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How Spaced Repetition Helps You Learn A Language

Updated: Oct 9, 2019

Photo by meo from Pexels

Many people have told me they’re “bad at languages.” They wish they could another learn another one, but they got terrible grades in high school French class, forget everything...and so on.

What if I told one is bad at learning languages? (We’ve all learn our first, after all.) You just haven’t found the right techniques to make that learning stick.

Spaced repetition is a highly effective method that improves your memory and reinforces what you’ve learned.

What is Spaced Repetition?

Spaced repetition is a learning technique that involves reviewing new information at different intervals to help you store it in your long-term memory. Think flash cards.

The old school way of doing this is to create your own vocabulary flash cards and review them. Once you go through the deck, set aside the easy ones. Then, maybe 10 minutes later, review the more difficult ones again.

You can create a second stack for medium-hard words and review them the next day. As for the easy ones, you may want to go back to them in two or three days. The point is, you’re spacing out the time frame for reviewing vocabulary based on difficulty. This helps reinforce the new words in your memory.

Spaced Repetition Software (SRS)

If you don’t want to make your own flashcards, there are plenty of SRS options that will create them for you. They’ll also track your progress and tell you when you need to review again. Some popular SRS apps include:

SRS, Paper Flash Cards, or Both?

You may be wondering, which is better? An SRS app or paper flash cards? Well, it depends.

Do you learn better by getting your hands on a physical product? Then paper flash cards will work better for you. Plus, you can make notes or draw on them to help jog your memory. The drawback is that you won’t have an app reminder pop up to get you to log in and review. But you can set a reminder yourself.

If you prefer apps, you’ll definitely want to download one. You’ll get the benefits of being reminded to study and the app will decide when you need to review what. The drawback is that our brains probably still learn better by reading the printed word. So, get your hands on a newspaper, graphic novel, beginners’ short stories, or other printed materials to help you practice. (It’s an important step for all language learners, regardless of learning style).

There’s also no reason why you can try out both to see which you prefer. Or practice with paper flash cards and through your app.

Regardless of which spaced repetition method you use, it’s an excellent way to review vocabulary and reinforce what you’ve learned. But it’s only one tool of many that you’ll need to become fluent in speaking, reading, and writing. By trying out new techniques, you’ll not only learn which ones work best for you, but you’ll give all aspects of your language learning a work out!


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