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058 How to retain more information

Hi there. Welcome back to another episode of The Art of Business English. This is Andrew Ambrosius here again. And just like to wish everyone Merry Christmas. I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Christmas period. Didn’t send out a podcast on Christmas day. I’m sorry guys, I was taking a bit of a break from it all. Just here home today, I thought I’d put together a quick episode for you. Now, I do have the kids running around in the background, so if you do hear any crazy laughter, that’s just my lovely little chickens playing with their pet dog.

Now, just to start this episode off, basically like it’s that time of the year again where we need to start thinking about reflecting on the year that’s been and then looking to the year that’s coming. To do that, basically what we can do, is we can do a couple of things. We can think about what we have achieved this year and then we can look at what we want to achieve for the coming year.

What I want to do in this episode, is I’m going to sort of set this episode up over two weeks, okay? So this episode and next week, I want to look at a learning method which is called the spacing effect. Because I want you all to think about how you learn and retain information and how you memorize it. Because I think it will be useful if you understand the spacing effect and how this can help you to memorize more and be a better learner.

Basically, what I want to do then is go over the spacing effect and also think about goal setting and why it’s important. In this episode, I just was wondering if you guys have set or if you’ve got any goals that you set last year that you’re reflecting back on? And if you’ve achieved those goals and how they’ve come along. Hopefully, you’ve had a good year and it’s been quite successful.

I think most people have had quite a positive year this year. 2018 has been quite hectic. It’s been a very interesting year though. Lots of changes, lots of things happening globally. But generally, the economy has been good, so I’m sure most of you have been working hard and hopefully had lots of work and been quite successful.
Let’s have a look then at the spacing effect. Basically, I’m just going to give you guys a quick episode this week. And next week, I’m going to go into more detail because it’s going to be the new year. Going to look at how we can set some goals and be organized. But I wanted to look at the spacing effect because I think it’s very important for you and I as well as learners.

Basically, I’m just going to give a background to what typically happens. And this is the interesting thing, when we’re at school, we have always been taught subjects and topics once. So, normally what your teacher does, is they teach you a topic and then you finish that topic or that unit, and then you move onto the next topic and unit and then onto the next topic and unit. Then maybe at the end of the trimester or three months, you will have a test on the three, four or five units that you covered, or topics that you covered during that trimester.
Now, what’s the problem here is that you only really touch on those topics once. So you will be covering the material and the information just once. The teacher will teach it to you, you’ll be required to do some exercises and study it. And then you’ll move onto the next topic. This methodology really is not an effective way to memorize or recall this information later. Because what it does, it encourages students to do what most of us have always done and that is cram for the exam at the end of the trimester.

Because you are required to know everything that you’ve learned over that trimester, what you do is you haven’t really been compound learning. You have just learned it once, you’ve touched on it and then at the end of the course, or the end of the trimester, you need to memorize it all. You need to recall that information maybe that you learned in the first, second, third unit. And what happens is, you then spend all nighters studying hard, cramming. So that you can try and memorize as much as the information as possible.
Then you go forward and have your exam or your test, and if you have a good memory, you’ll have memorized a lot of it and you’ll get a good grade. Now, if you have a bad memory, maybe you won’t have memorized much and you’ll get a worse grade.

But what happens to most people, whether or not you have a good memory or a bad memory, is that you’ll forget most of this information some days or weeks after you have actually studied for the exam. The whole concept of learning in many ways is a bit broken because you are not really retaining the information that you learned. You’re just memorizing, regurgitating and forgetting.

This surprisingly, is the way that many schools, over many, many years have conducted their learning methodologies in the way that they teach students. That’s quite surprising when there are things like the spacing effect methodology available.

Now, to give you guys an understanding of the spacing effect, I'm sure just from the words you understand what it means, and basically, people learn through repetition. Surprise, surprise. If you read something once, it's very difficult to retain a lot of that information. You need to go back and repeat it, read it again and through repetition, that information will stay in your mind.

That's why flash cards, simple things like flash cards, can be quite powerful in many ways. But the consistency and the repetition is what enables the brain to absorb or retain more of the information that you're required to remember.

Basically, what I want to discuss today then, is the spacing effect. The way it works is that you need to be continually reviewing what it is that you're trying to learn at different stages. A way that we can do this is you need to ... It's got four main steps.

The first step is that you need to create a schedule for review of the information. This would require you going over the information after an hour, so you've done, you've learned it once and then you do it the next day. And then you'll do it every other day and then you do it weekly. Then you do it fortnightly or every two weeks. And then you do it monthly. And then you do it every six months.

What you're doing is you're ... The system for repetition is more intense at the beginning and then it slowly becomes less intense. So you're dividing the number of times you do it by two every time. The way that we do it is like this, we need to plan it out. When we want to learn something, we need to create this schedule and we need to think about how we're going to organize it.

This is the key. Again, most people don't have the time or they don't invest enough time in planning. And I think I'm the same in some ways. Everyone is in a rush. But the more we can plan it, the more we can focus our attention on having this repetition schedule, then the more information we're going to retain.

We start with one day, then every other day, then every week, then every fortnight. We need a way of storing and organizing the information. That's the second step. A way of storing and organizing information. Simple things like flash cards, they're great for vocabulary. You can also use some software. There is some software for space repetition. Obviously, software can be quite easy, but pen and paper is always a good way. If you just want to get down some pen and paper for memorizing things, it's quite tactile. And it also, ... Writing things down on paper also helps you to memorize them.

Some people say that typing things into a computer is less effective than writing them down on paper. So I would encourage you writing them down on paper. Then once you've got them down on paper, then you can organize them however you want into a folder. And then that information can be then brought up. That folder system, within that folder system you could have the two days, the week, then every two weeks. You could have that folder divided into the repetition sequence that you want to follow.

Then as you learn something, you just move those flash cards through the folder. And then you're going to be easily able to track and organize the information that you want to store.
Then the third step you're going to need for a typical space repetition system is some form of metric for tracking progress. Now, it works best if you've got some built in positive reinforcement. I'm sure most of you have used programs like Duolingo. They help because they've got point systems and things like that. And you've got daily goals. So if you do have some tracking progress, that gives you a sense of progression. Then that's going to also help you feel that you're moving and progressing towards your goal.

Then, you need to set ... The fourth and last stage of this process, is to set duration for revision. Because for example, if you practice too long, most people, they don't really want to ... When you cram in your exams, you're spending hours and hours and hours, late nights trying to remember things. What actually happens is your attention completely just turns to mud. You can't focus. And you don't retain as much information. Even though, the more time you're spending, the less you're retaining.

So it becomes counterproductive. What you need to be doing is organizing the time that you're going to spend reviewing this information into small blocks. The typical recommendation that people make, is that you should spend no more than 30 minutes a day, or per task. This has been one of my ... If you've listened to this podcast a lot, this has been one of my main arguments. You should try and do a little bit every day as opposed to two hours one day. It's going to be much more effective.

In my language school, this is one of the ways that we also implement learning. Lots of our students, they want to improve their vocabulary. However, nobody likes to study massive lists of vocabulary. So what we do is we break those lists down into small lists of about 30 words and as we're going through units, we test the students every day, just orally on the vocabulary. So that they're forced to study them five minutes or 10 minutes a day. So that in the class, they can recall them.

This has the effect of making the learning smoother and the retention greater. And then obviously, there's a test at the end of that. By the time that the students need to do that vocabulary exam, they have already been tested numerous times over a month period on that. If a unit takes one month to complete, they're being tested many times on that same vocabulary.
So, this repetition really has ingrained those words into their vocabulary. Into their memory and they're able to recall them quite easily. This repetition is what is quite effective. It's quite easy to implement. And if you have a small system in place like the one, I've just mentioned, then this is going to help you to learn and retain much more information.

Now, here at The Art of Business English, we do have the 500 Business English collocations podcast, so I would recommend you grab a copy of that. Remember you can grab a copy at www.theartofbusinessenglish.com/get500. So, G-E-T-5, the number, 0-0. And there you have the 500 collocations and if you grab a copy of that e-book, what you can do, is you can start implementing the spacing effect methodology, the learning methodology by trying to learn and absorb or retain 500 Business English collocations that will help you expand your Business English vocabulary. That's something you can try and start with this year.

Now, what I want I to do in the next episode, is I want to talk about goal setting and some of the ways that we can think about planning ahead for the year to come. And I think now most of you , my advice would be, you guys should all just maybe spend an hour before the end of the year just reflecting a bit on the year that's been. Just ask yourself a few deep questions.
At the end of this year, I was asking many of my students the following questions and I think that they really were good because they made people think and when you are required to really think about and answer questions like this, they can really make you think about what you actually have done and what you have achieved. And if it's been a positive or negative thing.
Some of the questions that you should consider is what has been your greatest achievement this year? So, just one. What has been your greatest achievement this year? Another one you can ask is what has been your greatest disappointment this year? So what has been the most disappointing thing that's happened to you? Then you can ask yourself, what have you learned from that disappointment? You could also ask yourself, what has been the biggest lesson that you've learned this year? Could be personally, could be professionally, could be with family.
Another question that you could ask is, what advice would you give someone who ... What advice would you give someone for this year if you wanted to give someone some advice, what advice would you give yourself? Sorry, imagine yourself in January of 2018. What advice would you give yourself in January 2018 now that you've lived the whole year? Sort of reflecting back. With all the things that you know now, what advice would you give yourself for 2018 if you were yourself back in January?

What other questions can we ask? Which were some good ones I was asking my students? Well, what would we like to have done better? That's another question. You can ask yourself what would have liked to have done better? And then you can also break it down to what are you most proud of? What are you most proud of? Again, that can be personally, professionally.

With some of these questions, what you're going to be doing is provoking thought and reflection. And you can just write them down on a piece of paper or you can listen to this podcast, pause and then enter them. But it's a great way just to reflect a little bit. I think the more we reflect, the more we slow down a bit and become a bit more mindful of where we are at, the more we're going to be able to plan it and have a better year next year.

Okay guys, well, that is a bit ... That's it for me for this episode. A little bit deep and a little bit noisy I think with my kids in the background. But that's life when you're on school holidays with the little lovely munchkins.

So, guys. I hope you have all had a fantastic Christmas. I hope you've enjoyed this episode. I hope you understand the spacing effect and how you can put repetition into your learning and help you to memorize things better in the coming year. Make sure you grab a copy of the 500 Business English collocations from The Art of Business English.

Stay tuned for next week where I'm going to go into detail about how we can think about our planning for the year. And how we can organize our year and some goal settings that we can try and achieve stuff and get some stuff done and have another great year.

That's it for me guys. Have a great week and Happy New Year. And I look forward to speaking to you all next week. And I'll see you all in 2019. Take care. Bye for now.


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Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

Andrew Ambrosius

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