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
nature, the information has been truly learned.
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!
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),
(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
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
This is partly because the information was
not introduced gradually enough. There is no even progression
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?
carta está aquí.
letter is here.)
- Ésta es la carta que
mi hermano me envió de Madrid la semana
(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.
• 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
• 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.