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120 Days to TOPIK #10 – Reduce, Reuse, and Reward your way to Fluency



The 3R’s (and icons) of maintaining a healthy environment and planet can be re-purposed to also remind us how to maintain a healthy, active, and rapidly learning brain.

  1. Reduce → Reduce
  2. Reuse → Reuse
  3. Recycle → Reward


Reduction is synonymous with simplification. Remember we talked earlier about how “studying harder” is less effective than “lazy recall”? Reducing the amount of work you require yourself to do in order to maximize your learning effectiveness is imperative. Tim Ferriss calls this the “Minimum Effective Dose (MED).” Michael Hyatt quotes him at this post saying, “Anything beyond the MED is wasteful.”

  • What 20% of material can you study to produce 80% of your results?
  • What 20% of work can you do to gain 80% memory retention?
  • Ask yourself: “What’s my Minimum Effective Dose for learning Korean?”

Here are two examples from me:

A. Cheatsheets

I LOVE one-sheet cheatsheets because they contain a wealth of information in a very brief, easy to read guide. Therefore, I’ve created two of them for myself already and have a number more in development (as a side note, I’ve already created numerous cheatsheets for computer programming – so I know the kinds of things that I like to use and are effective for me).

Cheatsheets are my MED.

The only drawback is that you have to LEARN the words on the cheatsheet FIRST and then use it primarily as a review sheet (though there is enough space to write all the definitions above each word if you choose to do so).

B. Vocabulary Flashcards

When I started making flashcards this week, I used to WRITE OUT every example sentence for each word (there were two) and then spend more minutes browsing through Google Images to find the “perfect image.” It was totally “wasteful” because I spent about 5-7 minutes per word (30 per day) and I didn’t learn them any better than when I just READ the example sentences.

Now I can spend 2-3 minutes per word (or less) and make 30 flashcards in just about an hour (rather than 3+). I’ve just saved myself 2 FULL HOURS of time!

Another thing I noticed was that ONE daily review of my vocabulary words was effective ENOUGH to warrant NOT reviewing more than once per day.

  • If I review only once, I can recall 50-70% of the new vocabulary (even from yesterday).
  • If I review 2-3 times per day, I still struggle with the same words and can MAYBE recall an extra 2-3 words, but that minimal increase is not significant enough to spend an extra 20-30 minutes per day reviewing multiple times.

For me, the MED is ONCE per day (in the morning when my brain is fresh).


Beyond merely recalling and reviewing words, we must also REUSE words in a meaningful and practical way in order to get them to really “stick.” There are THREE ways to do this:

  1. Listening to the word being used in a sentence
  2. Reading the word in context
  3. REUSING the word in a sentence of your own creation


  1. For Listening, this is a good place to get either a tutor, language exchange partner, join a class, or get a book with an audio CD – or find listening online (remember, Rhinospike is a good resource – and we may eventually try to get our Beginner sentences recorded)
  2. For Reading, get a good book with example sentences for each word, get your tutor to write out examples for you, or do some extensive reading in children’s books or online news.
  3. For Reusing, try to write out AT LEAST 10 sentences for every grammar point (as I previously was doing) in past/present/perfect tenses. This really helped me internalize and learn the grammar more quickly than just doing the workbook exercises.

But again, FOCUS on finding the right Minimum Effective Dose for all of this to minimize your energy expenditure and maximize your results.


On this blog, I’ve previously written extensively on the power of habits. One of the key takeaways from all my study on habits is that:

Rewarded habits are continual habits

This explains why something like quitting smoking or going on a diet is so hard. Your body already receives a physiological and psychological reward from either smoking or overeating, so trying to cut back (reducing your reward) is very difficult.

If you can instead replace a bad habit with a good one (that rewards you in an equal or better way), then maintaining the new habit is much more effective.

For learning Korean, consider these (rewarding) suggestions:

  1. ONLY ever drink your favorite coffee when you’re studying Korean
  2. ONLY go to your favorite coffee shop with your language exchange partner
  3. Eat your favorite snack immediately AFTER a successful study session
  4. Don’t eat lunch every day until you’ve accomplished a certain task (lunch is your reward)
  5. Limit yourself to terrible tasting Korean alcohol on your own, but reward yourself with your favorite drinks when out with (Korean) friends and chatting (in Korean)

I’m sure there are other things you can think of, but this will give you a good starting point.



  1. Reduce: Spend some time, determine, and WRITE OUT your Minimum Effective Dose (MED) of Korean (20% effort that produces 80% of your desired results) – then commit to your MED every day (it’s a minimum so should be easy, right?)
  2. Reuse: For every new vocabulary word you create a flashcard for, find at least ONE way to reuse it – ask for an example sentence from your tutor, read an example sentence, or write your own example sentences
  3. Reward: Set yourself up for success with Habits by determining ONE great thing you LOVE that you’ll only reward yourself with AFTER (or while) studying Korean

Over to you

Have you had any success previously with any of these suggestions? What new information sparks a lightbulb in your brain to help you study Korean better? Let me know in the Comments below or on social media with #120TOPIK.

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