April 4

Having a good memory is something all language learners want


Two ways to deal with the question of “how to improve memory”.

Most of the articles I have seen on how to improve memory don’t necessarily relate to the needs of language learners. I will look here at two quite different ways to improve memory, specifically for language learners. The first way relates to the way you are learning, whereas the second does not. You will find a number of other articles on this site that look also at the issue of improving memory for language learners.  

Method A – the way you learn

As a language learner, you not only have to remember what you learn, but what you learn also has to be integrated into a growing framework of language.  So you have to more than remember a word, sound, phrase, etc; at the same time, you need to know how to use it and when to use it. This takes more than what we need to do to remember, for example, a president or a capital city. 

The growing area of brain science tells us that learning is like laying roads. A new bit of language has to be connected to another language in our brain, so we need to form connections. The initial one we make when we learn a new word may be just like a path we have beaten out, hard to find, overgrown with weeds etc, suitable for walking only. Then as we use it more and learn more about it, the path becomes more defined and easier to walk along. And then if we want to have faster access, it needs to be at least smoothed out a bit and widened.

In the area of language learning that would relate to using what we learn in more varied situations and with more accuracy. This requires work on our part to refine our understandings and usage as we listen, speak, read or write. As we use what we learn more and more, we are laying “better roads”  so the information can travel up and down the roads faster. Then the “asphalt or bitumen” needs to be laid to make the road even smoother and faster.  Extended usage is what forms the myelin sheath from the brain cells to our mouth, ears etc, which enables the information to pass up and down from our brain to our body. By the time the multi-lane highways are laid the new usage is travelling virtually instantaneously.

Not all practice will give you the results you want, so have a look at this post on effective language practice which can improve memory. It talks more about the kind of practice you need to create to improve your memory for what you are learning.

Another important consideration here is to to consider the way you are currently working at remembering what you are learning. If it is through memorisation, I would suggest you give it away, as soon as possible and replace it with techniques of the kind I just mentioned. Here is a brief video clip on just why you would be well advised to do that.


Method B – the biology of the brain

The second way to improve memory relates to the biological functioning of the brain. The brain has needs just like the rest of our body. We need to maintain it in the face of deteriorating physical conditions in the wider society. In many countries, with an ever expanding population, there have been increasing demands made upon the land to produce food. At the same time, there has been insufficient fertilizing. Most farmers use NPK, a combination of 3 minerals to fertilize the soil, whereas the body needs in excess of 60 every day. As a result, there has been a severe degradation in the quality of the soil and hence crops. Put together with early harvesting, long periods of storage and the growth in the fast food Industry there has been a documented decrease in the amount of nutrition we have access to. Nutrition is a key aspect to health, including brain health and energy levels.

The following steps can help you to improve brain function:

  • Every brain cell is encased in essential fatty acids (EFAs). A lack of EFAs will affect brain function as the brain cells lose some of their integrity (Taking EFAs has been seen to improve brain function – beware of some fish oil, as much of it is contaminated with mercury)
  • Adequate levels of anti-oxidants are needed to repair the oxidative damage that happens in the brain and the rest of the body, with resulting impacts on functioning.  Anti-oxidants are formed in fruit and vegetables when they ripen on the plants. As much of it is early harvested, we don’t get a lot of anti oxidants from them. Also as we get older, our ability to create anti-oxidants plummets (Taking a combination of a number of anti-oxidants can help reduce oxidative stress on the brain)
  • A plant based mineral supplement drink – supplementing the missing minerals- can help every function in the body to work better
  • Reduce sugar and refined foods (like white flour and white sugar) consumption as they help form neurotoxins.
  • Adequate levels of protein are needed – neurotransmitters are made of protein.
  • Excessive stress will also reduce the ability of our brain to function at its best.
  • The brain is made mainly of water, so ensure adequate water intake (note that soda pop and caffeinated drinks dehydrate you).
  • Last but not least, it has been shown that taking coconut oil can improve your cognitive performance.

The important thing to realize is that if you improve your memory biologically but don’t improve the way you approach language learning, the improvements you can expect will be far less than optimal. Hence, the question of improving memory needs to be approached from different vantage points, but primarily from the way you are learning. Even with the “best” brain, if the way you are learning is not producing the changes you are seeking, then you need to find another way that does.

For those of you who would prefer to listen to what you just read…

I have recently written an ebook on this very subject, that looks specifically at how to Dramatically improve your memory for language learning. Check out some more details at the link above. At $3.95 it is a giveaway! It will most certainly improve your memory AND make the learning more enjoyable.


how to improve memory

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