Today something special – a guest post from Gaëlle Céline Le Vu who is a language learner, teacher and blogger over at the excellent Zouk Side Down.
After reading her articles about Latin dance, and having had a lesson with her in Prague, the next step was to ask her to share her thoughts with you here, as learning a dance such as salsa or zouk is very similar to learning a language.
And in Gaëlle’s case not only is she ‘fluent’ in a few dances, but she knows what it’s like to learn foreign languages. Please feel free to respond to her comments below.
Gaëlle, over to you!
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” (Confucius)
What do you remember 20 minutes after you’ve left the class?
According to German researcher Hermann Ebbinghaus, you would already have forgotten 40% of what you had just “learnt”. This is old news as the first few recorded experiments of this concept actually date back to 1885, where Ebbinghaus tested his memory for periods of time ranging from 20 minutes to 31 days, and then published his findings in “Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology“.
The Forgetting Curve (or Knowledge Recall) describes “the rate in which newly acquired knowledge starts to deteriorate or be forgotten”. In other words, it is how fast you start to forget something you’ve just learnt, and you don’t try to remember it.
As a dancer myself, I can see this happen in a very tangible way. We often learn combinations in dance classes. And as soon as we leave the class, it’s already slipping away from us. If we try to re-do what we just did, let’s say 10 minutes after the class ended, we struggle but we will make it work. However, wait a couple of hours and we may not remember at all about the details…
When you learn a language, this is a lot more difficult to notice. If you are learning vocabulary lists by heart, you will notice it. But learning a language is way more than simply learning vocabulary. How can you become more aware of it and counteract the Forgetting Curve before you forget that you forgot?
Here are 5 tips for you to learn better how… to learn:
- Review your work 10 minutes after the lesson ended.
Concretely, if you are a visual learner that means that you will be re-reading your notes, or reading aloud/speaking for auditory learners, etc. Use the way which works best for you, but just do it 10 minutes after the lesson ended.
You can go for a pee, or have a little chat with your teacher, or take a deep breath and stretch… But since you will have forgotten in 20 minutes almost half of everything you’re going to forget in one whole week, it is worth taking the bull by the horns.
And do the same 1 or 2 hours later. And then the day after… This is called Spaced Repetition. You may want to check out a great site which makes use of this technique and has been made by Czech engineers! – Click to go to Langevo.
“If your goal is to produce long-term retention, and if your goal is to produce behavior change, then what you do after training is more important than what you do during training.”
Art Kohn (learningsolutionsmag.com)
- Make mistakes. And then make a few more.
The more you make mistakes, the more you will pay attention and make your learning memorable. After all, the only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.
- Say it/teach it/explain it to someone.
Instead of just re-reading your notes, why not try to explain what you learnt to someone who doesn’t know about the subject. If you want to remember some words or a language structure, or anything else for that matter, go and use it: Speak to someone about it or just use the structure you want to remember during your talk. Teaching, especially, helps you remember up to 90% of what you’ve learnt.
- Sleep well the night before and the night after.
Right, it sure is easier said than done. But there is a reason you keep hearing this. Sleep helps relax your body. It improves your immunitary system and helps you fight bad stress.
So go and get that damn good night’s sleep!! You’ll really understand why after you get your beauty sleep for a few days in a row.
- Add meaning and context to your learning experience.
Why? Because we remember when we are deeply engaged and we process things deeply. You can make a joke of whatever you’re learning or try using comparisons. Or use the Memory Palace technique.
Like Joshua Foer said in his TED talk: “The idea behind the Memory Palace is to create this imagined edifice in your mind’s eye and populate it with images of the things that you want to remember: The crazier, weirder, more bizarre, funnier, raunchier, stinkier the image is, the more unforgettable it is likely to be.”
— Gaëlle Céline LV (@ZoukSideDown) July 8, 2014
Gaëlle is a French dancer, teacher and blog writer at Zouk Side Down. Her first love in life was learning foreign languages. She went travelling and studied several languages, including English, Spanish, Italian, Finnish, and some basic German, Chinese and Czech.
She was working with horses in England before she moved to Finland in 2008. There she started to dance extensively. At first, it was only a few hours a week, but little by little it grew to 30-40 hours a week, sometimes 50 hours, when dance festivals took place on weekends.
Nowadays she specializes mostly in Brazilian Zouk, which she writes about in her own blog. Because of this, she is preparing to move to Brazil, and has started learning Portuguese. For her, learning and studying languages is a never-ending process.