How to Remember Vocabulary Long-Term

Have you ever thought you learned a new word in a foreign language, only to find it has already slipped away the next time you try to use it? It happens to me in Italian more than I’d like to admit! As a result, I’ve been searching for a strategy to remember vocabulary better.

I recently had the opportunity to try an Italian course from LearnLanguages24 that utilizes spaced repetition to remember vocabulary long-term. I’ve heard of this strategy before, but have never implemented it in my language learning routine, nor any study routine for that matter! I spent my college days either too busy or procrastinating, which left me with cramming as the only study option. Please say I’m not the only one!

The good news is, as a lifetime student of Italian, it’s never too late to benefit from implementing new study strategies. I want to make sure my time spent studying counts so that I can remember vocabulary long-term in order to become fluent.

I dove into some research to better understand what memory is, why we forget, and how to remember vocabulary better and longer.

How Memory Works

According to the Atkinson-Shiffrin model, memory is the process of encoding (receiving input), storing and retrieving information for future use.

Input is more likely to be stored in long-term memory if it is meaningful and relevant to you. Prompts (such as a question or image) can help assist retrieval from long-term memory.

Remembering vocabulary long-term is essential to becoming fluent in a language. According to Bloom’s Taxonomy (a hierarchy of cognitive skills), memory is the foundation of all higher level cognitive functions. We must first have a store of grammar & vocabulary in our long-term memory to reach more advanced cognitive functions that make us fluent in a language, such as understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating.

What is the best way to remember vocabulary long-term?

It’s not just what you study, but how you study that contributes to long-term memory.

Why Cramming Doesn’t Lead to Long-term Memory

Cramming is binge studying. You put a lot of information in your brain all at once over a short period of time. It might work well right before a test, but not for long-term memory. It’s no surprise then, that even after all the worksheets, tests, and homework, we remember a mere 5% of what we learned in school.

In 1885, Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist who studied memory, noticed that shortly after cramming, he quickly forgot new vocabulary. He called this the “forgetting curve.”

A lack of repetition doesn’t allow the necessary connections to form in the brain, which leads to information not being stored in long-term memory.

The Benefits of Spaced Repetition

On the other hand, spaced repetition is “short study periods spread out over time,” allowing neural connections to store information that can be retrieved from our long-term memory.

Repetition has the ability to change our brains. Through focused attention and practice, the brain develops faster and stronger synaptic connections. You’ve probably heard the saying, “cells that fire together wire together.” The stronger the connection, the better we can recall information long-term, and the easier those tasks become. This is the process of

A study in 1970 revealed that spacing out study sessions over time, known as the lag effect, commits information better to long-term memory.

*The important takeaway is that spaced repetition is essential to cultivating long-term memory.

Learn more about spaced repetition:

How I’m Using Spaced Repetition to Remember Vocabulary

My goal is to reach level C1 in Italian by next year (I’m currently at around a B1 level). In order to achieve this goal, I need to broaden my vocabulary by increasing the number of abstract & lower frequency words that I know. 

LearnLanguages24

I was recently given the opportunity to test out an intermediate Italian course by LearnLanguages24 that has spaced repetition integrated into the course. 

Here’s what I love about the course so far: 

  • Level test to estimate how many words you know and your current level
  • Lessons are organized by topic and presented as dialogues
  • I can listen and then repeat the dialogues to practice speaking
  • Variety of vocabulary exercises: such as fill in the blank and sentence building exercises
  • Built in flashcards that use spaced repetition (no need for complicated planning of spacing out repetitions)

LearnLanguages24 utilizes the Leitner System  of spaced repetition. The spacing repetitions is determined by what you know, or don’t know. Once you recognize a new word, repetitions of new vocabulary are spaced out over 1, 2, 4, 8, and 16 days. If you forget a word during the process, the spaced repetition for that word will start back at 1.

On the other hand, many programs, such as Pimsleur, have fixed spacing (all words are reviewed at the same time regardless of if you know them or not). The disadvantage of non-adaptive spacing is that we don’t all acquire words at the same time. Effective spaced repetition should be customized to your own pace of learning.

Use What you Learn

It’s important to remember that any language program provides opportunities for practice. However, the real magic happens when you apply what you’ve learned to a real life context. In addition to spaced repetition, I highly encourage using new vocabulary in conversation or writing your own example sentences to really make repetition memorable, engaging, and personally relevant.

Try out spaced repetition with LearnLanguages24

If you would like to try out an Italian course by LearnLanguages24 that integrates spaced repetition, they are currently offering a temporary 60% discount, with lifetime access to celebrate their milestone of 600,000 satisfied customers. Additionally, they are also offering an exclusive 3 courses for the price of 1 special offer for readers of my blog.

Special Offer: 3 Courses for the Price of 1

How it works

  1. Purchase a course in your chosen language from LearnLanguages24.com
  2. Send an email to info@learnlanguages24.com mentioning Italian at Heart and the two courses you would like for free

If you purchase a course you will receive two other courses for free, regardless of the language or the price. The 3 for the price of 1 also applies if you purchase the full range of courses for your chosen language. You will receive the full range of courses for two other languages for free.

You can pass all of your courses on to your family and / or friends as rewarding gifts, at any time in the future, regardless of whether you have used the courses or not.

Additionally, LearnLanguages24.com will donate 20% of the profit from this special offer to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. The fact that you can currently make a charitable donation to a very worthwhile cause, receive a 60% discount and 3 for the price of 1 makes this an excellent deal.

Now is a great time to improve your Italian, or any of the other numerous languages that LearnLanguages24 has to offer. Check out the wide range of lesser spoken languages available as well, such as Icelandic or Basque!

Have you ever used spaced repetition in your studying? Share your experience and tips in the comments below!

Photo by Jess Bailey from Pexels
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Ciao, I'm Kelly!

Welcome to my adventures in learning Italian, often while cooking authentic Italian recipes and wine tasting! I love discovering the traditional regional cuisine of Italy and trying to recreate those dishes when I'm back home in the US. I'm also on my way to becoming an Italian citizen through jure sanguinis (by ancestry).

WSET Level 2 Certified Wine Blogger

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LuLu B - Calabrisella Mia

Spaced repetition is definitely the way to go! When I was first learning Italian vocabulary, I used a website/app called Anki which I found really helpful. Now it’s easier to remember vocabulary because I’m immersed it in 24/7 but in the early stages, this was extremely helpful!

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