Learning Hacks to Increase Your Skills & Memory

Have you ever wished you knew a few learning hacks—quick strategies to help you improve your memory or get better at a skill you’re learning? 

EnglishHints has several strategies for improving your English, including:

This page concentrates on hacks for skills practice and memory, with links to articles that explain them in more detail. Then you can practice the key vocabulary in those articles—and maybe get some English speaking or writing practice from them as well. 

Make your Practice Sessions More Effective 

A lady studying in a library
Text: 'Learning Hacks
Strategies to Increase Your Skills & Memory'

Researchers have found that one simple change in your practice routine can make a big difference in how quickly you learn a new skill.

Instead of repeating your practice in the same way each time, make slight changes each time you practice.

This helps you remember because the small changes force your brain to recall and slightly modify the memory it had formed.

Those modifications make the memory fresh—and stronger. (The process is called reconsolidation, because it solidifies memories—makes them firmer or more “solid”-- as it rebuilds them.)

It’s important to keep the changes small, so your mind adds to the original memory rather than forming a completely new one. Researchers also found that the process needs time. Allow at least six hours (or a day) between practice sessions to get the most benefit.

For full details and examples, see this article from Inc.com about a study at Johns Hopkins.

You can try this learning hack in your English reading practice today by reading the full article one way (perhaps slowly, concentrating on the first sentence of each paragraph, and then—6 hours or so later-- reading it again more quickly.)

Then practice your memory and English writing skills by writing a one paragraph summary of the technique without looking at the article. How well did you do?

Memorize More Efficiently

An article from the BBC discusses the value of brief, quiet breaks to help us remember things better. When we have information it’s important to remember, taking a few minutes to rest quietly after a period of study can help our minds consolidate the memories of what we just learned.

(It’s important that the break be without distractions-- no checking the phone or trying to plan the day.) 

Researchers found that quiet breaks like this can even help people with brain injuries or Alzheimer’s Disease remember more than they normally could. It is a very powerful technique.

A second article on memory improvement includes techniques discussed in four TED talks. (You can watch or listen to them within the article. Be careful to only start one at a time, though. They’re close together on the page, and I ended up with two soundtracks running at the same time.)

Most of their suggestions involve creating vivid, even weird, pictures or stories about whatever you want to remember. 

Several also include the memory palace technique. It works by linking the items to remember with objects (such as furniture) in a place you know well.

Memorize each connection (an item and a piece of furniture, for example). Then you can imagine walking through the place and you’ll remember each item as you “walk past” (think of) the object it’s linked to. 

The talks make the techniques much clearer. They’re worth listening to. You may have to come back to them several times, since they’re from 14 to over 20 minutes long. (According to the article, the first talk is the most popular. It would be a good one to start with.)

Use These Learning Hacks for English Practice

You’ve had a little English reading, listening, and writing practice. For English speaking practice, tell a friend about the one you enjoyed most. (Even better, if you can persuade your friend to read either article, discuss it. What do you agree with? What hasn’t worked for you?) 

For vocabulary, practice the most important words in each article with a crossword. Its answers are here

Another very useful learning hack is to keep a vocabulary notebook or make flashcards with the spelling and meanings of new words. (Include an example sentence when possible.) Then review or test yourself with them later that day, the next day, and a week later. Note any you’re not sure of and keep checking them until you feel confident with them.

These are English practice techniques you can use whenever you have a little time (or an English-speaking friend to talk with). They’re simple, quick ways to extend the learning benefits of reading or listening in English.

More Learning & Memory Hacks

Several back issues of English Detective (a newsletter to provide biweekly or monthly practice with English reading, listening, & vocabulary) have focused on various learning hacks.

Issue 133 (Aug. 6, 2019) suggested the value of choosing activities you enjoy to make language learning easier (though not easy!) It links to a TED talk and an article with both practical tips and a dose of motivation.

Jan. 1 2019 (issue 120) has more memory tips. It also links to an interview with a neurologist on why it's important to be able to forget what's not important to remember.

Oct. 15, 2018 (issue 116)  is on attention: how to focus on what's important. It discusses new research on barn owls that may help children with ADHD.

It also gives strategies for paying attention in class (& tells about an experiment banning cell phone use during a talk. That helped everyone focus better, because the phones had distracted even students who weren't using them.)

Don't forget the first learning hacks mentioned on this page. 

  • Make small changes as you practice new skills 
  • & relax a while (without distractions) after studying hard, to let your mind process what you've learned.

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