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Like money in the bank or muscles in bodybuilding, your brain needs TIME to grow

I’ve previously written about the importance of space in your studying. Today’s post will explore that idea in a little further detail and also talk about why novelty seeking in language learning is not always the best way to increase your fluency.


What is “space” in your study?

First off, let’s review what space in your study means. As discussed last time, there are 3 basic ways to study:

  1. Cramming (packing your short-term memory)
  2. Spaced repetition (review and learn new stuff at regular intervals – begin building long-term storage)
  3. The Pimsleur method (Graduated Interval Recall) (review just as you’re about to forget things to solidify long-term memory)

How I implement space in my study

These days, I’m studying Korean Grammar in Use: Intermediate and TalkToMeInKorean’s Iyagi series. I learned with my previous study in Korean Grammar in Use: Basic not to push things even if I have extra time during my scheduled study time. For example:

  1. Look at your calendar and the book’s Table of Contents and divide the book into evenly spaced sections to study on a weekly basis (to complete it within a certain time span).
  2. Know what your weekly goals are. (Mine are between 6-10 grammar rules per week AND one Iyagi per day).
  3. Set aside time every day to study (including the weekends, yes – turn it into a habit).
  4. Work through the scheduled chapter(s) during the week, and if you have extra time at the end (this is the key) DON’T MOVE ON to the next chapter.
  5. Tempting as it may be to push on, that’s not an effective way to learn. Use the leftover time to:
    a) make a vocab list or flashcards
    b) make a quick grammar reference guide

    c) practice writing sentences and paragraphs with the grammar you studied

How your memory is like a savings or investment account


Don’t forget that language learning is a process that requires consistent, gradual effort as well as spacing and review.

Think of your brain as a savings or investment account. You’ll never grow it if you don’t continually feed it, but you’ll run out of money (energy) if you pour too much into it at a single time (that’s why people usually deposit money into savings or investments ONCE a month, not every time they have a spare cent).

Also, your brain pays back interest. If you regularly invest in your learning and review what you know while adding new material, your knowledge will compound like compound interest.

But, if you try to load up with too much new stuff all at once, your brain will become overloaded and either 1) shutdown or 2) burn out.

Why “novelty-seeking” is detrimental to language learning

This is what writer Jack Cheng says about how he feels when learning something new:

If you’re like me, there are times when you get so excited about learning something new that you spend a day or two on it non-stop, only to get tired of it and move on to something else. When mastery is the goal, spending an exorbitant number of hours in one sitting will likely lead to burnout. We don’t go to the gym expecting to put on 20 pounds of muscle in a single, day-long workout. Instead, we do several short workouts a week, spread out over months. Our bodies need time to heal; our muscles time to grow. And the same goes for that muscle inside your skull. When trying to develop a new skill, the important thing isn’t how much you do; it’s how often you do it.

And here is what author Gregory Berns writes about novelty seeking (he’s written an entire book on the subject):

Citing research that contradicts the validity of Freud’s “pleasure principle,” Berns suggests instead that it is not the attainment of a goal that gives us pleasure, but rather the anticipation of and the journey to the goal. According to Berns, what each of us truly wants is novelty.

“The brain’s need for intellectual novelty manifests as curiosity,” he tells us. It appears that our brains not only crave but actually thrive on novelty. It’s why we continue to buy lottery tickets even though the odds of wining are infinitesimal; it’s why we try new restaurants even though we have no complaints about the food at the corner diner; it’s why we keep watching Lost.

We want to know what happens next. We gamble that each new toy, event, encounter, or episode will be better than what we currently have.

It does seem to be true that “hope springs eternal,” possibly because hope provides a greater thrill than actually achieving the goal. People who win the big money, for instance, are no happier than their cash-strapped neighbors. In fact, Berns concludes that we derive more pleasure from the anticipation of change than we do from the actual differences made.

Does Success drive you? Or Anticipation of Success?

Ah ha! So that’s why it’s so tempting to try something new! We want to buy a new book, hurry up and rush through this book, change the class, start a new class, or just keep moving. The anticipation, the hope of the NEXT is what drives us.

Sometimes, our passion for novelty is great – like when we feel stuck in a book, job, or city that bores us – sometimes it’s great to get out and experience something new.

But language learning is a lot like life itself. You can’t just skip over the parts you find boring or too time-consuming. At some point, if you haven’t built a solid foundation, you’ll have to return to what you’d previously passed in order to relearn what you thought you’d already learned.

Brain Building is like Body Building


Therefore, it’s much better to plan for and allow “space” between your study. Like muscles in your arms, your brain won’t grow without proper rest. The following are 10 signs of over exercise. How do they apply to over exertion in study as well?

  1. Decreased performance (exhausted vs. energized)
  2. Disinterest in what you’re doing (feeling unmotivated or “blue”)
  3. Mood changes (irritable and moody)
  4. Delayed recovery time
  5. Elevated resting heart rate
  6. Fatigue
  7. Insomnia
  8. Diminished appetite
  9. Fat gain
  10. Weakened immune system (frequently sick, can’t seem to recover)

Remember this tip from this fitness website:

The higher your intensity, the greater your need for recovery.

How do you give your brain the time it needs to grow?

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