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0C: Active Study

As adults, we have the ability to study grammar and memorize vocabulary. This gives us an advantage over child learners. Grammar study shows us how to break down the language into parts for easier comprehension. Meanwhile, memorization prepares us to acquire the language in three ways: priming, comprehension, and retention.


Have you ever bought a new car and then started seeing the same model everywhere? This is called the Frequency Illusion1.

When you learn a new word, your brain creates a “mental dictionary entry”. This dictionary entry primes your brain to notice the word in immersion. Every time you encounter the word, your brain will put a little more information into this dictionary entry you’ve created. Once you see the word many times, your brain can deduce the meaning and usage of the word.


Remember, we acquire language through comprehensible input. When you memorize the meaning of a word, you add a definition to the mental dictionary entry. Armed with this definition your input becomes more comprehensible. The more you comprehend, the more you acquire.


Forgetting is a natural process of the brain. Every piece of information in your brain is slowly withering away. The brain has an aggressive pruning mechanism that deletes everything that isn’t important to you. If you want to keep a piece of information, then you need to refresh and reinforce it occasionally.

Once you've learned a word and seen it many times in your immersion, it will get acquired. Acquired vocabulary is resistant to your brain’s pruning and takes a long time to be forgotten.

Unfortunately, if you don’t see the word often enough in your immersion, your brain might delete the entry before the word gets acquired. Reviewing these fragile entries occasionally helps retain words long enough for you to acquire them through immersion.

Once you’ve acquired a word, the memory will be strong, but it’s not invincible. To retain words long term, you need to review them around once per year through immersion or study.

Intelligent Memorization

Many of us have used flashcards to memorize words and concepts for school, but these are ineffective for long-term memorization. You eventually forget whatever you don’t review.

In order to retain a word in your long-term memory, it needs to be reviewed occasionally. How often depends on how well you already know it. Ideally, the best time to review something is right before you forget it. If you review a word at these optimal intervals, you can remember enormous quantities of information with minimal review.

Enter the SRS

A spaced repetition system (SRS) is a program that intelligently predicts when you are likely to forget a piece of information. It shows you this information before you forget so you can retain and strengthen your memories.

When you first learn a new word, the associated memory is weak, so the SRS will show it to you often. Over time, as the memory grows stronger, the SRS will show the word to you less and less often. Eventually, you only review the word once per year (or longer) to keep it in your memory.

Anki: The Chosen SRS

Anki is a digital flashcard program based on the SRS concept. It is currently the best option on the market for spaced repetition systems.

Studying in Anki has two components: learning new cards, and reviews.

The first step to memorizing a word is to create the mental dictionary entry for that word. In Anki, this takes the form of “new cards”. Anki lets you choose how many new cards you want to learn each day. Once you have learned a card, it transitions to being a “review card”.

Each day, Anki creates a list of cards you are likely to forget soon. Some may be recently learned. Others, you may not have seen for months or years. You don’t get to choose how many reviews are assigned for that day because you don’t get to choose when your brain deletes information. It is important to keep up with reviews or you will forget.

Anki works extremely well, but ultimately, the algorithm can only guess when you’re going to forget things; it can’t know for sure. Some things always slip through the cracks.

This is why Anki asks for your feedback. When you study a card, you're asked to grade yourself on how well you remembered it. This feedback is used to determine the next time you should see the card.

If you tell Anki you remembered a card well, you won’t see that card for longer than the last time. If you tell Anki that you didn’t remember, you’ll see the card again soon so you can refresh your memory.

Your retention rate refers to the percentage of cards that you successfully remember when reviewing. Anything within the 80%~90% range is great.

In Stage 1, you will set up Anki and begin studying your first set of vocabulary words.


1: Cognitive biases, Wikipedia