How to learn languages in short bursts and hidden moments
Language learners may be tempted to try to learn everything at once through hours of study, especially if they expect to travel abroad or have another opportunity to use their language. But studies show that learning in short bursts contributes more to your long-term memory than lengthy learning sessions.
Micro-learning entails learning a small amount of material in short span of time. For example, if you are trying to master a particular verb tense in your target language, you might study present-tense verb conjugations for 15 minutes in the morning, return to the same task for 15 minutes in the afternoon with new examples, and then review for another 15 minutes in the evening.
The idea of frequent, short reviews is also at the core of spaced-repetition programs such as Anki. The basic idea of spaced repetition is that the best time to review a concept is right when you are on the verge of forgetting it; the time span between review sessions should get longer and longer as you integrate the concept into your long-term memory. Spaced repetition counteracts the “forgetting curve,” a memory model also known as the The Ebbinghaus curve. In the 1880s, Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered that immediately after learning, we begin to forget what we have learned. If we do not review what we have learned within 24 hours, we forget 60% of what we learned in that session.
So if you are cramming for a language test (or anything else), there is a much more effective way to learn than snatching a textbook and spending hours reviewing or learning new material. Instead, study in short, discrete bursts and then review what you have studied soon after you first encounter it.
The idea of learning in short bursts is one of WordBrewery’s core principles. WordBrewery founder Ryan McCarl created WordBrewery as a way to study languages as efficiently as possible during the “hidden moments” of daily life. In less than two minutes, WordBrewery users can read several real sentences from the news in Explore Mode and save the sentences and new high-frequency vocabulary words they find to study lists; they can later print or export these lists to Anki or another flashcard app. A few hours or days later, they can review their sentence lists and memorize the sentences they saved.
Another core principle of WordBrewery is our focus on individual sentences as the unit of study (hence our tagline, “Fluency one sentence at a time”). Try speaking the sentences you save aloud, writing them down, or even diagramming them by analyzing their grammatical components. By studying a sentence repeatedly, you can easily memorize the sentence; if you memorize a sentence, you not only learn each vocabulary word in the sentence, but also internalize information about the grammatical structure of the sentence and the correct usage of each word.
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