Building habits is the best way to guarantee the long-term success. Having a habit means that your brain doesn’t have to spend much energy to perform a given activity. What’s more, the activity itself is usually the source of constant satisfaction. After all, you are doing something productive every day!
Normally, this is the best possible way to do something. You don’t huff and puff every day to achieve your goals. You are consistent and methodical. As great as this strategy is, it has one big disadvantage – it takes time. Not everyone has enough patience to do it. Not everyone wants to wait a couple of years to be great at something. That leads us to the second strategy.
Using external motivation
Even though the consistency is the key, a short sprint every now and then might help your progress skyrocket. This is what allows you to grow and develop fast – short spurts of concentrated focus.
Think about a physical development, for instance. If you do 20 push-ups per day, you will get bigger and fitter only for some time and then hit the wall. However, if you force yourself to put some more effort once per week, you will keep on growing and developing.
If you learn 5 words per day, then pushing yourself to do 50 words on just one day will more than double your learning pace. Will it frazzle you at the same time? Hell no. That’s just short sprint. You do it and then you’re back to your usual pace.
The thing is that usually it’s difficult to get a grip on yourself and actually do something.
That’s why you need a gentle reminder to get off your butt. A gentle kick, if you will. Actually, the truth is that you probably need a boot so far up your ass that it will act as a pacemaker.
And I am here to deliver this kick.
The Impossible Tuesday – What Is it All About?
The idea for the Impossible Tuesdays came to me over two years ago. I knew that I was doing a lot but I felt that I could much more. I just needed some reason. Something to force myself. This is how the idea of the Impossible Tuesdays came to be.
I decided that on this very day, I will always try to push myself to do something impossible. Something I would never do normally because it’s too tiring and uncomfortable.
Here are some of the things I managed to pull off on this day:
learning 800 words during one day
talking to myself for 6 hours in Russian
doing 400 push-ups
Unfortunately, somewhere in the turmoil of life I neglected this idea and stopped celebrating this day. Recently, however, I decided to revive it and to share it with you. The Impossible Tuesdays are our chance to claw our way through all the bullshit excuses straight to the finish line. This is one day per week when we will prove that we are not a weak, disgusting, spongy blob and
we can do things we have never thought we could.
We are damn tough and we will prove it. It can be one day a week which makes all the difference.
Bets as the primary tools of The Impossible Tuesdays
If you decide that you’re in. You should know how to properly push yourself to do the impossible. Bets are the perfect tool for this purpose. It doesn’t matter how much you love doing something, there is always some border which you won’t cross. It’s uncomfortable, after all. I sure love learning new words but usually, after getting to one hundred I call it quits.
If, on the other hand, you dislike doing something, you need a whip over your head to make you act. In other words, you need to put something at stake.
Here is how bets work:
Choose a GOAL you want to achieve
Determine your TIME HORIZON (1 day in our case)
BET with someone that you’ll achieve
Choose your PUNISHMENT in case you fail to deliver (20$ for example)
Keep in mind that bets are fully flexible. You can mold them and twist them as much as you like to fit your goals.
Now that you know how to flail yourself properly, it’s good to familiarize yourself with a couple of extra guidelines.
They will allow you to maximize your effort.
How To Make Your Effort Count
If you already do something, do 4-5 times as much as you usually do
Remember that the Impossible Tuesdays are all about doing the impossible. Demand from yourself.
If you normally do 10 pushups, do 40.
If you noramlly read 20 pages of a book, read one hundred. Make yourself sweat and squeal.
If you want to take up a new activity – just do it
If you have always wanted to do something but have been delaying it indefinitely – this is your day.
It doesn’t have to be anything huge as long as you start. Always wanted to learn Chinese but life got in the way? Do as little as 1 unit from a textbook.
Break it down into many sessions
Doing a lot of repetitions of any activity is straining.
That’s why make sure you always break the entire process into many chunks.
Don’t even think about knocking out 200 flashcards in one sitting. Try to do it in at least a couple of sessions.
Identify “the dead time” and use it
Dead time is the time spent doing activities which don’t absorb all of our attention.
Think about sitting on the subway or standing in line. These seemingly useless moments can usually be used to do some more productive stuff. Plan ahead and consider how you can incorporate dead time into your Impossible Tuesday.
What can you be on?
I can’t tell you what you should concentrate on. Only you know what’s important to you and what’s worth your blood and sweat and tears. I can tell you this – usually you should be doing the things you are actively avoiding. Brainstorm what that thing is for you.
Regardless of that, here are some proposals of the things you can bet on:
If you have any other suggestions, let me know in the comment.
The Final Words + The Invitation
Every idea needs a critical mass to gain motion. I don’t know if this will work out or maybe I will have to bury the hatchet in this idea. It’s up to you. However, if you decide to take part in, post your goals in the comments together with your bet.
If you can’t think of anything right now, think about it and post it later. On Wednesday come back and post your result as a reply to your original comment.
Who knows? Maybe this is the sign you have been waiting for!
If, however, you decide to bury this idea, know that you will have dirt on your hands. The dirt that is soaked in guilt and shame. The stains left by it will taint your soul permanently and they will never go away. They will keep growing until they spill onto your very existence polluting everyone you love. It will …
Ok, ok. No more guilt-tripping! Join me in the comments! We will see how it goes and hopefully, we will make it a permanent thing.
P.S. You can increase your chances of sticking to your plan even more by making yourself accountable. Tell somebody about the challenge or tweet #ImpossibleTuesday together with your goal!
Choosing the right learning methodshas always been one of the most daunting tasks for most language learners. No wonder. Around every corner, you can find yet another popular learning strategy.
But how do you know it’s effective? Is it actually based on any real science?
Most people can offer you just their opinions. I am here to show you step-by-step what are the biggest flaws of various language learning methods. In other words, I am going to scrutinize them and show you what their authors don’t know or don’t want to reveal.
The first position on the menu today is the GoldList method.
Before I start, it’s worth mentioning that this article is not meant to offend the author of the Goldlist method nor disparage anyone who is using it but to show one simple fact – it’s extremely easy to come up with a method but it doesn’t mean it’s effective memory-wise.
The Goldlist Method – What Is It All About?
Unless you are into experimenting with various learning methods, you may not have heard of the Goldlist Method. For that reason, I will try to outline what’s all about so we are on the same page.
First of all, here is a great video which sums up what this method is all about.
If you are old-fashioned, here is a description of how it works (the description has been borrowed from a great website called How To Get Fluent),
Get a large (A4 size) notebook. This is going to be your “bronze” book.
Prepare the materials (i.e. words) you’re interested in. The items you choose will go into your “headlist”.
Open your book and write the first twenty-five words or phrases down, one below the other, on the left-hand side of the individual page. Include any integral information such as gender or plural forms of nouns or irregular aspects of a verb’s conjugation. The list shouldn’t take you more than twenty minutes to do.
When the list is ready, read through it out loud, mindfully but without straining to remember.
When you start the next piece of the headlist, number it 26-50, then 51-75 and so on.
The first distillation – after at least two weeks open your notebook and cast your eye towards your first list of 1 to 25 (or, 26 to 50, or 9,975 to 10,000) depending on which double spread you’re at. The “two weeks plus” pause is important. It’s intended to allow any short-term memories of the information to fade completely so that you can be sure that things you think you’ve got into the long-term memory really are in there. Make sure, then, that you date each set of twenty-five headlist items (something I haven’t done in my illustrative photos for this article).
David James says that there is no upper limit to the gap between reviews, though suggests a maximum of two months, simply to keep up momentum.
Discard eight items, and carry the remaining seventeen into a new list, This will be your first “distillation”.
Repeat the process for the second and third distillations (the third and fourth list on your double spread). The interval should be at least 2 weeks.
For the fourth distillation, you start a new book, your “silver” book.
The “gold” notebook works the same way, the hardcore items from the “silver” notebook’s seventh distillation are carried over to the “gold” for new headlist of twenty-five lines (distillation number eight) and distillations nine (17 or so lines), ten (twelve or so) and eleven (nine or so).
Grab a notebook and write there 25 words which interest you.
After at least 2 weeks check if you remember them and discard 30% of all the words. The rest of the words becomes a part of the second “distillation”
Keep on repeating the same process over and over again. The only thing that changes is that the older “distillations” get rewritten to other notebooks.
The Goldlist Method – Claims
Photo by Bookblock on Unsplash
The author of the Goldlist method maintains that:
The method allows you to retain up to thirty percent of the words in your long-term memory.
It is also claimed that the process circumvents your short-term memory – you are expected to make no conscious effort to remember words. Thanks to this the information will be retained in your long-term memory.
The Goldlist Method – A Scientific Critique
1. It doesn’t circumvent short-term memory
One of the big claims of the Goldlist method is that it is able to circumvent your short-term memory. Somehow, thanks to it, you are able to place all the information straight in your long-term memory.
Is it possible? Not really. I have noticed that 99% of claims of this kind come from people who have never had much to do with the science of memory. That’s why let’s go briefly through what is required to “remember”.
According to the author of the Goldlist method, David James:
” [[ … ]] we are alternating in and out of these two systems the whole time, we switch ourselves into short-term mode by thinking about memorising and switch out of it by forgetting about memorising.”
Unfortunately, this is a bunch of hooey. This is what the actual science has to say about memorization.
The working memory consolidation
In order to memorize a piece of information, you have to store it in your short-term memory.
This process is initiated by allocating your attention to the stimuli you want to remember.
In other words, initiation of consolidation is under conscious control and requires the use of central attention. The mere fact of looking at a piece of paper and reading/writing words activates it.
Any stimuli that capture attention because of their intrinsic emotional salience appear to be consolidated into memory even when there is no task requirement to do so.
Next, the items you learn undergo working memory consolidation.
Working memory consolidation refers to the: transformation of transient sensory input into a stable memory representation that can be manipulated and recalled after a delay.
Contrary to what the creator of the Goldlist method believes, after this process is complete, be it 2 weeks or more, the short-term memories are not gone. They are simply not easily accessible.
Our brains make two copies of each memoryin the moment they are formed. One is filed away in the hippocampus, the center of short-term memories, while the other is stored in cortex, where our long-term memories reside.
You probably have experienced this phenomenon yourself many times. You learned something in the past. Then, after some years, you took it up again and were able to regain your ability relatively quickly. It was possible because your memories were still there. They just became “neuronally disconnected” and thus inaccessible.
The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve
There is one more proof which shows clearly that the method doesn’t circumvent short-term memory. The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve shows us how fast the incoherent information is forgotten.
What we mean by incoherent is that this is not the information which you can associate with your background knowledge.
This is very often the case when you learn a new language or when you’re at a lower intermediate level.
What’s more, the Ebbinghaus curve’s numbers are based on the assumption that the learned material :
means nothing to you
has no relevance to your life
has no emotional load and meaning for you
On the curve, you can see that if you memorize information now and try to recall after 14 days, you will be able to retrieve about 21-23% of the previously memorized knowledge. Mind you that this is the knowledge which is incoherent, bears no emotional load and means nothing to you.
What happens when you start manually writing down words which interest you or when you are able to establish some connection between them and your life? Well, this number can definitely go up.
Keep in mind that your recall rate will also be affected by:
frequency of occurrence
prior vocabulary knowledge
So is there anything nothing magical about the Goldlist method and the number “30”? Nope. It follows very preciselythe Ebbinghaus forgetting curve which takes into account your short-term memory. Sometimes this number will be higher, sometimes it will be lower depending on your choice of words.
You can check it yourself how low this number can get. Simply choose a language which is from the different linguistic family than the ones you already know. Track your progress and see how this number inevitably goes down.
The Goldlist Method is just a spaced repetition method with bigger intervals. That makes it less effective than most spaced repetition program right off the bat.
2. Impractical and time-consuming
Relatively high activation energy and time-consuming
One of the most important concepts in productivity is the activation energy.
The activation energy is the amount of energy needed to start conducting a given activity.
Even though the Goldlist Method has initially the low activation energy, it starts growing considerably with each and every distillation. Having to carry with you a couple of A4 notebooks seems also very impractical to me.
Limited usefulness vocabulary-wise
However, the biggest problem I have with this method in this department is that it suggests I only learn words I am interested in. There are hundreds of situations where one has to learn words which they are not interested in.
And they should work particularly well for the vocabulary you’re interested in.
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash
This is one of the methods which collapse under their own weight i.e. it’s inflexible. The Goldlist method suggests that you learn vocabulary in 25-word batches.
What If I need to master a language quickly and I want to learn at least 40-50 words per day? After 10 days I will be forced to go through 20 distillations. After one month this number will start hitting insane heights. More and more of my attention will be required to keep up with all the reviews. This seems very off-putting.
Another important quality of effective learning methods is that they should automate the learning process. The method which necessitates more and more conscious decisions on your part the more you want to learn simply doesn’t fit the bill.
4. Lack of context
The enormous red flag for any language learning method is the exclusion of context from the learning process.
Simply repeating information in a mindless manner is called passive rehearsal. Many years ago it was actually proven that passive rehearsal has little effect on whether or not information is later recalled from the long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973).
This is just the first problem with the lack of context.
The other one is that almost all the knowledge you possess is activated contextually. If there is no context, it will be extremely difficult for you to retrieve a word when you need it.
In other words – you will remember the information but you will have a hard time using it in a conversation.
As a result, soon enough you will forget a word because there will be no network of other information holding it in your head.
5. Detached from reality
The problem with the GoldList Method is encapsulated in a famous adage used by Marines:
‘Train as you fight, fight as you train’
I can’t stress enough how important these words are.
Always try to train for reality in a manner that mimics the unpredictability and conditions of real life. Anything else than that is simply a filler. A waste of time. It gives you this warm feeling inside, “I have done my job for today”, but it doesn’t deliver results.
Tell me, is rewriting words from one notebook to another actually close to using your target language?
6. Lack of retention intention
Another elementary mistake which we tend to make way too often when we fail to retain a word is actually not trying at all to memorize something.
You see, everything starts with a retention intention.
This fact is even reflected in the simplified model of acquiring information:
A retention intention sets the stage for good remembering. It is a conscious commitment to acquire a memory and a plan for holding on to it. As soon as you commit to a memory goal, attention locks on to what you want to remember.
This is how attention works—it serves the goal of the moment. And the stronger the motivation for the goal, the more laserlike attention becomes and the greater its memory benefits.
In other words, you can watch as many TV series and read as many books as you like. It will still have almost zero effect if you don’t try to memorize the things you don’t know. The same goes for the GoldList method.
A key feature of a retention intention is the plan for holding on to the material. It might be as simple as rehearsing the memory, or it might involve one of the memory strategies described later. Whatever the plan, when you are clear about how you intend to retain the material, it is more likely you will actually carry out the plan, and this can make all the difference between a weak and a strong memory.
7. Lack of encoding
Take a peek once again at the simplified model of acquiring information.
What you can see is that the second most important part of the process of memorization is encoding.
Encoding is any attempt to manipulate the information you are trying to memorize in order to remember it better.
Encoding can be further divided into shallow and deep encoding.
In the world of language learning, deep encoding is nothing more than creating sentences with the words you intend to memorize. In other words, it’s creating contexts for the items you want to learn.
Shadow encoding encompasses almost everything else. Counting vowels, writing down the said items and so on.
Deep encoding is the fastest and the most certain way of memorizing information and maximizing your chances of retrieving it.
If you skip encoding, like the GoldList method does, you immediately revert to mindless repetitions of words (i.e. passive rehearsal).
And we all know how it ends.
Mindless repetition of words has almost zero effect on your learning. If you want to increase your chances of memorizing them permanently you need to use the new words actively in a task (Laufer & Hulstijn (2001:14).
To be honest, I could add some more mistakes which this method perpetuates. However, I think enough is enough – I think I have pointed out all the most glaring ones.
There are two things I like about the Goldlist method
It gives you a system which you can follow. This is certainly the foundation of any effective learning.
It jogs your motor memory by making you write words.
The Goldlist method is too flawed to fix it in a considerable manner but let me offer you this suggestion.
Instead of rewriting words, start building sentences with them for every distillation.
This way you will incorporate some deep encoding into your learning process. You should see the difference progress-wise almost immediately.
The Overall Assessment
There is no point in beating around the bush – this is one of the worst learning methods I have ever encountered. It violates almost every major memory principle. If you were contemplating using it – just don’t.
If you have nothing against using apps and programs to learn, I would suggest you start your language learning journey with ANKI.
The Goldlist method is one of the best examples of something I have been saying for years – anyone can come up with a learning method. Sometimes it’s enough to sprinkle it with some scientific half-truths to convince thousands of people to try it.
My opinion is this – you’re much better off using many other methods. This is one of the few which seems to be violating almost all known memory principles.
What is better for learning new words – writing or speaking?. It is definitely one of the questions that come up frequently in different language-related discussions.
I have seen many different answers to this question. Some were quite right. Some were just plain wrong.
That’s why I decided to show you a memory-based/science-based answer to this question.
Let’s dive right in!
Why Both Speaking And Writing Are Great
I don’t want to be this terrible host who welcomes you with a creepy toothless smile and spits on your back as you walk in. I want you to feel nice and cozy!
That’s why I would like to begin on a positive note – both writing and speaking are great learning methods. There are many reasons for that but let’s start with the three which can be deemed as the most important.
1) The Production effect
The “production effect” was initially reported by Hopkins and Edwards in 1972. Unfortunately, for many, many years it has escaped the attention of the scientific world.
The production effect indicates the improved recall for any information which is produced actively compared to the one which is just heard or read silently.
2) Deep processing (aka The levels-of-processing effect)
This phenomenon was identified by Fergus I. M. Craik and Robert S. Lockhart in 1972,
The levels-of-processing effect suggests that information is better recalled when it has been actively and effortfully processed.
In other words, deeper levels of analysis produce more elaborate, longer-lasting, and stronger memory traces than shallow levels of analysis. Depth of processing falls on a shallow to deep continuum. Shallow processing (e.g., processing based on phonemic and orthographic components) leads to a fragile memory trace that is susceptible to rapid decay. Conversely, deep processing (e.g., semantic processing) results in a more durable memory trace. – Source.
In the world of language learning, creating sentences is actually one of the most meaningful ways of achieving deep processing of words. That’s one of many reasons why I am againstusing mnemonics in language learning (in most cases).
3) The reticular activating system (RAS)
Another cool advantage of both writing and speaking is that they activate a part of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS).
Why is it important?
Let me explain.
Even though the RAS is a small part of a brain, it plays a very important role – it’s the filter of information that is let into the conscious mind
Every second of every day, it tirelessly scours through the tons of information provided by your sensory organs in order to choose the one which is relevant. Without the RAS you would be constantly flooded with excessive amounts of information which would virtually overload your brain and impede thinking.
Fortunately, that doesn’t happen as the reticular activating system helps your brain capture what matters most to you and what is relevant to you based on your values, needs, interests, and goals.
As you can clearly see, both speaking and writing help put the words you use at the forefront of your mind.
Other Advantages Of Writing
The previously mentioned benefits are certainly great. However, let’s dive into some other advantages which are more specific to writing.
1) Writing is a great learning method for the advanced students.
Many people, once they move past the B1 level, tend to get stuck at the so-called intermediate plateaus. They use the same old grammar constructions, the same trite expressions and speech patterns.
It’s very hard to get out of this rut unless
a) you consume the staggering amount of input
b) start making effort to use new grammar constructions/words
Speaking with others, more often than not, requires keeping a conversation alive. You have to think “on your feet” to express your thoughts as quickly and precisely as you only can – if you flounder or stall too long, you might be able to notice a silent agony on your interlocutor’s face.
Writing, however, gives you all the time in the world to jigger your words into something resembling an elegant thought as opposed to the typical intellectuals slurry.
If you puke a little bit in your mouth every time you hear yourself saying “The movie was nice because actors were nice and it’s good that it was nice”, you know what I mean.
Memory benefits of writing
Some research suggests that writing seems to tickle the RAS and memory centers in your brain a tad harder than speaking.
Here are results of one of such studies
“The results show that on the immediate post-test, the Sentence-writing group performed the best, followed by Gap-fill, Comprehension-only, and Control. On the delayed post-test, the Sentence writing and Gap-fill groups equally outperformed the two other groups.” –ScienceDaily.
However, as you will soon discover, it’s only a half-truth.
As a side note, experiments which I have conducted regarding the efficiency of writing vs speaking show almost no difference between those two.
Longhand vs writing
Interestingly, most findings of research papers concern longhand writing not typing.That causes people to believe that the latter is actually an inferior method.
“When participants were given an opportunity to study with their notes before the final assessment, once again those who took longhand notes outperformed laptop participants. Because longhand notes contain students’ own words and handwriting, they may serve as more effective memory cues by recreating the context (e.g., thought processes, emotions, conclusions) as well as content (e.g., individual facts) from the original learning session.”
On the surface, it might seem true. After all, the cognitive and physical effort needed to write manually is bigger than the one needed for typing.
Most of these studies, however, measure effectiveness of writing/typing under pressure – the said study took place during lectures. It doesn’t have much to do with the organized process of composing an e-mail or an essay at home.
The extra time you have for deliberation and for a coherent formulation of your thoughts should equalize (more less) any potential difference between writing manually and typing.
That’s why you shouldn’t feel pressure to choose just one of them to reap memory benefits. Choose the one you feel most comfortable with.
Problems with writing
As with every method, there are some potential problems you might run into.
a) not everyone wants to / needs write
I would dare say that the vast majority of the population of almost any country in the world doesn’t write that much.
Why would they?
If your job is not strictly connected with this skill, you might not find it useful
b) learning a new writing system
If learning a new language system takes you half the time you needed to actually speak and understand your target language, it’s understandable that you might be reluctant to do so.
Writing – recommendations for learning
Best suited for:
advanced learners (B1-C2) level
anyone who likes (or needs) to write
Other benefits of speaking
Speaking is repetitive
When you write, the fruits of your labor are limited only by your imagination. You can contemplate different word combinations, weave brilliant thoughts.
However, when you speak, you have to be quick. You have to rely mostly on the automated speech patterns and words which are already well activated in your brain.
That’s why most of the things we say every day, even in our native tongue, are very far from being full of imagination. The point isn’t to unleash your inner Shakespeare but to get the point across.
For the same reason, sentences produced by native speakers are also simpler!
Speaking is more natural than writing
The world in which people would use the sophisticated language, which previously could be only found in books, would be a hilarious place!
“Alas, the chains of palpitating agony fell on my little toe as I rammed it into the mighty oakiness of a cupboard!”.
Compared with, “I f*** hit my toe against a cupboard.”
The truth is that we usually speak in a much less formal, less structured way. We do not always use full sentences and correct grammar. The vocabulary that we use is more familiar and may include slang. We usually speak in a spontaneous way, without preparation, so we have to make up what we say as we go.
That’s why if your goal is being able to communicate, speaking should definitely be your default language learning strategy. At least until you get to a B2 level.
Memory benefits of speaking
It involves many sensory channels (i.e. it’s great for your memory)
Speaking is a rich, sensory experience. It activates almost all sensory organs and thus creates more stable memories.
In one of the studies about the production effect, we can read that:
Many varieties of production can enhance memory. There is a production advantage for handwriting, for typing, and even for spelling, although none of these is as large as for speaking (Forrin, MacLeod, & Ozubko, 2012).
So what about some studies which say that writing is better for our memory than speaking? Well, they might be some truth in it:
As you can see, most of the benefits of writing usually disappear upon finishing this activity.
It is faster than writing
As I have mentioned earlier, even though there is some research that suggests that writing gives your memory some boost, this fact loses its importance once we factor in how much output we can produce with writing compared with speaking.
Here are results of one of the studies which took this seemingly irrelevant fact into consideration
The written group produced almost 75% less language than the spoken group did in the time available. This complements previous research discussed in section 3.6 which found more opportunities for language learning in the spoken mode compared to the written mode (e.g., Brown, Sagers, & Laporte, 1999).
Problems with speaking
a) it requires a relatively good activation of your target language
Even though I am a big proponent of learning a language via speaking there is just one small hiccup. If you want to chat with foreigners, your command of your target language should already be good.
What would be the easiest way of circumventing this problem?
If you want to increase your oral output without having to speak with native speakers, you can simply start talking with yourself (learn more about here and here).
Speaking – recommendations for learning
Best suited for
anyone who learns to communicate
Relatively-well suited for:
anyone who learns to consume media in his target language
Even if you only learn a language to watch media in your target language, you should still spend some time on learning how to speak. It will help you to understand language much quicker due to your improved mastery of grammar and vocabulary and their interrelations, which will in its turn increase your language comprehension.
This is one of the cases where you get two for the price of one.
And the winner is …
All in all, my opinion is that for the most people out there, speaking is the superior learning method as it allows you to practise what probably matters to you the most – being able to communicate.
What’s more, writing offers almost no benefits memory-wise compare to speaking.
Having that said, you should remember that the ultimate answer might be more complex for you. Some learn a language to write, some to watch movies and some to talk. Choose your goal and choose your preferred learning method in accordance with it.
Question for you:
What is your preferred way of using a language – speaking or writing? And why?
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 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.
The Adidas logo was correctly recalled only by 12% of participants.
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
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 mightdesign 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
You see, your brain constantly works on forgetting most of the thing you come into contact with. Reasons are simple
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:
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.
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”?
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!
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.
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
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 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
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
a) write down every word I didn’t know
b) rewrite it from a dictionary
c) 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?
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 gves you.
Fallacy # 2 – I like it (aka personal preferences or learning styles)
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 preferto 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
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 ANKIfor 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
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 mnemonicsor 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 hereand here).
As Aristotle once said
“The fact is our starting point.”
The more “science boxes” your learning method checks, the better.
b) 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.
Don’t worry. You still might activate your vocabulary. Simply start writing on a daily basis. Anything really will do. It can be a diary, a blog, some observations.
Make it difficult for yourself and choose some difficult subject to jog your mind.
it can even be some erotic novel! “The secret erotic life of ferns”, for example.
Yep. I definitely like this one.
4) Condition yourself
We might be the pinnacle of evolution but in some regards, we are no different from your average gopher or a sloth. You can easily get conditioned to react to certain circumstances in a given way.
Why? Habituation. That’s why.
Habituation is a form of learning in which an organism decreases or ceases to respond to a stimulus after repeated presentations. Essentially, the organism learns to stop responding to a stimulus which is no longer biologically relevant. For example, organisms may habituate to repeated sudden loud noises when they learn these have no consequences.
Habituation usually refers to a reduction in innate behaviours, rather than behaviours developed during conditioning in which the process is termed “extinction”. A progressive decline of a behavior in a habituation procedure may also reflect nonspecific effects such as fatigue, which must be ruled out when the interest is in habituation as a learning process. – Wikipedia
find the nearest language meeting on MeetUp.com and go there
Any start is a good start as long as you start.
5) Reframe your thoughts
There is a good chance that you have heard about reframing your thoughts.
The basic premise is very simple.
Every time you catch yourself being anxious about some situation, you should look at it from a different perspective.
Instead of saying, “Gosh, she sure wouldn’t like to talk with me”, you can change it to, “I bet she is bored right now and would love to have a nice chat with me”.
I know. It sounds corny.
The first time I heard this piece of advice, I felt as if a ragged hobo tried to jam a lump of guano in my hand saying, “Just pat it into your face and you will gain superpowers”.
Little did I know that this advice is as brilliant as it is simple. Much water passed under the bridge before I finally started applying it.
But why does it work? Because such is the nature of memories.
They are not set in stone and perennial.
Research conducted by Daniela Schiller, of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and her former colleagues from New York University shows us something truly amazing.
Schiller says that “memories are malleable constructs that are reconstructed with each recall. We all recognize that our memories are like Swiss cheese; what we now know is that they are more like processed cheese.
What we remember changes each time we recall the event. The slightly changed memory is now embedded as “real,” only to be reconstructed with the next recall. – Source
So what does it all mean?
It simply means that adding new information to your memories or recalling them in a slightly different context might alter them.
How much? Enough for you to recalibrate how you perceive the world around you!
It’s up to you how much you want to reshape your perception of the reality.
6) Decide whether you really need to speak a language
It seems like a strange statement, doesn’t it? But the truth is that not everyone needs to learn how to speak some language.
Before you dive into the language learning process, be sure that it’s something you really want. You shouldn’t feel pressured into doing so just because others do.
You don’t want to spend hundreds of extra hours on something you are not going to use.
Remember that every language, even the tiniest of them all, is a skeleton key to the vastness of materials – books, movies, anecdotes, etc.
It’s fine to learn a language just to be able to access them all.
Overcoming your language learning anxiety can be hard but it is certainly doable. When in doubt, always keep in mind that our reality is negotiable to a large degree – if you believe you can change, it is definitely possible.
What’s more, you shouldn’t forget that the real work is always done in solitude. Teachers or language partners might show you what to concentrate on but it’s up to you to put this knowledge into practice.
Lastly, you don’t have to limit yourself to activating your vocabulary only through speaking. Writing is also a very desirable option.
Back to you.
Can you share any tricks/methods which helped you overcome your language learning anxiety?
No advice is too small or trivial.
As always, feel free to comment or drop me a message.
If you only concentrate on reading and listening, you won’t get far. Your brain is terrible at memorizing things which you encounter occasionally.
I will get to this in a moment.
But first, let’s start with basics – the process of memorizing can be depicted in the following three steps.
1) Encoding – involves initial processing of information which leads to construction of its mental representation in memory
2) Storage – is the retention of encoded information in the short-term or long-term memory
3) Recall – is retrieval of stored information from memory
As you can see, the first step in this process is encoding.
I can’t stress this enough – if you don’t encode the information you learn, probably you won’t retain them. You should always, ALWAYS do your best to manipulate the information you try to learn.
Let’s try to prove it quickly.
If I told you right now to draw the image of your watch, would you be able to do it?
Would you be able to reproduce the exact look of the building you work in?
Of course not. Even though you come into contact with these things multiple times per day.
You simply do not try to encode such information in any way! If human brain was capable of doing it, we would all go crazy.
It would mean that we would memorize almost every piece of information which we encounter.
But this is far from the truth. Our brain is very selective.
It absorbs mostly the information which:
a) Occurs frequently in different contexts
b) We process (encode) – in the domain of language learning, the simplest form of processing a give piece of information is actually creating a sentence with it
c) Is used actively
2) Your learning (repetitions) are optimized
And one of the best ways to optimize your repetitions is by using SRS programs.
But what is Spaced Repetition?
Spaced repetition is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect.
Alternative names include spaced rehearsal, expanding rehearsal, graduated intervals, repetition spacing, repetition scheduling, spaced retrieval and expanded retrieval.
The science behind SSR
How does the program know when to review given words?
Most of such programs base (more or less) their algorithms on Ebbinghaus forgetting curve (side note: it has been replicated many times in the last 50 years)
The curve presents decline of memory retention in time, or if you look at it from the different perspective, it demonstrates the critical moments when the repetition of the given information should occur.
In theory, it takes about 5 optimized repetitions to transfer a word into the long-term memory. But come on! Learning would be damn easy if this rule would be true for most of the people!
There are actually a lot of other variables which come into play:
the difficulty of the learned material
understanding of the material
how meaningful it is
representation of the material
physiological factors: stress and sleep (among others)
the size of the material
processing of the material
And many others. Still, SRS programs give you the unparalleled upper hand in language learning!
3) You constantly step out of your comfort zone.
Why use the words which you already know, when you can use dozens of synonyms? You should always try to find some gaps in your knowledge. Click here to learn more.
Of course, using SRS programs like ANKI is not to everyone’s liking. I get it.
But let’s look at the list of alternatives, shall we?
Alternatives To Using SRS programs
Every learner has to face the following problems in order to learn new words (effectively).
What process do you go through to learn a new word?
Do you write it down? Where?
How do you revise it later?
How long does it take you to learn it?
How many times do you have to see it before you know it?
And how do you know when you really have learned it?
These aren’t some petty, meaningless decisions. These are the decisions which will heavily influence your progress curve.
Here’s an idea that a lot of people have: when you learn a new word, you write it down in a notebook. Then, every few days, you open the notebook and review all the words that you have learned so far.
This works well at first — you’re no longer forgetting everything you learn. But very soon it becomes a nightmare.
After you exceed about 1000 words, reviewing your vocabulary starts taking more and more time. And how do you know EXACTLY which words you should review or pay more attention to?
Usually, after no more than a few months, you throw your notebook into the darkest corner of your room and try to swallow the bitter taste of defeat.
That’s why it has to be said aloud and with confidence: you will never be as effective as programs in executing algorithms. And choosing when to review a word is nothing more than that – an algorithm.
There are many who oppose this idea of using SRS programs. And it is indeed mind-boggling why. At least for me.
The results speak for themselves. Currently, I teach over 30 people – from students, top-level managers to academics.
And one of many regularities I have observed is this: Students of mine who use SRS programs regularly beat students who don’t.
How big is the difference?
One student of mine, Mathew, quite a recent graduate of Medicine faculty, passed a B2 German exam in just 5 months. He started from the scratch and only knew one language prior to our cooperation.
In the same time, the PhD from the local university, barely moved one level up the language learning ladder.
The only difference between them is that Mathew was very consistent with using ANKI (and other strategies).
Really. That’s it.
And it is not really that surprising.
The technology has been topping the greatest human minds for years now.
It might seem scary. But only if we treat such a phenomenon as a threat. But why not use computational powers of computer to our advantage?
It would be ridiculous to wrestle with Terminator. It’s just as ridiculous trying to beat computers at optimizing repetitions.
But should everyone use such programs?
Should You Use SRS programs?
I know that you can still be unsure whether or not you should be using SRS programs. That’s why I have decided to create the list of profiles to help you identify your language learning needs:
1) I am learning only one language
If you are learning only one language, it’s reasonable to assume that you can surround yourself with it. In this case, using Anki is definitely not that necessary.
However, things change quite a bit if you are learning your first language and you have NO previous experience with language learning.
In that case, better save yourself a lot of frustration and download ANKI.
2) I am a translator / interpreter (or pursue any language-related profession)
My imagination certainly has its limits since I can’t imagine a representative of any language-related profession who shouldn’t use SRS programs.
The risk of letting even one word slip your mind is too great.
Just the material I have covered during my postgraduates studies in legal translation and interpreting amounts to more than 5000 specialized words.
If I wanted to rely on surrounding myself with language in order to learn them I would go batshit crazy long time ago.
Honestly, who reads legal documents for fun?!
Even if you are not a translator / interpreter yet, but would like to become one in the future, do yourself a favor and download ANKI.
3) I learn 2 or more languages
Then I would strongly suggest using ANKI. Especially if you would like to become fully fluent in them.
The math is quite easy. Getting to C1 level in 2 languages, requires you to have a knowledge of about 20 thousands words. Of course, you should know at least 50-60% them actively.
This number might sound quite abstract, or maybe not that impressive, so let me put it in another way.
Knowing about 10 thousand words in a foreign language is tantamount to having an additional master’s degree.
And you know damn well how much time it takes to accumulate this kind of knowledge!
Of course, you can find an exception to every rule. It is not that mentally taxing to imagine a situation where somebody uses one language at work, and then another foreign language once he leaves the office.
Then maybe, just maybe, you can do without SRS programs.
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.
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”?
“A type of reactivity in which individuals modify or improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed“
It’s very hard to generalize such results to other settings
What’s more, so-called low ecological validity comes into play.
The laboratory is clearly an artificial situation. People are directed by an ‘experimenter’ in a psychological experiment. They are removed from their usual social settings and asked to memorize different sets of data.
This is a very unusual experience which raises the question – how do this novel experience and settings really affect their behavior and memory?
Still, lab research is better than no research at all.
d) Time horizon
Most studies are conducted over a relatively short period of time. It’s rarely spread over more than 3-4 weeks. As you will soon read, this is why most studies prove the effectiveness of mnemonics.
e) Nature of the tasks
How would you feel about memorizing and recalling a list of unconnected words or digits? Seriously, be honest. How would you rate your willingness on the scale from “nope” to “never”?
The detachment of such tasks from everyday life, and their general lack of usefulness have led some researchers to question whether their findings can be generalized to real life.
Am I saying that mnemonics are useless then? Not at all. They can be insanely useful.
But you must understand what they are and what they aren’t. I quoted the excerpt from John Dunlosky’s report for two reasons:
1) It tested different learning strategies against one another.
2) More importantly, it tested effects of those strategies in LONG-TERM learning.
And this is what mnemonics are not.
They are not a suitable tool for long-term learning. At least not in the form they are usually presented.
If you are not pressed for time, you can get by without any problems without using mnemonics
They are also not a panacea for all your memory problems. This is just another tool in your learning arsenal.
If you have ever read anything by any author who promotes / sells anything mnemonics-related you might find it hard too believe.
Don’t worry, I also felt disillusioned. And I had good reasons.
Since that pivotal moment of my life, my obsession with mnemonics had been growing in strength with each passing day.
There was no stopping me. I was the mnemonics preacher. Everybody HAD to know about how mnemonics are great,
After I won local memory championship, it only got worse.
I experimented with the ardor of meth-addicted junkie.
I created memory palaces holding thousands of words.
I tried to learn entire books by heart just to test ethe ffectiveness of mnemonics.
I have memorized tables, law regulations and tested my recall at various intervals.
Effect was always the same.
Great recall rate at the beginning of my experiments. These early results were always accompanied by the feeling of overwhelming joy.
But it never lasted long.
My recall rate was still good after up to 2-4 weeks after creating mnemonic images and reviewing them. Although, I could notice some deterioration of my memories.
Inevitable drop in recall rate always came after more than 4 weeks.
And this is exactly why most scientific studies seemingly prove ethe ffectiveness of mnemonics. They test them in labs in short periods of time.
Once again, I would like to stress that mnemonics can be immensely useful.
Useful both for recalling random information as well as helping you achieve high levels of expert performance. Just not for long-term learning.
Read on and I will show how they can be utilized best.
But first, to have a full picture of what you’re dealing with, take a look at limitations of mnemonics.
Limitations And Disadvantages Of Mnemonics
Gruneberg (1998) argues that the keyword method, in general, is inferior to rote learning in the longer-term retention of vocabulary.
“Campos and Gonzalez (2003) attribute ineffectiveness of keyword method to participants’ ‘lack of training. They investigated in four experiments the effectiveness of the mnemonic keyword method using two groups of adults and adolescents. In all the experiments, the rote method was more effective than the keyword method for both adolescents and adults.”
Some people (especially adults) are reluctant to create vivid images and crazy stories.
Some people (especially adults) are unable and/or unwilling to resign from using previously learned strategies.
Using mnemonic devices for memorizing words is time-consuming (especially at the beginning).
Using mnemonics requires more effort (especially at the beginning) than rote-learning.
Mnemonics don’t guarantee understanding.
Learning with mnemonics lacks context.
So if mnemonics are not a great way for long-term learning, what are they good for?
How Mnemonics Affect Your Short-Term Memory
Short-term memory has three key aspects:
1. limited capacity (only about 7+-2 items can be stored at a time, or 3-4 chunks)
2. limited duration (storage is very fragile and information can be lost with distraction or passage of time)
3. encoding (primarily acoustic, even translating visual information into sounds).
And here is where the true power of mnemonics lies.
It might not seem like a big deal but it has tremendous implications for your (language) learning.
Because short-term memory is a necessary step toward the next stage of retention – long-term memory.
You can treat short-term memory as a bottleneck of your learning.
After all, if you can’t commit some information, even just for a few seconds, to your memory, how are you supposed to learn?
Some researchers claim that working-memory capacity reflects the efficiency of executive functions.
In other words, the ability to maintain and manipulate information in the face of distractions and other irrelevant information. ( Engle, R. W., September 1999).
That’s why the best way to think about mnemonics is to treat them as a relatively long-lived external memory with huge capacity.
I will get to the most effective use of mnemonics in a second.
First, I want to demonstrate you something. Let’s take a look at prodigies.
The Short-Term Memory Of Prodigies
Studies on the prodigies who reached professional-level performance in their domain (e.g., art, math, music) by the age of 10 show something very interesting.
When Psychologist Joanne Ruthsatz and violin virtuoso Jourdan Urbach administered an IQ test tonine prominent child prodigies (…) there were a wide range of IQ scores among the eight prodigies (from 108 to 147), and their cognitive profiles were uneven.
It turned out that the key to understanding their rapid learning in their domain was not their global intellectual functioning.
Most strikingly, every single prodigy in their sample scored off the charts (better than 99 percent of the general population) in working memory — the ability to simultaneously store incoming information while processing other information.
So how can you approach these levels of intellectual functioning?
Key Information Needed to Understand How To use Mnemonics Effectively
2) Calling information to mind strengthens it and helps in future retrieval
3) Understanding the difference between procedural and declarative knowledge.
According to Cohen and Squire (1980):
Procedural knowledge involves “knowing how” to do things. It includes skills, such as “knowing how” to play the piano, ride a bike; tie your shoes and other motor skills. It does not involve conscious thought (i.e. it’s unconscious – automatic). For example, we brush our teeth with little or no awareness of the skills involved.
Declarative knowledge involves “knowing that”. Knowing names of plants , dates, formulas – it’s all part of your declarative knowledge. Recalling information from declarative memory involves, so called, effortfull recall – i.e. information has to be consciously brought to mind and “declared”.
Knowing these things can help us stew perfect learning mix:
1) Gather information
It doesn’t matter whether you want to learn a language or how to master persuasion strategies. Gather the knowledge needed to achieve your goal.
2) Memorize it with mnemonics
As I have written before, mnemonics can be treated as an extension of your short-term memory. Place as much information as you can on this external “hard-drive”.
3) Start practising right away
Now that you know the theory of how to play piano or how to program, start putting your knowledge into practice.
Try to use as many pieces of information from your memory as you can.
Because every time you bring one of them to your mind, the magic happens. You start creating and strengthening neural networks responsible for the given action.
Repeat this action sufficient number of times and you will automate it. From that moment on, you will be able to perform it subconsciously and with minimal effort.
Let’s see how you can use it in language learning.
Since we have established that mnemonics can be treated as your external memory, take a look at other practical applications of mnemonics!
(Other) Practical Applications Of Mnemonics
Mnemonics are useful whenever you need to memorize a lot of information on the fly and remember them for at least a couple of hours.
That’s why you can use them (among others):
during parties and meetings to memorize names and information about other participants
during last-minute panic before the exam or company presentation to make sure that the information stays in your memory!
to impress your wife and show her that “you don’t need no damn shopping lists” to remember what you should buy
to memorize random information which emerges during conversations
And so on. I think you got it!
Are Mnemonics Effective?
Mnemonics have to be one of the most misunderstood learning tools of all times.
They are usually sold as the ultimate solution for all kinds of learning problems which is far from the truth. As you can see, they can be extremely useful but only provided that you exactly understand what they do. And what they do is “inflate” your short-term memory for some time.
Manage to review the knowledge you acquired with mnemonics by performing some actions specific to that knowledge.and you can rest assured that your progress will know no boundaries.
You will become that “robo-weirdo”. And this is what I sincerely wish you.
Never enough time. There is never enough time to get in shape or learn a language. Or even when there is time, you don’t really seem to make much of the progress.
It doesn’t seem normal, right?
And it isn’t. There is a good chance you have contracted something I call “fluffoholism“. If you cringed, the reaction is fully justified.
That’s a terrible ailment.
Fluffoholicsare individuals who are very busy doing silly and insignificant activities. As a result, they either feel inadequate for not making progress or make some progress but can’t find time for anything else in their lives.
Of course, the truth is that we are all fluffoholicsto some degree. The person who would concentrate only on relevant tasks would seem like an absolute genius to us mere mortals.
Let’s get it over with. My name is Bartosz and I’m a recovering fluffoholic and this is what I have learned:
3 Categories Of Activities
I like to categorize activities in the following way:
1) Low-intensity activities
A counterpart of: lying in a cozy bed under a wool blanket with a mug of hot chocolate while your spouse scratches your head.
These are the tasks we tend to do the most. The “feel good” activities. The fluff which masks the real work. Usually, the things which have very little to do with making any progress.
Many industries prosper around these activities. It’s the obvious honey pot for the naive and lazy.
“Learn how to pick up a girl without washing yourself”
“Learn in your sleep”
“Lose weight by eating Tacos and marshmallows”.
In the world of language learning, it’s definitely Duolingo.
I get a lot of messages like this: “I have been using Duolingo for x months and I completed all the levels but when I talk to native speakers they don’t seem to understand me. Oh, also, when I read, I don’t understand most of the things.”
Sure, it’s motivating. And it’s a nice past-time to have. But it isn’t nearly as effective as a lot of other activities. Like speaking for instance. Other, almost evergreen and legendary language learning methods which allow an individual to achieve fluency include:
“Learning by listening”
“Learning by playing computer games”
“Learning by watching TV”
How to tell if I am doing these activities?
Typically, you can do them for hours. Without any particular signs of fatigue. That’s all you need to know. If you feel like “that was fun”, it’s not the real work. It also means that you spend 5-10 x more time than people who do activities from the third category and get comparable results.
2) Moderate-intensity activities
A counterpart of: getting out of bed and sitting down at the desk.
These activities definitely require some energy from you but they are not that tiring. It’s running 5 km when you already know that you can run 10 if you want to. You still need to put your shoes on. You still need to go out and sweat. But in the end, the overall progress is not so great
In the world of language learning, it’s a B2 level. You can talk and express yourself relatively fluently. You can read most of the articles you want. So you do. And you note down some words. But not too many because you’re already quite good.
How to tell if I am doing these activities? Usually, you feel that you have to push yourself a little bit in order to start. But once you do, it’s not that bad. Signs of fatigue tend to appear after 2 hours.
3) High-intensity activities (i.e. The Real Work.)
A counterpart of: being mauled by a bear and teabagged by the seven muses at the same time. It’s when you’d rather have a colonoscopy instead of carrying on with what you’re doing right now.
The absolute opposite of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” approach. It’s the “there is always something broken and I’ll find it” philosophy. It feels terrible. But it delivers amazing results.
How to tell if I am doing these activities? After you finish learning, you’re sobbing softly and want somebody to hug you. And you feel damn proud.
I like to think that it is our small Everest which we should climb daily.
It’s difficult to work hard and smart
I know that I should write every day in order to publish articles regularly. But I fail. Because they are never good enough. They are never inspiring enough.
I have read somewhere that an average time for writing an article is about 5 hours. It depresses me. It makes me feel like a failure. And I know I should come up with ideas daily. About 3 years ago I read on the blog of amazing James Altucher about the concept of becoming the idea machine.
The concept is simple – if you try to come up with 10 ideas per day, in 6 months your life should change significantly. 3 years down the road I’m still struggling to come up with 10 ideas once every 3-4 days.
It’s disheartening and it makes me feel like crap. But every now and then I manage to come up with great ideas. And my face lightens up when I send them to others. And I’m pretty sure their faces lighten up as well as these ideas change their lives. And that’s what it’s all about.
Remember – If you do not push, you are not practicing.
High-intensity Activities In Language Learning
One of the notoriously difficult activities in language learning is speaking.
On an A1-A2 level, stringing more than a few words feels like a crucifixion.
On a B1-B2 level, the challenge is to learn enough words (while improving your grammar) to be able to express yourself quite fluently.
On a C1-C2 level, the challenge is to constantly substitute the words you already know with dozens of other synonyms. It’s where you have to start saying “atrocity” instead of “that ugly thing”, or “marvelous” instead of “great”. (see The Word Substitution Technique)
It’s damn easy to play with Duolingo or Memrise for 1 hour. It’s much harder to actually open your mouth and start saying something.
I like to highlight my students as an example. If they want to learn with me , they have to accept one condition – they have to bet with me. Each day, from Monday to Friday, I have to get a 10 minute recording of them talking to themselves.
It’s only 10 minutes right? And yet, after 3 weeks their level changes drastically. It’s almost unbelievable. And magical! Ugh, I definitely overuse this word.
The side effect is that they probably hate me but, oh well – it works!
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.
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:
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!
Let’s assume that you want to memorize the Spanish word for “to joke”.
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!
It’s ridiculously easy but also quite effective. Uttering words out loud combines both auditory andkinesthetic stimuli.
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:
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:
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
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?
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”
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
IFI want to spend some money thenI’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:
The acronym SAMcan 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?
Picture by: Allan Ajifo
To use the rules effectively, you have to know what problems you have.
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 totrack your (potential) progressto 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?
If you had asked me a few months ago how I feel about Facebook, I would have said that it’s probably the biggest time-eater in the world. However, within the last few weeks, I changed my mind quite drastically.
Believe it or not, but know I think it’s one of the best language learning tools in the world. Make yourself comfortable my friend – you’re in for the story.
Facebook, or There and Back Again
There So About 4 years ago I was a full-blown Facebook junkie. I had to get my fix at least a few times a day. My hands would shake if I couldn’t. “I need more cat picture! I need more updates from friends! I need more of everything. Gimme! Arghhh!” So yeah, it was bad.
After some pondering and a lot of hesitation, I finally deleted it. The last straw for me was seeing a picture of my friend’s dinner with the following comment – “Yum, yum”.
I was a broken man. Rehab was excruciatingly hard for first 3 weeks. But soon thereafter my world became more peaceful. I felt less anxious and overwhelmed. The sun was shining brighter. And so on.
Being a relative optimist, I decided to look at the bright side of my Facebook presence. I started participating in the language groups. I also refreshed contacts with some of the old friends.
Again In The Comfort Zone
At about the same time I was bothered by the fact that I don’t read enough. In other languages that is. I tallied up that per average I read between 300-1000 pages per week.
Sadly, over 95% of all the things I read is in English. What a wasted opportunity! I could be learning so many other languages if only I started reading in them. I knew that it had to change.
So I started with the question.
Why am I reading so much in English?
The answer came right away – because it’s convenient. Because it’s so damn convenient. I’ve subscribed to newsletters of over 15 websites. All in English. They come straight to my e-mail box. No effort whatsoever is required from my side.
What’s more, I read English books because
a) there are more of them than in any other language I know
b) because I got stuck in my comfort zone
Does it ring a bell? Do you find yourself consuming most of the media in just one language? Then read on!
I knew that the first thing I had to do was to minimize the required amount of energy to take action.
Minimizing The Energy Required To Take Action
Let’s say that you want to take up running.
You promise yourself that you’ll do it 3-4 times per week for at least 20 minutes (a great example of a SMART goal!
Noble thought, my friend! However, it seems that no matter what you do, you can’t seem to get a grip on yourself. Every morning you have to look at yourself in the mirror with disappointment in your eyes.
You really do want to do it. It’s no lie. But you’re tired. Or it’s too cold. Or can’t find your shoes. Or don’t know where you’d like to run. There are too many decisions you have to make before you go out for a run. That’s why it’s so hard to get off your butt.
Now imagine a different situation. This time, you’ve planned all the details beforehand.
936 million daily active users on average (for March 2015)
It means that most of us use it almost every day. That, in its turn, means that you have already developed a habit of using it. For many of us, it’s almost like an addiction.
over 30 million companies with active pages
Posts and news in hundreds of languages are at your fingertips!
Timeline provides you with a stream of never-ending pictures and posts. The only thing you have to do is scroll down.
All these things make FB a perfect tool for language learning!
Now, the question is – how to do it?
Unfollow Most Of Your Contacts On FB
“Give me a break, do I really have to?!”
Of course, you don’t have to. I haven’t unfollowed ALL my friends. But I was merciless in weeding out people who appear on my Timeline. I didn’t do it randomly. It was a process aided by the following questions:
Am I interested in a life of this person?
Do I believe this person has something interesting to say?
I unfollowed every person who didn’t fit the criteria. In fact, I unfollowed about 98% of people who are among my friends.
It was hard – believe me. There is always this treacherous voice at the back of my head. “Come on! Don’t you wanna know what’s going on in X’s life?!” Yes, the voice of the ever convincing Fear Of Missing Out.
“Maybe it’s right. Maybe I’ll miss something important? What if the Ebola Zombies invade Europe and I won’t know it!”
What if …x?! What if …Y?
That’s a risk you and I have to take. The truth is that you are behind the life’s wheel and you’re choosing the direction. Do you really want to let all that fluff and bullcrap into your life? How many cat pictures can you watch?
Do you really care how somebody’s baby looks like if you haven’t even called this person in a few years?
Be brutally honest with yourself and get down to work.
What If I Can’t Do It?
Ok, maybe you’re not ready yet. I don’t blame you. I know it was damn hard for me.
Luckily, there is the option no 2.
Register a new FaceBook account and use it exclusively for language learning. Although, it’s better to use your main FB account. You might be asking yourself now – why all the effort?
What’s the next step”?
Start Liking And Following Pages!
By now your Timeline should look, more or less, like a wasteland. From now on, all the pages you like will start appearing on your main FB page!
Here are some ideas of the pages you might want to follow if nothing comes to your mind at the moment.
All the biggest newspapers have their FB pages. Choose the ones you’re interested in and follow them! They update their pages many times per day.
They will provide your Timeline with an ongoing flood of news.
Most popular FB pages in …
I like this method since usually, the biggest pages are also the ones which care deeply about the quality of posts they share. Google “most popular FB pages in x (e.g. Russia, Turkey)” to find them.
Random pages of interest
Use the FB search field and try to type in words like “jokes”, “productivity”. Of course in your target language!
This way your Timeline will be full of posts of all kinds.
This way, you’ll make sure that the language you take in is diversified enough to guarantee you continuous growth!
Here is a small snippet of my 2nd FB account which I use for reading French and Russian news.
The Final Touch
You have come the long way, congratulations! There is just one more thing you can do to get the most out of using FB.
Change the default language settings to any language you’re learning. It’ll only be weird for a couple of days. After that, all the writings and words become normal, or even boring.
What’s more, you’ll see them many times per week. Thanks to this, you’ll learn them in no time!
Now, I have a question for you – have you ever tried to change the default language settings of programmes and/or devices you use to learn a new language?
So you want to go abroad for almost completely free?
I know, I know. It sounds way too good to be true. Usually, with this kind of offers, you wake up without your kidney in the bathtub full of ice. But don’t worry. It’s really (almost completely) free of charge. And the only thing you need is a pair of hands.
The site, founded in 2003, helps unite aspiring travelers with hosts abroad. What do they offer? Travelers are put up for free in exchange for work
All the pictures you can see in this article are the actual locations where people go to work and learn languages.
What Is WorkAway?
Workaway is a database of families, NGOs, charities and other projects who’ve joined the project over the year. They are located around the world and are looking for volunteers to help them with a variety of tasks. Exemplary types of volunteering include gardening, animal-care, cleaning, cooking, and farming.
Currently, more than 14000 hosts from 130 countries are present on the website.
How Does It Work?
First, you need to sign up (duh) and create a profile specifying your background and skills. Then you can start browsing the list of hosts for opportunities in any of the countries registered and contact them for more information. If there is some specific location you would like to visit, you can also search by country.
You can email hosts that interest you and chat with them to figure out if you’re a good match for each other.
Hosts are expected to provide information about themselves, the type of volunteering they require to be performed, the accommodation they offer and the sort of person they are expecting.
How much do I have to pay?
Almost nothing. A two-year membership is 23 Euros for a single person and 30 Euros for couples and friends.
How much do I have to work?
The typical Workaway agreement is to work 4-5 hours per day, 5 days a week in exchange for food and a room.
How long can I stay?
In theory, there is no limit on how long you must stay in a given location. However, usually, you are expected to stay with your host for at least three weeks (although you often can stay for almost as many months as you wish).
Can I earn something?
It differs with each host. But you definitely shouldn’t expect it. Remember – the deal is to work in exchange for food and accommodation. However, some hosts guarantee some pocket money or a commission.
What Can You Expect As A Member of Workaway?
According to WorkAway, you can expect the following benefits:
Contact 1000s of hosts in over 135 countries.
Create a unique profile telling hosts all about your skills and enthusiasm for helping.
Upload photos in your profile showing yourself and your skills.
Upload your own short video to show on your profile page.
Join your account with a friend’s to visit hosts and apply together. Whenever wherever
Create your own personalized host list of all your favorite hosts.
Find hosts on a map in your area or the area you are planning on traveling to.
Use your smartphone and log in to the mobile site to make changes or apply on the move.
Add yourself to our last minute Workawayer list so hosts can contact you for immediate volunteering opportunities.
Get and give feedbacks to and from hosts to build up your Workaway profile.
Contact other members to ask about their stay with hosts.
Link your travel blog to ours to share your interesting Workaway journey with our readers
Get to know like-minded travelers on the road with our “Meet up” function.
Enter our monthly photo competition and win money to extend your travels.
Help the Workaway Foundation Project and watch them grow (For more info see www.workawayfoundation.org)
Be a member of our unique traveling community and exchange amazing stories and ideas!
The website enjoys the highest reputation for quality and reliability. However, the safety is always a priority while traveling and you should treat it seriously.
Workaway has a page dedicated to safety information and encourages all its users, both volunteers, and hosts, to spend time getting to know each other before making any decisions. Any sort of contract or agreement should be decided between you and your host. The website is only responsible for connecting people.
That’s it. If you go somewhere nice, don’t forget to send me some pictures!
Do you know what all the people who fail in language learning have in common? They don’t think. They are dull and unoriginal. Actually, being “creatively challenged” is probably the main reason of failure in about anything you do.
Take a hard, good look at yourself. Are you one of them?
I know I was. For way too many years. I used to buy almost every memory book I could find. I was looking for the ultimate method to remember everything. To my disappointment, almost every book was the same. It took me a lot of time to come to realize that all the solutions are in my head. I just haven’t discovered them yet!
Fail Fast and Fail Epicly – How To Do It Step By Step
Usually, there are three steps most people go through.
1) The First Stage – The Sleeping Giant
How can you tell if that’s you? It’s extremely easy to diagnose yourself. I’ve prepared a checklist for you. Or rather The Loser’s Credo. If you tick more than one field, I have bad news for you…
you don’t like to ask questions
you don’t like to think about problems
you think that the old way is the only way
you are happy where you are currently at
you can’t take criticism
people who are better than you in any way are either lying or born special
you don’t see anything funny in this joke: “Dad what’s ignorance?”, “I don’t know and I don’t care”
you think that calling somebody “weird” is offensive
you try once, fail and never get back up
Frankly, I don’t believe that any of you fall into this category. At least, not when it comes to learning. But we’re all there when it comes to other areas of life – relationships, the way we work, etc.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
But what if you know anyone who falls into this category? How can you help him? Well, you can suggest it as subtly as you can. After all, understanding the problem is half of the solution. What’s the next step? There is none. I’m sorry.
“We generally change ourselves for one of two reasons: inspiration or desperation” – Jim Rohn
I changed my approach to learning due to desperation.
Many moons ago I was attending a German course at one of the local language schools. I felt very proud. It was my second language and after three years, the school classified my level as B1.
It was an amazing feeling. WAS.
After the first conversation with a native speaker The Evil Bubble of Hubris burst. I didn’t understand much. I started stuttering madly. Much like a retarded version of Mr. Snuffalufagus.
So yeah. I was desperate. This soul-crushing experience helped me advance to the second category.
2) The Second Stage – The Awakened Mind
You read. Maybe a lot. Maybe a little. But definitely enough to know that there are many strategies to achieve your goal(s). So you read and read. And then read some more. But the moment comes when you get stuck. And you’re desperately looking for people who might give you the answer.
But why would most people give you their best ideas. They spent years trying to come up with them! Haven’t you heard of the rule?
I hit this stage about 17 months ago. I can’t recall any specific situation which led to it. I simply knew that I had to change the way I approach learning. And then I found myself in the third stage.
3) Third stage – The Creative Behemoth
There are three characteristic qualities of all the people in this category:
you question most of the things until proved otherwise
you start coming up with dozens of potential solutions to your problems
you never feel fully satisfied with your ideas
It’s like the mental hunger you can’t satisfy. You can only alleviate it with new ideas and concepts. Once I started coming up with new hypotheses on how to memorize faster, it took me less than half a year to achieve such results. And I’m not done yet.
The beauty of this stage is that you can question almost anything.
For example – why do we shave with foam or gel? Hell, I started to do it with a mix of shampoo and soap. And believe me – it’s much more effective way to shave (try it and thank me later).
Fail Fast and Fail Epicly – How To Do It
There are two steps in this strategy.
1) Create the hypothesis.
The planning process looks more less like this:
Define what the problem is
This is the question you have to start with. Let your brain know that there is some obstacle to overcome. From that moment on, you’ll start cracking it both consciously and subconsciously.
Learn the essentials of the subject you’re trying to master
It’s very important step. If you skip it, you might find yourself reinventing a wheel. No need to waste your time like this.
Start with mastering the rules. Find out how others approach solving your problem.
Train your ability to observe
Start paying close attention to things which might contribute to the solution of the problem.
Create a hypothesis based on your observations
It doesn’t always have to be very logical. Go with your gut feeling.
For example. It’s generally proven that intensive emotions help us to remember better.
Start shouting out loud 4 random words everyday with your best furious voice. Or go to the graveyard and check if the general sadness of this place contributes to better learning.
2) Perform an experiment to test those predictions