I know lots of people who spend hours a week working through sudoku (数独・すうどく) squares, crossword puzzles, and brain training apps like Luminosity. Some folks no doubt genuinely enjoy these activities, doing them for leisure’s sake with little to no thought of their supposed “brain benefits”. I suspect, however, that the vast majority of people are forcing themselves through these puzzles because they want to keep their brain young, stave off neurodegenerative diseases, and improve cognitive firepower. The research does indeed seem to support the notion that doing difficult mental tasks can help change how one’s brain is wired and increase “neurogenesis” (a.k.a. “brain plasticity”), but as a biased language addict, I feel compelled to ask the obvious question: Given all the time and energy one spends trying to solve such puzzles, why not just learn a language instead?
Spaced Repetition Systems (or “SRS” for short) are flashcard programs designed to help you systematically learn new information—and retain old information—through intelligent review scheduling. Instead of wasting precious study time on information you already know, SRS apps like Anki allow you to focus most on new words, phrases, kanji, etc., or previously studied information that you have yet to commit to long-term memory. Read on to see how spaced repetition apps work and which SRS tools I recommend.
If you are learning Japanese and/or Mandarin Chinese and have an Android device, I highly recommend checking out Skritter’s new public beta app. As I mention in my review of Skritter, they offer one of the best tools for learning Chinese characters. Instead of traditional flashcards that just test passive recognition, the Skritter site and apps require that you actually write out the characters on the screen or using your mouse/trackpad. This “active recall” approach is far more effective than the self-gradings used in other spaced repetition apps. And best of all, in cases when you have no idea how to write a character, Skritter provides nifty stroke by stroke hints to help you along. If you haven’t tried Skritter yet, now would be a good time as you can get a 3-week trial instead of the 1 week they usually offer. The offer is valid for new accounts activated before August 31, 2014.
I spend lots of my time learning and writing about psychology. Most of my favorite language bloggers do the same. But why? Isn’t all this psychology stuff just a bunch of touchy-feely mumbo jumbo? Isn’t the only important thing in language learning how much you study? Time on task is indeed paramount to success, but the quantity of learning (although important) matters far less than the quality. And what determines the impact of your language learning time? Your psychology. Read on to see the five most insidious obstacles standing between you and fluency.
Stephen Krashen is one of my heroes. He is a linguist, researcher, education activist, and professor emeritus at the University of Southern California. I have wanted to meet him since I began studying linguistics in university, and finally had my chance at Ming Chuan University’s 2009 “Annual Conference on Applied Linguistics” in Taipei, Taiwan. He then agreed to conduct the following interview via email. Note that this interview was originally only available to newsletter subscribers, but since I am now offering Language Mastery Insiders a new bonus each month, I decided it was time for everyone to have the chance to enjoy Krashen’s unique brand of intellect and humor. Enjoy!
I am on a mission to simplify my digital and offline life this year, and have decided that a big part of that is saying goodbye to Facebook. After carefully weighing the pros and cons, I decided that the downsides far outweigh the upsides, and have just hit delete on my account. Read on to see the five reasons why…