Memory Card Technique for Learning Foreign Languages

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This time I will show you how to use my memory card technique for learning foreign languages. I started using it while I was still at the University. We were supposed to memorize huge sentences in Latin and ancient Italian language, and as long as they were written on paper in some kind of logical order I somehow managed to reproduce them.

However, as soon as I tried to reach them individually, without context, it became much more difficult. Then I started using these cards, and the results were so fascinating even to me personally, that I immediately classified them as one of my basic teaching techniques.

During my classes, when I finish explaining a new grammar topic, I always give my students a task to translate a few sentences from native to foreign language. These sentences always contain a new grammar topic, some new or less familiar words we mentioned during that class and an actual event, which creates an emotional connection between students and sentences, which they recognize then as close, interesting, and relevant. For me as a teacher, it would surely be much easier to use always the same sentences, already prepared, but then, I would not be able to create that precious emotional connection.

Memory Cards

After we check and correct them, their next task is to copy those sentences to small papers (usually 1/32 of an A4 format, meaning an A4 format folded in half 5 times), so that each sentence is written on the separate paper. In such a way we avoid the effect of the "memorized image", I spoke about last time. The sentence in the mother tongue is always written in blue for example, and its translation is always red, with no intention to create any psychological effects, but to make it easier to pick them up and put them together if they scatter.

I insist on using small papers because it is the only way that we can have them with us all the time, on the plane, in the wallet, or simply in an empty box of chewing gums. Thus, whenever we find ourselves stuck in a queue or in traffic jam, during the day, we can take them out and use this time wisely instead of getting annoyed.

The next phase is, naturally, crucial. We read the sentences in our language (blue side) and try to translate them to the language we want to learn to speak. It is not something that we should learn by heart, because we are already familiar with the grammar and new words in them. We should learn them as an ideal basis for making hundreds of new similar combinations.

When we give the answer, we turn the paper and check its accuracy on the red side. If we make a mistake, we should try to understand why we did it, and then we put that paper on the bottom of the pile. If we are just insecure or insufficiently fast, the paper goes to the bottom again. Only if we give the answer promptly and accurately, we can put that paper aside.

Memory Card Technique for Learning Foreign Languages

When we encounter the same paper for the second time, we should translate it easier. If this is not the case, paper will end up again at the bottom of the pile. After the second and the third round, the pile will start getting smaller, and our attention can concentrate on the most difficult ones. It is important to keep going through them, until we learn the last paper. We should repeat the whole procedure the next day, then in 3, and in 7 days. It is always amazing to see how well some of them manage to escape from our memory.

As a result, we will always have the latest 10 or 20 papers that we know badly, the next 20 that still torture us, but the pile of those ones that we know excellently will grow day in day out, and they represent our real knowledge.

What do we get with this?

  1. We learn some new grammar rules.
  2. We learn some new words.
  3. We create a basic sentence that we can easily adjust to new situations.
  4. Most importantly, we create an automatic response in a foreign language, and therefore spontaneous speech.

I will end this by sharing a personal experience of mine. After several months of studying with these cards, I went to my exam, got my questions, and naturally remembered everything without a problem, but what amazed me and my professors most, was the ease and the speed of my language. It was completely spontaneous and smooth.

Do try this simple system and tell me about your experiences.

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