foreign language learning tip

Foreign Language Learning – How to Remember What You’ve Learnt

If you’ve ever been on a vacation in a foreign country, you probably learnt few local phrases. You knew how to order the tastiest traditional meal and drink at a restaurant. You learned how to ask for directions. But when you don’t keep that knowledge active, you’ll usually forget it in few months.

“What was the name of that delicious Greek sauce with cucumbers? I used to know that…” Then, you ask someone or you ask Google. “Tzatziki! That’s right! I knew that.”

You knew, but you forgot. Have you ever wondered about the main reasons why people forget information?

Why we forget words as we learn a new language

According to the decay theory, we forget simply because a lot of time passed since we received the information. Over time, the memory traces start fading and disappearing. If we don’t retrieve the information, we lose the memory of it.

Sometimes our memory is selective. We pay attention to things that interest us, but we rush through information that’s boring or not motivating. That’s why we tend to forget grammar rules or words that are not particularly interesting.

Forgetting is a natural process. Think of the brain as a computer hard disk. When it’s so full of information that you can’t store new files, you have to delete some of the old ones. That’s not a proven theory, but it makes sense, doesn’t it?

How to remember new words and learn a new language faster


Now, the question is: can we forget less of the important things we learned when trying to master a new language? Of course! There are few methods that will help you store information in a safe place for a long time. Remember the main rule: if you don’t use it, you lose it. The point is in refreshing the information you learn on regular intervals. We’ll tell you how to do that.

Use contemporary methods of learning

John Dewey was a famous American psychologist, philosopher, and educational reformer. He said a very smart
thing to justify his suggestions for reforming the educational system: “If we teach today’s students as we taught
yesterday’s we rob them of tomorrow.”

That’s a good point. Today, you have access to technology that supports the learning process. There’s no reason to avoid it. AnkiApp, for example, is a flashcard app that follows the principle of spaced repetition. With that method, you’re repeating the information you learn on increasing intervals. You freshen up your memory, so you won’t forget the words and grammar rules you adopt.

You could create your own schedule for spaced repetition and design flashcards by hand. With the app, however,
you’re making your life much simpler.

Learn a new language by immersion or language exchange communities

Do you know why you’re easily learning new words when you’re on a vacation? Immersion is the answer. You’re
surrounded by that language. When you go back to your usual environment, the process of forgetting takes place.
You won’t allow that to happen if you recreate the immersive environment. How? Just connect with native
speakers of the language you want to learn.

Are there any native speakers in your area? If you can find them, start making friends. You can also attend a
meetup with people from that country, which is organized in your area.

Finally, start connecting with native speakers through the Bilingua language exchange app. You can easily find relevant people interested in the language and culture that you want to learn. Start talking to them, so you will constantly practice the language.

Remind yourself: learning a language is important!

What does this have to do with memory? When you’re aware of the fact that something is important, you’re
commanding your brain to remember it. The more you’re focused on learning, the longer the information will stay
with you. You’ll be more focused when you understand why you’re doing this.

Donna Wilson, an expert in the domain of brain-based teaching, wrote this in a post for Edutopia: “Life is full of
irrelevant information and distractions. When researching a topic online, for example, it’s easy to get sidetracked
by entries that are interesting but not relevant to the task at hand. A key aspect of improving working memory is
developing your ability to attend to what’s important now.”

Watching movies is a fun way to learn a new language

The key to success is practice. That’s a golden rule that may sound like a cliché, but it’s true. When you’re not able to find native speakers in your area and you’re not that good at Skyping, how do you recreate the immersion? How do you practice?

ESL teacher, Ted Kliff has the answer: “I encourage my students to improve their memory by watching movies and TV series. I teach English, so I have plenty of choices. My recommendations depend on the students’ age, but I usually go for animated movies or series with clear speech that’s not based on slang. ‘Friends’ is a nice example.”

Make a list of movies and TV shows in the language you’re learning. Start watching them. When you’re listening to that language, it’s unlikely that you’ll forget about it. If you want to take this method up a notch, start repeating
what the actors say. Get your dictionary and check the words you don’t understand. Write them down. This will
definitely help you remember more of the language.

Don’t forget: learning a foreign language is fun!

Learning a new language is an enjoyable experience. You hear strange words and you get amused with your own silly pronunciations. With time and practice, however, you’ll get better. Time can have a devastating effect on your memory, so fight the decay with more practice! You’ll be able to do that if you follow the tips above.


From guest blogger@jamesbaileyev, a passionate traveller who writes educational posts about everything he learns. He also writes for Essays On Time in his spare time.

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