The first Smart Language Learner case study has come to an end.
On one hand, it’s sad. I’ve had a lot of fun doing the case study.
On the other, it’s exciting because it means I can reveal my final results!
In my first report, the results were great, but only for 30 newly learned words. Will the results hold up now I’ve tried to learn almost 130 words?
Read on to find out…
So What’s this About?
This is the final report of the first Smart Language Learner case study on the Udemy video course: How to Learn and Memorize the Vocabulary of Any Language.
Please note: The links to the course are affiliate links, which means that, should you purchase, I’ll receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). As you can read below, after testing the method for a month, I can sincerely recommend this course.
The course teaches you to use memory palaces in order to learn foreign vocabulary. A memory palace is a mnemonic device to store and recall information by using your imagination.
You can read all articles about this case study here.
Since the last report I managed to do 15 sessions of 40 minutes each, or 10 hours.
For the entire case study, this comes down to 19 sessions of 40 minutes, or 12 hours and 40 minutes.
I must admit that in the beginning I did a few extra repetitions of the memory palaces before going to sleep. It’s was kind of hard to resist. The memory palaces are like having a basement with treasures. You always want to go down and take a peek.
It’s cool to be able to remember tens of words in the right order, and even more so when you’re just starting out and everything’s new. After a little while, I stopped doing it, though.
Okay, while time spent is an important metric, let’s continue with what really matters to you:
Throughout the case study I attempted to learn 127 new Spanish words.
This means I learned a new word every six minutes. Or 6.68 words per session.
If you’ve read my first report, you know I was doing 7 words per session early on.
So why did this end up lower than in the previous report?
- As I learned more and more words, I had to devote time to repeatedly walk through the memory palaces. So I had a little less time to create new ones.
- Three weeks into the course I released a new Ask the Experts post on how to learn foreign grammar. Both before the release and after, the post took quite a bit of time and concentration. I spent most sessions in a somewhat distracted state. It’s fair to say that I lost my edge a bit. The good news? On the days when I was focused I was able to create the mnemonics faster than before.
Okay, so 127 newly learned words, then.
But how learned are they?
Time to do a test!
The Big Anki Test
During the creation of the memory palaces, I added each new word to Anki, the flashcard app, with the idea to use it to test myself at the end of the case study.
Keep in mind: I never used the flashcards at all, they were just for the test and nothing else.
I opted to use Anki because it was an easy way for me to test the memorization of the words in random order.
When you rehearse your memory palaces, you always go through them in the order in which you created the images representing the words you wanted to learn. You go from station (a place where you put a mnemonic image) to station remembering the words. So not just the the image itself, but the order and the stations help you to memorize the words as well
Could it be that if you did a test in random order, you wouldn’t be able to recall nearly as much words?
Also in a conversation you probably won’t have a minute to go through your memory palace in order to remember a certain word. Most of the time, you need the word … fast.
And fast it went.
The test, that is.
I recalled the 127 words in less than 7 minutes.
That’s an average of a little more than 3 seconds per word. Taking into account the clicking of the Anki buttons and saying the word out loud, that’s pretty much an average of … instantly!
Now in contrast to the repetition or rehearsing of the memory palaces, I didn’t conceive the complete images in my mind, that would have taken longer, of course. Only for the last 10-15 learned words I needed a little more time to recall them, but that’s due to lack of repetition.
I made one little mistake. For the word “emboscada” (ambush), I had made mistake of not spending a little time with a word before creating the mnemonic. When making the image I thought the word was “embosada”.
So it turns out it was a mistake made earlier, and not really a recall problem. When creating the image I just didn’t double-check the word as I should have.
If it wasn’t for this one little mistake, made because of a lack of concentration, I would have maintained my perfect recall rate from the first report.
To be honest, all through the case study, the results have really surprised me. I knew it was a good method but I didn’t expect it to be that good.
About my Results
I used the Magnetic Memory Method (the method taught in the video course) to improve my Spanish vocabulary. In many ways Spanish is the ideal language to use with this technique because of its phonetic consistency. You practically don’t have to learn how to write in Spanish. You just learn a very basic set of spelling rules and you’re done.
It’s something that helped me, of course.
That said, maybe you shouldn’t even worry too much about the spelling. Just learn the words, what they mean and how they sound, and the spelling can come later.
It is of course perfectly possible to also let the images account for the spelling. I still did this with most words but I imagine it’s much harder with languages like Russian or Mandarin.
What helped me as well was the fact that my Spanish is already at a pretty advanced level. Even if a mnemonic image doesn’t bring up the exact sound of a word (but a close approximation), I usually recognize it when a letter does or does not belong. Spending a little time with the word, saying it out loud a few times, before creating the image should have the same effect.
The How to Learn and Memorize the Vocabulary of Any Language course recommends a certain pattern of repetition. If you learn a language with an alphabet of 26 letters and you have a memory palace for each of them, you can rehearse one memory palace every day and thus repeat everything at least once a month.
This Smart Language Learner case study only took a month, so I had to do more repetition than you normally would. This helped reinforce the words in my memory but also left me with less time to create new memory palaces and learn more words.
One thing is certain, the initial repetitions are gold. Before doing the Anki test I hadn’t repeated the first few memory palaces for about two weeks. Yet, I had no problem recalling those words because I had initially repeated them a lot.
Flawed Images, Perfect Results
From the comments on the first case study report and through email, I sensed that some people think it’s complicated to create memory palaces and that every image should be perfect.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
One the things of the method that surprised me was that even if I sometimes make an image that doesn’t work, or at least not for a long time, the associations made are strong enough to make me remember the word without problems. Just seeing the starting image is sufficient. Even after quite some time without repetitions.
Moral of this little story: ideally, you create a well-functioning mnemonic, but it surely doesn’t have to be perfect.
How to Best Use the Magnetic Memory Method
It should be clear now that I highly recommend this course. But the question remains: how to use it? That is, where does it fit in your language-learning strategy?
It remains to be seen if the amazing results hold up if you learn thousands of words. I think they would, more or less, but I can’t say for sure. Maybe I should do another case study to find that out!
For now, these are the ways in which I can recommend you use the Magnetic Memory Method:
1. To learn words you keep forgetting: You know them! Those words that just don’t seem to stick. They are a source of unnecessary frustration. You can end all that by placing these words into memory palaces.
2. Learn chunks of words to use them and burn them into your long term memory: I’ve already used quite a few of the new words I learned in my day-to-day conversations. I see learning a few hundred words through the Magnetic Memory Method and then using them, as a great way to transfer the words to your long-term memory. You can then tear down or abandon your memory palaces and create new ones in order to learn the next few hundred words. As a bonus, it may keep everything more manageable than having to repeat and rehearse thousands of words.
You’re Never Alone
What I like very much about the course is that its content is ever evolving.
For example, when I went through the course, about a month and a half ago, the course had seven hours of content. Now it has eight. Several things has been added lately like a quick start guide and a guide with tips on repetition and recall.
There’s also a discussion section where any of the now 4600+ people who are learning the same thing can post and answer questions. I scrolled down quite a bit but couldn’t find a single unanswered question!
Toward the Next Case Study
So that concludes the very first Smart Language Learner case study.
If my results convinced you, and you are interested in the course, you can buy it here.
I enjoyed doing this case study! I learned quite a bit about memory techniques and the results were excellent. I’ll certainly be using more of it in my own language learning.
And it was just the start of the Smart Language Learner case studies.
I hope to start the next one mid-May.