Wash, Rinse, and Repeat until the desired outcome is achieved.
First, how effective is your language learning? What can you do better? What are you doing well? Make a list of items you want to try and turn into new habits!
Wash is a metaphor for the "focused mode" of mental process.
It is a deep concentration mental process used when you're trying to understand new grammar, to learn new vocabulary, or concentrating very hard to understand something new. Wash too long and you'll get a headache, be washed up, and lose motivation. If you don't wash enough then, you'll be unsuccessful.
You need to schedule a set amount of time and focus hard. Try working on the hardest problems and material first, then move to easier areas (this is also a useful strategy for tackling tests). Don't just work on one problem or set of material. If listening is your weakness, work on listening first and then move on to something easier. Study during the time of day when your brain is the best. I usually study in the morning after coffee.
Work back-and-forth between different types of problems or material in different contexts. This interleaving can help you to be more creative in problem-solving and remember new material. For example, do a listening activity, then a grammar activity, then a listening activity again, and then a writing activity.
Create analogies, metaphors, pictures, or songs. Use your imagination. Try to visualize the material or problems in your mind. For example, imagine yourself speaking it in English. It's okay to talk to yourself! I talk to myself all the time in Spanish and Japanese! I used a song to learn the verb endings for Japanese words. I imagine myself as a Samurai and practice speaking using an Anime Samurai voice. I use to try and speak Spanish using a Scottish accent (Sean Connery!).
Discover ways to group or regroup the problems and material into new chunks of information to remember easily and effectively. I found this very helpful with learning Kanji. I would group the new Kanji with other Kanji and try to create words. Try it with English nouns. How many compound nouns can you make?
Create a mind map to help you brainstorm and visualize your challenges. Don't be too specific with your mind maps. Let ideas free-flow onto the map. After you have created your first mind map, use an outline for more specific detail and to organize your thoughts. Here is my mind map: Wash, Rinse, and Repeat. I also created a presentation here.
Rinse is a metaphor for the "diffuse mode" of mental process.
Schedule in breaks and let ideas bounce around your head in no particular way until you find solutions. The breaks can help you avoid getting stuck in a rut and lose motivation.
During your break, give yourself a small reward, like exercise, to help keep you motivated and clear your brain. Or go sleep, take a short nap (that's also a great reward). If it's the end of the day then go to bed. I discovered the benefits of sleep when dealing with problems years ago and came up with the following saying: The morning always brings the truth.
If you can, stand up and stretch or simply take several deep breaths during your breaks. I previously tried to learn how to breath properly, but I wasn't quite sure if I was doing it right. I discovered a good app called Breath2Relax. Try lying down and put your feet on a chair.
Everyone in the world has to breath, eat, sleep, and exercise. Do it to survive, do it to feel good, and do it to be a better language learner.
Repeat is a metaphor for Spaced Repetition and Consistent Practice.
Schedule it. Now that you've rinsed, it's time to wash again. Make studying your target language a habit! Build on this habit as a life choice.
Scheduling helps to create new habits. Space your repetition effectively and review systematically. Scheduling reduces your cognitive load and frees up more mental processing for remembering and learning more of your target language. Keep a schedule -- this will help you from burning out, or wasting your time.
Cramming doesn't work very well and definitely doesn't help reach new material into your long-term memory. I like to use the app Anki for my spaced repetition software (SRS). I think that using sets of pre-made flashcards helps to prime my brain for new material. I have memorized probably over 2000 words through this learning habit. As well, I found that I can better remember the cards that I made myself.
Making physical flashcards is probably more effective because the physical act of writing helps you to remember better. You might ask, would using a stylus as your input be just as effective? I'm looking forward to trying it. You can also make a physical note of the new vocabulary or grammar point in your notebook. Then transfer the new information to your SRS app at the end of the day. Don't forget to use your imagination and create an analogy, metaphor, or picture on your electronic flashcard. I would even record who said the new word or phrase to help me remember how to use the new language.
Focus on the process and not the product. You'll never improve if you're not trying. Make it a habit.
When you start your new focused mode study session again, review and test yourself over the previous material or problems. Remember, everyone has their own pace in terms of progression in a target language.
Start with a positive mindset. Find other motivated people to learn with and improve with, whether it's in person or online. Develop a community of practice like the community here on italki!
When using a highlighter, don't over highlight. This is a lesson I've learned the hard way. Instead, write questions or summarize important information in your own words in the margins.
In closing, this metaphor is not perfect… but then again, they rarely are! There are several points listed above. How many of these points are you doing? Which of these points work well for you? What can you do better? How many items are on your list of items to schedule and turn into new habits? Please leave a comment below.
For your information, this was my final assignment for the University of California at San Diego’s MOOC: Learning How To Learn, January 2015.