Learn languages quickly – My best 4 tips for effective craming
Here are my best tricks which can also revolutionize your learning.
While I was studying theology, I had to memorize a lot of stuff, especially many vocabularies, conjugation sheets and other grammar in a short time. Besides my job, a small additional study of philosophy and a lot of term papers as well as countless compulsory readings there was not much time left for the actual learning itself. I really needed some lifehacks for efficient but still effective learning:
1. Use of modern technology
Nowadays many people have a smartphone. That this is only secondarily a phone everybody should know. But since you carry it always with you, you might also use it as your deck of vocabulary cards. The free and professional learning software Anki helps me independently of my current location to always have my vocabulary learning cards with me. Whether you sit in a bus, wait in the doctor’s office or while eating, you always have your vocabularies at hand. Anki even supports many media types and is not to be reduced to a mere vocabulary learning software. By now you can even download vocabulary decks in many different languages, some even with audio recordings of the pronunciation. You can save everything in the cloud and access it with several devices. But if you focus and type in the vocabularies yourself then you can initially deal with them and much will already stay down. Oh, what a hassle it was to type my Hebrew vocabularies into the software when you have to make sure that every stroke and every tittle is perfectly correct. However, now I can type very fast even on a Hebrew or Greek keyboard 😀
During my one-hour drives to work I had also used a text-to-voice reading app and could already finish some of my set books if I had them digitally. Unfortunately, even modern theological authors very rarely publish digital copies of their books. Yes, you might even almost be grateful if new editions of old books don’t come with the old German type. But you can find out more about my reading hacks in my article “365 books per year – Is this even possible?“.
2. Understanding the forgetting curve
According to the forgetting curve by Ebbinghaus we forget a lot right after we learnt it. Only after multiple repetitions the forgetting curve will get flatter. This means that it is more effective to learn for example vocabularies in the beginning with shorter intervals (many times per day) of repetition. As soon as they have entered our long-term memory the repetition intervals can be drastically stretched. I have experienced that then the quantity of vocabularies doesn’t become a problem anymore. Hundreds of vocabularies per day are realistic with this method. Of course, if you wait days between your repetitions then you might have already forgotten 80 out of 100 vocabularies so that you will learn those 80 words twice. So, 100 vocabularies become effectively 180. Then, of course, it becomes much more difficult to learn hundreds of vocabularies if you have to multiply them. You can adjust the repetition cycles in Anki yourself so that you can apply this learning method. You can also distinguish how well you know certain vocabularies in Anki so that you can use various repetition cycles for different levels of difficulty.
Another tip I can give everyone learning languages is to research the 100 most frequent words of these languages on the internet. As for many things, for learning languages the Pareto-principle is working as well. Applied to languages it says: If you master 20% of all words in a language you can already perform 80% of the conversations. And indeed, a vocabulary of only 100 words are enough to achieve significant and very motivating results. So, the most frequent 25 words of the English language make up for a third of all texts and the top 100 make up one half.
This now might be a little bit off-topic but it is still interesting: The research results of the Natural Semantic Metalanguage show that all languages in the word share some common building blocks. If you only learn those few vocabularies of those building blocks in a foreign language you are already able (even if ponderously) to immediately express all thoughts in this language or to paraphrase.
3. The procrastination killer
We all know it: Sometimes we just really don’t want to learn. Procrastination is the name of this enemy which wants to discourage us from learning and which makes a lot of trouble in other parts of life, too. But now I will tell you my ultimate secret weapon for more discipline against this plague. The truck is very easy. We surrender to our weaker self, but we impose one condition for our capitulation: We bind ourselves to start at least 10 minutes to do our tasks. 10 minutes which are non-negotiable and for which there are no excuses. No discussion! But when still don’t feel like continuing after those 10 minutes then we give in and freely stop. Then, procrastination may defeat us. But I tell you a secret: In 90% of the cases you have already won with this technique. The first step is often the half journey. Once bestirred yourself and started the test will work on its own. And if you a good flow then no one keeps you away from doing some extra hours. More spare time for later and not a half and begun day!
4. Utilize mnemonics
During our studies we had to memorize whole chronological sequences from the life of Jesus in the Gospels. We even had to exactly know some chapter and verse numbers. Or one time we had to learn for every pericope in which of the 3 synoptic Gospels they appear.
To master such a task mnemonics can help you a lot. So, you can for example walk through your city or you can also only imagine doing so. And at certain places you mentally link certain data to it. If you have to recall the data later in the correct chronological order you only have to walk through the city again in your mind. Sometimes this is easy. Other times you have to be very imaginative. But the more absurd your thought connections are the better you will remember these. For example, I can remember very well how I complained to my friend in school that for Latin class I always mix up the vocabularies natare (to swim) and narrare (to tell). Then he replied: “It’s very easy: The word water starts with the letter T therefore natare.” Very absurd! I know. But the chain of associations obviously stayed in my mind.
But how well this walking technique works one of my experiences might be able to illustrate: As you may know from my other article I use my spare time very efficiently so that I often listen to audiobooks while going for a walk and don’t have to memorize some Gospels. So, I did last February when I was in Kuala Lumpur. Currently I am in Kuala Lumpur again. And it’s crazy! When I walk the same ways again very often the chain of thoughts of the heard books pop up in my mind. Most often it is so detailed that I know exactly what the author said at every street corner back then. That way I am able to reproduce content of almost whole chapters even though I had no ambitions to memorize those contents way back in February.
So, if you also want to memorize one day what pericopes belong to which Gospels then search a location for every Gospel combination. Go to these locations and learn them. At best a place where you can see many things. Maybe a cafe in a shopping mall. There are enough impressions with which you can easily link your data you have to memorize.
I hope that these techniques may serve you. If you know some more practical and reliable methods, then you may write them down below in the comment section.