and news
- Hobby* pursuing amateur arts* clubs (sport, cultural, professional)* hobby and work* modern/peculiar hobbies
- Studying/work* language knowledge / skills / career* equal chances in education / finding a workplace* unemployment* exchange programs / scholarships abroad / professional development* new forms of studying
- European Union* work in the EU* language teaching/language knowledge/work opportunities in the EU
- Culture and civilization The home country and the target language country* population / ethnic minorities* historic traditions / monuments / cultural values* artistic / ethnographic characteristics
- Public life* public institutions / personal documents* public safety* national holidays
- Environmental protection* pollution (air, water, soil, et)* selective waste management* recycling* alternative sources of energy
- Current topics/events* public life / politics / NGOs* economy
- Education system
Here are sample B2 speaking tests:
- In English
C1 - ADVANCED/PROFICIENT (requirements)
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.
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):
- The individual* ambition/career building* the individual and the society* problems of social integration
- Partnership* forms of partnership* nationalities/minorities
- Family* the social status of families / the system of family allowances* family/career
- Place of living* housing situation/difficulties in building a house* homelessness / its causes/ problems* housing and mobility
- 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
- Shopping/shops* consumers’ society* buying on credit/with credit cards/on the Internet* shopping tourism
- Communication/keeping in contact* the Internet in business communication* Fax, e-mail versus traditional letter writing* less widely used languages versus English
- Services* quality/guarantee of services* role, significance of services* electronic services / online ordering
- Culture/entertainment* role of arts in the past and present* public collections and their maintenance / art / historic relics / monuments* mentorship / sponsorship / advertising
- Time/weather* natural catastrophes and their consequences* hole in the ozone layer/dangers of global warming
- Health/illnesses* science/research serving medical care / genetics* alternative methods of healing* health tourism
- Sport* first-class sports – mass sports/doping* professionalism in sports / amateur sports / extreme sports* sport and women (chess, boxing, weightlifting, football)* sport and commercials
- Media* objectivity / impartiality of providing information* stars / celebrities
- Hobby* promoting traditions* exclusive hobbies (golf, horse riding, scuba diving, etc.)* hobby and/or professionalism?
- Studying/work* (over) qualification/chances on the work market* lifelong education* finding work/mobility* chances of the underprivileged
- European Union* the role of the EU in world politics* common / national currency
- 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
- Public life* the purity of public life / corruption* political parties / elections / referendum
- Environmental protection* prevention in environmental protection* environmental catastrophes and their consequences
- Current topics/events* public life / politics / NGOs* economy / arts / sports
- Globalization* uniformity (dressing, eating, culture, consumer products, etc.)* globalization / maintaining national characteristics
- Current questions on ethics* animal experiments* nuclear experiments
- 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)
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
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.
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!
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.
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
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:
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.
As a kid, I was absolutely in love with the trilogy "
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.
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
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?
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.
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!
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.
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 task, staying 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
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:
- 1Energizing 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.
- 2Playing 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.
- 3Blowing 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.
- 4Cheering 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.
Remember, it's not weird until you make it weird!
Done reading? Time to learn!
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.
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
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.
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
- Know Thy Goal
- Separate Learning from Reading
- Learn What You Read
- Learn Core Vocabulary
- Build Core Knowledge
- Read a Lot
- Use the Knowledge You Learn
1) Know Thy Goal
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
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
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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’s one thing to get familiar with the nomenclature. But do you really understand how these terms interrelate?
7) Read a Lot
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.
Never enough time. There is never enough time to get in shape or learn a language. Or even when there is time, you don't seem to make much of the progress.
It doesn't seem normal.
And it isn't. There is a good chance you have contracted something I call "fluffoholism". It's a terrible ailment.
Fluffoholics are individuals who are very busy doing silly and insignificant activities. As a result, they either feel inadequate for not making progress or make some progress but can't find time for anything else in their lives.
Of course, the truth is that we are all fluffoholics to some degree. The person who would concentrate only on relevant tasks would seem like an absolute genius to us mere mortals.
Let's get it over with. My name is Bartosz, and I'm a recovering fluffoholic. This is what I have learned.
Work Hard and Smart - 3 Categories Of Activities
I like to categorize activities in the following way:
1. Low-intensity activities
It is a counterpart of lying in a cozy bed under a wool blanket with a mug of hot chocolate while your spouse scratches your head.
These are the tasks we tend to do the most. The "feel good" activities — the fluff which masks the real work. Usually, they have very little to do with making any progress.
Many industries prosper around these activities. It's the apparent honey pot for the naive and lazy.
Duolingo - the Lazy Way to Learn Languages
In the world of language learning, it's Duolingo. I get a lot of messages like this: "I have been using Duolingo for x months, and I completed all the levels, but when I talk to native speakers, they don't seem to understand me. Oh, also, when I read, I don't understand most of the things."
Sure, it's motivating. And it's a pleasant past-time to have. But it isn't nearly as effective as a lot of other activities. Like speaking, for instance. Other, almost evergreen and legendary language learning methods which allow an individual to achieve fluency include:
How to tell if I am doing low-intensity activities?
Typically, you can do them for hours without any particular signs of fatigue. That's all you need to know. If you feel like "that was fun," it's not the real work. It also means that you spend 5-10 x more time than people who do activities from the third category and get comparable results.
2. Moderate-intensity activities
It is a counterpart of getting out of bed and sitting down at the desk.
These activities require some energy from you, but they are not that tiring. It's running 5 km when you already know that you can run ten if you want to. You still need to put your shoes on. You still need to go out and sweat. But in the end, the overall progress is not so significant.
In the world of language learning, it's a B2 level. You can talk and express yourself relatively fluently.
You can read most of the articles you want. So you do. And you note down some words. But not too many because you're already quite good.
How to tell if I am doing moderate-intensity activities?
Usually, you feel that you have to push yourself a bit to start. But once you do, it's not that bad. Signs of fatigue tend to appear after 1-2 hours.
3. High-Intensity Activities (i.e., the Real Work.)
It is a counterpart of being mauled by a bear and teabagged by the seven muses at the same time.
It's when you'd rather have a colonoscopy instead of carrying on with what you're doing right now. The absolute opposite of "if it's not broken, don't fix it" approach. It's the "there is always something broken, and I'll find it" philosophy. It feels terrible. But it delivers incredible results.
How to tell if I am doing high-intensity activities?
After you finish learning, you're sobbing softly and want somebody to hug you. And you feel damn proud. I like to think that it is our small Everest which we should climb daily.
It's difficult to work hard and smart
I know that I should write every day to publish articles regularly. But I fail. Because they are never good enough, they are never inspiring enough.
I have read somewhere that the average time for writing an article is about 5 hours. It depresses me. It makes me feel like a failure. And I know I should come up with ideas daily. About three years ago, I read on the blog of James Altucher about the concept of becoming the idea machine.
The concept is simple - if you try to come up with ten ideas per day, in 6 months, your life should change significantly. Three years down the road, I'm still struggling to come up with ten ideas once every 3-4 days.
It's disheartening, and it makes me feel like crap. But now and then, I manage to come up with great ideas. And my face lightens up when I send them to others. And I'm pretty sure their faces light up as well as these ideas change their lives. And that's what it's all about.
Remember - If you do not push, you are not practicing.
High-intensity Activities In Language Learning
One of the notoriously difficult activities in language learning is speaking.
It's damn easy to play with Duolingo or Memrise for 1 hour. It's much harder to open your mouth and start saying something.
Exemplary Results of Regular Conversation with Yourself
I like to highlight my students as an example. If they want to learn with me, they have to accept one condition - they have to bet with me. Each day, from Monday to Friday, I have to get a 10-minute recording of them talking to themselves.
It's only 10 minutes. And yet, after three weeks, their level changes drastically. It's almost unbelievable. The side effect is that they probably hate me, but, oh well - it works!
Not accidentally, talking to myself is how I learned Swedish to B2 level to get the job in less than four months without talking to anyone in this language.
How to Fix Your Learning Plan to Work Hard and Smart
It's a deceptively simple recipe. But it's hard to implement.
1. Define High-Intensity Activities in Your Domain
You can do it on your own or ask someone much better than you in a given domain. But the truth is that very often you already know what the problem is and what you should be doing.
It's a task which you are always postponing. It's a task which you can't do for more than a few minutes without having to distract yourself with a mobile phone or other distractors.
2. Start Doing Them at the Cost of Other (i.e., Low- and Medium-Intensity) Activities
Start small. You don't have to do it for more than 20 minutes daily. Break this time into smaller chunks if you have to. With time, as you toughen up, the overall time spent on practice should be extended.
Remember - High-Intensity Activities Change with Time
You have to be aware that high-intensity activities change with time. They morph into medium- or low-intensity activities. What once was a nightmare can become a breeze with enough time. You should keep it in mind and adjust your learning strategies as you progress.
How to Work Hard and Smart - Summary
Being able to work hard and smart is not about perfectionism or turning into a workaholic. It's about using whatever time you have to in the most efficient way. The critical step is identifying high-intensity activities in your target domain and executing them daily with relentless consistency.
It won't be pleasant, but the results will speak for themselves. After all, if you decide to spend time to do something, make it count.
An added benefit is that once you learn how to work hard and smart, this skill that will benefit you all your life.
Done reading? Time to learn!
I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 18 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.
Another cool thing about this case study is that I collected all of Kate’s emails throughout the course. They will give you a detailed picture of how drastically one’s approach to learning can change once they switch to different learning strategies and start violating memory principles.
This article also gives me yet another chance of showcasing a core philosophy promoted by the Universe of Memory.
Learning is mostly a lonely struggle. It’s what you do at home that really matters. Choose a bad learning strategy, or focus on the incorrect things and you can kiss your progress goodbye.
If that wasn’t enough, Kate also shares her advice about encouraging your family to join you in your language mission. It seems that the key strategy which has eluded me for years are thinly veiled threats of starving your significant other. Who would have thought?
Learn Finnish fast – the Pre-course Evaluation
One of the indispensable parts of the Vocabulary Labs course is a pre-course survey which I send to each member before the course starts. It helps me evaluate the state of knowledge of all the participants as well as their propensities and current learning styles.
Below you can find some of Kate’s answers from the said survey. Her original goal was to learn German, but at the very beginning of the course, she decided to change it to Finnish.
- What languages do you know currently and at what levels? Which one is your native tongue?
Russian is my native tongue.
I know English at C2.
I used to know French at B2-C1 and some Latin, but I’ve forgotten most part of both by now. Also, I tried learning Japanese and German, but I’m about A0 in them 🙂
- How much time can you devote to learning per day? Be as realistic as you only can.
About an hour if I’m enthusiastic, not more than half an hour if there’s no interest, but only my will power involved.
- How much time do you spend learning your target language every day? Please give me the approximate numbers for the following categories: reading, listening/watching, writing, talking.
I‘m not learning German now.
- What are you reading/watching/listening to?
I don’t read or watch much (if we speak about fiction or things like news and films), I listen to audiobooks. It isn’t because I don’t like reading or watching. The only reason is that I can listen doing something else at the same time, while reading and watching need total concentration (well, watching a film + crocheting is possible, but with reading even this is out of the question). The majority of what I read/watch is in English (articles, lectures, etc. on the Internet).
- Who do you talk to (teachers, friends, etc.)?
Students. But that’s in English. In German, I don’t talk to anyone.
- How do you learn and revise your vocabulary? What systems/apps/ websites are you using? (the more details the better)
To learn German, I used Duolingo. I did it because I was interested in whether a program can really teach you anything. It taught me a couple of things, but not much. To study some C2 vocab when I was getting ready to take my CPE exam, I used Quizlet. I created flashcards myself, but I didn’t use them much – it was rather boring.
- What do you (currently) like/dislike about language learning?
There isn’t anything that I dislike. Languages are part of my life and have always been. I just enjoy them.
- What are your strengths/weaknesses when it comes to learning? (discipline, concentration, etc.)
I remember and understand things quickly – these are my strengths. I drop things easily if I’m bored. This lack of persistence is my weakness.
- What are your favorite hobbies/pastimes?
Usually, I’m up to my ears in work, which is also my hobby. When I’m too tired of work, I just relax doing nothing.
- What is your current vocabulary size in your target language?
In German it’s about 100 words, I guess. Not more. Although I’ve never counted them. And they’re all my passive vocabulary.
- How many new words do you learn per day?
- How do you currently learn grammar?
I don’t learn it in at all.
- What is the quickest you have ever learned a language?
A year – I was able to talk to a native speaker after a year of studying. But the level wasn’t high, so it all depends on what you mean by “have learned”. If it’s totally independent use of the language, like C1-C2, then my only achievement is English, and it took me many years to reach this level.
To finish answering, let me say that although I’m very curious about your system, I’m at the same time very skeptical about it. In other words, I don’t really expect much and regard it more like an experiment of some sort. I don’t remember when and how I found your first article about memory and language learning, but I certainly liked it, because I rarely subscribe to receive e-mails. So, I was very interested to find out that you’re launching this course. Judging by your articles, the course is going to be interesting, regardless of my expectations 🙂
Learn Finnish fast – Kate’s Progress!
Once the course starts, all the participants receive e-mail reminders about their progress. It helps me keep track of their learning pace and any potential problems. It also makes for a great read later on! These e-mails create an amazing narrative and show how much people, and their learning capacity, can change within just a couple of weeks.
Here are Kate’s e-mails.
Update #1 – Beating 2 months of learning with Duolingo in 5 days
I’d like to share my impressions of your course. At the very beginning, I was skeptical (and I wrote to you about it). Well, seems like I’m not skeptical anymore)) Bartosz, your E.V.A. method is mind-blowing (both literally and figuratively). Its simplicity and effectiveness are just amazing.
Now, more details. My initial aim was German, but right at the beginning of the course, I changed my mind. Since I’ve already tested how Duolinguo works using German, I decided to pick up some other language and see what I will achieve using your method. Then I was going to compare my Duolinguo achievements in German with the achievements in the new language. For the experiment, to be totally honest, I chose a language which looks absolutely alien to me: Finnish. It has nothing in common with the languages I know, since it belongs to a different family.
My Duolingo experiment (which I carried out 2 years ago) lasted for about 2 months. I spent on it an hour or more daily. I learned some words and got some understanding of some grammar structures, but that’s about it. I don’t think I could say anything in that language except for the phrases which were repeated multiple times and which I simply knew by heart. I wasn’t satisfied with the results and deleted Duolingo after two months.
I started using your method on May, 5th. On May 10th I realized I’ve already achieved more than after 2 months of Duolingo. And that’s not because Finnish is easy and German is not. Actually, it’s the other way around. In German, there were notions easy to grasp since they’re similar to English in some way. Many words looked familiar, too. Finnish, ha-ha) Nothing in common either with Latin, or with English, or with Russian.
Maybe, pronunciation is easier, but nothing else. Still, I already know more than 100 words and CAN USE them. And it’s very inspiring, of course, to see this progress.
I didn’t believe at first that B1 in 4 months is achievable, but now I think it is pretty possible if I just keep doing it at the same pace (which is not highly demanding, by the way).
As for the biggest takeaway from the Grammar Module — that’s Deep Learning. I haven’t yet been doing it for long, but it already brings in the results.
Update #2 – First 1000 Finnish words and A2 level in 3 weeks
I’m happy to share my experience of using your course, which is very pleasant indeed.
First of all, yesterday I finished my first thousand of Finnish words (yes, I was waiting with this email just to be able to boast). 400+ of them are regarded by ANKI as mature. This would have never been possible but for the techniques, I learned from you. I do study grammar as well from time to time, but as it requires more concentration and can’t be done 5-10 minutes in the morning, then 3 minutes while the kids are playing in the sandbox, I study little grammar in comparison with vocabulary.
I’ve got a textbook in Finnish. I don’t use it, but what I do is open it once a fortnight and see if I can understand something in there. In the beginning, it didn’t make any sense, but now the first four or five units are pretty easy to understand.
Hungry for more
The method has changed my perception of language learning so much that sometimes I feel my progress is slow. At this moment I remember my words “I’d call reaching A2-B1 in 3-4 months a tremendous success”. I know this phenomenon of greediness from my students, and now I’m experiencing it myself. Funny, but when I was doing Duolinguo making no progress whatsoever, I didn’t feel that I was going too slow.
At the end of the third week of my experiment, I found an online placement test offered by some Finnish language school in Moscow. The result was that they suggested I join their second-semester group (which means I’d achieved in 3 weeks what they were studying for 4 months at the same price which I paid for your course).
Update #3 – 1500 Finnish Words + Convincing Her Husband to Learn as Well!
Thanks for monitoring the progress 🙂 I’ve learned a bit more than 1500 words (today it’s the 80th day of my learning), and I’m progressing further. This learning thing seems to be infectious: my husband started on Finnish, too. His pace is slower – just 5 words, but in spite of this, some progress can already be seen. Now I’ve got a partner to practice my skills during breakfast time :)) Totally free and always available.
2800+ Finnish words
Summer is over, a new school year has started, which means a lack of time. Well, no time at all, actually. So, I set my daily word limit to 10 (it used to be 20) just to make it doable. Right now the number of words I’ve learned is 2800, which is quite a lot. I decided to take a lesson with a native speaker to see if I will be able to speak. Yes, I’m able to speak and, which is even better, the natives can understand it! It’s more difficult to understand what they say, but I’m sure it’s a matter of practice. I’ve tried lessons with 2 different people, and both couldn’t believe that I’ve been studying Finnish for 4 months only (I took those lessons at the beginning of September, which was exactly 4 months since I started this language from scratch).
Plans to take the officialYKI test
Now my plan is to try taking their YKI test. It takes place only in Finland, but the more I learn the eager I am to visit that country. And if I visit it, why not taking the exam? There are three levels on which you can take it: A1-A2, B1-B2, C1-C2. I’m thinking of taking B1-B2. I would attempt at C1 if it weren’t for my extra-busy teaching time till the end of May. I just won’t be able to find the necessary time. However, B2 looks achievable.
P. S. “B2 looks achievable”. In a year. God, who could have thought I’d ever say this…
A Short Interview With Kate
While writing this case study, I was also able to catch up with Kate and ask her a couple of questions about learning and her family. It’s truly inspiring to see how much effort and sneakiness she put into encouraging them to learn Finnish fast as well!
What do you do?
I’m a teacher of English. I’ve been teaching for 15 years. I have experience of working at school, but for the last ten years, I’ve been a freelance teacher.
Why exactly did you decide to learn Finnish instead of German?
I’ve chosen Finnish because at first learning it was part of an experiment. I was interested to find out whether the system you suggest really allows people to learn languages faster than usual. For this purpose, I needed a language which is different from the ones I was familiar with.
Since I studied Latin, such languages as Italian, Spanish, etc. were out of the question — being familiar with Latin makes it easier to learn them, so it wouldn’t have been clear whether it’s Bartosz’s system working or just my experience. German is in certain ways similar to English. Moreover, by the beginning of the experiment, I had already tried learning German, so this language wasn’t new either. So I was looking for a language from a different language family. Finnish, which is a member of the Uralic family and looked totally alien to me at the beginning of my experiment, was a perfect choice.
My 2 cents: That’s a great approach. It’s really to fool yourself into believing that you can learn fast if you learn a language that is similar to the ones you already know. For years, while I have been devising my learning strategies, I used languages which I knew nothing about to minimize any background knowledge interference.
Did you have to force your husband to learn Finnish or was it his choice :)?
Yep. I told him I wouldn’t feed him if he didn’t start learning at least 5 words a day. Speaking seriously, I didn’t force him, but it wasn’t his choice either. I started by creating an ANKI profile for him and added 3 words there every day.
It took less than a minute to revise them during breakfast time, and in about ten-fifteen days he realized he could say simple phrases. It inspired him and he asked me to increase the number of words up to 5. Then 7. Then 10. Then he started reading to learn some grammar and listen so some dialogues on Finnish sites. So that’s how it happened.
My 2 cents: Let’s take a second to appreciate Kate’s brilliance. She didn’t wait until her husband makes up his mind. Instead, she created a separate ANKI account and flashcards to kickstart his progress. Sure, it would be better if he produced them himself. the thing is that probably he wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for Kate’s initiative. If you’ve been contemplating how to force your loved ones to take up a new language, you might benefit from this strategy.
Do you currently have some opportunities to use the language? If not, how do you maintain it?
Right now, I don’t have many opportunities to use the language unless I read/listen to something or exchange a couple of phrases with my husband. I used to have 1 lesson a week with a native speaker (I started in September to see whether I would be able to understand something and make myself understood, I liked the person I talked to, so I continued the speaking sessions till February. In February I had to quit because I was fully concentrated on my work).
Do you use methods from Vocabulary Labs at your work? Did they affect the results of your students? How?
Yes, I used the methods. One of the methods (or ideas, probably) that I used was to set a certain minimum of what has to be learnt/done every day. I prepared the materials in such a way that the goal of doing them every day was achievable pretty easily. It resulted in my students having covered LOTS of stuff. Much more than was covered by those who studied less systematically.
Another one is, of course, ANKI. I explained to the students how to make cards. Some of them started using it right away, others didn’t want to. I didn’t insist much. In about 3 months it was easy to detect who was and who was not using ANKI without even asking them. The formers’ level grew much more rapidly.
My 2 cents: That definitely sounds familiar. Even after one week of private coaching, I can already hear whether my clients use ANKI or not.
Do you use the said methods in your daughter’s education? How exactly does it look like?:)
The only method I’m using in my daughter’s education is ANKI. We just use it to learn words. For example, when we watch a cartoon or just talk about something while walking and this or that word pops up, we write a sentence with it in ANKI (and a picture! you can’t make a card without a picture, it’s almost a crime).
My daughter’s pace is 3 words a day, but we often skip writing new words (not because she isn’t willing, but because I’m a lazy and irresponsible mother). She never skips revising, though. She can’t read in English yet, so I read the sentence aloud making a pause where she has to insert a word. Sometimes she makes sentences herself for the new cards.
About a month ago she asked me whether she could have lessons with someone who speaks English. I found a teacher on iTalki, and now they’re having lessons. I write out the words which are an active vocabulary for the lessons, and then my daughter learns them. If not for this learning, the lessons would mainly be a waste of money (as well as my speaking sessions in Finnish). Backed up by ANKI, however, they are fine: my daughter enjoys talking to someone from far away and understands more and more. I used to have lessons with my daughter last year. She’s a quick learner, but now she’s progressing quicker than she used to.
My younger daughter (3.8 years old) is always near my elder one when she’s revising. Side effect: the younger one knows half the words, too.
My 2 cents: I am raising my son (22 months) bilingually ,and I am also optimizing his words repetitions with ANKI. Of course, he is way too small to do it himself, being the lazy bugger he is, but I do it for him to optimize his learning curve.
What are the three main takeaways you learned from Vocabulary Labs?
1) I found out that learning a language can be amazingly quick. Finnish is more difficult than any other language I’ve come across so far (ok, Latin can compete, but it’s a dead language), yet the pace with which I learned it was quicker than, for example, French. Knowing that a language can be learned fast is, actually, a very important takeaway. It motivates and gives hope thus making me succeed.
2) The one that I’m using in my work: better take a small step every day than sit for 10 hours once a month.
3) ANKI. Needless to comment I suppose.
3a) Switching my mobile to Finnish. It’s a tiny detail, but it reminds me of what I’m supposed to be doing every day.
Actually, I have forgotten many things from the course since it’s very big. Now that I have some free time, I’m going to revisit it 🙂
Are you planning to learn another language anytime soon?
I’m not planning, but dreaming of learning Swedish as soon as I reach B2 in Finnish (which I hope will happen by the end of summer if everything goes as planned).
Finnish From Scratch to a b1 Level in 3 Months – the Learning Plan
In this section, you can find a rough plan which Kate used in order to learn Finnish fast to a B1 level as verified by a language school. As a reminder, if you’re looking for a more detailed version of this blueprint, please read another case study of mine “How to learn German from scratch to a B2 level in 5 months“.
Let’s start with the learning resources Kate has used to accomplish her mission.
Finnish Learning Resources
Kate only four things:
- Frequency lists (in the form of ANKI decks)
- Websites to find native speakers to talk to
I can only smile when people shake their heads in disbelief upon hearing that you don’t need more than a handful of resources to learn a language. Interestingly, the opposite is true. The more learning resources you use, the smaller your chances of being able to use them efficiently. What’s terrifying, even one small piece of paper which you scribble on can be counted as a separate resource. That’s not an exaggeration. That’s a fact.
The Best Anki Decks for Finnish Vocabulary
One of the fastest ways to learn a language is to start with vocabulary lists. Here are the best English-Finnish ANKI decks I have been able to find.
Please keep in mind that those lists are supposed to be a basis for your own ANKI deck. Nothing can replace the effort you put into creating your own flashcards and sentences.
This deck should be enough to take you from zero to about a B2 level. It also includes examples and audio.
- 10 000 Finnish sentences sorted from easiest to hardest [1/1] (3000 words)
- 10 000 Finnish sentences sorted from easiest to hardest [2/2] (7000 words)
- Finnish Core 1841 Word List (without translation but with pictures)
And here are other noteworthy frequency lists of Finnish words:
How to Talk With Finnish Native Speakers for Free
Organized lessons are, of course, a great idea. However, in the era of the internet, it’s absolutely not necessary to pay for them in order to talk with native speakers.
Here is a list of great websites where you can arrange language exchange with language enthusiasts.
My absolute favorite is definitely Italki. This is also the website that Kate has used to find a language partner.
- Conversation Exchange
- Easy Language Exchange
Finnish From Scratch to a b1 Level in 3 Months – What to Do
Finnish From Scratch to a b1 Level in 3 Months – the Learning Plan – Summary
Way too many people think that learning boils down to devoting vast swathes of time to your learning projects. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, effective learning is all about energy and effort you put into your learning. Very often one hour of honest work can beat 10 hours of bumming around. If you add effective learning strategies to this mix, rest assured that your progress will know no bounds.
Do you want to ask me or Kate something about this mission? Let us know in the comments.
Interested in all the methods and strategies that we have used to learn German within that time? Check out my language course Vocabulary Labs. You can read dozens of similar testimonials here. It has been used by hundreds of learners to master over 40 different languages.
Many people dream of having a fantastic memory. Who can blame them! Being able to recall information on a whim seems to be the hallmark of every genius.
Yet, not many get close to this lofty goal. In truth, barely a handful of people acquire even decent expertise in their field of interest.
The reasons are plenty, and everyone seems to have their own explanations. Some blame disinterest and apathy of learners, while others claim that our brains aren't created to hold significant amounts of information. While I can't offer any advice in this article for dealing with the former, I can help you with the latter.
Let's see what the biggest problem in learning effectively and memorizing tons of information is and how to overcome it.
How Much Information Can We Possibly Remember?
Many people are under the impression that the capacity of our memory is the biggest problem in learning effectively. That's a myth. Unfortunately, if you try to google the answer to how much we can remember, you will get information that is outdated and doesn't reflect the state of our current knowledge.
That's why I will try to give you a number based on my research.
Previous studies about the capacity of our memory
A recent study from 2009 published by Azevedo and colleagues estimated that there approximately 86 billion neurons in the human brain. We also know that each neuron forms about 1,000 connections to other neurons, amounting to more than an eighty-six trillion connections. Neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time. At the same time, a couple of years ago, scientists from the Salk Institute discovered that instead of 3 synapse sizes, as we previously believed, there are 26 discrete sizes.
They can change over a span of a few minutes, meaning that the brain might have a far greater capacity for storing information than previously thought.
In the past, professor Paul Reber from Northwestern University, who at the time believed there were about one billion neurons in the brain, estimated our brain's memory capacity at about 1,5 petabytes.
So what happens if we include the information mentioned above?
We would arrive at the number closer to 215 petabytes, and that is without taking into consideration additional synapse sizes. If we include 23 of the newly discovered synapse sizes, knowing that in computer terms, this value corresponds to about 4.7 "bits" of information per synapse, we will get about 860 petabytes.
One petabyte is 10^15 bytes of digital information.
As you can see, that's a scary number. However, it tells us one important thing.
Your memory's capacity is not what's holding you back. You could learn a new piece of information every second of your life and live to be 500 years old, and you wouldn't even scrape the surface of what's possible.
A Great Example of the Vast Capacity of Our Memory
There is a good chance you've heard of Kim Peek. He was a savant and the inspiration for the character Raymond Babbitt in the movie Rain Man. Many sources claim that he could memorize between 95-98% of almost any book by reading it in about 1 hour. According to The Times newspaper, he could accurately recall the contents of at least 12,000 books.
Is there any exaggeration in his feats? Highly unlikely. There are lots of videos on YouTube that showcase his fantastic memory. Here is
Of course, it's easy to dismiss what he was capable of because of being autistic. Nevertheless, I think that what was unusual was his ability to access all the information, not how much he remembered.
Other Problems in Learning Effectively That I Will Omit
Before I get to the meat of the matter, I want you to know that other common learning obstacles may stand in your way.
The most important of them being:
optimizing your reviews
- dealing with information overload
Why have I decided to leave them off? Truth be told, if you used
What's the Biggest Problem in Learning Effectively?
Remembering is supposed to increase our efficiency in dealing with situations that occur in our lives.
Think about something as simple as seeing a person with a knife. It's doubtful that your reaction would be anything else than fleeing like a challenged dodo bird.
In other words, in the perfect world, certain situations or information should trigger our pre-created scripts as a response.
For that reason,
the biggest problem in learning effectively is our inability to connect information into meaningful models (i.e., schemas), which can be accessed easily.
Notice that it doesn't matter how much you try to cling to different information. Most of them fade into nothingness after a relatively short time.
So the real question is, how should you use your memory capacity to remember different information you confront to increase your efficiency with dealing with those situations.
What's Required for a Skill to Be Used?
Three things are required for a skill to be used or a behavior to occur (Fogg 2009):
- 3A trigger
In our case, I assume that you're not plagued by apathy, and you want to use and apply your knowledge. That leaves us with the remaining two requirements.
Ability can be understood as either knowledge, i.e., possessing the right information or psychomotor skills. I have argued that you can't think effectively without the right information. And no — being able to google something doesn't count. Failure to meet this condition will lead you to build automatic responses based on random pieces of information. As a result, both the quality of your thinking and its effects will be subpar. Garbage in, garbage out.
A trigger can be understood by one or more things that set off your ability.
What can be a trigger?
Almost everything can be the trigger. However, they are based on a combination of one of the five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste) and emotional state.
The problem is that not everything should act as a trigger. You don't want to be standing in an elevator and release your inner surgeon. Nor do you want to sit on the beach and suddenly recall how to program in Python. Triggers should be perfectly tied to a given informational set.
There is one more element missing to understand these interrelations fully.
How Is Our Knowledge Organized?
If you want to learn how to overcome the biggest problem in learning effectively, you must first understand the basics of how our knowledge is organized.
The schema theory is probably the best way to do it.
The Schema theory claims that what we currently remember is affected by our background knowledge (i.e., what we already know). In other words, our prior knowledge can significantly influence our current knowledge.
"According to this theory, the knowledge we have stored in memory is organized as a set of schemas, or knowledge structures, which represent generic knowledge about objects, situations, events, or actions that have been acquired from past experience."
"Schemas represent all kinds of generic knowledge from simple knowledge, such as the shape of the letter ``A'', for example, to more complex knowledge such as knowledge about political ideologies or astrophysics. Like the action schemas, knowledge schemas may be linked together into related sets, with superordinate and subordinate schemas. So, for example, the schema for ``table'' would be linked to schemas for ``furniture'', ``rooms'', and ``houses''.
A schema has slots that may be filled with fixed compulsory values, or with variable optional values. A schema for a boat would have ``boats'' as a fixed value, but has ``oars'' and ``engine'' as variable values.
Schemas also supply default values. These are the most probable or typical values. If you are thinking about some particular boat, and you cannot remember the color of the sails, the boat schema might supply the default value ``white'' as being the most probable value to fill the color slot.
``Schema'' is used as a general term to cover all kinds of general knowledge." - Gillian Cohen - Memory in the Real World
`Schema'' is used as a general term to cover all kinds of general knowledge. However, we can also differentiate more specified versions of schema which are called scripts.
Scripts consist of general knowledge about particular kinds of events, or frames, which consist of knowledge about the properties of particular objects or locations (Cohen).
How to Overcome the Biggest Problem in Learning Effectively
1. Do not learn isolated pieces of information
My quest to become competent in lots of different domains started many moons ago. What I couldn't figure out for a long time was why I regularly failed to recall information I previously memorized. It didn't matter if I relied on mnemonics or spaced repetition software. A couple of weeks passed, and all the knowledge evaporated. It took me much time to understand that isolated pieces of information are nonsensical to the brain and have little to no practical value.
An example of fallacious reasoning based on isolated bits of information
In one of our discussions my son's nursery teachers mentioned fleetingly that if a child suffers from a persistent cough, it's undoubtedly a sign of parasitic infection.
Can it be true?
Absolutely. Some intestinal parasites (e.g., Ascaris) can lay eggs that might end up in your lungs. We also know some species of parasites that can be found exclusively in the lungs. However, does one piece of information warrant such a diagnosis? Absolutely not.
Dozens of things can cause a cough. Saying that it's X or Y based on one piece of information doesn't have much sense (or it's plain stupid).
For example, if it was a parasitic infection, then in this region of the world, there is a chance it would rather be some intestinal parasite whose eggs migrated to lungs. In that case, way before the occurrence of cough, we could notice some other symptoms, e.g., gastric discomfort, rash, diarrhea, etc. Even then, we would need to run further tests to narrow down possible causes.
Conclusions based on isolated pieces of information are almost always fallacious.
2. Provide relevancy to the information you learn
My past self was not only failing to understand that remembering isolated pieces of information is useless. I also couldn't wrap my head around one simple fact.
Abstract information gets forgotten amazingly fast
If this abstract information is also isolated, then the forgetting will happen almost immediately.
Your goal as a learner is to make this information as useful as it's possible. It should be a part of your reality. We didn't evolve to remember rubbish information. Whatever we learned or remembered was usually necessary for our survival. This was and is true for many things like remembering what not to eat, how to perform certain skills to earn your living, etc.
Whenever I teach medical professionals, they are always baffled why I remember some seemingly trivial information. The disappointingly dull answer is - I brute-force myself to make relevant connections.
Example - biophotons:
When I was learning about biophotons, one of the things I learned is that their emission is a type of bioluminescence. It can theoretically be triggered by reactive oxygen species. That led to a forced, but funny (for me!) conclusion that I turned into a flashcard:
Q: How can I use biophotons to light up my room?
A: eat lots of mercury (= inflammation)
The logic being that this action would trigger a massive inflammatory reaction. Is it exactly true? Not exactly, but it helped to cement the concept in my head, and this is what truly counts.
3. Categorize your knowledge into relevant scripts
You already know that your abilities need triggers. Hence, your goal is to categorize your knowledge into relevant scripts which should get triggered under the right circumstances. Even then, it's easy to overdo it by trying to squeeze too much information into one script, which leads to cue overload.
Cue overload is the phenomenon wherein the slower and less accurate recall is caused by too many associative links (the fan effect; Anderson, 1983a).
Example - lie detection:
Many people, quite naively believe that one gesture is enough to spot a liar — quite the contrary. Real experts usually analyze body language based on clusters of different gestures and cues.
In that case, your ability, i.e., analyzing body language or getting suspicious, would be triggered by a specific combination of cues. Without those cues, your abilities won't get activated. It's not like your amazing skills will be activated around the clock.
It's funny to hear some body language experts claiming that their skills are like the curse, and they can't seem to turn it off. I can almost see them watching some low-budget erotic movie thinking, "hmm, judging by the cues he is not a real plumber, and he didn't come here to unclog the pipes".
4. Create many different scripts for every piece of information
Just like memorizing isolated information is nonsensical, so is combining it into one or only a few scripts.
Any kind of information is by its nature multi-faceted. You can't expect one script to give you a complete picture.
You should do your best to combine those different facets into many scripts, whereas each one of them presents you with a different perspective. The more scripts you create, the more complete and original your thinking will be.
The Biggest Problem in Learning Effectively - Summary
Way too many people believe that the capacity of our memory is the main problem in learning effectively and remembering a lot. It's not the case, but I do understand this line of reasoning. If you believe that remembering a lot is not possible, then you won't make an effort, and you will end up being right (see self-fulfilling prophecy).
The truth is that you can be an expert in many different areas (or at least very competent) if you only learn how to acquire information and turn it into relevant scripts. Unfortunately, no amount of reading will get you close enough to your goal. It's all about the conscious effort and following the plan.
How to Learn Effectively and Memorize a Lot
- Don't learn isolated information
- Provide relevancy to the information you learn
- Categorize your knowledge into relevant schemas that get triggered by the right cues
- Create many different scripts for every piece of information
Do you want to share your own experience with memorizing a lot? Leave me a comment!
Done reading? Time to learn!
I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 30 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It's enough to download ANKI, and you're good to go.