Ebbinghaus and Forgetting

When learning foreign language vocabulary, repeated practice is essential for success; as words get established in the long-term memory, learners can move on and focus on new skills.

Two effects are at play in this process: the spacing effect, the finding that short practices spaced out over time is better for learning than cramming; and its related finding, known as the lag effect, which states that learners improve if they gradually increase the spacing between practices.[1]

These ideas go back to 1885, when German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus pioneered the concept of the forgetting curve. He tested his ability to remember a string of words over different periods of time and found a consistent pattern to the decline of his ability to recall these words over time. Immediately after the learning experience, his recall was 100 percent, but memory dropped steeply the first few days. Further, he found that the memory loss was exponential, meaning it increased by the square of the previous number until finally flattening out at around 30 days post-learning.

According to Ebbinghaus’ findings, the way to counter the forgetting curve (i.e. learners are more successful) when they plan short practice sessions and gradually increase the amount of time between each session.

[1] ‘Repeating list items leads to better recall when the repetitions are separated by several unique item than when they are presented successively; the spacing effect refers to improved recall for spaced versus successive repetition (lag > 0 vs. lag = 0); the lag effect refers to improved recall for long lags versus short lags.’

– Kahana. M.J., Howard. M.W. (2005) Spacing and lag effects in free recall of pure lists Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 12 (1), p. 159-164

Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system.

For many students, time is an enemy. Or at least something tricky to get their heads around. The Pomodoro Technique allows people to work together with time instead of against the clock. It also allows them to manage priorities better and eliminate procrastination. It may even increase the enjoyment of relaxing between study sessions because the student does not have to worry about questions like “Should I be working right now?”

“Let us study things that are no more. It is necessary to understand them, if only to avoid them.” – Victor Hugo

The Pomodoro is not just about helping people get things done in the present; it is also about learning how you work so you can save time in the future: Once students have got the hang of the technique, they are more likely to predict how many Pomodoros it will take to accomplish their next study task.

There are five basic steps to implementing the technique:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the timer to P minutes (usually 25 minutes).
  3. Complete the session.
  4. Take a short break (usually 5 minutes).
  5. After four sessions, take a longer break (usually 15–30 minutes).

Anecdote: Dr Johnson

Dr Johnson once boasted that he could recite from memory whole chapters from Horrebow’s Natural History of Iceland, for example Chapter LXXII. The title and text of the chapter simply reads:

Concerning Snakes.

There are no snakes to be met with throughout the whole island.

Conversations: Memory

Our memories will always have a problematic relationship with everything that is true.

I find it hard to believe anything I do not recall vividly. Now, something I do not remember may well be true, but I must say it rarely convinces me. For instance, it seems I have been here forever; I do not remember not existing.

See other: Philosophical Conversations

On Memories

“When a memory fails to appear, it seems as though the time when it was created did not really exist, and maybe that is true. Time itself is nothing; only the experience of it is something. When that dies, it assumes the form of a denial, the symbol of mortality, what you have already lost before you lose everything. When his friend had said something similar to his father, his response had been, If you had to retain everything, you’d explode. There’s simply not enough space for it all. Forgetting is like medicine; you have to take it at the right time.”

Cees Nooteboom

Method of Loci

The word loci derives from the Latin locus meaning ‘place’. The method of loci is the oldest known formal method of using spatial locations to remember data.

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
– Mark Twain

The method was originally used by students of rhetoric in ancient Rome when memorizing speeches. To use it one must first memorize the appearance of a physical location; for example, the sequence of rooms in a building.

“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.”
– Antonio Porchia

The method is a general designation for mnemonic techniques that rely on memorised spatial relationships to establish, order and recollect memorial content. When a list of words, for example, needs to be memorized, the learner visualizes an object representing that word in one of the locations. To recall the list, the learner mentally walks through the memorized locations, noticing the objects placed there during the memorization phase.

See other: Admin’s Choice Posts