Did Something Slip Your Mind?

Among other opportunities, an assignment abroad may offer a bonus that some would pay good money for: immersion in a language other than your native one. This can be exciting, but also overwhelming. When trying to memorize new words and grammar points, things can easily slip from your memory.

If you’re working in a language that doesn’t use the Roman alphabet, it can be doubly hard to recognize even common phrases or words for the places you visit every day. It’s frustrating to see a word and know you studied it, but the meaning just won’t come to mind. It can take up to 30 times of seeing or using a certain word to move it to what is known as “active recall,” where it’s no effort to remember the meaning.

One of the best techniques to combat this, proven by science, is spaced repetition. This means encountering new words, grammar points, or anything else you want to memorize at optimal spacing. New words and ideas are shown more frequently, with old ones periodically reinforced. This memory technique combines new information and recall. Studies have found with spaced repetition, mastery of material requires less time than traditional studying. That’s good news for our busy lives!

You can make old-fashioned flashcards, use apps on your phone, or computer software. An app might be the most helpful tool, as one of the benefits of spaced repetition is how well it pairs with another memory technique: chunking. That means doing multiple small sessions of work a day versus one long one and using spare time such as waiting in line or riding the bus to check your vocabulary. While it might take weeks to hit 30 encounters of a word “in the wild,” by using spaced repetition and chunking, you could be actively recalling it in as little in a few days.

Even better, this technique works not just for languages, but for anything you might have to memorize. It can help you master talking points, the names and titles of new employees, or even give kids a leg up in geography or science.

A few options for set algorithms to maximize learning:

SuperMemo® – learn languages effectively | SuperMemo.com

Anki – powerful, intelligent flashcards (ankiweb.net)

Or, if you want to create analog flashcards, look up the Leitner System. The three-box method will ensure you’re not repeating familiar words too often, or troublesome words too little.


Written by Kate Havas, Content Manager