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Learning Quantity
 

There is often a fatal contradiction between how much and how long people seem prepared to study: many end up learning huge amounts of information in a very short time. Many young students seem addicted to this kind of 'learning style.' They don't study until the end of the semester and then cram for their tests until four in the morning for a week. It may work. Lucky students will pass the exam. In fact, this attitude shows that learning means very little to these students. Others make the same mistake. People often pick up a language book the day before leaving for their dream holiday. Some tourists will be able to mutter some words in the foreign language when abroad, but this is not going to make them fluent nor can they honestly say that they speak the language.

If you care to learn what you study, you should invest some energy in a better learning method. Instead of 'a lot just once,' try 'a little and often.' Memorizing for a short time is not learning. If you truly learn something, you know it inside out, you can do it with your eyes closed, you don't even need to think about it... You get the idea! And if you don't practice enough, you don't learn.

You may be exposed to a lot of information and be able to take it all in. There may be times when you can't avoid cramming. However, this is a case of 'more haste, less speed' or 'small is beautiful.' It is easier to practice and learn smaller loads, one after the other. Memory is more comfortable -- and successful -- handling only a certain number of data at the time. Remember the 'seven plus or minus two' rule. [more ...] Besides, you need time to rehearse the information. Only when it becomes second nature, the information has been truly learned.

 

Recognition and Recall

As you know, there are many 'types' of memory. [more ...] Two important definitions are 'recognition' and 'recall.' They are particularly significant in the learning process.

We call here 'recognition' the process that takes place when you recognize something that you studied previously. You read a certain piece of information some time ago, for instance, and when you revise and come across it again, you recognize it.

The process of 'recall,' instead, enables you to remember without any clues. When you revise what you studied, you do not need to come across the same piece of information to be able to remember it. You can recall the information, are able to explain it, and can use it correctly.

The problem, as far as knowledge goes, is that recognition is deceptive. When you recognize information you came upon before, you usually assume that you know it too. It looks familiar and therefore you think you know it. However, you may not be able to produce it without clues. Even worse, you may have not actually understood it and do not know its correct use. Only if you can remember something spontaneously and explain or use it correctly, you do know it.

 

When you plan your schedule, divide the material in suitable-sized bits. Organize the order in which you should learn each 'chunk.' Even though it may not always be possible to create a linear system, there must be a certain order that you have to follow to understand the subject: you have to learn A first and then B in order to understand C, and so on. A gradual approach is essential. Easier bits should come first and difficulty should increase slowly and evenly. Learn the basics well first, and progress to more complex information only when you feel confident with the easier bits. This makes it so much easier to learn!

 

Memory Tip

If you have to learn a vast amount of information, highlight the main concepts or facts. Divide all the information in groups, each one under one key concept or fact. Subdivide the information under each concept or fact into smaller groups still, finding the main idea of each and using it as a 'title' for the group. Continue like this until you have broken down the information into groups that are small enough to be memorized easily. While this seems to multiply the work, in fact it organizes the information into well-defined 'chunks' that are easier to commit to memory.

If you have to memorize a vocabulary list of a foreign language, divide it up into smaller groups. For example, you are given the following list of words:
coco (coconut), fresa (strawberry), cocinar (to cook), piña (pineapple), loco (crazy), cocer (to cook), cereza (cherry), zoco (left-handed), cocinero (cook), naranja (orange), poco (little), cocido (cooked), manzana (apple), foco (focus), cocina (kitchen)

Group 5 words together in any order that makes sense or is convenient: for instance, a) words that have a similar sound, b) terms that have a related meaning, c) nouns that belong to the same category. You could divide the list above like this:

a) coco, foco, loco, poco, zoco
b) cocer, cocinar, cocina, cocinero, cocido
c) cereza, fresa, manzana, naranja, piña

 

Gradual Progress in Language Learning

Have you ever felt frustrated when trying to learn something because you found yourself suddenly at a loss? When we learn a foreign language, we often find it difficult to follow a whole course through. The problem is that the first lessons seem manageable: the material is quite straightforward and we may tend to go over it rather quickly because everything seems 'easy.' Just one lesson ahead, however, and we are lost. There is a sudden jump in the difficulty of the material and we don't understand anymore.

This is partly because the information was not introduced gradually enough. There is no even progression in the content: suddenly you are faced by a lot of rules or complicated explanations. Avoid these sudden 'jumps.' Stay clear of material that uses difficult examples to explain simple rules, for example. A basic word or point should be used in an equally simple example. If you are a beginner in Spanish and are learning how to use the word 'carta' (letter), what example would you find easier to understand?
- La
carta está aquí.
(The letter is here.)
- Ésta es la
carta que mi hermano me envió de Madrid la semana pasada.
(This is the letter that my brother sent me from Madrid last week.)

The other cause of confusion is that we have not built a solid foundation at the beginning. Skipping through rules that look easy is not going to help us form a solid knowledge of the language. While it is advantageous to be motivated and looking forward to learn a lot, you should not just learn bits and pieces of information here and there. Refrain from learning just lists of words, for example. Focus on learning whole sentences and understanding how the words are put together in the way they are. Learning words is much easier once you have a good grasp of the grammar. At an intermediate level, you will be more effective at picking up vocabulary because you will know most of the rules that govern the language.

Make it easier for yourself: learn the basic grammar of the language first, and learn it step by step. Learn a small number of rules at the time, and practice them with related vocabulary. Keep the rules simple and the words limited until you feel completely confident with the material. This gradual approach makes your progress steadier from the beginning. At a later stage, it also helps you understand and use more complex material faster.

 

Conclusions

Having a good learning method not only helps you getting off to a good start, but makes it easier to progress when the subject becomes more challenging.

To memorize and learn better, divide the material in manageable 'chunks,' and order them trying to keep an even progression in the level of difficulty.

Opt for a gradual approach that allows you to understand and 'digest' each bit of information before moving on to the next one.

 


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