Language Learning Tip #24

(Continued from Tip #23))


“I learn the words, but I seem to forget after a few days.”


20 Flashcards, 4 boxes, and the principle of spaced retrieval.


In the last tip we talked about the principle of “spaced retrieval.” Now we will talk about the flashcards and boxes and how we can use them to put the vocabulary that you choose into your longer-term memory.

Here’s how it works. As you read about this process, imagine yourself doing it. If you merely read it, this explanation is going to get very tedious. Even go through the motions with your hands as you follow this step-by-step description of the technique.

Day 1-session 1: You choose 20 words you want to learn – to put into your receptive/passive vocabulary. On one side of each card you write the Arabic word and on the other side, a simple translation, symbol, or picture that gives you the general meaning. You then drill by looking at the Arabic side, saying the word ALOUD and thinking of the meaning. Once you can recall each meaning twice, you put the cards into box #1.

Day 1-session 2: Then, later on the same day – at least an hour later, you return, take the words from box #1, look at the Arabic, say it aloud, and see if you remember the meaning. If you get it right, it goes into box #2. If you cannot recall the meaning, it goes back into the first stack, not box #1.  You now have some words in the stack – the ones you forgot. Your box #1 is empty, and box #2 has the words you remembered.

Day 2-session 1: You start at box #2. Take the cards from the box, say the Arabic, and see if you can recall the meaning. If you can recall the meaning of the word, the card goes right into box #3. If you cannot remember the meaning, the card goes all the way back to the beginning to the first stack, not box #1. At the end of this step, both box #1 and box #2 are empty, but hopefully box #3 has some cards in it. Next, you return to the first stack and count the cards. If you have 10 cards in the stack, you should add 10 new cards. That is, you always start with 20 cards. Drill these 20 words in the same way you did on day 1-session 1. At the end of this session you will have no cards left in your stack, 20 cards in box #1, nothing in box #2, and hopefully some cards in box #3.

Day 2-session 2: After at least an hour, you return to box #1. (Leave box #3 for tomorrow.) Drill the Arabic words aloud as always. The words you remember will go into box #2 and the ones you cannot remember will go into the stack again where they will await your return tomorrow. So now, at the end of the session, you have possible some cards in your stack, nothing in box #1, hopefully some cards in boxes #2 and #3.

Before we move to day #3, let me summarize:

— Your stack of words is made up of either new words or words you forgot.

— Box #1 is your “same day box.”

Box #2 is your “next day box.”

Box #3 is your “after at least 2 days box” (It could even be a week).

— And finally, box #4 is reserved for “retired” words that you have successfully remembered even after a two-day (or a week?) period.

It would be a good idea to label these boxes accordingly – hours box, one day box, long-term memory box, retired word box.

Day 3-session 1: Start with box #3. If you remember the meaning, you retire the word into box #4. If you don’t … yes, that’s right, you return it all the way to the first stack. Then you move to box #2 (your remembered words from yesterday). Drill. All the words you now remember go into box #3, but the words you forget go all the way back to the first stack. You look in box #1 … “Oh yes, that’s right, it’s empty because this is only session 1 today. Then you start with the stack. How many are there? 18? OK add 2 new words today. As before, work with these 20 words until you remember each one twice and put them into box #1.

Day 3-session 2: You return to your boxes later on day 3, you notice you have cards in boxes #1, #2, and #3. Where to start? Start with #3 and work your way down. Remember, if you fail to recall a word, the card goes all the way back to the beginning stack. After you have done all three boxes, leave the stack of forgotten words for the next day.

Day 4 and beyond:  Each day session one is when you add your new words and try to fill up box # 1. Session two is when you are only testing yourself on all the words.


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