Optimize Your Language Learning – Limit Passive Learning Activities

 

“Repeat after me!”

 

Repetitio mater studiorum est.

 

Spending time with my grandfather was always a bit weird. He didn’t want to talk much or play some stupid games. Oh no. He used to sit me in front of him and grill me about different school subjects. Physics. Math. History. But his personal favorite was teaching me Latin proverbs.

Most of them slipped my mind.

But among all those which stuck with me, this is the one I cherish the most:

 

Repetitio mater studiorum est – repetition is a mother of studying

 

These four words contain the wealth of wisdom if you only interpret them in the right way.

On the surface, the problem with learning doesn’t seem that complex. As long as you repeat things you want to learn, everything is fine and dandy. But let’s be honest for a second.

How easily can you recall words during conversations in your target language? How often does your mind go blank?

You desperately try to recall the word you need, but there is nothing there — just the depressing nothingness.

Rings true? There you have it!

So the problem might a bit more complicated than we have thought after all. Put on your “learning overalls,” and let’s dig deeper to explain why repetition is not enough.

Let me start with the basics.

 

Optimize Your Language Learning – Two Kinds Of Repetition

 

Optimize Your Language Learning

 

In its most basic form, the repetition can adopt two forms. It can be either:

1) active

2) passive

 

But what does “passive” mean, especially in the context of language learning?

 

It means that you don’t engage with the information you receive.

 

You don’t do it actively (duh). That’s why activities like reading and listening fall into this category. What terrifies me the most is that the default style of learning, for most of the people, is passive learning.

“But why do passive learning activities suck donkey balls?”, you might ask. Let’s get to it.

 

Why Passive Repetition Sucks and Hinders Your Progress

 

Before I get to the science, let me tell you about a friend of mine. This story might sound familiar to you. Problems of about 90% of people who write to me fit perfectly into the following scenario.

Anyway. So this friend of mine has been learning Russian for over two years now.

I haven’t heard her talk for a long time, but I thought that her level should be at least decent.
Russian is not that different from Polish, after all. So imagine my surprise when I heard her speak Russian a few weeks ago. She barely scratched the B1 level.

My first reaction? “No, f***ing way.”

She’s been learning systematically for over two years, and she can barely string a sentence together? After some investigation, I got to the bottom of it. Yes, her teacher visited her every week. Yes, they did learn.

Or should I say, “learn”? Because the process they went through barely resembled any real learning. They read some articles together. For an entire hour. Almost no speaking at all. No meaningful conversations. No active learning.

Nada. Null. Nothing.

If at any point while reading this description, you told yourself, “Hey, this is pretty much how my lessons look like!” then run. Run the hell away from your teacher or language school. A visit to a local strip-club seems to be a better investment than this. At least you will know what you pay for.

 

Optimize Your Language Learning – the Pyramid of Effective Learning

 

Science is very clear about passive learning. It was proven a long time ago that passive learning has minimal effect on whether the information is later recalled from long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973).

Many other studies have managed to replicate the results of the research mentioned above successfully.

So how does effective learning look like? Take a look at the pyramid of effective learning.

 

Optimize Your Language Learning

 

There is a good reason why learning and listening are at the absolute bottom of retention rates.

 

Effective learning requires , so-called, effortful recall.

 

This should be the mantra of every learner. If you want to learn fast, you have to take control of your learning. Without it, your learning is like a boat with no sails in the middle of the storm. You go one way and then the other without any sense of direction. That damn boat needs a captain – you that is!

Ok, so what does the effortful recall mean?

It means that the more effort you put into recalling a piece of information or executing a skill, the more this act benefits the learning. (Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel).

Once again, there are a lot of studies that confirm the effectiveness of active learning. Here are the results of some of the recent findings.

 

Tests that require effortful retrieval of information (e.g., short-answer) promote better retention than tests that require recognition (Larsen et al. 2008).”

 

Effortful retrieval of information improves recall 1-month later, compared with no test (butler and Roediger 2007).”

 

It’s worth mentioning that you can mix these strategies. Why not reap the benefits from the synergy effect?

 

The Effectiveness of Passive Learning

 

Let’s do some simple math. Considering the said effectiveness of given learning strategies, we might conclude that:

 

One minute of talking is worth 5-7 minutes of reading/listening (read more about the benefits of talking to yourself).

 

I know that reading and listening might feel productive, but they are not. These are so-called feel-good activities.

I always shock students of mine by telling them not to listen to anything for the first 8-10 weeks of learning. Instead, I help them concentrate on active learning. Only after this period do they start listening practice. And the gains always amaze them.

There is also a little known consequence of your potential choice of learning strategy. You see, if you don’t learn actively, you automatically condemn yourself to UNINTENTIONAL LEARNING.

*gasp*

 

What Is Unintentional Learning?

 

Optimize Your Language Learning

Picture by: Zack Cannon

Now, this is a truly fascinating type of learning.

 

Unintentional learning takes place when you acquire vocabulary accidentally. It is a by-product of repeating a given piece of information a certain number of times.

 

It’s worth mentioning that is it also one of the default and (most useless) strategies of almost every language learner.

The body of research shows that you need to repeat a piece of information (unintentionally) between 20 and 50 times to put it into your long-term memory. 20 to 50 times! (one of many sources)

It takes way too much time. And time is the luxury a few of us can afford. Of course, One might argue that 20-50 repetitions are not that many. After all, if you read extensively and listen, you should get to this number of repetitions after some time.

Right? No. Here comes another plot twist.

 

Unless you learn three thousand words, reading is a very slow and inefficient activity.

 

And until you reach this number, your odds of learning words contextually are slight. Sure, you can infer the meaning, but there is a good chance that your guess will be incorrect.

And what about rare words which you might find useful?

What If I need to know the word “thimble” because that was my dog’s name, and I feel the need to share it with English speakers? How many thousands pages must I read to stumble across this word, say, ten times? Hell, I don’t remember when was the last time I heard this word in my native tongue!

What about other words like tangs, udder, piston, and so on? I need such words frequently during interpreting or teaching. Relying only on passive learning activities would make me an inefficient teacher/coach/interpreter.

So there you have it. L2 Learners are simply at a disadvantage as for the number of repetitions of words. If you want to optimize your language learning, limiting passive learning activities is one of the first things you should do.

 

Is Incidental Learning Really That Bad?

No. Of course, it is not. Incidental vocabulary acquisition makes some sense. Maybe even a lot but only on one condition – you already know enough words (and grammar) to learn from context. Typically, that’s about 5000 words for most of the languages. But the problem is to memorize these 5000 words before you run out of motivation!

Read more: The Purpose Of Passive Learning – How And When To Use Reading And Listening To Speed Up Your Progress.

 

Optimize Your Language Learning – Final Thoughts

 

As you can see, passive learning activities are a cardinal sin for most language learners. Limiting them is the first step you should take optimize your language learning. The chance is that if you take a good, hard look at your learning schedule, you will discover that they are the culprit, which makes your progress unsatisfying.

They still play an essential role in the learning process, but only if you go through the critical phase of deliberate and active learning.

 

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

 

 

Thinking Flashcards – Unleash Your Creativity With The Power of Spaced Repetition Programs

Thinking Flashcards - Harvest The Power of Spaced Repetition Programs To Unleash Your Creativity

Being creative is definitely one of the superpowers of modern times. Alas, various TV series and movies have warped this amazing skill beyond recognition.

There is always some charming and smug asshole who seems to deliver a brilliant solution after one glance at the piece of paper. I mean, how realistic is that?

Being creative is a hard work and more often than not, it's a long process. And it's certainly not easy.


Problems with coming up with creative solutions

 

I love to walk around the town and observe how new businesses prosper.

As in any big city (Wroclaw - see some pictures here), there is always a new shop or a restaurant cropping up around the corner.

And as in any big city, most of them go bankrupt. There is nothing weird about this.

What's weird is that most of these businesses almost never try anything to stay afloat.

I know because I regularly check what they are trying to do in order to help themselves. The answer 99% of the time is "nothing". They just establish their business, see that it doesn't work and then put up the shutters.

And I die a little bit every time I see this.

Would it hurt them to think up a couple of things which will help to save their business? Would it hurt them to try just a little bit harder? Many of them just throw a towel and gracefully bend over and let their lack of creativity take most of their life savings.

That just goes to show that maybe being creative is not that easy. Maybe there are obstacles which you need to be aware of in order to overcome them.

Let's go through them to see where the potential pitfalls lie.


1. Lack of system

  


I know plenty of really smart people but almost none of them have any system for being creative. When asked why they usually answer that:

  1. 1
    it is weird
  2. 2
    it is robotic
  3. 3
    creativity shouldn't be tamed
  4. 4
    [[ insert another rationalization - use random excuse generator]]

And I get it.

Everyone would like to be this spontaneous genius. You see a problem and bam!

Just 5 seconds later you shake out a brilliant idea out of your sleeve. The crowd cheers, your admirers sway as you walk on and grace them with your greatness.

Unfortunately, the reality is quite different. Most of the time, you just look blankly at a piece of paper and then start bawling uncontrollably.


2. Availability Heuristic

 

Availability Bias or Heuristic, the term coined by Daniel Kahneman, states that we tend to most easily recall what is salient, important, frequent, and recent.

This tendency can be perceived as the brain's energy-saving mode.

Why burn through precious deposits of glucose to recall everything when you can just concentrate on what's available?

The problem with this bias is that what's available in your memory is rarely what's needed to really solve a problem.

 


3. First-conclusion bias

 

If you want another proof that your brain is lazy and spiteful, look no more.

First-conclusion bias states that most of the time, we are willing to accept the first idea we get. Once again, this is yet another energy-saving mechanism of ours.

Remember that logical and creative thinking requires activation of prefrontal cortex which is the most energy consuming part of our brain.

Once again, the problem is that the first conclusion is rarely any good.

Now that you know your enemy a little bit better, let's take a closer look at the process of being creative.


The most important tenet of creativity


"Since the only way you are going to find solutions to painful problems is by thinking deeply about them—i.e., reflecting." - Ray Dalio

We like to think about being creative as of something magical. You know, the magic comes, rubs you gently on your arms and sticks the right words into your ears together with its tongue.

The reality is that it's definitely more like pushing a boulder up the hill. If you drop it, you will probably never pick it up again.

And that means that

creativity is more about the process than anything else.

You need to constantly revisit the problem and constantly send the intention of solving it to the unconscious (read more about problem-solving).

What's more, I believe that creative ideas come from accumulating many small insights. You can't just settle for whatever knowledge you currently have - being creative is the process of curating the right ideas, tools, and facts (read more about why memorization is necessary to think effectively).

The following quote nicely reflects this idea:

"To arrive at the simplest truth, as Newton knew and practised, requires years of contemplation." - Mind Performance Hacks: Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain

Now that you know what being creative is all about, let me explain how thinking work.


Thinking flashcards - how to make them

 


You can use any SR (spaced repetition) program to create thinking flashcards. The one I always recommend is ANKI. It gives you full control over your content. What's more, you can be sure that it won't disappear overnight or some company won't block your knowledge database if you don't give them your spleen or twerk.


1. Create a separate deck

 

Once you download it, create a separate deck and call it appropriately (like Bartosz's Magical Idea Deck).

 


2. Select a problem you want to solve

 

It doesn't matter how big a problem is as long as it is something that bothers you. If nothing comes to your mind right now but you would like to give this strategy a try, here are a couple of ideas which might help you:

  • help your friend solve a problem
  • come up with X ways to improve your life / earn more
  • come up with X ways to improve some product
  • think about how you can help develop your own / sb's company

Once you're done, put the name of the problem into the question field


3. Add two things into the answer field

 


a) Limitations:

I believe that placing some limitations on your ideas is one of the best ways to boost your creativity. It limits the general pool of possibilities and allows you to concentrate on the ones that count.


b) Tools/facts/information

Put anything which can contribute even slightly to solving the problem. Facts, products, tools, people and so on.


Example:

 

A friend of mine runs a very successful pub (its motif is a pre-war Poland). He has been increasing his profit for many years now but it seems that he's running out of steam.

Q: How to increase the profit of X pub?
A:

limitations:

  • easy and cheap to implement
  • it has a viral potential

tools/ideas/facts:

  • Happy hour ideas
  • Original dish of the day
  • Ask people what they would like to buy there (surveys)
  • Organize wine/vodka/whiskey degustation
  • Come up with a new, weird holiday to promote the pub (e.g. Hate My Boss Mondays - you can win X for the best anecdote about your boss)
  • Buy stuff for X money and take a part in a lottery


As you can see, not every idea is original and let me be clear - it doesn't have to be. Most of the time, a solution to almost every problem is already out there.

What's more, you don't have to flesh out all your ideas right away. You can add more details with every next review of your thinking flashcard.


Thinking flashcards - how to use them

 

 

You already know how to make thinking flashcards. Now, let me explain how they work. Don't worry, it's extremely easy.

1. Click "show answer" and brainstorm

Once you see the title of a flashcard, click "Show answer" so you can see your current list of ideas. Try to use whatever information you have there to come up with the solution. Nothing comes to your mind? Move on then.

2. Add another idea

Add at least one idea or limitation to your current list. You have to keep on stirring the cauldron of creativity!

3. Rinse and repeat

Repeat the process until you finally come up with something interesting.

Remember that the intervals between your brainstorming sessions shouldn't be too long. Always click "again" if you're afraid that's happening.

Also, keep in mind that it's unlikely that you will arrive at the solution while browsing or expanding these flashcards.

All they do is constantly keep a given problem at the forefront of your mind.

When your input reaches the critical mass, you will find yourself coming up with great ideas in the most unusual places. Although, it usually happens when you don't concentrate on the problem at hand.

Creativity is truly sly, isn't it?


Final words

 

Throughout the years, I have read about dozens of different creativity techniques but this is the only one which has allowed to be consistent. There are good reasons for that.

Thinking flashcards help you:
  1. 1
    accumulate your input in an organized manner
  2. 2
    attack a given problem regularly
  3. 3
    are fully automated

Especially, if you already use ANKI or other SRS program. What's more, they don't cost you much energy. If you have ever given up on your creativity in the past, maybe it's time to reconsider!


Your homework

 

It would be a shame to let this article go to waste. If you find this method appealing, choose one problem you have and get down to work.

Remember - it doesn't have to be anything big. As always, the trickiest part is to start. Of course, if you decide to use it, please let me know how it went.


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 22 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


The Purpose Of Passive Learning – How And When To Use Reading And Listening To Speed Up Your Progress

Even though much has been written about how to use passive learning, i.e. reading and listening, in language learning, many language learners still puzzle over the following question, "How can I leverage it in order to speed up my learning progress?"

This question is extremely important because the way you combine passive and active learning is actually the key to learning a language fluently.


The purpose of passive learning - it helps to memorize


Reading And Listening To Speed Up Your Progress

 

One of the most frequent claims in the language learning community is that passive learning (i.e. reading and listening) is very helpful with memorizing new vocabulary.

Is it true?

The answer is, surprisingly, yes and no. It simply depends on your current language level.


When is Passive learning useful for memorization?


If we take a look at the scientific literature, we can learn that there are two important milestones concerning your ability to learn from the context:

When is passive learning useful for memorization?


1) 3000 words (B1/B2 level)

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

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

This milestone is also important because it's so-called the minimal threshold for passive learning. It means that reading and listening start making sense only at this level (read more about how many words you need to know for every language level).


2) 5000 words (B2, B2/C1 level)

5000 words allow you to understand about 98% of most ordinary texts (Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)).

Such a vocabulary size warrants also accurate contextual guessing  (Coady et al., 1993; Hirsh & Nation, 1992; Laufer, 1997).

For exactly that reason this milestone is called the optimal threshold for passive learning.

What's more, the body of research shows that you need to repeat a piece of information (unintentionally) between 20 and 50 times in order to put it into your long-term memory (i.e. be able to activate it without any conscious effort).

As a sidenote, my personal experience is this - even 5000 words are not enough to start memorizing words. You should aim for at least 8000 in order to do it efficiently.

The conclusion from the above is simple.

Passive learning can be an effective tool for memorization when you know at least 5000 words. But it doesn't mean that reading or listening is useless before that.


The purpose of passive learning - it compliments active learning


In order to understand well the function of passive learning in the learning process, we need to start at the source - the simple model of memorization.


The simple model of memorization:
  1. 1
    Retention intention
  2. 2
    Encoding
  3. 3
    Storage
  4. 4
    Retrieval

This sexy model tells us that in order to acquire knowledge quickly and efficiently, you need to encode information. In other words, you need to manipulate the information in a meaningful way.

Is the element of encoding present in passive learning (i.e. reading or listening)?

Of course not!

That's the reason why active learning is much better suited for learning material fast.

However, the problem with active learning is that it's tiring as hell even though it doesn't take a lot of time. At the end of your learning session, you should feel as if you have been mauled and teabagged by a bear at the same time.

It's not pretty.

Ok, so you already know that active learning is:
  1. 1
    more effective
  2. 2
    energy-consuming

What it tells us is that you can do learn actively only for the limited period of time before you run out of steam. In other words, active learning is not sustainable long-term.

What happens then? Do you just call it a day? Nope. You switch to passive learning.

active learning + passive learning = optimal learning

If you stick to this formula, you are guaranteed to learn relatively fast.

Always push yourself to the limit while learning actively and when you are about to black out switch to passive learning.

Of course, this isn't the only benefit of reading and listening.


The purpose of passive learning - it primes your memory


The Purpose Of Passive Learning - Learn How To Use Reading And Listening To Speed Up Your Progress



What is priming?


Before I move on, let's clarify what priming is.

Priming is a technique whereby exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intention.

Linguistic priming is one of the main factors that influence the accessibility of information in memory (read more about why it is difficult to recall words and how to fix it). The activation of stored knowledge through experiences in the immediate context can make prime-relevant information more accessible in memory, and such recent construct activation can influence inferences, evaluations, and decisions on subsequent tasks. - The SAGE Handbook of Social Psychology: Concise Student Edition

In other words, priming can provide for sets of actions, or, in the lexical field, sets of words.

So, for example, a listener, hearing the word bread will recognize words like baker, butter, knife more quickly than unrelated words like a doctor, mortar, radiator.

One of the prime researchers in this field, Hoey, states: (...) Priming is the result of a speaker encountering evidence and generalising from it. [Primings come] from single focussed and generalising encounters. Language teaching materials and language teachers can provide essential shortcuts to primings. (Hoey 2005: 185f.)

Now that you know what priming is, it's time to take a look how it affects our memory.


How does priming affect our memory?


There is one main effect of priming on our memory.

We process frequent collocations faster than infrequent ones.

In other words, it's much easier for us, foreign language learners, to understand speech which consists of logical and frequently ocurring collocations. It's much easier to process a sentence like "I am cutting an onion with a knife" than "I am cutting an onion with a German Shepherd".

How is it possible?

Because our memories are organized into something called "schemas".

"Schema'' is used as a general term to cover all kinds of general knowledge. More closely specified versions of schemas are called scripts, which consist of general knowledge about particular kinds of events, or frames, which consist of knowledge about the properties of particular objects or locations.

It means that with every new collocation e.g. "cut with a knife", "a sharp knife", "stab with a knife", your time of reaction when it comes to understand gets decreased.

If your scripts are rich enough, you can actually predict, even though it's mostly imperceptible for us, what somebody is going to say (read more about how we process speech here).

What's fascinating, auditory word priming does not require access to word meaning, it may reflect the process whereby listeners build and use presemantic auditory representations. (Trofimovich 2005: 482)

What is a likely mechanism supporting spoken-word processing and learning?

I will tell you a little bit more practical consequences of this phenomenon later.


Fun fact about priming

 

Priming can take many different forms and shapes. One which you might find really interesting is syntactic priming.

Syntactic priming is the phenomenon in which participants adopt the linguistic behaviour of their partner.

Yes. The more time you spend with somebody, the more likely it is that you will understand this person's idiolect (or that you will adapt it).

Idiolect is an individual's distinctive and unique use of language, including speech.


The extent of priming

 

Referring to their earlier (1981) work, Ratcliff and McKoon (1988: 389) point out that “they have shown that priming can be obtained between concepts that are much more than four words apart.”

They (and others) therefore raise an important issue about collocation, since it appears to contradict Sinclair’s (1991) claim that there are no valid collocations beyond the five-word mark on either side. The concept of lexical access appears to be very close to lexical priming.

De Mornay Davies is more explicit when he states: Even if two words are not ‘semantically related’ in the strictest sense (i.e. they do not come from the same superordinate category), their frequent association produces a relationship at the “meaning” level. (de Mornay Davies 1998: 394). Source: The concept of Lexical Priming in the context of language use, Michael Pace-Sigge

As you can see, priming is a truly powerful weapon as it relates to concepts which are not in their direct proximity.

What it means practically is that your brain will still be able to understand a collocation even if you interject an extra thought into a sentence.

Here is an example of this phenomenon: "I wanted to cook a dinner, so I started to cut an onion, you know, with, like, a really sharp knife".


How long can priming last?

 

Findings suggest that auditory word-priming effects have a long-term memory component and are long-lasting (Trofimovich 2005: 481).

What does it mean that they are long-lasting?

It's speculated that these effects can last months or even years.


Practical consequences of priming

 

The Purpose Of Passive Learning - Learn How To Use Reading And Listening To Speed Up Your Progress

 


Speaking slower


Speaking fluently is a really tricky thing.

Why?

Because you have to combine two things.  First of all, you need to actively memorize new words, ideally, by creating a new context for them.

That will see the said words in your memory. The problem is that, as I have said before, unless you have a lot of contexts, you won't be able to recall them fast.

Is the solution creating a lot of sentences for a given word?

Sure, it will work, but it's too much consuming. However, if you start learning passively, you will be exposed to dozens of different contexts for almost every possible word you know.

Even though, you won't feel it, these contexts will be generalized in your head into scripts and will start acting as triggers.

From then on, whenever you run into a situation which fits your script, your primed words will be right there at the top of your tongue.

If you have ever struggled with fluent speaking, I can guarantee you that you're missing one of these puzzle pieces.


Problems with comprehension


Keep in mind that the richer your words of associations for a given word, the easier it is to understand it.

Reading and, especially, listening are amazing learning tools which will expand this network relatively effortlessly.


Final words


Passive learning is certainly a misunderstood language learning tool. Even though it's often touted as a great tool for memorization, it's actually pretty ineffective in this department unless you are already an advanced learner. Its real power lies in creating an extensive network of contexts and connections which allow you to both recall and understand words much faster.


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

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

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 16 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.



The Magnet Theory – Why Deep Understanding and Problem-Solving Starts with Memorization

The quality of your life depends mostly on your ability to make the right decisions and to solve problems.
One could think that in the world of almost unlimited access to information our decision-making abilities should be getting better and better.

Is it really the case?

I don't think so. There are many explanations for why it is so.

However, instead of delving into them, I would like you to show you how to improve the quality of your thinking and problem-solving skills with the concept of my own devising - The Magnet Theory.

But first things first. Let's start with a structure of knowledge.


Bloom's Taxonomy - the Hierarchy of Knowledge

 

Not a week goes by when I hear someone say - if you don't understand something, don't learn it. And some part of me crumbles away every time when I hear it.

Why?

Because nothing could be further from the truth.

Understanding is very often the by-product of all the information at your disposal.

Let me explain why. Let's start with fundamentals i.e. Bloom's taxonomy.
Bloom's taxonomy depicts the structure of knowledge and how it is organized.

 

The magnet theory

 

Take a look at the foundation of this pyramid. Can you see it? That's right. Understanding doesn't seem to be the most important element of knowledge.

Why do you think it is so? I will tell you why - because you can't think without facts.

Facts are frequently the foundation of good solutions and thinking.


Why Understanding Is Overrated

 

My guess is that most of the time, on the surface, it is easier to understand something than to memorize dozens of different facts.

We like to assume that if A leads to D then it surely happens in a nice progression - A causes B. B causes C. C causes D.

The reality is that most of the time progression looks more like this.

A -> L -> B -> G -> C -> K ->  X -> E -> D

It's an interaction of dozens of different elements which we very often don't see because of our limited knowledge. This phenomenon is called "The illusion of explanatory depth".

 

"People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins."

“This is how a community of knowledge can become dangerous,” Sloman and Fernbach observe.


The Real Reason Why Understanding Starts With Memorization

 

Why understanding start with memorization

 

As you probably know, your short-term memory is the bottleneck in the learning process. It can only accommodate a couple of pieces of information at the same time.

That doesn't inspire much confidence comprehension-wise, does it?

How many concepts do you know that can be understood by knowing just 3-5 facts? I can tell you right away, that there are not many of them. And even if you find any, they probably won't be worth your while.

In order to see the big picture, you need a lot of facts. Which, truth be told, can be problematic.

Why?

Because you don't know how many puzzle pieces are needed to create it. That leaves you just one choice - you have to keep on memorizing things even if they don't make any sense at the moment. You need to memorize facts before you understand what they mean.

If you memorize just the things you understand, you will never be able to look beyond the obvious. The problem nowadays is that almost nobody is willing to do it. Why bother if all the knowledge you need is at your fingertips?

This phenomenon is known as the Google effect or digital amnesia.

It is the tendency to forget information that can be found readily online by using Internet search engines such as Google. According to the first study about the Google effect, people are less likely to remember certain details they believe will be accessible online.

The thing is that if you want to be the best at something, you need all those pesky details.


My process of knowledge acquisition 


Throughout the years of running this website, I have received tons of questions about my process of writing and thinking (e.g. The truth about the effectiveness and usefulness of mnemonics in learning).

My answer has always been the same and possibly disappointing to others - I try to memorize everything.

I don't care how abstract or vague a given piece of information seems. I will commit it to my memory.
I do it because I can't possibly know which fact will tip the scale and raise the curtain to reveal the magnificence of understanding.

That's why I can't be picky.

At some point, the facts always come together to form a clear answer. Sometimes, you just have to wait for it.

For example, right now I can tell you quite exactly what science currently has to say about the process of working-memory consolidation. This knowledge includes even tiny facts about frequencies of different brain waves.

And I will be honest with you. I don't know right now the purpose of this information. I am more than clueless. But I am pretty sure it will come handy one day. Maybe in one year, maybe in ten. Whenever it might be, I know that I will be ready.

It might not be the most pleasant way to acquire expertise. However, it's sure as hell the fastest and the most certain way to do it.


The Magnet Theory - How to Understand the Process of Effective Thinking

 

Effective thinking


Years ago, I was obsessing over the question - how come two smart individuals can arrive at completely different conclusions?

I knew that asking good questions was important in that process. I also understood that you couldn't think effectively without facts.

 The effect of these cogitations turned into something I dubbed The Magnet Theory.

It's a very elegant way of understanding the process of problem-solving and effective thinking.

 Think of any question or problem you might have as a powerful magnet. The minute you encounter some riddle, the magnet starts doing its magic. It starts scouring your mind and attracting everything which might be useful in the process of cracking a given problem.

 And I really do mean everything - anecdotes, scientific facts, your personal experiences and so on. The whole comes together and creates a solution to the problem.

There is one more component of the magnet theory - your ego. It filters and potentially distorts all the potential conclusions you may reach. Even if all the facts are in favor of one solution, your ego might nudge you to reject them all.


The Consequences of the Magnet Theory

 


1. Almost everyone has an opinion


How many people do you know who don't have an opinion on some matter? Not many.

That's the thing. Any question you ask or problem you state is a potential magnet for the mind of your interlocutor. The magnet will scrape up every little bit piece of information. As a consequence, this motley clue of assorted facts and anecdotes will form an opinion on a given topic.

Are these opinions worth much? You can answer this question yourself.


2. Your thinking is as good as the information you remember


Remember that you will always have an answer to almost every question. That doesn't mean that the answer you come up with is any good. As the great and late Richard Feynman used to say

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.

Don't rush to the conclusions. Before you make a decision ask yourself this - how many good facts do I have at my disposal? Not opinions, not anecdotes but the cold scientific facts.

If the answer is "not many" then do your research to give your magnet some "better food".

I routinely distrust anyone and double-check any kind of information myself. Maybe I am paranoid but my behavior is driven by one simple question - how many people appreciate the importance of memorization and treat it as an indispensable part of their expertise acquisition?

The answer is - close to zero.

That automatically renders most of the opinions you will ever hear in your life invalid. Or at best they might be classified as half-truths. It sounds callous but it's definitely true.

 

Surveys on many other issues have yielded similarly dismaying results. “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. - Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds | The New Yorker


3. Your ego can be the end of you


Thinking and problem-solving


It's worth keeping in mind that the more somebody holds himself in high esteem, the slimmer the chances that they will be swayed by facts that contradict their opinions.

What's worse, everyone is affected by this bias. Especially all the people who think of themselves as experts or have fancy titles like a Ph.D. or a professor.

Alas, the titles don't mean diddly-squat if you don't have vast knowledge.

 

If I invited you to a blind taste test of a $12 wine versus a $1,200 wine, could you tell the difference? I bet you $20 you couldn’t. In 2001, Frederic Brochet, a researcher at the University of Bordeaux, ran a study that sent shock waves through the wine industry. Determined to understand how wine drinkers decided which wines they liked, he invited fifty-seven recognized experts to evaluate two wines: one red, one white.
After tasting the two wines, the experts described the red wine as intense, deep, and spicy—words commonly used to describe red wines. The white was described in equally standard terms: lively, fresh, and floral. But what none of these experts picked up on was that the two wines were exactly the same wine. Even more damning, the wines were actually both white wine—the “red wine” had been colored with food coloring. Think about that for a second. Fifty-seven wine experts couldn’t even tell they were drinking two identical wines. - I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi


Example 1 - Vitamin C

It reminds me of a great story. A couple of years ago, there was a lot of controversy in Poland around the man called Jerzy Zieba. What did he do, you might ask?

He wrote the book called "The Hidden Therapies - What your doctor won't tell you". It shook the medical world in Poland to the core as it exposed incompetence and rigidness of the Polish health care. In one of the chapters, he described wonderful qualities of Vitamin C which can be used among others to:

  • treat cancer and various diseases
  • lower cholesterol
  • lower blood sugar
  • substitute anti-allergic medicine

As a result, the real shitstorm ensued. He was publically flailed and tarred and feathered at the altar of science. There were literally thousands of medical professionals who mocked him to no end.

After all, he was not a doctor. So what that in his book he quoted hundreds of scientific studies from all over the world to back up his claims. He was no one and had no say in the matter.

I saw professors of medicine and oncologists saying straight to the camera that this is scientific tosh and they haven't seen even one scientific paper who proved it.

So why I am telling you all this?

Because each one of these detractors was dead wrong. There are actually hundreds of scientific studies proving the efficacy of vitamin C in treating almost every possible malady.

This anecdote is especially important for me because I have been personally interested in medicine for a long time now as it's definitely one of the main fields of knowledge where you are only as good as your memory. Throughout the years I have read, gathered and memorized dozens upon dozens of articles and studies about vitamin C which confirm its effectiveness.

In the end, the professors were wrong. The ego got the best of them.

It's an important reminder for all of us to never get too cocky. In other words - be humble or be humbled.


Example 2 - Losing Weight

Let's ponder over the following problem. Let's say that your aunt Elma wants to lose weight.
She has been buying Vanity Fair for a long time, so she knows that even though she accepts herself, she is fat and hideous, and needs to slim down.

The years of reading have equipped her with a truly powerful, intellectual toolkit.

She knows that she has to:

  • move more
  • eat less
  • eat healthier
  • stop chugging gin before she gets to work

Is losing weight really that simple?
It might seem so. After all, doing all those things takes us from point A to point B.

Before, I move on. ask yourself the same question. Be sure to follow the whirlwind of incoming thoughts.
Can you feel how they are trying to organize themselves? Or do you maybe feel like you have a ready answer?

I can bet that your first instinct is to start spewing out all the facts in your head. I know that it is typically my first reaction.

However, what's on the surface might be merely a tip of the iceberg. But only once you take a peek "under the hood", will you be able to see the real complexity of the issue at hand.

If you want to lose weight, you have to:
  • increase lipolysis 
  • improve fatty acid oxidation
  • increase insulin sensitivity
  • increase the breakdown of fat storage
  • improve fat burning capacity
  • manage blood sugar levels

Of course, it would be just the beginning of your investigative journey. Next, you would have to learn what is responsible for each of these functions.

Only then will you be able to truly understand what is required to lose weight.
And it would be a truly amazing journey because the truth is that there are thousands of possible solutions. If you dig long enough, I am sure you will be able to find the optimal one.

Do we have to understand all the things deeply?

I don't mean to make you paranoid. Of course, you don't have to possess a profound understanding of everything. Although I would suggest you do it for every area of knowledge which is of interest to you.


The Magnet Theory - Summary

 

The Magnet Theory is an easy way to understand how the processes of thinking and problem-solving work. It can be summarized in the following way:

  • Problems and questions act as magnets.
  • Those magnets attract every last scrap of information they can find to form an answer.
  • The final answers can be potentially distorted by your ego.

The theory leaves us with three conclusions that are applicable to every area of life.

  • (Almost) everyone has an opinion on anything. The magnet will always attract something which can be used to form a conclusion.
  • Your conclusions are only as good as the information at your disposal.
  • Your conclusions can be easily distorted by your biases and ego.

There you have it. I hope that you will be able to apply this theory to improve your quality of thinking.

Do you have anecdotes where some tiny piece of information helped you understand something? Please let me know in the comments.


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

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

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 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.


Why passive learning is an ineffective learning method

There is this persistent belief in the world of language learning that seeing a word a couple of times will allow the information to effortlessly sink in.

If you don't know anything about memory it might seem like a logical and tempting concept.

After all, the repetition is the mother of all learning.

Laying your eyes on some piece of information time after time should make remembering easy, right?

Not really.

Not that learning can't happen then. It can. It's just excruciatingly slow (read more about passive learning).

I would like to show you a couple of experiments which, hopefully, will help you realize that a number of passive repetitions don't have that much of influence on your ability to recall information actively.

Let's start with a great experiment which went viral recently.


Drawing logos from memory


Signs.com has conducted a fascinating experiment, asking 156 Americans between the ages of 20 and 70, to draw 10 famous logos as accurately as possible. The only trick was, that they have to do it without any visual aids, simply from their memory (source - BoredPanda).

How did participants do?

Let's take a look at a couple of examples.

The apple logo, which one could argue is very simple, was somewhat correctly drawn by 20% of participants. If you are having a bad day, here are some of the less successful attempts.

 

Passive learning is ineffective

 

The Adidas logo was correctly recalled only by 12% of participants.


passive learning is an ineffective learning method


Ok, I know that all this begs a question - what does it have to do with memory?


Implications of the experiment


The experiment's original intent was very interesting on its own. However, if you take a good look and prick up your ears you will soon discover that there is more to it! The experiment is trying to tell us something!

What's that, Mr. Experiment? What are you trying to tell us?  - passive learning sucks!

Come again, please? - passive learning sucks!!!!

Now, why would Mr. Experiment say such a thing?

How many times would you say that you have seen, so far, Apple's or Starbuck's logos?

50? Don't think so.
100? Highly doubt it.
1000+ ? That's more like it.

It's a safe bet that an average participant in this experiments has seen each logo at least several thousand times. Several. Thousand. Times.

That's a lot, to say the least.

Let's look at their final results. Surely, with that many "reviews" they must have remembered logos quite well.



Don't know how about you but it's one of the sadder things I have seen in my life.

And I have seen a cute kitten getting soaked by the rain and crapped on by a pigeon.

But it's all good because there is a lesson or two in all that doom and gloom.


1) Retention intention matters


It wouldn't be fair if I didn't mention this - one of the main reasons why people don't remember information is that they are not even trying.

If you have a neighbor called Rick who you hate, you won't care much if he is sick. Rick can eat a d*** as far as you are concerned. You don't want to remember anything about the guy.

The chance of remembering anything if you have no intention of conserving that information is close to zero. It was clearly a case in that study.

Who is warped enough to deliberately memorize logos?


2) Number of passive repetitions has limited influence on our ability to remember


This is likely to be the most important lesson of all. Sometimes even dozens of repetitions of a given word won't make you remember it!


3) Complexity of information matters


If you look at the table, you will notice another interesting, and logical, thing. The more complicated the logo the less accuracy we could observe.

Arguably, Starbucks' logo is the most complex of them all. Not surprisingly it could only boast a recall rate of 6%.

It stands true for words as well.

The longer or the more difficult to pronounce a word is the harder it is to commit it to your memory.

Interestingly, some comments suggested that all those companies failed at marketing.

It is clearly not the case. Above all, companies aim at improving our recognition of their brands and products. And that we do without the slightest doubt.


Other experiments to test your ability to recall


test your ability to recall


The experiment conducted by sings.com had its charm. However, you don't need to make inroads into other areas of knowledge in order to carry out a similar study.

It's enough to look around.


1) A mobile phone test


According to comScore’s 2017 Cross Platform Future in Focus report, the average American adult (18+) spends 2 hours, 51 minutes on their smartphone every day.

Another study, conducted by Flurry, shows U.S. consumers actually spend over 5 hours a day on mobile devices! About 86% of that time was taken up by smartphones, meaning we spend about 4 hours, 15 minutes on our mobile phones every day.

It means that you take a peek at your mobile phone at least 40-50 times per day or over 10000 times per year.

Now a question for you - how confident are you that you would be able to draw your mobile phone without looking at it?


2) A watch test


It's safe to assume that if you have a watch, you look at it dozens of times per day. Most people hold their watches dear and carry them around for years. That would make it quite plausible that you have seen your watch thousands of times.

The question stays the same - how confident are you that you would be able to precisely draw your watch without looking at it?


3) A coin test


Yet another object which we tend to see frequently.

Choose a coin of some common denomination and do your best to replicate it on a piece of paper. Results might be hilarious!

What's that? Your curiosity is still not satiated?

Then you might design an experiment and run it to see how much you can remember after one hour of reading compared to one hour of learning actively some random words (i.e. using them in sentences),

Let me know in the comment about your results if you decide to run any of those tests!

Especially the last one!


Why is passive learning so ineffective?



1) You think your memory is extraordinary


This is an interesting assumption behind passive learning which you might do unconsciously.

You see your brain like a humongous harvester of information.

Wham-bam! You reap them one by one. The assumption, as beautiful as it is, is plain wrong.

Your brain is more like a bedraggled peasant with two baskets. There is only so much crap he can pick up throughout the day.


2) Brains want to forget

 

 brain constantly works on forgetting

 

You see, your brain constantly works on forgetting most of the thing you come into contact with.

Reasons are simple:
  1. 1
    our brains are slimy and wrinkled assholes
  2. 2
    the goal of memory is not to transmit the most accurate information over time, but to guide and optimize intelligent decision making by only holding on to valuable information.

Why should your brain care about some words if many of them don't occur that often in everyday language?


3) No attention and no encoding


The simple memory model looks more less like this:
  1. 1
    Attention
  2. 2
    Encoding
  3. 3
    Storage
  4. 4
    Retrieval

The amount of attention you devote to a piece of information you want to acquire is almost non-existent. Just a glimpse and your roving eye is already elsewhere.

And since almost no attention is allocated to your learning, there can be no encoding as well (more about encoding here).


Passive learning and the illusion of knowledge


Did you know that research estimates that about 50% of the primate cerebral cortex is dedicated to processing visual information? That makes a vision the most important sensory system.

No wonder that our vision is the closest thing we have to the perfect memory.

In one of the most famous memory experiments of all times (1973), Lionel Standing proved that it is hard to rival vision in terms of capacity to retain information (Standing, L. (1973). Learning 10000 pictures. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 25(2), 207-222.)


Learning 10000 pictures


Lionel Standing, a British researcher, asked young adults to view 10,000 snapshots of common scenes and situations. Two days later he gave them a recognition test in which the original pictures were mixed in with new pictures they hadn’t seen. The participants picked out the original pictures with an accuracy of eighty-three percent, a jaw-dropping performance. - Robert Madigan - How Memory Works--and How to Make It Work for You.

Impressive, right?

Not exactly.

The thing is that this information is not something you know actively. You can recognize it but cannot retrieve it most of the time.

Don't get me wrong. Knowing something passively has its advantages and can be a really powerful factor in creative and thinking processes. But if you want to speak a language you have to know vocabulary explicitly.

Energetic nodding and grumbling worthy of a winner of the one-chromosome lottery don't count as a conversation.


Why passive learning makes us believe that we "know"?

 

passive learning and the illusion of knowledge

 

In another famous experiment, memory researcher Jennifer McCabe showed why students think that cramming and reading are superior to studying by recalling (which has been proven time and time again to be a better learning method).

In the said experiment, students from two different groups had to read the same one-page essay.

The first group was supposed to recall and write down as much information as they could upon finishing.

The second group was given a chance to restudy the passage after they finished.

One week later both groups were tested on their memory for the passage. Not surprisingly, the second group crashed and burned. Its performance was far worse than the one of the first group.

What's more, students from the second group were actually quite confident that they would fare better.

"How could they be so wrong?", you might ask.

Most likely, they based their answers on their own experience. They knew that when they finished reading material over and over, they felt confident in their memory. The facts seemed clear and fresh. They popped into mind quickly and easily as the students reviewed them. This is not always so when recalling facts in a self-test—more effort is often required to bring the facts to mind, so they don’t seem as solid. From a student’s point of view, it can seem obvious which method—restudying—produces better learning. Robert Bjork refers to this as an “illusion of competence” after restudying. The student concludes that she knows the material well based on the confident mastery she feels at that moment.

And she expects that the same mastery will be there several days later when the exam takes place. But this is unlikely. The same illusion of competence is at work during cramming, when the facts feel secure and firmly grasped. While that is indeed true at the time, it’s a mistake to assume that long-lasting memory strength has been created. - Robert Madigan - How Memory Works

Illusions of competence are certainly seductive. They can easily trick people into misjudging the strength of their memory as easily as they can encourage students to choose learning methods that undermine long-term retention.

The best defense is to use proven memory techniques and to be leery of making predictions about future memory strength based on how solid the memory seems right now!


Final thoughts


As a long-life learner, you should understand that passive learning is one of the slowest ways to acquire knowledge. Adopting such a learning style creates the illusion of knowledge which further perpetuates this vicious circle.

The best way to approach passive learning is to treat it as a complementary method to active learning. The rule is simple - once you are too tired to keep learning actively, you can switch to passive learning.


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 14 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.


Why Speaking Can Be A Bad Language Learning Strategy

"Just keep on talking" has to be one of the most worn-out phrases in the world of language learning.

Can't learn a language? Talk.

Not making enough progress? You're not talking enough. After all, a road to the mount fluency is paved with endless hours of conversation.

"But my progress has really stalled and ... ."  MOOOOOOOOOOOOORE, you moron!

Sounds familiar? I bet it does.

If you are one of those people who at some point got stuck at the "intermediate plateau" this article is for you.

Although speaking is without any doubt very effective language learning tool, it's not the optimal solution for every language learner.

What's more, this advice can be actually detrimental to your learning

Let's deconstruct this piece of advice so you understand where the rub lies!

As always, let's start with basics.


Number of words and levels of understanding


Here is the general overview of the number of words and the level of understanding they warrant (for more information read how many words you should know for every language level)

1000 words (A2)

1000 words allow you to understand about 80% of the language which surrounds you, as long as they are not fancy.

3000 words (B1/B2)

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

5000 words (B2)

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

10000 words (C1 / C2)

10000 words allow you to understand about 99% of most texts (Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)).

Depending on a choice of words, you can deduct or add 20% of a given number.

Keep those numbers in mind. We will come back to them soon.
But for now, since nobody like party-poopers. let's concentrate on positive aspects of speaking.


When is it a good idea to speak?


When Speaking is a good Language Learning Strategy


Speaking is certainly a GREAT idea, if not the best one, if you start learning a language.

Before I get to "why", let's look at other options.

Reading? Useless. Let's be honest - what can you read at this point that has any deeper meaning or sense and resonates with you? "Judy likes potatoes. She eats potatoes. Potatoes are sweet and tasty".

Ugh, shoot me in the face already.

Listening? Mostly useless. You don't know enough words anyway to make head nor tail out of the constant stream of speech. "Dfsdfsdfs "I" ........(wall of noise) ..." says" .......... "hide the body".

Speaking? Yes, please! In every possible amount.
Not reading, not listening - speaking is one of the best things you can do at the beginning of your learning.

Why?

  • Speaking is the " Ultimate Integrator"

It's breath-taking how complicated it is to utter even one correctish sentence. There are so many things to remember! The best thing about speaking is that it helps you integrate ALL of them.

  1. 1
    It activates vocabulary.
  2. 2
    It starts building your muscle memory.
  3. 3
    It helps you understand the relationship between grammar and words.
  4. 4
    It activates grammar and automates its use.

And so on.

  • Speaking is relatively easy

It can be as simple as uttering short sentences over and over again. You don't need to talk with anyone really. You can just talk to yourself.

What's more. Your sentences don't have to be correct every time. It's enough that your language partner understands what you mean.

  • Speaking = active learning

Last but not least, the main rule which contributes to the rapid learning is using your knowledge actively.
So it happens that speaking is the pinnacle of active language use.

Of course, you can choose to ignore active learning but I can tell you right now what will happen:

  1. 1
    you will succeed after a long time,
  2. 2
    your progress will be so slow that you will start backhanding old ladies at bus stops. Finally, you will give up and move on to another language. Inevitably, after some time you will arrive at the same crossroads with your new language.

So do yourself a favor and start talking as quickly as you can. Remember. You don't have to talk to others. You can just start with uttering short sentences under your breath.

Other perks of self-talk include:
  • not being judged by others,
  • you can behave like a Tourette's-ridden geezer. Bash people in your head all you want!

When it's a bad idea to "just speak"

 

Just speaking is a bad idea

 

Nothing good lasts forever. Speaking has also its expiration date efficiency-wise.

So when does the fun-ride end? Around a B2 mark (i.e. 4000 / 5000 words.).

Why?

There are two very important reasons for that.


1) You are already (quite) fluent grammar-wise


By this level, you should have your basic grammar fluency. You have produced enough sentences to automate dozens of different grammar patterns and constructions. Uttering more sentences won't bring you much closer to your goal of being fully fluent.

At this point, you need to expand your vocabulary more in order to achieve your goal.


2) You keep on repeating the same things over and over


Remember previously mentioned numbers? They will come handy now.

We established that knowing about 5 k words grants us the understanding of about 98% of all the things we hear on a daily basis.

What this number is trying to tell us is this:

If you just talk and don't challenge yourself, you repeat things you already know  95-98% of the time.

Let me rephrase it - out of every 100 words you use only about 2-5  of them can be considered learning.

Even better! Think about like this.

Out of every hour, you only practise for 36 seconds to 3 minutes.
Let's go crazy and say that it is 5 minutes.

How would you react if your buddy told you about a friend of his who is a little bit "special". Jeff works as a car dealer and every day he calls the same 95 people, who already bought a car, to sell them the very same car.

I guess you would imagine that he is the kind of guy who gets his pay in sugar cubes and wears a bib instead of a tie. That's how special he is.

Don't be like Jeff.

Of course, if your goal is to learn just one language or have a lot of time, keep at it.
However, for any other goal, I would suggest you start fixing your learning schedule.


How do I know it applies to me?


There is a simple rule for that.

If you can already spend an hour or two talking without finding blood stains under your armpits and seeing black blobs in the corner of your eyes it means you're not learning anymore.

You're just repeating the same ol' things over and over again and most of your time and effort is wasted.

I am willing to bet that you already know it deep inside. Try to tune your ears to conversations you typically have in your target language. Aren't you using the same phrases all the time?

If yes, you need to step it up and stop wasting time on lessons that don't contribute much to your language development.

The higher your level, the bigger the problem.

It's worth noting that the more advanced you get, the bigger the said problem becomes.

At a C1 level, you know about 99 % of all the words that can be encountered in everyday conversations. Speaking more is clearly not an effective solution here.


Solution - fixing your learning schedule


Why Speaking Can Be A Bad Language Learning Strategy

 

Before I move on, keep in mind that all the advice in this article aims at improving your learning effectiveness regardless of whether you are learning on your own or by having privates lessons or language exchanges.

By no means am I suggesting that you should cut off your friends and leave them high and dry just because this kind of talking is not the most effective learning option out there.

"Sorry Suzie, this random dude on the internet helped me realize that you're wasting my time. Good riddance and farewell!".

If you are talking to your friends on a daily basis, there is no reason to give it up. You will learn something every day anyway.

Now that we've gotten this hurdle out of the way, let me repeat again - If you want to get out of this gruesome rut and fix your language learning schedule, you need to concentrate on words/phrases you don't know well.

There are a couple of ways to do it, but they all share one feature.


Preparation


"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." - Abraham Lincoln

Making the best use out of your lesson is all about the proper preparation.

As a rule of thumb, I recommend most people at a B2 level or higher to put in 4-5 hours of preparation before each lesson.

Of course, if you learn on your own, feel free to use those techniques whenever your heart desires.

  • Discuss a topic beforehand 

If you use structured lessons, usually there is some subject or article that will be discussed. In that case, always make sure that you discuss it with yourself or your friends in advance.

Here is a great website with over 100 topics and thousands of questions which you might use to test yourself.

http://iteslj.org/questions/

Remember - if you catch yourself not knowing some word, always write it down and learn it.

Think about words like "bodkin", "grovel" or "coppice". Most people don't use them that often in their native tongues, let alone in their target language.

That's why you always should have a system in place to master such words. Otherwise, they quickly fall into oblivion.

As always I recommend ANKI as your go-to program for learning new vocab.

  • Look up new phrases/words


Speaking Can Be A Bad Language Learning Strategy

 

While discussing a given subject beforehand is a foolproof method to quickly discover gaps in your knowledge, there is a method that's much quicker - open a dictionary.

After all, there are potentially thousands of words there which you don't know and use. Pick the ones you find useful, learn them and start using them during your next language learning session.

And don't worry too much about using them incorrectly. If it happens, your teacher/language partner will quickly correct your mistake. Not a big deal, right?

  • Read a lot about a given subject

Another good idea, although much more time-consuming compared to the previous ones is to simply read a lot about a subject you're going to discuss during your next lesson.

Find 5-10 articles and start slogging through them!

  • Make a conscious effort to use new words/phrases

Your brain is wired to use the most efficient neural pathways i.e. the words you already know very well. That's why you need to put conscious effort into avoiding them.

It can be as simple as writing down a couple of new phrases on a piece of paper as a reminder of what you can say instead. That's why Thesaurus is going to be your new best friend.

For example

"I think" = "I believe"

"She cried" = "She was crying her eyes out"

  • Speak about the same topic for a number of days

Why change a subject every 2-3 days? By discussing the same subject for a longer period of time, you will be able to activate your topical vocabulary much better and understand it much deeper.


Final words


Speaking is not the ultimate remedy for all your language problems. While it's a great strategy at the beginning of your language journey, it gets progressively less effective the more advanced you become.

If you hope to keep on progressing fast, you need to start using some strategies for activating less frequent vocabulary. Once you incorporate them into your language learning schedule, you should see a huge difference.

Agree? Disagree? 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 19 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


How to Choose the Best Learning Methods (And Avoid the Bad Ones)

Scouring the internet to find the ultimate language learning method is no mean feat.

Around every corner, there is something new trying to seduce you. And most of the time you give in. "Why not", you might think, "It sounds reasonable".

You don't even notice when this search turns into a bizarre blind-folded tasting.
One time it's an acorn. Other time it is a piece of crap.

What's even worse, almost every person swears by his own method. "Listen, I learned Japanese by yodeling. I am telling ya this is the way to go!"

It is all confusing and disheartening.

That's why I want to show you how to evaluate learning methods.

Hopefully, upon reading this article you will learn how to navigate those murky waters and make more educated decisions about your learning.

But let's start with a question I have heard many times.


Why bother with choosing the right method?



1. It saves time

 

choose the best learning methods

 

Nothing is our in this world but time - Seneca

You should treat the choice of a potential learning method as an investment.

Would you ever open a newspaper, close your eyes and just pick some stocks randomly?
I don't think so.

That's why I would suggest that you approach choosing a language learning strategy the same way.

Don't behave like a happy-go-lucky hippie.
Spend an hour or two to think it through.

It will pay off, I promise.
It really makes a difference.

Very often 10 minutes of a good learning method might be worth an hour (or even more) of a crappy method. (* cough* Duolingo *cough*).

Imagine what you could do with all that saved time!

Of course, pondering over this decision for too long is no good either.
Don't think too long.

Simply evaluate a couple of methods against the guidelines found in this article, choose the right one and move on.


2. It boosts motivation


I don't believe in motivation. I believe in habits and systems.

But there is no denying that motivation is a force to be reckoned with.
Especially when you take up a new learning project.

However, there is one big problem. Motivation is a capricious mistress.

One day she is lovely and charming, while the other day she goes berserk and kicks you right in the nuts. That's why relying on motivation is not a good long-term strategy.

Nevertheless, choosing a right strategy will help you notice results of your learning much quicker.
And in my experience, there is nothing better to fuel your motivation.


3. It solves most of the other learning problems


Probably you already know it but just in case - most of your learning-related problems stem from the wrong choice of learning methods

Can't keep more than two languages in your head at the same time?
Wrong learning methods.

Keep on forgetting words?
Wrong learning methods.

I hope that by now, I have convinced you that choosing the right learning method is not a waste of time.

The next thing on the agenda - learning fallacies.


The Most Widespread Learning Fallacies

 

There are a lot of people who offer you their advice in good faith, even though they themselves are ill-informed.

It's equally important to know, not only what works, but also what doesn't work and why. At least if you want to be a good "b*shit" detector learning-wise!

Here is the list of the most important learning fallacies you may fall subject to.


Fallacy #1 - My method works

 

how to choose the best learning methods

 

There are not many people strolling around and saying, "My method sucks and guarantees no results whatsoever. Use it!".

Everybody is convinced that their learning method is great and that the other guys suck (confirmation bias, anyone?). Here is a corker - they are all right.

Absolutely all learning methods work.

It comes as a shock, right?

Pick any method you want. If you stick to it long enough, you will see some effects.
If you just keep plugging away, eventually you will learn what you have set out to do.

Even the worst of the worst methods work.

I am the best possible example of this. 

My default method of learning English years ago was to:
  • write down every word I didn't know
  • rewrite it from a dictionary
  • read it 

In other words, I was rewriting a dictionary.

I really do hope that I was fed with a lead spoon as a child.
At least I would be able to justify myself just a little bit.

I have managed to write away 12 A4 notebooks this way. Pure madness and the hands down the crappiest method I have ever heard of.

Yet, I managed to learn English fluently and get all the Cambridge Certificates.
The miracle?

No.

I just kept plugging away at it. Many hours per day. Until I succeeded.

You can see learning as rolling a big ball from point A to point B.

Your learning methods decide how heavy the ball is and thus how much time it will take to get it to the finish line.

The heaviness of the ball doesn't make it impossible for you to achieve your goal. It just takes longer to do it and it is more difficult.

Main takeaway - just because a method works doesn't really prove anything unless you measure the average results which it gives you.


Fallacy # 2 - I like it (aka personal preferences or learning styles)

 

how to choose the best learning methods

 

Months ago I wrote in one of the articles that learning styles don't exist. The hell ensued.

I got plenty of angry e-mails. Some people started behaving like an upset stereotypical Brit, "Iconoclastic heresies, my good chum!". Others would gladly spit into my cereal if they got a chance.

No wonder. I have found a lot of statistics saying that over 80 or even 90% of teachers believe it to be true. Thor only knows how many students have been infected with this idea.

And this is why so many people have a very strong opinion about it.

However, let me repeat for dramatic effect.

Learning styles don't exist*

* You can read more about it here. It's not perfect but it should dispel most of your doubts.

Most of the time when people use this term, they mean "personal preferences".

They prefer to see information visually, orally or in some other way.

PREFER is the key word here.

It doesn't mean that learning this way is more effective. It means you like it more.

An author who enjoys music the most will think that the music is the best way to learn.
Another one will try to convince you that spending more time outside is the ultimate solution.

But there is some silver lining here.

Liking a given method makes it more sustainable. You can use it longer than some other methods without feeling fatigued.

It certainly counts for something and you should always have such enjoyable learning methods in your arsenal.

Main takeaway - just because you like a method doesn't make it effective memory- and time-wise. It does, however, make it more sustainable.


Fallacy #3 - Everybody learns differently

 

how to choose the right learning methods

 

Everybody learns differently is just a special case of the snowflake syndrome.

I get it, you are without the slightest doubt special in your own way. However, don't make a mistake of thinking that

learning differently ≠ learning effectively.

Let me explain why we are not so special and so different when it comes to learning.

We are the product of the evolution. Our brains are in many ways very similar.

  • Your working memory capacity is probably the same as mine. Surpass it and you can say goodbye to remembering things.
  • You learn most of the things better by doing.
  • Your attention is very limited. 
  • Your brain needs regular breaks during learning.
  • You learn better when you space your learning.

The list goes on and on.

So yes, you are special in many ways. But not in the ways your brain acquires knowledge.

Main takeaway - our brains absorb information in a very similar way. 


Fallacy #4 - It's based on science


I know what you are thinking. How the hell is this a learning fallacy?
Is it not important for a method to be based on science?

Yes, it is crucial.

However, there is one problem with that.
People love numbers, statistics and quoting research papers.

It makes everything more believable. You can come up with any crappy theory and method, back it up with some research paper and people will buy it.

There are a lot of companies which do exactly that.
They apply flaky results of some fishy research paper(s) to their learning method and sell it for big bucks.

At least twice per month, I get requests to write a review of some "revolutionary" software.
Most of the time the only revolutionary thing about it is spaced repetition.

Obviously, spaced repetition algorithms are amazing. But it doesn't justify paying for it 20-50$ per month (you know who you are!). You can go ahead and just download ANKI for free.

That's why this is the trickiest fallacy of them all. Don't buy into some method just because it sounds sciency. I can guarantee you that almost every method is based on some research paper. Whether its creator knows it or not.

Main takeaway - just because a method is based on a research paper it doesn't make it effective.


Fallacy #5 - There is one method

 

choose the best learning methods


There is no perfect learning method. 

You can't build a house with only a hammer. You need other tools as well.

Learning is too complicated to approach it from only one side. It doesn't matter how good this method seems, be it mnemonics or anything else.

That's why you should always aim at creating your own personal toolbox.

Main takeaway - there is no perfect method. You should always have at least a couple of them in order to learn effectively.


Important factors in choosing right learning methods

 

Although I would love to give you a perfect recipe for success in learning, I don't think it is possible. What's more, I will restrain myself from suggesting the methods I use personally or teach my clients.

Instead, I will show you which criteria you can use to evaluate the general effectiveness of different methods.

A good method should


a) be based on science


“As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Learn how your memory operates. Once you master this basic information it will be much easier for you to assess different learning methods. (read more about it here and here).

As Aristotle once said

“The fact is our starting point.” 

The more "science boxes" your learning method checks, the better.


b) be sustainable (easy to use)


Although not every learning method has to be sustainable, it is good when at least one of them is something that you can do for a long time and you find it pleasant.

But remember - first, do the real work and then have fun.


c) be engaging


The Marines have a great motto

Learn how you fight

Make sure that your learning method resembles real-life situations as much as it is only possible.


d) be tested


Whenever it is possible you should test a strategy you are planning to use long term. Don't trust somebody just because he says that his method works.

Most people don't challenge their assumptions.

I get requests to consult or collaborate on some language course all the time. The email exchanges usually end when I ask

"So how exactly have you tested your learning system/method and what is it based on?".

And then crickets. There has been just one exception to this day.

That's why design your own experiment to prove a method right or wrong.

Want to switch to another method? Test them against each other.


e) give you feedback


You don't want to do something without knowing whether it is right or not. A good method should always provide you with some amount of feedback.


Final Words


Choosing the best learning methods is definitely not easy. It might take some time and experience in order to tell the chaff from the wheat.

Nevertheless, it is always worth the effort. The amount of time and frustration you can potentially save is really gigantic.

Good luck!

Question for you - are there any methods you are currently using that you would like me to analyze? Let me know in the comments. Feel free to include your own analysis.


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 13 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.


How Much Time It Takes To Maintain (And Improve) Many Languages

Being a polyglot sounds like such an amazing thing, doesn’t it? Admiration, fame, money, women throwing themselves at your feet.

All these things are not only great but also completely imaginary.

Ok, just a bad joke. It is pretty great.

But plenty of people notoriously underestimates how much time it takes to maintain and learn languages. I am sure you know the type.

They love to assume that the only prerequisite to master many languages is some unspecified talent.

I get it. If you say, “I envy you, I wish I could speak so many languages but I just don’t have a knack for it”, you don’t have to feel guilty.

That’s why they keep sucking the rationalization’s tit until they get all warm and blissful.

And who knows? Maybe they are right to some degree. We are all born different. Wiring in our little brains differs from one another.

Some people might actually have some head-start. But one thing is sure – no magical combinations of neural networks will ever make you a polyglot if you don’t put in the long hours.

How many?

It’s time to unveil the mystery.

For the past four weeks, I have been trying to track down how much time I devote to learning and maintaining my languages each week.

But before we get to that, let’s start with the baseline,

My Current Language Levels

Here are my current levels:

  • English: C2+ (C2 level + a couple of specializations)
  • Swedish: C1/C2
  • German: C1/C2
  • Russian: C1
  • Esperanto: C1
  • Czech: B2/C1
  • Spanish: B2
  • French: A2/B1

As a side note, I can’t understand why some people say that they know a language when they can barely string a sentence together. Your language is not dormant – it is mostly forgotten. Deal with it,

No one would go to an interview claiming that they know JavaScript but “not right now”.
Somehow, this practice seems to be quite widespread in the language learning world.

C1 level

You might notice that I learn my languages to at least C1 level. There is a very good reason for that – language attrition happens muuuch slower on this level than on the lower ones.

Once you get there, you can start taking breaks from that language to entertain yourself with other projects.

Time Breakdown

 

how much time to maintain and improve many languages

WORK

Let’s start with my unfair advantage – I teach / train people for a living. It allows me to spend considerable amounts of time while being surrounded by many languages.

Currently, I teach/coach 30+ people per week.

Main languages I teach are:

  • Swedish – 8-10 hours
  • German – 8-10 hours
  • English – 8-10 hours

These are not your usual conversations. I work almost exclusively with professionals. Each hour I spent with them is designed to jog their memory and bring them to the point of exhaustion.

That requires from me quite a considerable vocabulary which is awesome.

 

If we add to this mix a couple hours of consultations each week, we get a pretty decent number.

Total time: 24-35 hours

SPARE TIME – LEARNING PART

I am not sure whether it’s sad or not but I spend most of my waking hours learning and/or experimenting with memory systems. None of these activities are carried out in my mother tongue.

I figured out that since I know it pretty well it would be a waste of time.

Basically, it means, as absurd as it sounds, that Polish (my native tongue) and French are the least frequently used languages by me.

It leads to some bizarre and funny situations. Sometimes my brain plays with me and prompts me to conjugate Polish verbs in a really weird way – I have created monsters like “wypróbowywałem” instead of “wypróbowałem” more times than I would like to admit.

Quite a side-effect, huh?

Another interesting side-effect is dreaming in foreign languages. I have actually had dreams where people were speaking one foreign language and my brain was displaying subtitles in another.

Yep. Who needs drugs when you have languages.

Anyway, reading, talking, noting, writing are all done in various languages.

The rough breakdown looks more less like this. Mind you that these numbers reflect only a couple of last weeks and they are bound to change. They have to adjust to my needs, after all.

English – 15-hours. As much as I would like to suppress the use of this language throughout the week, it is impossible.

About 80% of e-mails I get are in English. 98% of all scientific papers I read are in English, no other language comes even close when it comes to their quality. I would say that I read at least 300+ pages per week in that language.

And let’s not forget about writing articles. Once again English prevails.

Czech – 5 hours per week. Mostly reading (10-15 articles per week) and learning/revising vocabulary.

Russian – 3-7 hours per week. Mostly revising and learning vocabulary. I read maybe 1-2 articles per week. Oh, and let’s throw about 2-4 episodes of TV series to this mix!

Esperanto – 1-2 hours per week Mostly revising and learning vocabulary. Unfortunately, there are not many websites in Esperanto which overlap with my interests. It means that I read maybe 0-2 pages in Esperanto per week.

Swedish – 4-6 hours. I need to maintain my Swedish skills at a high level because of my job. I tend to read 10-20 articles per week and tend to watch a fair share of YT in Swedish (I highly recommend I Just Want To Be Cool channel, if you are learning Swedish).

French – 0-1 hours per week. Currently, I am busy with many projects and the sole victim of this state of affairs is French. As a not so surprising result, my French is deteriorating rather fast.

German – 3-5 hours per week. Besides learning new words and revising old ones, I read about 5-10 articles per week and watch a bit of YT.

Spanish – 3-4 hours per week. Mostly revising and learning vocabulary with some articles here and there.

And just for the clarity’s sake – I learn and revise my vocabulary by talking in order to keep it active.

Total time: 34-40 hours per week.

SPARE TIME – ENTERTAINMENT

how much time to maintain and improve many languages

 

Now it really gets weird!

I tend to watch a lot of TV series with my girlfriend – about 15 hours per week. It’s great fun. However, it has bothered me for a long time that everything we watch is in English.

That’s a wrinkle I couldn’t iron out.

And then it dawned on me – why not turn this ordinary activity into another language learning exercise?
Why not translate everything actors say into one of the languages I am trying to improve?

As I thought so I did. I have been doing it for about 4 months now and it has really helped me improve my fluency in a couple of languages.

“What about words or phrases you don’t know?”, you might ask.

I have an easy but effective system which takes care of that problem. I memorize them with mnemonics on the fly and quickly note them down after each episode.

Next day I look them up and encode them. Quite an elegant solution, isn’t it?

Of course, it doesn’t work each time. Sometimes I am just too tired and I let myself get sucked into a TV whirlwind.

Total time: 5-15 hours

The Final Result

The results were beyond interesting. It was no secret to me that I learn a lot but I didn’t think that it’s that much!

Not even once did I sink below the level of 70 hours per week, although I am sure that it might happen in the future.

Thank God I am not a crack addict. Otherwise, I would be this guy who crawls through broken glass to lick other junkies’ nostrils to get his daily high.

Total time: 63-90 hours per week

Want to increase your weekly learning time? Read on. There is some food for thought for you there.

ACTIVE vs. PASSIVE LEARNING

Active use: 35-50 hours per week (talking to others or myself)
Semi-active use: about 15 hours per week (translating TV series in my mind)
Passive: 15-35 hours per week (reading + listening/watching)

CHALLENGES

how much time to maintain and improve many languages

 

Over 70 hours per week is certainly a lot of time. That’s why there is one important question which begs to be asked.

Does it all come easy? Or does it require some tremendous amount of will power? At the risk of rubbing some people the wrong way the answer is – It does come easy.

At this point of time in my life, I do most of those things without giving them much thought. But I had to work my way up to get there.

And believe me – it was a long walk and the slope was slippery.

There is definitely a number of challenges you need to face if you want to pump up your total learning time. Here are some of them.

CREATING HABITS

Definitely one of the most important things to master, if not the most important one. If you want to make sure that you will learn day in, day out, you need to build within yourself the urge to do it.

The urge that can only be built and fueled by habits.

Forget about the motivation. Motivation is for suckers. You have to show up every day until the habit of learning becomes the extension of yourself.

Only then will you be able to not only learn a lot without much effort but also crave it.

Read more about creating durable habits here.

ALTERNATING LANGUAGES

You can’t just choose one or two and toss the rest into some musty pit. They would rust away in the blink of an eye.

You need to introduce and invite every language you’re learning to your life. You have to make conscious effort to use them all constantly.

Beginnings are ugly and weird. It seems your guest is hammered and shits on your carpet and you don’t know what to do with him.

But once the dust settles, using a given language should become your second nature.

Here are more tips about juggling many languages.

SURROUNDING YOURSELF WITH LANGUAGES

Use every possible moment you get to learn a word or two. The chances to do it are everywhere around you:

And so on. Every little bit counts

AUTOMATING INPUT

The general of productivity is that the fewer decisions you have to make, the better your general efficiency is. It’s hard to argue with that.

Let’s say that you want to read something, How much time do you usually spend before you pick up an article? 5 minutes? 10 minutes?

It might not seem like a lot. However, it adds up very quickly.
Soon it may turn out that at least a dozen of hours per week is trickling between your fingers.

The same goes for choosing movies or YT videos.

Me?

I am hell-bent on not letting that happen.
I would rather spend this time weaving wicker baskets than losing it due to my indecision.

That’s why my input-gathering process is almost fully automated.

In the morning, when I arrive at my desk with a steamy mug of coffee, everything I need is already in my e-mail box. Scientific papers, videos, articles. Everything.

I don’t need to spend even one minute more than I should trying to find the necessary information.

And yet, as you can clearly seem  I still spend a lot of time learning and maitaning my languages which leads me to the last point.

WHY I WON’T LEARN NEW LANGUAGES ANYTIME SOON

how much time to maintain and improve many languages

People learn languages for different reasons.
Mine has always struck people as eccentric.

I haven’t learned languages because of my deep love for them.

No doubt I have fallen in love with them during the process of learning (except for French – f*** you French!) but my affection hasn’t been the main factor.

The main reason was always the pursuit of better memory.

And even though I know that I still have a lot to learn memory-wise, I know that learning languages won’t get me much further.

I don’t find languages challenging anymore. Sure, I haven’t learned Basque or even one of Asian languages. But I don’t need to.

The general principles of learning and memory improvement won’t change just because I switched to a new language.

And to be honest, what’s the difference between knowing 8 and 9 languages?
Or 10-12? Not that big, in my opinion.

However, the time you need to maintain them grows significantly with every new addition. Of course, some learners trade quality for quantity but I personally prefer to truly master the languages I know.

Languages vs other branches of knowledge

I have read in some scientific paper that learning a language to C1 level is tantamount to graduating from studies.

How come?

Both activities require thorough knowledge and understanding of about 10000 words/concepts.

But I don’t believe it to be true. I don’t know many college graduates who can use their knowledge as fluently and practically as C1 language learners can use their vocabulary.

And that is what bugs me. Why would I learn another language when there are so many other mysteries just waiting to be solved (I guess it’s the FOMO syndrome?

So many branches of knowledge which seem to lure me. Every day, I seem to find yet another thing which I don’t know much about.

The choice is simple – I can either excel at many other things or simply learn another language or 5.

The latter is infinitely less exciting and practical.

So what’s next?

Years ago I promised myself that I would master 10 languages till I turn 40.
Right now I am 31 and I still have plenty of time to achieve my goal.

But I think that this time I will take my time.and stick to learning some other things and hopefully running this blog full-time.

CONCLUSION

Not everyone needs to be a polyglot but if this is a path you decide to tread, you should be fully aware that it requires much time and effort.

The path is fraught with various obstacles. Get rid of one of them and soon you will realize that another one took its place.

But if there was just one thing, I would like you to take away from this article, it would be this one:

You have to make the languages you learn a central part of your life, only then will you be able to truly master them.

Question for you:

What stops you from learning your target language(s) more often?”

I would love to hear your opinion.

 

Active and Passive Learning – How To Create The Winning Combination (Optimize Your Language Learning – Part 3)

I zealously advocate active language learning. This is definitely the most-effective and easily available remedy for frustratingly slow learning progress (read more about active learning here).

But advising you to only learn actively, or claiming that I do so, would be nothing more than denying our human nature.

Sometimes you are sick. Sometimes you feel down for no particular reason.
Sometimes, you would rather get wasted than learn.

That’s why you should accept that you won’t be able to learn actively all the time.
Not that you shouldn’t try, of course! It’s simply not sustainable for longer periods of time.

The perfect solution is to combine active and passive learning. But first things first.

The (Only) Problem With Active Learning

 

We like to believe that the time we spend doing something is the main indicator of our progress.
It’s not. It’s the intensity of your training.

The more hard work you are able to condense into one hour of learning, the better.

That’s what makes active learning so highly efficient.

But there is just one problem.

The deep, active learning is tiring as hell.

Not time-consuming, mind you. Just energy-devouring. That’s why we love to avoid it.
We don’t want anyone meddling with our energy deposits.

“F*ck off brain, will ya?! I need my glucose to come up with sarcastic retorts to situations that will never happen”.

Active and passive learningOnce you realize it, it should be easier to incorporate active learning into your daily learning schedule.
Simply find the time of the day when you are still energetic enough to do the hard work.

Always tired after work?
Wake up earlier and do the work.

Too sleepy in the morning?
Come back from, take a nap and do the work.

You get it. Just do the damn work.

Ok, so that one is clear.

So how does the passive learning fit into the “big picture?”

The Role Of Passive Learning

 

I will stress it one more time – active learning should be the foundation of your learning.

But the thing is that this foundation is never perfect.
It is scarred by cracks and blemishes.

But you can still smuggle quite a bit of sand between the cracks.

Active and passive learning

This is the role of passive learning – it should fill all the voids throughout your day and complete your learning.

After all, each day consists of a considerable amount of “dead-time”.
Like standing in a line or going for a walk.

Why not listen to some podcasts or music in your target language?

Of course, I am not suggesting that you go mental.
Don’t try to fill every moment of your day with some learning (unless you really want to!).

Remember that we all need some downtime to remember information better.

Optimize Your Day For Passive Learning

 

There are four categories of things you can optimize for language learning

  1. People
  2. Surroundings
  3. Tools
  4. Things you do

1) People

“Optimizing” people sounds more than bad. I know.
But you talk to people anyway.

Why not find some language partners to talk to throughout the day?

After all, they are only a click away from you in this wireless era.

Here are some places to get you started:

– Facebook groups
meetup.com
Craig’s List
Italki. com
Hello Talk

2) Surroundings

Any place where you spend quite some time can be optimized for language learning.

Simple stick-it notes can transform any dusty desk into a learning battle station.

But don’t make them boring!. You know what I mean.

Don’t just write “desk = der Tisch” and stick it in its respective place.
Make it memorable. Make it fun!

Write “Ich lecke meinen Tisch, wenn ich blau bin” (I lick my desk when I am sloshed).
That’s something to remember!

Or even better – make yourself a poster while we’re at it.
Here is a quick example:

Active and passive learning

3) Tools

Even though you might not fully realize it, you use at least dozens of tools every day.
A fair share of them is electronic – search engines,  mobile phones, browsers, Windows, Excel, etc. – you name it.

But why on Earth would you want to use them in your native tongue?!

Make a list of all the most important software / websites / etc. you use and change the language to your target language!

4) Things you do

Our days are marked by myriads of repetitive activities – commuting, cleaning a flat, going to a gym.
Once again, this is something you might use to your advantage.

You can prepare a playlist beforehand and listen to your favorite bands / podcasts / videos during that time.

I hope that these ideas will set you on the right path.

Now, let’s take a look at how the hypothetical “optimized” day might look like!

How Active and Passive Learning Fit Together – The Perfect Learning Day

Ordinary Morning

You wake up at 7 am sharp.

Your alarm clock starts blaring.
Beep, beEP, BEEP!!!

“It’s another shitty today”, you think to yourself as you step into the bathroom.

You look at your comatose self in the mirror, sigh heavily, brush your teeth and try to shape yourself into something which resembles the human form.

Then breakfast, dull as Kristen Stewart’s acting, and you kiss your wife. Your eyes utter mute “help me” as you pass her by and leave.

Ugh! Boring!
But it could look like this:

Morning On Language Learning Steroids

Your alarm clock gently jars you out of sleep.
You open your eyes and light an entire room with your beaming smile.

No wonder.
This time you haven’t been ear-raped by some mechanical rattle.

No. This time you wake up to the sounds of your favorite song in your target language.
You graciously jump out of bed and leap towards the bathroom.

You look at yourself and think, “Gee, I really do look amazing today!”, as the next song in your target language starts playing.

You dig into your breakfast.

It tastes like a nectar made by Zeus himself.

What to do:

Prepare in advance the playlist of songs in your target language.
Delete all the other songs in your mother tongue.

Leave yourself no other choice but to listen to the language you want to improve.

Of course, if a part of your morning routine is to listen to the news or the radio, you don’t have to change it.
Find radio stations in your target language on my other website and simply listen to them instead.

Ordinary Commute

You slowly drag your feet toward the train station. “It’s funny”, you notice. The pavement tiles strangely resemble your life. They are gray and shattered.

 

Active and passive learning

 

Once you take a sit, you try to pass the time by rating the miserableness of your co-passengers. But there are no winners in this game.

Pretty bad, right? But it could look like this:

Commute On Language Learning Steroids

You maniacally run towards your train station. You can’t wait to hop on the train! This is one of your favorite parts of the day.

You take a seat and fire off your favorite YT channel. The fascinating interview about … completely pulls you in. “Already my station?”, you think to yourself. “I completely lost track of time!”.

What to do:

Always have some resources handy on your mobile/tablet/notebook. Not too many of them – it leads to decision fatigue. Ideally, it should be something that really interests you.

You should aim at energizing yourself before you start work. If you wear yourself off mentally, you will send a signal to your brain to actually start avoiding this activity in the future.

Aim at interviews or some funny, easily digestible shows. Unless you are really into politics or some “heavier” topics – then go ahead and listen to them as well.

Ordinary Day At The Office

You enter the office and gaze absently at your coworkers.
Then you head toward the kitchen to fix yourself a cup of instant enthusiasm.
Not that it helps. It’s just a thing you do to pull yourself faster through the day.

All the breaks and conversations turn into one big blur.
Even some breaks in-between don’t deliver any relief.

Nightmare, ain’t it? But what about this:

Day At The Office On Language Learning Steroids

You rush into a kitchen and pour yourself a delicious cup of caffeine goodness.
You sit comfortably in your cubicle.

Not an ordinary cubicle mind you but a language optimized cubicle.
All around you, there are stick-it notes with interesting quotes or jokes in your target language.

After you dig yourself up out of the weekend’s backlog, you start reading newspapers in your target language.

What to do:
It’s a very good habit to change the interface of every possible app or website you use to your target language. However don’t feel pressured to do so right away, If you are a beginner.

You might dip your toes first.

Write down where to change language settings and then switch interface to your target language.

Start translating any useful words you might need and switch the language back on.
After a couple of such sessions, you should be able to comfortably navigate through any website/app.

What’s more, you can always put some stick-it knows with useful phrases or quotes around you.

Why phrases or quotes?

Because learning is always more efficient when there is context.

Why only put a note on your plant called “plant”, when you can write “a green and beautiful plant!”.
Or “watering plants causes diarrhea”.

I know, I know – it sounds absolutely childish.

The thing is that the absurd information is absorbed more effectively.
So why don’t you help your brain a little bit?

Come-Back Home

That was one hell of the day!
You’re absolutely ecstatic! You finish your job, catch the train back and come back home.

You open the door to your flat and suddenly everything goes totally silent.
You know what you have to do now.
The damn work.

5 Fun Ways of Improving Your Spanish Pronunciation


[su_frame]Today we have a fantastic post from Sean Hopwood, MBA – founder and President of Day Translations, Inc., an online localization and Spanish translation services. Check out his website, and enjoy the post![/su_frame]


As one of the most spoken languages in the world, Spanish deserves a place on your list of languages to master.

Many a native English speaker, however, has struggled with the Spanish tongue because it requires a greater level of flexibility than English. You’ll have to work hard at polishing your pronunciation if you want to be able to speak with a solidly good Spanish accent.

It also means not despairing or quitting on your dream of speaking Spanish like a native when yet another Spanish speaker fails to understand you.

If you’re aiming to take your Spanish skills to a higher level, read the following 5 fun ways of improving your Spanish pronunciation to find out innovative ways of speaking more like a local.

1. Pick Your Accent

 

If you’re just starting to learn Spanish, you may be having problems distinguishing between different Spanish accents. Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Cuba and all other Spanish speaking countries in the world speak their own version of Spanish.

Some are so dramatically different, they may not even sound like Spanish to you.

Improving Your Spanish Pronunciation
However, don’t feel overwhelmed. The first step in improving your accent is to pick a Spanish speaking country whose accent and dialect you want to focus on.

Does Spain resonate with you because it is in Europe? Or Mexico due to the dominance of Mexican Spanish in the United States? Simply listen to the dialects that are out there and choose one that works for you and stick with it.

Once you adopt the following fun ways of improving your Spanish pronunciation and perfect your accent, adapting it to the Spanish speaking country you are in will not be so difficult.

2. Monitor Your “B’s” and “V’s”

 

Many students of Spanish tend to have problems differentiating the Spanish ‘b’ from ‘v’. To the untrained ear, these two letters can sound very similar – so similar you might think someone asked you for a ‘beso‘ (kiss) when what they really said is ‘vaso‘ (glass).

Let’s take this step by step: to emit the perfect Spanish pronunciation of ‘v’, for a second let your teeth rest on your bottom lip as if you are going to say the word ‘vest‘ and practice pairing this ‘v’ with the Spanish vowels of ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’ and ‘u’.

The Spanish ‘b’ is similar to the English ‘b’, as in ‘break’ or ‘berries’ and you may also practice pairing the Spanish ‘b’ with the language’s vowels.

Switch back and forth between these mouth positions when you pronounce words like ‘viento‘ (wind) and ‘bella‘ (pretty). If the two sounds sound similar, then you are doing something right.

3. Pronounce those Accents

 

Amongst the fun ways of improving your Spanish pronunciation is emphasizing Spanish accents. It may be all right for someone who is new to the Spanish language to ignore the little dashes written above a certain syllable in a Spanish word, but if you really want to perfect your Spanish pronunciation, it’s time you paid attention.

Word accents are especially important in Spanish because not only do they alter the meaning of the word, they can make all the difference on whether or not you’ll be understood.

For example, the word for ‘father’ is written as ‘papá’ with the accent on the last letter meaning you should emphasize the last bit of the word more. When you miss the accent, you have the evenly pronounced word ‘papa,’ which means ‘potato.’

Don’t make the mistake of calling someone’s father a potato by paying attention to word accents! One of the best ways to practice your accented words is to read out loud a lot. With practice, you will visually recall the words in your head as you hear yourself and others speak the accented words.

4. Tongue Twist Your Way to Good Pronunciation

Improving Your Spanish Pronunciation
Tongue twisters or ‘trabalenguas‘ is a wonderful way to improve your Spanish accent and pronunciation. The repetitive aspect of tongue twisters may make it hard for you to say the tongue twisting phrase quickly but they are relatively easy to commit to memory.

Each tongue twister gives your tongue a good workout and helps loosen it up so that it can easily adapt to Spanish pronunciation. Online, you can find a good many ‘trabalenguas’ that you can say daily to practice your pronunciation. Not only that, you will also be adding to your vocabulary. Here’s an example:

Tres tigres tragaban trigo, tres tigres en un tribal. ¿Que tigre tragaba mas..? Los tres igual.

Do you want to give it a try? Here are some websites with challenging ‘trabalenguas’:

5. Link Your Words

 

When you’ve been around Spanish speakers long enough, you’ll notice they tend to occasionally link or blend words together.

When will they do this?

When the last letter of a certain word matches the first letter of the following word. For instance, the phrase ‘dos sacos’ (two coats) would sound like ‘dosacos.’

 

Improving Your Spanish Pronunciation

 

Spanish speakers also link words when the last letter of a certain word is a consonant and the first letter of the following word is a vowel. The question “¿Estás enamorado?” (Are you in love?) would sound linked, as in “¿Estásenamorado?”

Another instance of linking words happens when the last letter of a word and the first letter of the following word are both vowels, such as in the sentence: “Ella está enfadada.” (She’s angry.) The untrained ear would hear it as one long word: “ellaestáenfadada.”

Learning how to link words is one of the fun ways of improving your Spanish pronunciation. Developing an ear for linked words also improves your listening skills and better prepares you as you practice linking and blending your words.

In the end, the goal is to comprehend what Spanish speakers are saying when they blend words.

Conclusion

These 5 tips are certain to help you perfect your accent so that you can communicate more clearly with your fellow Spanish speakers.

While focusing on your pronunciation is one aspect of improving your command of the language, don’t forget to keep up with the other aspects of language learning such as grammar, reading, vocabulary, and speaking.

Focusing your full attention on Spanish learning while tackling all aspects of the language will gradually help you achieve your dream of speaking the language fluently.

Author Bio:


Sean Hopwood

 

Sean Hopwood, MBA is founder and President of Day Translations, Inc., an online localization and Spanish translation services provider, dedicated to the improvement of global communications. By helping both corporations and the individual, Day Translations provides a necessary service at the same time as developing opportunities for greater sympathy and understanding worldwide.


 

Setting Big Goals In Language Learning: 5 Reasons Why You Should Try To Take On Crazy Learning Tasks

Setting Big Goals In Language Learning

Setting big goals in language learning doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, right?

Especially learning, say, over 85o words per day!

After all, common sense tells you to do things step by step. Set small goals which are perfectly achievable. And learn systematically.

And I agree, at least at the beginning of the learning process.

But in past two years, I have begun appreciating tasks which are so demanding that they require all my focus and energy.

I believe that you have to go through your own baptism of fire to understand yourself and your learning strategies better.

Such tasks are part of my personal learning project – Impossible Tuesdays.

Every Tuesday I am trying to choose tasks which I feel really uncomfortable with and which take me to the limits of my mental abilities and endurance.

Setting Big Goals In Language Learning – What Are “Crazy” Tasks?

 

When I come up with a new crazy task I would like to take on, I use the following rule of thumb:

I multiply my usual learning tasks by at least 8-10 (I will get to “why” in a minute).

Sounds scary?

Good.

Your goals should be big enough to scare you.

For example, some of my previous challenges included:

Of course, we all start from different levels so you have to take it into consideration.

If you learn 5 words per day right now, go for 40 or 50.

Ok, so what is the logic behind becoming certifiably nuts?

5 Reasons Why You Should Take On Crazy Learning Tasks

 

1) They make you come up with new ideas/strategies

 

Coming up with original ideas is very difficult.
No. Scratch that.

Here is a novel idea – you should write a diary in a foreign language using a cucumber.

Original, right?
Effective? Not really.

So…coming up with GOOD original ideas is very difficult.

Cognitive resources are limited so it makes sense to use them wisely.
In everyday situations, there is no necessity to stimulate our brain to be “original”.

Let’s be honest – how challenging is learning 5 new words per day?

Not very.

You can use any learning method and you will still succeed.

However, the situation changes when you don’t have much of a choice and you have to go beyond your comfort zone.

When you have to learn more than you have ever done before.

Interestingly, even if you fail, you can still learn a lot by analyzing what went wrong.

2) They make you reevaluate strategies you have used so far

 

Setting Big Goals In Language Learning

 

When the push comes to shove, it shows which strategies suck and should be replaced.

If you are used to cramming vocabulary, such a number of words might seem overwhelming.

You might hear your inner voice saying, “I can’t do it this way!”
You’re right. You can’t.

Not by cramming anyway.

And only then you truly realize that you have to change your learning strategy.

Let’s take a look at the first of my challenges – learning over 850 words during one day,

If you had to learn just 20 or 30 words on a given day, would it change the way you approach learning vocabulary?

I highly doubt it.

It would be just another task which you can squeeze between checking your e-mail and watching a movie on Netflix.

However, learning 800 words is an absolutely different beast.
It poses a series of very interesting questions.

Such questions can really make your brain sweat and question the effectiveness of strategies you’ve been using so far.

3) They make you use the strategies you have heard of but couldn’t be bothered to use

 

Be honest with yourself. How many articles about productivity and learning strategies have you read so far?

20, 50, 100?

And how many pieces of advice have you used practically? I guess that this ratio doesn’t look favorably, right? I know it all too well. I tend to hoard hundreds of articles about different learning strategies. And then I struggle to use even just a few of them.

Because why bother?

After all, we are all set in our ways.

That’s why the period of preparation for such tasks gives me the opportunity to dust off the long list of mental tools I have gathered throughout the years.

Tools which I haven’t had the motivation to use before or simply didn’t need at the time.

4) They push the borders of what you previously thought is possible

 

Challenge breeds inspiration.

If you force yourself to do things which are seemingly impossible or you have no skills for, you give yourself an opportunity to push the boundaries of your comfort zone.

And more often than not, you will find the way to accomplish your goals

Choose one thing you´d like to try but are afraid to do wrong, and go for it!

5) They Boost Your General Life Satisfaction And Confidence

 

It’s time to be frank here. I didn’t enjoy these challenges. Want to know what was the result of learning over 850 during one day? A terrible headache. I have never had a migraine in my life but I assume that it’s exactly what it feels like.

Just the slightest sound at the end of this day was sending surges of pain throughout my head and made me feel as if my brain was screwed by a nail-pawed hedgehog.

Did I hate it? You betcha.
Did I feel damn proud the next day? Hell yeah!

You see, normally I am very self-conscious and critical about myself.

But I doubt that I’ll ever forget the pride I felt the next day after “over-850- words-per-day challenge”.
It was verging on unhealthy Johny Bravo-style self-love.

But I’ll be damned if I didn’t deserve it.

Conclusion

As weird as setting big goals in language learning might seem, I have found them time and time again to be one of the most reliable catalysts for self-improvement.

Sure, it´s comfy to do the same ol’, same ol’ day in and day out.

But if you don´t challenge yourself and try new things, how will you realize your true potential?

Now I would love to get to know your thought on this subject.

What do you think about using big goals as a way to optimize your learning strategies?

Is it a “hell yeah” or “a little bit over-the-top”?

 

Block Distracting Websites And Regain Control Over Your Time With These 5 Apps

Checking your e-mail doesn’t seem very harmful, right?
Or any other site for that matter. I mean, it’s only like 2 minutes and you’re back in the saddle.

Ok, maybe after next 10 minutes you’ll check another website. Just one quick article and you get back to work.

After 4 hours it turns out that you haven’t done anything. You also don’t know how you ended up watching a YT on how to cook dinakdakan.

You don’t cook. And what the hell is dinakdakan?!

Take a look at this quote:

We found about 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here’s the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.

Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine

23 minutes and 15 seconds. That’s a scary number if you ask me. Of course, this is just one of the statistics. I have seen plenty of other research indicating different numbers. But usually, it takes between 5-25 minutes to regain your focus. Having that number in mind, interrupting your workflow check a website or to send a text message doesn’t seem so harmless anymore.

It’s not our fault though. I believe that the technology is the true culprit. We are almost conditioned to check our phones or e-mail every couple of minutes.

We do so because we can’t allow ourselves to miss out on…what?

That’s the question! What possibly could we miss that is so important?

Nothing. Nothing will happen if we don’t check this one website. There is a really easy solution to eliminate this kind of distractions – block the websites which steal your time and distract you!

Don’t Give Yourself a Chance To Fail

 

Before I move to the list of my recommendations, I would like to warn you about the crappy argument I have heard so many times.

“Yeah, theoretically it sounds good but I actually want to do it ON MY OWN, with help of my strong will. I don’t want to rely on any stupid software!” (read more about forcing yourself to learn).

Ugh, BS alert activated. I feel sick every time I hear it. How has it been working out for you so far? We can rationalize basically everything. However, most of the times this is not logic talking. It’s fear.

I am scared. It’s cold and lonely here without the cordial, digital touch of the internet.
If you acknowledge this fear, your battle with distractions is already half-won.

You can also look at it from a different perspective.

If you wanted to lose weight, would you place candies and cookies all over your flat? Would you sniff them every now and then and lick the glazing to reassure yourself about how great your willpower is?

Hell, if you were a junkie would you put a syringe in front of your face and try to “wait it out”.
Don’t think so. It’s pointless to rely on your strong will in this case.

You can force yourself to be more productive.

Here is the list of the most popular apps you can use to block the websites. I have used all of them personally (maybe besides Mac ones!) and I can wholeheartedly recommend all of them.

They definitely stand out from the mass of other apps of this kind.

Freedom

Block Distracting Websites
Freedom is one of the oldest apps of this kind. It’s currently used by more than 1 million users.
Throughout the years it has gained the support of, among others, Nick Hornby and Seth Godin.

It works on: Macs, Windows, Android (beta), and iOS (beta), Iphone, Ipad

It allows you to:

  • Block distracting websites
  • Plan out sessions that recur at the same time every week
  • Go cold turkey and block the entire internet when you really need to get work done

Highlights: It’s worth mentioning that it is currently the only distraction management solution for iPad and iPhone. It’s also the only app which can cut off your internet access.

Cost: Basic version is free. The premium version (which allows you to cut off the entire internet is 10$). Well worth the price and my absolute favorite.

LeechBlock

Block Distracting Websites

LeechBlock is a simple free productivity tool designed to block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day.”

This is the add-on I use the most. It has saved me countless hours and helped me overcome my meme websites addiction.

It is also very easy to use – all you need to do is specify which sites to block and when to block them.

It works on: Mozilla Firefox

It allows you to:

  • specify up to six sets of sites to block, with different times and days for each set.
  • block sites within fixed time periods (e.g., between 7 am and 2 pm), after a time limit (e.g., 14 minutes in every hour), or with a combination of time periods and time limit (e.g., 10 minutes in every hour between 9 am and 5 pm).
  • set a password for access to the extension options, just to slow you down in moments of weakness!
  • block entire sites
  • block specific subdomains / paths / pages
  • block websites using wildcards (e.g., *.somesite.com) and exceptions (e.g., +allowme.somesite.com).
  • track of the total amount of time you have spent browsing the sites in each block set.

Cost: Free

My routine is to block the most distracting websites (in my case: YT, my own websites, FB, e-mail, Wikipedia, meme websites) from 8 am till 10 pm.

The only website I block only from time to time is my Gmail account. Sometimes I simply need to send an e-mail in the middle of the day.

RescueTime

Block Distracting Websites

Rescue Time is a great app for everyone who is really serious about their productivity. It is definitely the most advanced of all the apps mentioned in this article. Especially tracking-wise.

The bad news is that most of the cool features are a part of Rescue Time Premium. However, it’s money well-spent if you ask me!

LiteVersion allows you to:

  • Track time in websites and applications
  • Set goals
  • Get a weekly email report
  • 3-month report history

With Rescue Time Premium you can:

  • Track time away from the computer (meetings, phone calls, etc…)
  • Get alerts when you achieve your daily goals
  • Block distracting websites to stay focused
  • Keep a log of your daily accomplishments
  • Get access to more detailed reports and filters and unlimited report history

Cost: Basic version is free. The premium version is  $9 a month.

Self-Control

Block Distracting Websites

Self-Control is definitely not one of those flashy, packed with features apps. It only blocks distracting websites but it does it well and it’s reliable.

It works on: Mac

It allows you to:

  • block entire sites
  • block specific subdomains / paths / pages
  • specify a period of time to block for

Highlight: It works on Mac. That’s something, I guess!

Cost: free

StayFcsd

Block Distracting Websites

StayFcsd should be your no 1 choice if you are a Chrome user.

It works on: Chrome

It allows you to:

  • block entire sites
  • block specific subdomains / paths / pages
  • block specific in-page content (videos, games, images, forms, etc).

Highlights: The Nuclear Option. Probably the best feature of this add-on. It allows you to block all the websites on the internet for a given amount of time. Only for the desperate!

Cost: free

I hope these recommendations will help you save some time!

 

3 Fun Ways To Learn a Language by Teaching Others

3 Fun Ways To Learn a Language by Teaching Others

What is one of the most effective ways to learn a language (or anything for that matter)?

Teach somebody!

I tend to write a lot about concentrating on hard and intensive work in learning. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have some fun from time to time!

You can’t deny that every language has some funny or quirky words. Explaining them to your loved ones or friends might be a great way to strike up a conversation! And let’s be honest, when I say funny, I don’t mean just-spat-my-soda funny. The best you can get, in most of the situations is probably a faint smile.

And as with everything, you can definitely overdo it.

Among some of my friends, I am known as the “fun fact” guy. I try to throw in some fun facts, whenever I can. The problem is that they are rarely fun for others. Once, during a family dinner with my ex-girlfriend, her aunt asked me to “say something interesting since you learn so much”. I sat for a while before I said, “Well, there is this little-known fun fact that Hitler had only one testicle”.

The silence which ensued was deafening. The rest of the dinner was awkward, to say the least. So please do it at your own risk!

Here are three ways to entertain yourself and (hopefully) others while learning at the same time

1) Teach them some foul words

 

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Many of us are attracted to anything labeled “taboo”.
Use these websites to learn some swear words which you can later pass on to others.

2) Teach them false friends in your target language

 

Not everybody likes swearing. It’s perfectly understandable. But you can’t deny that false friends are one of the most fun ways to learn vocabulary.

I’m sure you have your share of embarrassing stories involving such words. Saying “embarazada” (pregnant in Spanish) instead of “avergonzado” is definitely one of the things which come to my mind.

One of my favorite awkward situations ensued when I was visiting the Czech Republic about 3 years ago. I stopped a group of Czechs to ask them in Polish, “gdzie jest najbliższy sklep?” (where is the nearest shop). I figured out that Polish and Czech are so similar that it should be clear what I mean.

Little did I know! “Sklep” in Czech means “a basement”. Basically, I came across as a creep looking for a place to devote himself to God knows what. Fortunately, I didn’t have a mustache!

Here are some lists of false friends to get you started:

GENERAL LIST of false friends between English and other languages – Wiktionary

FALSE FRIENDS OF THE SLAVIST – Wikibooks

 

DUTCHHeardutchhere.net

 

ESPERANTOWikibooks

 

FRENCHFrenchCrazy.com

 

GERMANEnglisch-hilfen.de, Coerll.utexas.edu

 

ITALIANReference.tjtaylor.net, Italian.speak7.com

 

NORWEGIANNorwegianlanguage.info

 

POLISHWiktionary

 

RUSSIANMasterrussian.com

 

SPANISHWiktionary, Elearnspanishlanguage.com

3. Teach them weird / funny-sounding words or phrases

 

My experience is that people love learning funny-words or peculiarities of different countries. Make a short list of them and start sharing it with your friends.

This is a good example of a quirky sound which falls into an “interesting” category.

 

Another good idea is to google “untranslatable (name of your target language) words”. Each language has a truckload of them.

They are not only fun to learn and memorable but also can expand your way of thinking.

 

 

What about different traditions or dishes typical of a given country?

For example, as the BBS explains, Kiviaq is a typical winter dish out of Greenland that is made from fermented seabirds

The delicacy is created by first preparing a seal skin: all the meat is removed and only a thick layer of fat remains. The skin is then sewn into a bag shape, which is stuffed with 300-500 little auk birds. Once full and airtight, the skin is sewn up and seal fat is smeared over all over the join, which acts as a repellent to flies. The seal skin is then left under a pile of rocks to ferment for a minimum of three months to a maximum of 18 months.

As you can see, it’s not that difficult to consolidate your knowledge by teaching and entertaining others. You are only limited by your own curiosity.

Feel free to add some funny or embarrassing stories which you have experienced during your language learning journey!

The Most Common Mistake In Vocabulary Learning

Common mistake in vocabulary learning

Learning vocabulary is the most important and time-consuming part of language learning. If you suck at it, you might be wasting dozens of hours each month due to the ineffective learning strategy.

Better make sure that your vocabulary learning strategy is not based on … (drum roll)

Passive Rehearsal Through Repetition

 

The typical vocabulary learning routine goes more or less like this – you encounter a word you don’t know, you translate it and place it in a notebook, or even better – in one of SR programmes like ANKI.

It might look like this:

Common Mistake In Vocabulary Learning
You feel great.

Why wouldn’t you? You have just extended your vocabulary.

Next day, you start reviewing your vocabulary. You see the word “apple”, you say it in your mind, click to confirm that you recognize the word and move on to another one.

Oh…if you only knew how useless such a method is. The only worse method is probably watching TV and hoping that you will absorb the language one day.

You see, passive rehearsal through repetition has a very little effect on whether or not information is later recalled from long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973).

I know it might be painful to take in such news but think about it. How many times have you rehearsed someone’s name, phone number or address, only to forget it a few minutes later?

Where does the problem lie? Passive rehearsal doesn’t ensure long-term storageIn fact, nobody knows what ensures transfer of information from short-term memory to the long-term memory.

But we DO know what helps A LOT! The answer is:

The depth of processing

 

Common mistake in vocabulary learning

 

The deep processing is the level of activity devoted to processing new information. The more effort you put into processing new information, the better the chance to remember it. Each new association is a new “mental hook” which you can attach to a piece of information. Such associations create a rich web of connections which makes later retrieval much easier.

The associations are even more important as the length of the words increases. It’s pure logic, isn’t it? It’s easier to remember “schnell” in German than “die Urheberrechtsverletzung” (copyright violation).

This phenomenon is known as the wordlength effect. Longer words take longer to rehearse (duh).

The studies of phonological memory span conducted by Baddeley and colleagues estimated that the average person’s phonological loop can retain approximately 2 seconds’ worth of speech (Baddeley, Thomson, & Buchanan, 1975).

DIY – How To Deep-Process Your Vocabulary

 

With some practice and a little bit of imagination, it’s not that difficult to do.
Let’s start with some basic facts – you have 5 basic representational systems.

Basic representational systems:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic (sensations)
  • Olfactory (smell)
  • Gustatory (taste)

As you can see, you have a wide array of, let’s call them, “sensory” tools to deep-process the vocabulary you learn. Compared to that, passive rehearsal of words seems kind of silly, doesn’t it?

Treat these systems as your point of reference. Now, onward to the example!

EXAMPLE:

Let’s assume that you want to memorize the Spanish word for “to joke”.

Common Mistake In Vocabulary Learning

We have already established that saying the translation of this word in your mind is a waste of time.

Here is what you can do instead:

Say this word out loud!

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bone_conduction

 

It’s ridiculously easy but also quite effective. Uttering words out loud combines both auditory and kinesthetic stimuli.

How come?

Due to conduction of the sound to the inner ear through the bones of the skull (i.e. bone conduction). What’s more, it can also help you to improve your pronunciation.

Of course, you don’t have to stop here. Why not sing the word with the voice of Michael Jackson or Louis Armstrong?! Sure, maybe they will lock you up in an asylum. But at least you’ll be the only patient with such an impressive vocabulary!

Create a picture of the word

 

You can imagine it. Although it is much better to find some pictures on the Internet. Let’s say, that you google “to joke” and find the following picture which you really like:

 

Common Mistake in Vocabulary Learning

 

Break down the word into smaller, familiar parts

 

Rarely will you find a word which doesn’t contain any familiar words or elements? You just have to concentrate a little bit to notice them! Let’s write down familiar parts of this word:

– BROmear (bro, you jokin’ or what?)

– broMEar – give me another joke!

– EAR – bro, you are always spitting into my ear when you tell jokes!

– bROMEar – they don’t like joking in Rome

These are just some of the possible suggestions! You can also associate it with:

– a cartoon character – Brome

– a species of grass – (Downy) brome

– a chemical element – BROMine

I think you get the idea!

Others

 

If you want, you can always additionally associate a given word with a smell or taste. I rarely do it, since such associations are usually much weaker than the ones previously mentioned.

The Final Effect

 

Common Mistake in Vocabulary Learning

 

This is how a card in ANKI looks like for this word. With the right associations, it’s incredibly hard to forget the vocabulary learned this way. Just remember not to overdo it! Try not to spend more than 5 minutes per word.

It seems like a lot of time, but considering the potential benefit of memorizing every word after the first try, I would say that it is well worth the time investment!

Question for you – have you ever deep-processed the vocabulary you learn?

How To Use Rules In Language Learning To Save Time And Stay Sane

How To Use Rules In Language Learning To Save Time

It would be beautiful if you could always just sit and learn, wouldn’t it be? Unfortunately, as you know, it doesn’t work this way. It seems as if the time is never right. And even when you sit down, you often don’t know where to start. Or what to start with.

If you find yourself in this description, why not give yourself a rule or two to make your life easier?
And the process of learning more automatic! Having rules will get you learning and keep you learning. You won’t be doomed anymore to ask yourself the ultimate question, “What do I do now?”.

What Is A Rule?

 

Just to be sure that we get the foundations right, I would like to quote definitions of both “a goal” and “a rule”. I know it sounds silly but I have had my fair share of situations when someone tried to convince me that they are “basically the same”

Rule
The Merriam-website dictionary gives the following definition of a rule:

  • a statement that tells you what is or is not allowed in a particular game, situation, etc.
  • a statement that tells you what is allowed or what will happen within a particular system (such as a language or science)
  • a piece of advice about the best way to do something

Goal
Business dictionary defines it as:

An observable and measurable end result having one or more objectives to be achieved within a more or less fixed timeframe

In essence, you can treat it as a logical loophole:

IF … then … and …

Of course, there can be some overlapping between these two. But that shouldn’t be a problem.

Great. But What Are The Rules In Practice?

 

A rule can be a number of things. Let’s go through some of the examples:

  • It can be a specific writing technique which you want to use in your freelancing

IF I write then I use a free writing technique.

Such a rule is simple and actionable. It’s not perfectly measurable, but I would say that it is good enough.

You can track your writing output throughout a specific period of time. You can also ask your friends about the quality of your writing just to make sure that it doesn’t deteriorate.

  •  It can be a philosophy which guides whenever you find yourself in a specific emotional state

IF I’m afraid to take a bold step then I’ll think about death and potential regrets

Once again, the philosophy is simple and actionable. It can also be measured easily by comparing the number of projects which were successfully concluded when you used this rule.

Of course, you have to compare the number of successes within a given period of time with a number of successes within a comparable period of time when you didn’t use this rule.

  • It can be a strategy which helps you to deal with your finances

IF I want to spend some money then I’ll make sure that it costs less than 15% of all my financial resources

This is a personal example. Whenever I make a financial decision, I double-check if I don’t spend more than 15% of the money I have. If the answer is positive, it simply means that I can’t afford it.

The rule is so deeply ingrained in my decision-making process, that very often I don’t even think about it! And I’m more than sure that these rules have saved me from dozens of stupid financial decisions.

Otherwise, I would be buying myself a vibrating rubber finger that massages your gums. Yep, this is a real thing.

What Rules Are The Best?

 

The best rules tend to meet the following three criteria. They are:

  • actionable
  • simple
  • measurable

The acronym SAM can help you to memorize these qualities.

Why this “trinity”?

Firstly, you have to be sure that the rules you have chosen can be easily implemented into your learning process. Complicate them too much and after a couple of attempts you’ll become bitterly discouraged and will drop them.

Secondly, if you don’t measure in some way how these rules affect your learning, how will you know if they are worth anything?

How To Use Rules In Your Learning?

 

How To Use Rules In Language Learning To Save Time

Picture by: Allan Ajifo

To use the rules effectively, you have to know what problems you have.

1) Find a specific problem

Take a moment to think about it.

Once you find it, you can come up with a specific rule to aid your learning.

2) Choose a rule

Let’s choose a quite common language learning problem, i.e. “I don’t know which resources to use”.

What kind of rules could you use to solve it?

My take on this would be to separate language learning competences. Then I would attribute a specific rule to each of the competences I care about.

a) IF I practise listening then I’ll use X radio station

b) IF I want to improve my vocabulary then I’ll write down the words from a dictionary and read something

c) IF I want to read something then I’ll read X newspaper

3) Track your results

As I have mentioned before, you have to track your (potential) progress to know whether the rule is good enough to keep it. After checking data, there is just one more step to take.

4) Decide whether to stick to the rule or replace it

Not much more to add here. This is self-explanatory 🙂

Personal Example – How I Juggle 8 Languages Using Rules

 

Believe me, if I didn’t have rules to guide my studying process, learning languages would be a living hell. I would throw myself from one language into another. Without any clue what I’m actually doing. Luckily, I have experimented a little bit and discovered what works for me.

As a disclaimer, I must add that I use this rule for 4 languages. The other ones I either use regularly or teach.

a) One week – learn Russian and French

b) Every second week – learn Czech and Spanish

Of course, this is a simplified version but it helps me to go through the weeks hassle-free.

How Will Rules Change Your Life?

 

As you can see, using rules in your learning and life can be surprisingly easy! And extremely beneficial. However, beware of one weird misconception – some say that having rules makes your life miserable and strips it of spontaneity.

Of course, that’s a lie. Using rules doesn’t mean that you will become a soulless robot eating nothing but bolts and screws for breakfast. Treat them like walking with a compass and map. You wouldn’t say that these are stupid, right?

Now…think about the rules which you might use in your (language) learning or life. How can they improve your life?

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