Looking back on your school days, you’ll probably recall staying up late the night before to cram for a test. Maybe you got a decent grade, but a week later, did you remember anything you “learned”? Not much, probably.
Without repetition, memories quickly fade. However, if you try to repeat too much at once, your brain gets overloaded.
Let’s say you’re trying to learn the word cão (dog). You sit down and review it 50 times in a row: cão, cão, cão... This is very easy for your brain. You just saw the word a second ago, so there’s no effort involved in continuing to recall it.
Now, imagine you only review it once or twice, then you don’t see it again until the next day. Your brain now has to work harder to find this memory amongst millions of other pieces of information it ingested over the past 24 hours. “What was that word...? I know it started with a c... Oh yeah! Cão!” Making the process more deliberate is what helps to store long-term memories.
The best time to review something is actually immediately before we are about to forget it. It’s like we’re saying to our brain, “Hey, don’t forget this! It’s important!” Essentially, we want to train our brains to make the information last more and more time before forgetting it. Over time, this reinforces the neural pathways that keep information rooted in our memory and easily accessible.
This idea is the foundation of a method called “spaced repetition”. This learning strategy involves regular review, using gradually increasing intervals that adapt to our performance. The things that are hardest are reviewed more frequently, and those we already know quite well are reviewed less frequently. The time in between increases every time we remember something successfully.
Knowing a language is one thing, but being able to use it spontaneously in conversation is another. This is where quick recall plays an important role. Studies show that about 10,000 words are needed to be fluent in a language, so consistent long-term practice is essential. Fortunately, spaced repetition programs make that process more efficient and less ambiguous. Who doesn’t want to learn more with less time and effort?
This strategy can be implemented used with a variety of tools or even physical flash cards. If you’re curious how we’ve applied it to learning European Portuguese on our platform, visit: practiceportuguese.com/worksmarter