Words make up a language and for language learners, one of the difficult steps is remembering the new words they learn. Every learner aspires to acquire as many new words as they can and they are challenged by it but in most cases, it ends with frustration and disappointment. It might be difficult but you should understand that even in your own language you could still find it hard to remember words that you’ve recently encountered.
You might be asking why memorizing new words is such a difficult task. Several reasons are given as to why this happens. Top of the list is that the human brain in selective in the receipt of information and it discards the unnecessary ones. It works on its own and organizes information according to its own processes.
Forgetting information is beneficial. The objective is to aid the brain to remember important information. Students, particularly language learners, aim to remember as many words as they can. If they fail, they think that their memory is not good and decides that language learning is not suitable to them. But this is a myth.
The brain might have its limitation but it still possesses a remarkable ability to learn and keep information. Rather than think that you have a bad memory, think of how you can use your brain to benefit from its exceptional ability.
If there is a learning curve, there is a forgetting curve as well. The forgetting curve is a mathematical formula that identifies the rate at which an item is forgotten after learning it. It was studied by Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, who did the experiments on memory retention on himself in 1885.
The experiment measures how long the brain can retain information. The forgetting curve shows that information is lost in time if the person does not try to keep it. It graphs the tendency of humans to slowly lose memory of freshly learned information in a few days or weeks unless the person consciously tries to review what he/she has learned.
In his limited and incomplete study, Ebbinghaus randomly memorized short syllables containing consonant-vowel-consonant letters. The syllables were nonsense, such as WID, KEP, ZOF, NUD, SEN, DAL, LAJ, DIF and so on. The result of his study was published in Über das Gedächtnis. It was translated into English later with the title, “Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology.”
The results revealed that when a person learns something on day 1, its memory would fade after a few days. It can be upsetting, but that is a natural process.
While doing his experiment, Ebbinghaus discovered ”overlearning,” meaning that if a person tries hard to memorize something, the person would effectively overlearn it. When one overlearns, the person sees to it that the information would not be forgotten or lost. In a forgetting curve, the overlearned information’s curve becomes shallower.
Results similar to the original data of Ebbinghaus were realized in 2015 during a replication of the German psychologist’s study.
Hermann Ebbinghaus postulated that the speed of forgetting something relies on several factors like difficulty of the material to be learned, the representation of the material and physiological factors like sleep and stress. The primary forgetting rate varies very little among people. He came up with the conclusion that the mnemonic representation skills help make the difference in the performance of the learner.
He added that the best ways to increase memory strength depend on the use of mnemonic techniques and spaced repetition.
Ebbinghaus’ assumption was that each learning repetition increases the most favorable length of time before the succeeding repetition, initially within days but might be within years later. Later studies revealed that increasing the repetition in the original learning results in a slower rate of forgetting.
Improving memory retention
Getting new information goes through three processes – decoding, storage and retrieval, in that order. The brain receives the new information, decodes the information and stores it. Retrieval of the information could be done within minutes, days or later. However, there is something called knowledge gap when something goes wrong in the processes.
Several types of memory exist. Sensory memory means the information is received through the sense of smell, touch or sight. A short-term memory or working memory keeps little bits of information such as remembering a phone number, a code or a password. People use this when they do mental calculations. Long-term memory is used when you want to remember a word.
Just like a muscle, a memory weakens when it stops working. Any faculty or capacity weakens and disappears when it is neglected. When it comes to remembering words, the brain should be stimulated constantly and the best way is to repeat something continuously.
Tips to help you remember
You can use a combination of several methods to help you remember new words, which make up a language. Most of these are basic actions that help you learn.
Your interest in what you are doing improves your ability to memorize new words. You give your learning process a boost if you have interest and passion in the specific subject. When learning a language, you should imagine the possibilities and benefits speaking the language would bring you. If you are passionate about the language you are learning, your memory is going to be enhanced.
2. Attention and concentration
These two factors are key to the learning process. A person’s environment today has many distractions. Focus is needed to improve an individual’s performance. Remove the sources of distraction when you are learning new words so you can concentrate on the learning and commit the words to memory.
Learning involves understanding. If you are able to fully understand a concept or a sentence, you understand the functions of all its parts. Understanding the parts of the sentence will help you remember the language you are learning better.
Adapting your learning style to the structure of the brain helps the learning process. Considered as one the best methods is association. This means that you associate the new information with the stored information in your brain. You can do it through visualization, which is to link a word to an image that is already stored in your brain.
This means taking time to process and store the data. Reviewing your information regularly is one of the best ways to consolidate what you have learned. Repetition tells your brain that the data are important.
Language learning is all about context. You learn the words in the language based on their context in order for your brain to associate the new words with words that you have already learned and to form images. Reading helps to introduce what you are learning in different contexts.
Remembering the language you have already learned
If you have already learned a language but forgot it, it is possible to resurrect it and speak it once again.
One of the things you have to remember is the motivation you had before when you first started learning the language. This motivation would help you to remember.
Forgetting a language is usually due to the fact that you stopped using the language. Time factors in as well. You might also have forgotten the grammar lessons and the vocabulary that you have acquired.
However, since you have learned the language, its memories are still in your brain. They just need reactivation. The recall might not be 100% accurate but it is possible that you have also retained a lot.
What you need to do now is to relearn the language, which you can do by looking back and thinking about why you stopped learning or using the language. You should also look at what is motivating you to speak the language once again.
Next, you should use your facility with the language. Check how proficient you still are after all the years. You can assess your language proficiency through self-administered tests you can find online. By taking an assessment test, you’ll know your current linguistic level, which will help you determine the starting point in relearning the language. Using this pre-test could help you with the post-test or the assessment test you can take after relearning the language to see how much improvement you have made.
Even if you already know something about the language, think of yourself as a beginner and have a learning schedule that you should strictly follow. Make the schedule for relearning shorter and tighter, so you do not lose motivation. Set up small goals and follow your deadlines so you do not linger too much at any topic, unless needed.
It would be of great help if you can find and use the study materials you used originally. It can help you remember what happened during the first time you learned the language.
After this, you can start following the other steps in learning a language as a beginner, such as immersing yourself in the language, finding a tutor or language exchange partner, using flashcards and recording your learning in the target language. You can also read and listen to children’s stories to help you strengthen the basics in the foreign language.
Using the translation services of Day Translations, Inc. means that you do not have to struggle to remember the new words in the foreign language you are learning. It could take years before you become a fluent speaker of another language. Why wait that long? You can immediately understand content written in another language by having it professionally translated.
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