The Forgetting Curve

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Let me ask you a quick question, what did you have for dinner yesterday, what about a week ago today? Hard to remember right, well it all has to do with the forgetting curve, and how our brain selects the information it retains.

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve or also known as retention curve in psychology relates to the brains capability and timeframe at retaining learned information. It’s known as Ebbinghaus forgetting curve in recognition of the pioneer German psychologist who discovered this. He hypothesizes that there is a decline of memory retention related to time. It means that the brain acts like a sieve that doesn’t automatically filter important information, so any information even important information can easily be forgotten. In his studies, learners lost 70% of the information they had learned after 24 hours if there wasn’t a routine input. See the graph bellow for more information, the curve shows how information is lost over time when there is no attempt to retain it, however when learners are given regular language input they retain more and more of the new language they learnt.

As language learners this is frustrating but this is done as a protective failsafe. Our brains are constantly bombarded with sensory information that would overload our synaptive and neurological system if we were to remember everything we encounter in detail. This leaves learners with the problem of loosing most of what they have learned after each study session. In this respect many psychologist and language specialists compare language learning to going up a mountain in skis, once you stop gradually moving you will slide back, this also relates to our last article (Is language input that important to advance Chinese language studies?). Language learning requires regular input but at routine intervals to keep the forgetting curve at bay.

It’s been established that input is required for language learning but that most of the information is lost, thankfully there is a solution for this. Further research by Ebbinghaus that was then confirmed by later psychologists in the same field discovered the distributed practice effect. Also known for it’s common name, spaced repetition. Distributed practice is a simple but effective learning strategy where practice is broken up into a number of short sessions. These sessions are done over a routine period of time. Their research found that students would learn and retain memory if they studied in several sessions spread out over a long period of time, for example two study sessions per week. Rather than studying repeatedly in a short period of time, when doing this, students hindered their learning growth. By dispersing study sessions across the week and studying more frequently not only are you giving more language input but also providing ample opportunities for memory retention.

Taking distributed practice, Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, and the importance of language input into account we suggest that parents book a minimum of two classes a week with our teachers. This will give students enough of a Chinese language routine to keep the forgetting curve at bay. Whilst also providing enough interactive input and keep students absorbed in Chinese learning.

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