M2M Day 166: The art and science of “Spaced Repetition” in language learning

This post is part of Month to Master, a 12-month accelerated learning project. For April, my goal is to hold a 30-minute conversation in Hebrew on the future of technology.

My first attempt at learning Hebrew was during the summer between high school and college, using an audio course called Pimsleur. Pimsleur teaches new vocabulary and phrases using an approach called Spaced Repetition, where new material is reviewed over increasing intervals of time.

So, for example, when a new phrase is taught, the course first focuses only on that phrase for a few minutes, then will reintroduce the phrase after three minutes of other content, then will reintroduce the phrase after seven minutes, then after 15 minutes, and so. Eventually, the phrase will only be reviewed ever couple of lessons.

After writing the above example, I googled around a bit, and found the actual recommended intervals of the Pimsleur method (which is based on the research of applied linguist Paul Pimsleur): 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months, and 2 years. Apparently, this is the optimal sequences of intervals to acquire new vocabulary in a second language.

While my entire Hebrew foundation is build on top of this idea of Spaced Repetition — which, I must say, is highly effective — I’ve done a pretty poor job implementing these ideas into my current month of training.

Basically, every time I have a Hebrew Skype call, in order to ensure my teacher is engaged, I try to bring a brand new topic to the conversation. As a result, I haven’t done a good job circling back to previous topics and reinforcing what I’ve previously learned/practiced.

Starting tomorrow, I will begin to reuse previously discussed topics during my Skype calls. I need to get over my weird fear of being uninteresting to my teacher, and instead, create a schedule that reinforces what I’m practicing through the appropriate amount of repetition.

Sometimes, writing these posts forces me to reflect on my odd, distorted perceptions and how there are getting in the way of optimal learning. “Being uninteresting to a teacher” is definitely a new one, but something I need to address…

Read the next post. Read the previous post.

Max Deutsch is a product manager at Intuit, the creator of Somebody.io and Rightspeed, and the guinea pig for Month to Master.

If you want to follow along with Max’s year-long accelerated learning project, make sure to follow this Medium account.