How to memorise new vocabulary (with video)

Remembering words, idioms and phrases can be difficult for learners of legal English. In this article, we focus on a German idea which will help you to recall crucial information.

Have you ever left a language class or a law lecture having listened to the tutor tell you crucial bits of information and forgotten most of it almost immediately? With the competing distractions of life, social media, where to eat and what to watch on TV vying for space in your brain, it's no wonder we can't remember that morning's land law seminar. Perhaps we have the answer.

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

The forgetting curve shows how quickly we forget information if we don't act on it. If you look at the example below, you can see that as soon as you leave your Legal English class, you depart with the maximum amount of information that you can take in. As the days go on, you gradually forget the information. Some studies indicate that you will have forgotten 70% of the information within 24 hours.

In the late 19th century, Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, pioneered this study of memory that has recently become a popular method for people to remember important information. The trick is for you to believe that the information matters to you.

How do I remember?

In 2015, the National Center for Biotechnology conducted a study designed to replicate Ebbinghaus's idea. A student learned lists of nonsense syllables consisting of three or four letters. They then reviewed the lists at different time intervals of 20 minutes, 1 hour, 9 hours, 1 day, 2 days, 6 days and 31 days after first studying the syllables.

As with Ebbinghaus's original experiment in the 19th century, this 21st century experiment also proved successful. Part of the reason for this is that because you are learning in intervals, the brain has to reconstruct the memory and do some work to recall the information. It is like going to the gym - you have to train the mind muscle.

So next time you are seeking to remember crucial information, revisit your notes after 24 hours, seven days and 30 days. You will remember far more than you could have ever imagined.

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