How Spaced Repetition Will Help You Learn Your Target Language

Whether it’s learning for a university exam or trying to memorise new vocabulary in your target language, any learner can benefit from the spaced repetition technique. Spaced repetition makes you put more emphasis on revising new information and practising it at an increasing interval to make it easier to remember in the long run.

While we covered what spaced repetition entails in a previous blog post, today we’re taking a look at some concrete techniques you can benefit from spaced repetition in your language learning process.

The Leitner system

The Leitner system is named after a German journalist who first came up with the idea. It is a technique for learning vocabulary that makes use of spaced repetition. In essence, the system makes learning new vocabulary from flashcards easier and more efficient.

Flashcards with new words (or anything else you’d like to memorise) are set into one pile. If you successfully memorise a word, it gets moved to the next pile which is revised less frequently. There can be a varying number of piles, each revisited at a longer interval but, if you happen to forget a word, it gets sent back to either the first (most frequently revised) or the previous pile, making you spend more time revising words you’re not sure of.

Although this video uses world capitals instead of new vocabulary words, it does a great job of introducing the system:

Language learning apps

If you’ve ever used a language learning app, you’re familiar with spaced repetition. Duolingo, Memrise, or Anki – all of the best apps in the business use this technique to help you remember information better.

If you’re a dedicated app user, they will help you revise new vocabulary even before you start to forget it, making the neural connections in your brain stronger so that new information is easier to retrieve in the long run. And, if you’ve ever paid attention to how they do it, it’s clearly with spaced repetition: when you finish a new chapter in Duolingo, you’ll have to revise it more often in the next few days than the easier lessons you’ve already completed – the very essence of this learning technique.

Upgrade your language learning routine

We’ve previously covered how important it is to create a successful language learning routine and spaced repetition is another learning tool that you definitely need in your toolbox. Take a look at the other techniques that will help your learning routine succeed and simply incorporate spaced repetition. Hacking your brain to help you memorise your target language better is exactly the type of thing you can do to fast-track your way to fluency.

The beauty with this system is that after you’re confident about knowing the new material, you don’t need to spend too much time worrying about it and simply need to go over the information occasionally, not requiring you to add too much time to your daily learning schedule.

Remember the forgetting curve

In a way, spaced repetition is simply an antidote to the forgetting curve. The forgetting curve is an idea (and mathematical formula) that predicts how fast something is forgotten after it’s initially learned. The curve starts off very steep, meaning that you’re very likely to forget new information if you don’t put it to immediate use. But the curve levels out over a number of days, which means that if you don’t forget something almost immediately, you’re much more likely to continue to remember that information over a much longer period of time. And so, spaced repetition is a way of essentially flattening out the otherwise steep curve.

The following video does a very good job of explaining how spaced repetition is an antidote to the normal forgetting curve:

Conclusion – Use spaced repetition with flashcards or learning apps to overcome the forgetting curve

Spaced repetition is an excellent way of retaining more information over a long period of time. Use the Leitner system when you make your own flashcards to learn new vocabulary or see how spaced repetition helps you in pretty much every language learning app out there. Incorporating this learning technique into your daily learning routine will help you successfully overcome the forgetting curve and remember information better, helping you get fluent in your target language much quicker.