Language learning is like eating: take slow, steady bites & don’t binge (…or purge)

Recently, TechCrunch published data crunch of findings from language learners using the popular DuoLingo software.

We analyzed data from millions of Duolingo users and, in the process, discovered what it really takes to grasp a foreign tongue.

Their 3 thematic takeaways can be found here.

In food parlance, however, this might be old news. I was struck by how these data-driven conclusions paralleled three long-touted universal principles espoused by cooks, eaters, nutritionists and philosophers alike. They are, in essence, the principles of “good,” “healthy,” “slow” or “sustainable” eating.

Herein my translation of language learning rules into food parlance:

  1. Take slow, steady bites.
  2. Reduce binging, and hence purging.
  3. Continue perfecting your favourite recipes (until you die).

For reference, here are the three language learning principles, with importnt quotes included herein the 7

“Weekends & 9-5 don’t cut it…”

Figure 1 shows that most people who stick with language learning in the long run make sure to spend a few minutes practicing every day or two. On the other hand, people who slip to every 5 or 6 days are much more likely to give up altogether.

“Don’t binge study…”

Figure 4 shows the variation (relative standard deviation) in the number of daily sessions. For successful learners, this variation is lower, which means they do a more consistent number of lessons and practice sessions every day. Higher variation, on the other hand, means users pop in every now and then for a marathon to play catch-up. These binge studiers are more likely to give up.

“Review, review, review…”

More than a century of psychology research on the so-called spacing effect and lag effect tells us that you are more likely to remember ideas and concepts if you regularly review old material.


See the full piece
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