Over coffee this morning, I was having a lovely argument with my mother. It was about why she really wants to learn Spanish but “just doesn’t have the time”.
This a subject I seem to be endlessly discussing with people who ‘want’ but ‘can’t’ learn a language.
Learning a language takes time
So, yes, learning a language takes time. Long term-time as in months or years and short-term time as in time each day. And there is no substitute for time. But do people really think they can learn a language in a few weeks studying a couple of minutes each day?
If time is really the issue, and I think it’s not. I think the real issue is more about not wanting to not face fears; the fear of failure or fear of not being disciplined to stick with it.
But, if time is really why you have not started or have started and quit learning a language, I have great news for you –
you can learn a language in 6 months and not have to schedule 30 minutes or an hour each day to study
You learn a language by speaking and listening to the language. And to do this you must know some words in that language. The foundation of any language is its vocabulary, so learning vocabulary so you can speak and understand is something you have to do.
So, let me let you in on a ‘secret’ that all polyglots and language app programmers know. Although learning vocabulary does takes time it takes
- Less time than you think and
- is MOST EFFECTIVE if you don’t do it for a long time
The secret behind this secret is Spaced Repetition. The theory behind Spaced Repetition has to do with the ‘forgetting curve’.
The forgetting curve shows that people recall less information over time. What happens is when you see a new word the first time you forget it in a few seconds. If you see it a second time you remember it a little longer because you’ve seen it twice. Seeing the word a third time allows you to remember it for maybe a minute or two. A fourth time seeing it and you can recall it for 4 or 5 minutes. Eventually, you’ve seen the word often enough that you can remember the word for days and because you can remember the word you use it when speaking the language which further reinforces the word. At some point, you are just naturally using the word. Spaced Repetition works for every language.
What Spaced Repetition does is interrupt the forgetting process and ‘resets’ it.
How Spaced Repetition works
Here’s how it works, you review your vocabulary once then again and again over time with each review followed by a longer space of time. With each review your retention of the words is ‘reset’ and less information is lost over time.
The best part of Spaced Repetition is that each review only takes a minute or two, depending, of course on how many words you are learning. So, this means you can review while at the drive-through, standing in line, waiting for a program to load, or whatever. You never have to schedule a 30 minute or 1-hour block of time dedicated rote memorization.
Studies have shown that students have better recall for a longer period of time using Spaced Repetition compared to studying for one long period of time.
How to do Spaced Repetition
- Write down the words and definitions and
- Wait 5 seconds and review the words then
- Wait 25 seconds and review the words then
- Wait 2 minutes and review the words . . .
Here is an example of review times for Spaced Repetition. I suggest trying these times and change them to fit the way your mind works. Maybe you need a shorter time between reviews, maybe you remember the words for a longer time.
Aim for remembering at least 80% of the words after each review.
- 5 seconds
- 25 seconds
- 2 minutes
- 5 minutes
- 10 minutes
- 30 minutes
- 1 hour
- 5 hours
- Once a day for a week
- Once a week
Don’t get too caught up on the times. You don’t have to drop everything at the 10-minute mark, for example, to review. If you review after 13 minutes or you have a moment at the 8-minute mark that’s fine.
I review my vocabulary words by both covering up the English translations and attempting to recall the foreign words and by covering the foreign words and attempting to translate them.
Spaced Repetition works
If you diligently use Spaced Repetition 8 or 9 times a day (remember the review only takes 1 or 2 minutes) you will learn your words. Once you have some vocabulary to work with, you can start speaking and listening in the language you are learning, and that’s how you learn the language.