Russian Vocabulary Lessons

Russian Vocabulary Lessons
26 June 2019

Learn Russian words quickly with help from memory research

One of the biggest challenges of learning a language is the sheer amount of information you have to memorize. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. So today I’m here to help. We’re going to look at some educational memory research  and talk about how you can use it to learn Russian words quickly. 

Spaced Retrieval Practice

Spaced Retrival Practice is an effective technique that can help you learn Russian words quickly. It combines two simple ideas – spaced  repetition and retrieval.

The main idea for spaced repetition is reviewing your vocabulary in increasing intervals. For example, it would be ideal to review your vocabulary after one hour, then one day, then three days and then week.

The second idea is that retrieving information is much more effective than simply reviewing. What I mean by this is it is better to recall a Russian word from a clue (definition, picture or translation) than to  passively read it. If you think about it, you’ll realize that passively reviewing vocabulary isn’t that helpful. For example, you might listen to songs in Russian and be able to understand the words but not be able to recall the new words later because you only learned them passively.

So when we combine these we get what is often called “Spaced Retrieval practice” – that is spacing out your practice sessions at incremental intervals and actively testing yourself instead of passively reviewing. You can make lists, paper flashcards or use apps on your phone for this. Several language learning apps and flashcard apps automatically utilize a system of spaced retrieval practice and will make this process easier.

Importance of context

One more thing that memory research has shown us is the importance of involving all our senses. Furthermore, real language is rarely found as isolated words but instead in a context. So to learn Russian words quickly, you shouldn’t just be memorizing single words. The simplest way to place your words in a context is to look them up in a dictionary or corpus (library of collected texts in a language) and find example sentences. You can also type words and phrases into google and yandex and see how they are used. You can also look up images, save some of them and try to recall your words later. 

It is also important to practice using your words in context as well. Of course, it is ideal to start using your new vocabulary in conversations if you can. But if that feels too hard, it might be better to practice writing sentences or short stories with your new vocabulary. This has the added benefit that you can later ask a friend or teacher to give you feedback. If you do this over a long period of time, you’ll also have a record of your progress and you can periodically review your writings to identify your weaknesses to focus on.

Bringing it all together

So what does this mean for your personal study strategies? Spaced repetition practice is effective tool to help you learn Russian words quickly but it is very mechanical. So there is always the danger that you might perfectly recall single words but strugle with communication. Therefore, it is important to realize spaced repetition practice for what it is: a useful tool that should be used along with several other tools while learning a language. Personally, I have never implemented it perfectly because it is quite time-consuming to create a comprehensive system. However, I’ve implemented some of the principles in simpler way. I keep vocabulary lists and actively review by testing myself in incremental intervals. These intervals are never align with the ideal intervals, but they still work effectively. 

Language learning is a messy process and probably few of us will be able to follow an exact process. We all want to learn Russian words quickly, but, in my view, the messiness invoved is part of the joy of language learning. Furthermore, focusing only mechanic memorization can make us start dreading language practice. Still, I would suggest reviewing your own language learning process, see how it holds up to what we know about how memory works and decide if there’s anything you want to change. We work hard studying a language and we don’t want to waste our time with ineffective techniques. 

Tell me in the comments what tips you have about how to learn Russian words quickly. Have you tried spaced recalling practice before? How did it go? I’m always interested to hear new perspectives.

Best of luck! Удачи вам!

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