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Learn a language in 48 hours?

22 Nov

Memrise, my favorite spaced repetition site, challenges us to learn a new language in 48 hours. Well, not any language, but the constructed language Toki Pona. Toki Pona is based on Taoist principles and has only 120 root words.

Here is the official Toki Pona site. And you can buy the Toki Pona book here.

Here is a video with a basic lesson in the language:


Cellphone apps for language learning

16 Mar

Zach Simon at The Huffington Post blogs about cellphone apps for language learning. The article is geared for iphone users, for those of us who use Android phones there are also many good language learning programs, I recommend Anki and Memrise, both of which you can sync between your mobile device and your work station.

Beyond that, just do a search for your target language and you’ll be surprised by the wealth of language learning materials available.

Image representing Memrise as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

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Jeopardy! champions use Anki

15 Feb

Readers of this blog know that I am enthusiastic about spaced repetition software, such as Anki and Memrise, as a memory improvement technique.

In an interview with Mental Floss, Jeopardy Champion Arthur Chu describes his use of Anki:

“I used a program called Anki which uses a method called “spaced repetition.” It keeps track of where you’re doing well or poorly, and pushes you to study the flashcards you don’t know as well, until you develop an even knowledge base about a particular subject, and I just made flashcards for those specific things. I memorized all the world capitals, it wasn’t that hard once I had the flashcards and was using them every day. I memorized the US State Nicknames (they’re on Wikipedia), memorized the basic important facts about the 44 US Presidents.”

Here Chu describes his overall Jeopardy! strategy:

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Ed Cooke on memrise

10 Dec

Here is a Guardian video interview with  memory grand master and Mermise founder Ed Cooke:

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An overview of Memrise

8 Jul

I am going to make a bold prediction: spaced repetition software will revolutionize education. Merging the principles of memory first discovered by Hermann Ebbinghaus with sophisticated software now allows us to make difficult memory tasks and make them both easier and more efficient.

Let’s take the example of learning a foreign language vocabulary. Vocabulary learning may be the biggest hurdle for people learning a new language. Spaced repetition software allows you to master vocabulary with small amounts of daily practice. The most persuasive argument I can make here is experiential. I invite you to try Memrise.

Memrise is the brain child of memory grand master Ed Cooke. It is a well designed  online spaced repetition flashcard program.

To use Memrise first visit the homepage:


Click start and create a free account.

mem-log in

After you have created your account you can choose flash cards  from an astonishingly large list of languages and other topics.

mem languages available

Here is my dashboard page showing two of the  languages I am studying

my dashboard

Memrise use a garden metaphor to describe learning. “Planting” means adding words to the list you want to learn, while, “watering” refers to your daily review. To get the most out of Memrise you should plan to water everyday (a process that usually takes just a few minutes) and to plant when you feel ready to move onto to new material.

Everyday, Memrise will test you on some subset of your chosen words. It will do this either by fill in the blank questions or multiple choice.

question answer

The software will evaluate how well you know each word and decide when to ask you again. If you do not know a word it will schedule to ask you again very soon. If you do know a word it increases the interval before it repeats that question. This spaced repetition procedure is known to counteract forgetting.

Memrise also provides you with user generated mnemonics to help you lean words. At the end of each session it gives you a summary of your work for that day. There is a point system that serves as a motivator.

Since this is a web based service you can access Memrise from anywhere. Memrise now has smartphone apps available. Start building a better memory today!


Thoughts on memory books

23 Jun

There are, in general, two types of memory books: scientific studies of memory or self improvement books.

One of my hopes for this blog is to bridge the gap between these two types of literature.

This means that I take seriously many popular books on memory improvement. Writers such as Harry Lorayne, Domonic O’Brien, and Tony Buzan are not scientists but they have made real contributions to memory improvement and should not be ignored. When Harry Lorayne  wrote that “all knowledge and learning is based on connecting new things to things you already know”  he was writing from his own experience and from the tradition of memory self-improvement. Yet, his observation is in keeping with the findings of modern memory science.  More over, Lorayne and others have demonstrated remarkable feats of memory that demand explanation and are worthy of scientific investigation. For example, Domonic O’Brien, once memorized 316 random digits in five minutes. His ability to memorize cards is so good that he has been banned from many casinos.

My only criticism of these popular books is their almost exclusive reliance on mnemonics. Now, mnemonics are a powerful technique that I use all the time, and I will certainly feature them in this blog. However, there are other techniques that are less well known, particularly spaced repetition learning that help us remember  many things that are not easily handled by mnemonics. You can try out spaced repetition learning at Memrise.

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