Spaced repetition is one of the most powerful techniques we have to improve your brains long-term ability to recall what you learn! Knowing how to effectively use spaced repetition for language learning is so important.
It can have a massive, positive impact on how efficiently you are learning your target language and how much time you need to spend studying and reviewing.
Keep reading to find out what exactly spaced repetition is, how to use it to to help you learn your target language better, and what sites / apps are best suited for language learners.
What is spaced repetition?
Spaced repetition is an evidence based (EBE) learning method that involves reviewing and recalling information at very specifically spaced intervals. The goal is to reduce the time needed to study, while simultaneously increasing the ability to accurately recall long-term.
It’s foundation lies upon the idea of ‘The Forgetting Curve’ that Hermann Ebbinghaus suggested.
The Forgetting Curve and a diagram of how it works is pictured above.
The idea behind this curve is that when someone first learns something, they start to forget it very soon thereafter. If they do not review it, their curve of forgetting is a fairly steep decline into 0% retention.
However, if this person reviews what they learned back to 100% retention, that new curve of forgetting is less steep. It takes them longer to forget what they studied. They are also less likely to forget it completely!
Each time a person reviews something, the curve becomes less steep and it takes them longer to forget it. Eventually, they don’t even need to review something again to accurately recall it long-term!
The main idea is that spaced repetition takes The Forgetting Curve and creates a study plan to achieve the most success in the shortest amount of time via reviewing something according to specific, optimally spaced intervals.
What are optimally spaced intervals?
These are the intervals that tell you when you will review the information you have learned.
There is no “perfect” interval and there are many different study plan intervals for you to choose from.
The reason there is no one-size-fits-all for interval spacing is due to several factors. Most importantly:
- What the topic is and how complex it is
- How much you need to study and if you have a deadline
- What your mental learning capacity is
- If you have any pre-existing knowledge on the topic
It is a good idea to pick one interval spacing plan and test it out for a couple of weeks. If its not working well, just adjust the plan as needed or just pick a new interval plan!
One of the most common plans is shown in the image below. Day 1 (you first learn the topic) > after two days (review 1) > after one week (review 2) > after 2 weeks (review 3) > after one month (review 4).
As its most basic, you can also always just double your intervals! I.e, 1 day, 2 days, 4 days, 8 days, 16 days, etc.
Once you have the interval you want to use, there are two ways to go about reviewing according to your spaced repetition intervals.
You can either study all of the information on each of these intervals – meaning the topic progresses together, as a whole, and you do not repeat any intervals (focusing on speed). For example, you study the subjunctive tense in Spanish. You study it, as a whole, on day 1, then after 2 days, then after a week, etc.
Or you can use the Leitner System, which involves breaking the topic up to stagger it and studying at all of the various intervals simultaneously (focusing on accuracy). For more information about the Leitner System and how to use it for language learning, keep reading!
Why should I use spaced repetition as a language learner?
The spaced repetition study method great for learning anything, however it is particularly helpful for language learners!
As Gabriel Wyner stated in his book Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language and Never Forget It (which is one of my top recommendations for a gift for language learners, by the way!) spaced repetition is the best method for language learners:
“Spaced repetition is extraordinarily efficient. In a four-month period, practising for 30 minutes a day, you can expect to learn and retain 3600 flashcards with 90 to 95 percent accuracy. These flashcards can teach you an alphabet, vocabulary, grammar, and even pronunciation. And they can do it without becoming tedious because they’re always challenging enough to remain interesting and fun.”Gabriel Wyner
As you can see, you can benefit your studies immensely by studying just a short bit each day with this method. You can pack so much into such little time and it can encompass all features of language learning.
What’s the best way to use Spaced repetition for language learning?
Perhaps the most common way to incorporate spaced repetition into language language is to use flashcards and the Leitner System, shown in the image above.
Whether online (with an automatic algorithm) or with physical flashcards (and physical boxes, like in the image), this method will help you make your study routine very effective!
If you use physical flashcards, you first need to gather five boxes (or set aside five sections of an area/container) for the different intervals. Place all of the flashcards into the first box. Next, study the flashcards at the time intervals shown. If you get a card correct, you move it up a box. If you get it wrong, you move it down one box or all the way to the front, depending on the style you choose.
So on the first day, you will review the first box and all of the flashcards. The next day, you will only review box 1 – so the ones you got wrong from day one. The ones you got correct will be in box 2 and those will be reviewed by you the day after! Each day, you study only the interval(s) that apply to that date and always move the cards up and down, depending on your recall accuracy.
The best part of the Leitner System and spaced repetition is that it is all 100% customizable to you!
The image above gives one example of a great spacing interval, however you can adjust it as you wish.
Perhaps you think you would benefit more from longer intervals. You can easily switch the boxes to all be 2x as long. For example, you’ll now study the first box every 2 days, the second every 4 days, the third every 2 weeks, and so on.
As previously mentioned, you can also decide if, when you recall a card incorrectly during review, you just move it down one box or if you move it all the way back to first box – no matter where it was! So even if a flashcard was in the last box, if you got it wrong, you might chose to move it all the way back down to box 1.
You can also decide if you wish to permanently retire the cards after the 5th box, or if you want to keep them in there. Or even in a special 6th box, for the occasional review every few months of so!
If you do retire the cards, it is at this point that you believe them to be in your long-term memory and you will no longer review them again!
It is important to note that the main goal here is to distribute your studies over a span of time and to avoid cramming!
As Herman Ebbinghaus stated,
“With any considerable number of repetitions, a suitable distribution of them over a space of time is decidedly more advantageous than the massing of them at a single time.”Hermann Ebbinghaus
So no matter the method and interval spacing you choose, be sure to keep this in mind.
You want to be in the process of forgetting what you learned each time you review it. Not before or after! If you review too early, you are not challenging yourself enough and you can waste precious time. If you review too late, you can forget much more than you should for an efficient review!
What are the best resources for language learners?
There are tons of resources that use automatic spaced repetition algorithms to help you learn!
Here are some great options for you to try out today. They each have their own, unique algorithms and styles, so be sure to test out a few (or all!) to see what will work best with your personal plan and your target language.
You have probably heard of this open-source resource before! It is an app and a website. This is perhaps the go-to site and app to study flashcards via spaced repetition for language learning.
What makes Anki so great is the customization it allows (with images, audio, study settings, scheduling, and so much more) and its shareability.
You can find tons of Anki flashcard decks online for just about every language! No matter if you wish to study an alphabet, pronunciation, grammar, vocab, idioms, song lyrics, or more – there is likely a deck out there (if not hundreds) that you can download and use! If you cant find the perfect deck, you can just create your own!
This great resource is one of my favorites. It is an app and a website. Read all about it and it’s features here!
Memrise is similar to Anki, however with a bit less customization, but therefore a lot more visual appeal and gameification. Of course, that is not at all necessary for language learning, but it can be very nice!
Memrise has also (somewhat recently) branched out to not only offer flashcards, but also full lessons (with audio and video) to accompany the official flashcard courses – all managed via spaced repetition! I would highly recommend checking to see if your target language is available in one of these courses.
On top of this, like Anki, Memrise has a large database of courses, but you can also just create your own! On Memrise, you can easily search for or create any course via the desktop site.
This is similar to Anki, in that it is a straightforward and customizable program. This resource is an app and a website!
Despite its simple appearance, you can do quite a bit with Mochi! You can link to other cards, create drawings, add audio/video/images, create diagrams, utilize built-in multilingual dictionaries, and more. For some of these features, though, you do need a subscription.
Another great feature of Mochi is that you can even import Anki decks! There are hundreds of thousands of Anki decks online and so being able to use them into this program is amazing. You might even decide you like Mochi better than Anki!
This spaced repetition resource (an app and a website) was created by Piotr Woźniak, a Polish researcher. He dedicated a large portion of his life to create the ‘perfect’ spaced repetition software. The algorithms he and his team created are some of the most famous in the realm of spaced repetition. You can read more about them here!
SuperMemo offers curated courses (over 200!) where you can learn 24 different languages. The courses are free or paid, depending on what you want to study and do. Most do cost a subscription, however! You can also create your own decks!
This is quite similar to the ones above. Brainscape is an app and a website. It allows you to search for or create flashcard sets on tons of different topics.
They offer courses on many foreign languages and have a handful of ‘Brainscape certified’ courses. These are similar to the Supermemo curated courses – they are high quality, professional courses!
Like SuperMemo as well, this site offers a subscription and several courses either require it outright or have a flashcard limit for non-subscribers.
I am sure you have heard of Quizlet, as well! Just like Anki, this is a very famous program around the world. And like Anki, it is also an app and a website.
Quizlet is a bit more community based than the other resources in this list, with millions of courses being easily shared and searchable. Due to the massive audience, its very possible that you can find a deck for the exact topic you are searching for! Whether that is specific book vocab in your TL, a college language course, a grammar point, or anything else!
The best part is, it is entirely free. There is a pro version with some features, but this is not at all necessary if you just wish to take advantage of the flashcards and the spaced repetition algorithm.
This is an app with yet another automatic spaced repetition algorithm.
I have never used this one personally, but it seems to be quite similar to Anki or Quizlet. With a simple design and several categories to choose from, you can study many topics. It also offers some features, such as adding images, using it offline, and more!
You may also, of course, just create your own physical flashcards and interval plan! This is great if you want to create a custom, tactile deck of vocab, perhaps from a book you are reading or your favorite TV show in your target language, etc.
To do this, you just need some good flashcards, some pens (perhaps in different colors if you would like to color code anything), and some boxes or dividers to implement the Leitner System, should you choose.
If you do choose to use the Leitner System, decide when to review each ‘box’ (you can use the above example, as in the image, or a custom plan) and how many boxes you will need. Then, choose if you will move your flashcards down one box or all boxes if you incorrectly recall a card during review.
After this, create your cards and you are good to go!
– Consistency is key! This method will not work if your study sessions are few and far between or if you like to cram. Work on forming a habit of consistency first and then implement spaced repetition into your language studies for the very best results.
– Help push these words even deeper into your long-term memory by listening to and reading them, as well! If you learn a word and then read it in a book or listen to it on TV later, it will really drive it home for you and help put it into further context. Check out this post on reading in your target language and this post about using TV to help you learn!
– Study how is best for the situation! You don’t need to use flashcards to study vocabulary – you dont even need to study vocab at all! You can study anything – words, grammar, idioms, phrases, cultural facts, etc – and in any way! For one example, you can learn some idioms and then when you go to review them during your intervals, you can write a little story with them! Its all customizable for you and your language and your goals!
– Find the right level for you! Ideally, you want to balance your recall success rate and error rate. If you are recalling everything easily, then you could be wasting precious study time and you likely you need to wait longer in-between intervals. On the other hand, if you are consistently recalling what it is that you studied incorrectly, then you might need to increase the frequency of your intervals so less time elapses between reviews. Spaced repetition is mean to help you use your time most efficiently, so make sure you always adjust, as needed!
I hope you are ready to implement spaced repetition for language learning in your studies today! It can only help you in the long-term and I am sure you will fall in love 🙂
Let us know in the comments what your ideal spaced intervals are and if you have any good spaced repetition resources for language learning that I missed!
Don’t forget to check out my language learning printables on Etsy! 🙂
- The 20 Best Products on Amazon for Spanish Learners!
- 50 Amazing Reasons to Learn a Language Now!
- The 20 Best Products on Amazon for Korean Learners!
- Why You NEED A Kindle for Language Learning! [Tips + Tricks]
- 50 Amazing Quotes About Language Learning [With Phone Wallpapers!]
Let’s be friends! 🙂