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When our brain processes information, it may store it in its long-term memory system and retrieve it when necessary.
That’s exactly what we want it to do when we’re learning languages.
We do our best to memorize different words and grammar rules and we want to keep that information fresh. When we want to remember something, we are willingly bringing information from our unconscious level to the conscious mind.
However, the brain doesn’t have the capacity to store every single detail we see, hear, think, and sense in the long-term memory. Before being dismissed or stored in the long-term memory, all information has to go through the working memory.
When we are learning a foreign language, we want all words, grammar rules, and culture references to be stored in the long-term memory.
Unfortunately, this system doesn’t react according to our wishes:
“Okay brain, I want you to store this grammar lesson in the long-term memory folder. And I don’t want you to remember that dress I wanted to buy. Delete that wish from the system.”
Well, it doesn’t work that way.
How exactly do we train our brain to store important information in the long-term memory system? That’s what the following tips are all about.
Active Memory Training: 7 Methods that Work for Language Learners
1. Spaced repetition
According to the principle of spaced repetition, you’re learning more effectively when spreading the process over time, as opposed to studying a huge volume of material in a single session.
The trick is to remind your brain of important information before it gets the chance to forget it. With this learning method, the words and grammar rules will constantly stay fresh in your mind.
How exactly can you do that?
- Organize flashcards in a box. As you make progress with the language lessons, don’t forget to go through the flashcards from an older lesson. If you answer the question on a flashcard correctly, you can put it in a section that you’ll revisit less frequently. If you don’t get the right answer, you should remind yourself of the lesson and move the card into a section that’s scheduled for frequent visits.
- Use apps. Anki is a desktop program as well as a web app which allows to create, organize and review tons of flashcards. You can add virtually anything to your cards: text, audio clips, videos, images, scientific markup, you name it. Another awesome feature is that you can download thousands of flashcards created by other users on any topic. And the best part is that spaced repetition is in the base of its algorithm to ensure an effective learning process.
Sometimes you think you got the lesson, but you missed some nuances that affect your full understanding.
When you take a quiz immediately after a grammar or vocabulary lesson, you will evaluate your knowledge.
Don’t forget: someone should check those answers, so you’ll know exactly where you made a mistake. Then, you’ll correct the mistakes and those corrections will stick within your long-term memory.
Fortunately, all language-learning apps test your knowledge with quizzes after each session. They automatically evaluate the results, so you won’t have to create your own tests and search for someone to check them.
Don’t skip those steps when you rely on an app or online language learning system.
Why do you think language teachers ask their students to write mini-essays and short stories as frequently as possible?
It’s not about burdening the learners with assignments; it’s about finding a way to help them use grammar and vocabulary in context.
Start a blog. You can make it anonymous if you’re not confident enough to share your practice under your name. Write about random things that inspire you, and you’ll definitely improve your memory through this practice.
If you’re not ready to share your words with the world, write in Penzu – a private online diary. Your entries can be about your thoughts, daily experiences, or opinions on different topics. Needless to say, you’ll be writing these entries on the language you’re trying to learn.
4. Watching comedy shows
Do you know how many people have improved their English language skills by watching Friends? We don’t have a precise number, but it’s probably big.
U.S. researchers studied the ability of older people to remember something if they’ve been laughing. The explanation was simple: stress has a negative effect on memory, and laughter reduces stress. As a result, laughter can improve our brain’s capacity to retain information.
Find TV comedy shows or YouTube videos on your target language. You can rely on subtitles at first, but try leaving them out after some time.
When you laugh, you’re emotionally responding to the words you hear. That emotional response will stimulate your brain’s long-term memory.
When you’re depressed or stressed out, you have difficulties to notice and remember details, since you’re too focused on your emotions.
Think about this situation: you’re in the doctor’s office, waiting for your diagnosis. This is a stressful moment. When you get back home, you can hardly remember the advice of your doctor in details.
Stress takes a lot of energy from your whole body, so it interferes with the brain’s ability to encode new information.
- Learn and practice relaxation techniques.
- Find YouTube videos with relaxing music.
Before you can relax, you need to find out what’s stressing you out. Do you have too great expectations from the language lessons? Maybe your own approach is causing the stress. Instead of expecting too much, just engage in the process and let it flow.
6. Eat well
When you’re energized, your focus is improved.
We take most of our energy from food, so it’s important to eat well throughout the day.
Eating well doesn’t mean eating a lot, though. Do you notice how you’re feeling sleepy after a plentiful meal? That’s because your digestive system needs a lot of energy to process the food, so there’s not enough life force left for your brain to function with its full capacity.
- When we say eat well, we refer to lots of fruits and vegetables throughout the day. These are the foods that are giving you energy, but don’t waste too much energy to get digested. Have a healthy meal in the morning. Instead of chips and candy, have smoothies, juices, and fruit for snacks. You’ll feel much fresher once you change your diet. That state will reflect itself on the brain’s ability to retain information.
7. Find your motivation
Why are you learning this language?
Do you have a motivating reason that pushes you forward? You’re not doing it out of boredom, are you?
When you find your inner motivation, your brain will be willing to collaborate. You’ll keep reminding yourself that it’s important to remember the words and phrases you’re learning.
Think of the direction. When you’re trying to understand grammar concepts that are giving you headaches, keep in mind that the grammar will help you learn the language, and the language will help you achieve the goals you have in mind.
The strength of your memory is a crucial concept in language learning. You need to train your brain in the right way if you want to become a more productive learner.
The tips you just went through will help you get there.
Antonio is a hopeless optimist who enjoys basking in the world’s brightest colors. He loves biking to distant places and occasionally he gets lost. When not doing that he’s writing for an online writing service EduGeeksClub. He will be happy to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter.