Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Tip Grotto: Part 2

"Oh, praise Jehoshaphat! He didn't leave us in the lurch", I hear you cry. No, of course not. That would be cruel and unsatisfying for both of us.

We're back with part two of the Tip Grotto (read part one here), a tasty collection of little bites I've found helpful on my language journeys. If you have anything you'd like to add, please drop it into the comments - I do love hearing how other people learn and the interesting/effective/zany/unorthodox(?) methods they come across.

Let's dive straight back in shall we?

- Repetition -

Flat repetition is not the best way to learn. How can I say that so plainly? Well, there are many, many studies currently trying to figure out the nature of repetition in relation to memory, but for me there was one convincing key point. Namely, I found the more I stared at (or listened to) a sentence and repeated it, the less effectively it stuck in my head. What tends to work much better is controlling that repetition, and more specifically: spacing it (1).

One way to do it, is to read a sentence, speak it out loud, then move to the next. After trying the second sentence out, cover the first and try and remember it. I must impress here the 'speak out loud' part, (as whispering or mouthing things won't get you used to the sound, and it's surprising how that can trip you up later).

Work your way down the list then, adding another sentence or word to the queue each time. 'Spaced repetition' as it's known, is worthwhile getting to know, because it works. It's the same methodology behind well-organised flash cards.

- Give It A Rest -

When your brain shuts down, let it shut down. By this I mean, everyone reaches a threshold at which point they stop thinking, it just happens. Don't freak out, just take a break. Stand up and shake, go for a small walk, or get a glass of water - then return and smack out round two. If you really can't concentrate and keep reading the same thing over and over, or feel nothing is sinking in, it's probably a sign that you're done for the day. Don't fight it, just leave with what you've learnt so far that day and take it on again the next.

Strangely, for me (and I've timed this) it takes on average 17 minutes for me to start thinking properly during a study session, so if you find yourself foggy at the beginning of your session, don't give up, keep at it a little while and your brain should kick into gear.

- Don't Try And Trick Mr. Brain -

Oh my. It's easy to do, but don't cheat! You have a very powerful brain in that head of yours ... and it's just waiting to be taken for a spin. If you are using flash cards, and you find it easier to flip over to the answer before you think it out, then you're robbing yourself of the chance to absorb new information - innit? Your brain wants to remember things, so give it a chance! If after a short while you really can't remember something and thinking it out isn't working, then is the time to go have a look at the answer. But first, take a stab! Say what you think the answer is out loud, then check. There is no penalty for being wrong, and in fact being wrong can help in remembering that particular sentence. Realising your mistakes often works wonders for retention.

- ◊ -

No matter the case, if you can find a method that works for you, then it will make your language journey much more bearable. Remember too that everyone is different, nobody can tell you how to learn, it's your own process, and you have to have fun with it! If you want to take classes, go for it. If you're like me and prefer working alone, well ... still go for it! You've nothing to lose and only new friends and stories to gain.

If you have any questions, pop them in the comments too, and I'll do my best to help out. I hope you find some of these tips helpful!


(1) Spaced repetition is an artform indeed. Here's a wikipedia article on it. Notice that they used Anki as the header image!

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