My resolutions this year included learning something new. So I decided to learn a new language (French, if you are wondering), and also how to code. I know, easier said than done. Sounds just like any one of those hundreds of New Year’s resolutions that are bound to fail, right? They’re the resolutions that you regret as soon as you wake up tired from the New Year’s party you attended.
I must admit, my last year’s resolutions met an abrupt end due to constraints forced on me by the realities of my life (excuses, right?). This year, however, I decided that I’m not taking any chances. I’m going to make it. (It’s July and I am making great progress on both). In the Japanese culture, there’s a concept called Hansei. It’s a process of self-reflection in which you acknowledge your own mistakes and pledge to improve. As they say, self-awareness is the first step to improvement.
Remembering my mistakes from years past, I knew that I needed to plan exactly how I’m going to achieve this year’s target, so I set down and conducted a thorough Hansei. What I found out was truly extraordinary. Not! I simply didn’t have enough time. I didn’t want to disrupt other habits in my life by introducing a new time consuming daily practice. It’s a common problem, right?
I set out to look for ways to maximize the time that I was wasting. Here are some examples I’m sure we can all relate to. I listened to recorded lessons in my car, read simple texts while waiting in line and tried to optimize my time so that every minute of my day was accounted for. This was definitely a good start, but not the magic bullet I was seeking. I was looking for a way to learn new things as efficiently as possible.
I dove even deeper, I looked for method that will help me decrease the amount of time spent studying significantly and increase the amount of information I’m able to retain. To my surprise, I found two…
1. Spaced Repetition
The spaced repetition technique spreads information in specific time intervals and repeats that information in specific points in time so you’ll remember more indefinitely. How can that possibly work?
When our brain is exposed to information over a long period of time, it tends to remember that information due to the Spacing Effect. It is a psychological phenomenon that ensures we remember information which is presented to us through repeated long termed spaced studying.
How the method works:
- You memorize a piece of information (be it a word in a foreign language or code syntax) and then after a few minutes you repeat; exposing yourself again to the same information in increased intervals.
- The intervals begin with few minutes, than increase to hours, days, weeks, and eventually months.
- An example to such an interval can be seen in Pimsleur’s graduated-interval recall – 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months, and 2 years.
Spaced repetition works so well because it uses your long-term memory instead of your short-term memory to process information.
Tip – I use an app called Anki to help me with learning code and foreign grammar; it’s effective and fun using spaced repetition principals with flesh cards.
2. Mnemonic Techniques
The mnemonic technique translates information you’re trying to memorize into a pattern your brain remembers better than the original form. There are many types of mnemonic applications including remembering sets of numbers (numeric), remembering lists and I also found it’s extremely effective when trying to remember new words in a foreign language. An example of mnemonic application can be learning the names of the stars in our solar system:
- My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos
- Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune (source).
A foreign language mnemonic I use is associating words I find hard to remember to “link words” in my mother tongue, for instance:
- In Russian, the word cow (pronounced roughly “karova”) can be associated to “I ran my car over a cow.”
Linkwords work in the following way:
First, you create the linkword > then you associate it with a story> the story leads to the meaning and there you have it.
Linkword > Story > Meaning
After a while you’re able to remember the link word and meaning without the story, and eventually you remember the meaning, without the help of the link word or the story.