Memory is one of the most important things when it comes to language learning. I think that everyone of us has struggled at least once to remember words or expressions. So, when it comes to memorizing new words, it’s important to have strategies that work well for us.
What does science say about memory? How can we retain information in a long term?
Don’t cram, sleep. It might seem absurd but it actually works. Research has found that taking 1 hour nap right after learning something new, helps retain information in a long term, and the same applies if you have a good night’s sleep.
2. Use mnemonics
The second way to retain information more easily is to use mnemonics. Mnemonics helps you remember words or sentences more quickly. One example of mnemonics trick is expression mnemonics. In expression mnemonics you build a sentence where the first letter of each word is the same letter of something you’ve got to remember. For example, you could use the sentence “Richard of York gave battle in vain” to retain the correct order of all the colors composing a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. Have a look at this page for more examples of mnemonics tricks.
3. Write things down
Nowadays we’re accustomed to using computers, laptops or mobile phones for everything, even for taking notes because, let’s be honest, it takes less time and we can organize our notes in the way we like without making a mess. However, this isn’t good for our memory. Indeed, science says that we remember things more easily when we write them down, not when we type them. This is because when we write we spend more time thinking to what we’re writing and we usually reformulate and connect concepts to make them easier to remember for us.
4. Use spaced repetition
Sooner or later, we forget the things we’ve just learnt, unless we go back to them to revise them. The most efficient way to retain new things on a long term is using spaced repetition. What you should do is review things at short intervals. For example, if you’ve just learnt something new, you review it the day after, then two days after, then 5 days after, ten days after, and so on. In short, you increase the intervals when you see that you can successfully retain the information you’re trying to learn. Luckily for us there are some apps that can help us during our learning journey such as Anki and Brainscape.
5. Explain what you’re learning to someone else
Explaining what you’re learning is one of the best ways to remember retain information on the long term. So, for example, if you’re learning vocabulary concerning houses, try to describe your house to a friend. This is called the protégé effect and allows you to study harder, improve your understanding, recall what you’ve learnt so you can remember things on a long term.
What I do to retain information:
I’ve just started to learn Spanish. As you know, some words and expressions are really similar to the Italian ones, as a result I tend to rely on Italian more than I should and I create some spanitalian.
And this is no good for me. So, to make Spanish stick, I do a little bit of everything:
- I listen to some podcasts aimed for beginners;
- I read texts in Spanish to find new vocabulary and expressions;
- I write short texts in Spanish like introducing myself, my family, my house, etc.
- I try to speak Spanish to say all the things I usually write without looking at words or expressions and I record myself. Then, I listen to it again and I try to understand what I did wrong. If you practice this regularly, when you go back to your first recordings, you’ll notice a big difference!
- I’m using an app with a spaced repetition system to try to learn and remember new words or the conjugation of irregular verbs easier. I’m using Brainscape for now, which is pretty easy to use, but I’m always searching for better alternatives. I’ll let you know when I find one.
- I’m using a text book and I like it because it’s structured and I can go back to everything I’ve learnt to review it as I please.
I’m not watching tv series in Spanish yet but I’m planning to do it in the future, as soon as I’ve got some strong basis.
And, I do all the things above in the evening because it’s the only real free moment I have during my day but also because with a good night sleep things stick better in my brain.
I’m curious. What do you do to learn a new language and retain information more easily?
Original image by Tumisu