Strategies for Better Memory & Learning

How many words do you need to learn?

An analysis of English vocabulary* has found that the first 1000 words account for 84.3% of the words used in conversation, 82.3% of the words encountered in fiction, 75.6% of the words in newspapers, and 73.5% of the words in academic texts. The second 1000…

Remembering a skill is entirely different from remembering other kinds of knowledge. It’s the difference between knowing how and knowing that.

Practice, practice, practice

Practice is the key to mastering a skill. One of the critical aspects is assuredly the fact that, with practice,…

K. Anders Ericsson, the guru of research into expertise, makes a very convincing case for the absolutely critical importance of what he terms “deliberate practice”, and the minimal role of what is commonly termed “talent”. I have written about this question of talent and also about the…

In a recent news report, I talked about how walking through doorways creates event boundaries, requiring us to update our awareness of current events and making information about the previous location less available. I commented that we should be aware of the consequences of event boundaries for…

What are external memory aids?

External memory aids include such strategies as:

  • taking notes
  • making shopping lists
  • entering appointments in a diary or on a calendar
  • writing a memo to yourself
  • writing on the back of your hand

I’ve recently had a couple of thoughts about flow — that mental state when you lose all sense of time and whatever you’re doing (work, sport, art, whatever) seems to flow with almost magical ease. I’ve mentioned flow a couple of times more or less in passing, but today I want to have a deeper…

Here’s an interesting study that’s just been reported: 72 seven- and eight-month-old infants watched video animations of familiar fun items being revealed from behind a set of colorful boxes (see the 3-minute YouTube video). What the researchers found is that the babies reliably lost interest…

A general distinction you can make is that between:

  • direct study, and
  • learning from context

Direct study is more important when you're learning a non-cognate language. It's also more important in the initial stages of learning a language. Learning from…

If you have a numbered list to memorize, the best mnemonic strategy is the pegword mnemonic. This mnemonic uses numbers which have been transformed into visual images. Here's the standard 1-10 set.

I add two more:

To apply the strategy to a list, you visualize…

The Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) is the ultimate ancestor of many European and Indian languages. The word "proto" indicates it was spoken thousands of years in the past and we have no direct record of it. What we do have is the clear evidence in its descendant languages, from the…