Ask for help or look it up

There’s a popular belief that it is good to force yourself and try to recollect information that you’ve previously learned. This couldn’t be further from the truth, according to research by psychologists Karin Humphreys and Amy Beth Warriner.

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In their study, researchers showed 30 participants questions that they either knew, didn't know or had the answers at the tip of their tongues.

“The longer they stayed in that tip-of-the-tongue state on the first day, the more likely they were to get into a tip-of-the-tongue state on that word on the second day.” Instead of learning the correct word, the participants were learning the mistake itself.

By trying to recollect words or grammatical constructions that you can easily look up, you not only lose valuable time, but also risk to remember an incorrect spelling, stroke order or word use—something that will be very difficult to correct in the future.

Look up to understand

If you have a dictionary, encyclopædia, or a knowledgeable person nearby, you should always ask or look up information you aren’t sure about. If you don’t, try to explain what you are trying to say in other words.

This will prevent misunderstandings, avoid retention of false information, and help expand the richness of your spoken expression.

"You’re spinning your tires in the snow. You’re digging yourself in deeper."
— KARIN HUMPHREYS

A musician wouldn’t practice a piece of music that he knows to be incorrect just for the sake of doing music practice, the same should go for language learning and academia in general.

You can take this thinking one step further by having a ready-made bank of ‘ways around’ saying words you forget. If whilst during a conversation in a second language you forget the word for ‘enormous,’ use the word for ‘very big’ or ‘not small.’

Being nimble in your learning means that you’re more ready to be nimble in your speaking and writing of the language you are learning.

Don’t mind asking

Many people are afraid to ask when they’re unsure about something. You shouldn’t! Most native speakers are happy to answer questions about their language, and for your fellow students, this a great opportunity to learn by teaching.

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
— MATTHEW 7:7

Equally, it can be a good idea to ask your native friends to correct you when you talk to them. Out of politeness, most people wouldn’t do that unless you ask them in advance.

There are a number of websites dedicated to this pursuit. One of the most vibrant and helpful communities is Lang-8, where upon submission of a diary entry or other post, native speakers from around the world will provide you with corrections and useful feedback.

Look up to review

The process of looking up will give you even more references for you to remember the information and serve as additional repetition, so important in learning anything.

“You cannot open a book without learning something.”
— CONFUCIUS

Multiple sources means multiple chances to cement the information in your head!

So, next time you have a question about learning a language, please save yourself the time & trouble and ask for help!

Cover photo by Siebuhr

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