Learning a language can be difficult.
But it will rewire your brain.
Over the past several weeks, we’ve discussed how the brain grows when learning a second language.
We’ve talked about how the left and right hemispheres process language and how the best approach to learning a language with an old brain is by dropping perfectionism.
This week, we’ll go over some practical tips and tricks for learning a language and improving your memory.
Sleep On It
Language learned just before bedtime ensures better long-term retention, according to a 2016 study in Psychological Science.
The study took two groups, each studying a foreign language 12 hours apart.
One group learned foreign vocabulary – practiced to perfect performance – in the morning and again in the evening.
The other group learned the new vocabulary in the evening, slept on it, and relearned it in the morning.
The study found that not only did the second group demonstrate better retention, but the amount of practice required was reduced by half.
The study concluded:
“Sleeping after learning is definitely a good strategy, but sleeping between two learning sessions is a better strategy.”
Online language learning sites, like Duolingo and Memrise, are so successful due to their algorithms involving spaced repetition.
Spaced repetition is a memory-strengthening method by which words or phrases are learned at intervals ideally spaced for retention.
The intervals are small to begin with, reviewing new words several times in a single practice session until they become familiar, and reviewing them again the following day, mixed in with newer words and phrases.
Then, a day, a few days, a week will go by, and you review the word or phrase again.
Soon, you won’t forget them.
Research has proven that spaced repetition can lead to “a nearly threefold improvement of vocabulary learning gains.”
Now, that’s worth repeating.
Test Comprehension Through Content
When you’re comfortable with your basic language skills, incorporating some content into your learning will boost your abilities.
This can be anything from watching a movie in the foreign language to listening to a podcast or reading a news article.
A 2008 study published by Cambridge University Press showed that learning content in a foreign language, as opposed to strictly learning the language itself, can significantly improve the speaking part of language learning.
The study followed two groups – the control group, which studied French via traditional methods, and the experimental group, which studied a civilization course in French – and looked at four aspects of language learning: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
While the experimental group outperformed the control group in speaking, the control group outperformed the experimental group in writing.
So, if speaking is the area you want to target, mixing in some media in the foreign language you’re studying will enhance it.