How to Instantly Improve Your Vocabulary Recall in just 5 Minutes

fhc-bookcover-frontPerhaps you are familiar with Tim Ferris’ “4 Hour” series of books.  In today’s guest post, Allan Ngo of Money in Mandrin unpacks a few lessons he took away from The 4 Hour Chef.  Enjoy!
Your alarm clock blares!
Your alarm shuts up.
This one-two combination is a reality of our daily lives. We set an alarm clock to wake at a certain time and complain about it whenever it sets off.
Who doesn’t want a good long sleep, right? As people, we know that having the discipline to wake up at the right time day in-day out is super difficult.
That’s why you DON’T trust yourself to do it.
Instead, you create systems, like setting an alarm, to do the waking up for you. Whether you get up or hit the snooze button is up to you (hey, most systems aren’t perfect), but at the very least you give yourself the best chance to succeed.
These systems are meant to compensate for our natural shortcomings as human beings. On the flip side, there are human tendencies that we can take advantage of to propel ourselves for success.
It does not only apply to waking up promptly but to human memory as well. Let me tell you of two simple techniques to help you increase the retention of new vocabulary and go from tip of the tongue frustration to smooth as silk conversation.
The Power of Shorter Lists and More (yes, more) Breaks!
As a language learner, I’m pretty sure you’ve tried remembering vocabulary lists before. It’s a pain, isn’t it?
In your attempt to remember these lists, chances are – you’ve tended to remember the first and last items on the list pretty well.
This is called the serial position effect. It refers to the improved recall that can be noticed for items at the beginning and end of lists. Items at the beginning of the list gets rehearsed the most and is stored in the long-term memory (primacy effect), while items at the end of the list immediately go to the short-term memory and gets recalled easily because it’s the last item you encounter (recency effect).

 Being equipped with this knowledge, Tim Ferris, in his book 4-Hour Chef, suggests breaking down say a list of 50 words, into two lists of 25 words and adding a 5-10 minute break in between. It also applies to the length of your study session; you can cut down a 90-minute study session into two sessions of 45 minutes each with the recommended break in between.
Your recall will look something like this:

Serial Position Effect [New]From Tim Ferris’ “The 4 Hour Chef

By doing so, you are multiplying the number of start and end points in your study; hence words in the middle of your list will enjoy better recall compared to studying it as one big chunk. You study the same items in virtually the same amount of time (with even more breaks in between) and get better results.
What the Incredible Hulk (yes, the huge green dude) can teach you about recall.
Ah… yes, Superheroes.
The Avengers movie was a BIG hit worldwide. How could you go wrong with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the gang, right?
You’re definitely familiar with how movies are defined best by a single scene (or a single set of scenes).
And for this particular movie, it didn’t come from the more popular superheroes mentioned above, in fact, it came from someone who didn’t even speak much at all.
Remember this?

Good times, isn’t it?
So what does the Incredible Hulk’s beat down have to do with increasing recall?
The thing that made this scene memorable was its unpredictability. It jolts your senses to pay attention because you won’t know what’s coming next… and that’s where the Von Restorff effect comes in.
The Von Restorff effect states that we have a bias towards remembering things that are unique. It’s quite logical, isn’t it? We always turn our heads when we see something peculiar.
So let’s me show you how this applies to increasing you memory.
Let’s look back at our earlier graph here.

Serial Position Effect [New]From Tim Ferris’ “The 4 Hour Chef

Let’s say this is the list of words in that graph

Now let’s see the Von Restorff effect in action.
USB Port
Immediately, the two words in the middle jumps out at you. There are two changes 1. Font size 2. Font color.
With the insertion of these changes in the middle of the word list, your graph will now look something like this.

Von Restorff Effect [New]From Tim Ferris’ “The 4 Hour Chef

Neat, huh?
As you can see, this does not take super discipline to implement. Instead, it leverages our quirks as people and uses them to our advantage – simple, easy and implementable.
Best of all, you can implement these super simple changes in less than 5 minutes.
I hope you found these tips useful in your pursuit of language learning. The sooner you use these strategies, the faster you see results.
That’s it for now. Until next…
Ciao! ??!
What do you think? Please let us know in the comments below.
Allan Ngo writes at Money in Mandarin where he helps people learn Mandarin online. Click here to get his free E-book 10 Clever Chinese Idioms: Express Yourself Better and Be Absolutely Impressive
*Links to Tim Ferris’ books are affiliate links.

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