Magazine article Science News

Memory Boost from Spaced-Out Learning

Magazine article Science News

Memory Boost from Spaced-Out Learning

Article excerpt

Memory Boost From Spaced-Out Learning

How is your memory for the foreignlanguage you took a stab at in high school or college? Chances are it would be better if--instead of having learned words and phrases over several days and being reexposed to the material in homework and tests over three-month semesters-- you had had once-a-month language learning sessions spaced out over several years.

That is the implication, at any rate, ofan eight-year follow-up study of people who learned 50 English-Spanish word pairs. The 35 subjects were tested for memory of Spanish word meanings and retrained on forgotten words from six to nine times at varying intervals: on the same day as the original training, on successive days, or every 30 days.

"The more spread-out [30-day] distributionof practice had a much stronger effect on memory retained for eight years,' says psychologist Harry P. Bahrick of Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, who conducted the project with Elizabeth Phelps of Princeton (N.J.) University. "But typical educational strategies don't encourage this approach.'

Several years ago, Bahrick tested 773people, ranging in age from 17 to 70, for memories of Spanish learned in high school or college. After completing classes, subjects soon forgot some of what they learned, but after five years a good deal of their knowledge about Spanish remained and was recalled for at least 25 years (SN: 3/10/84, p.149). The more years of Spanish taken and the better their grades were, the more they remembered decades later.

But Bahrick and Phelps wanted toknow what learning conditions promote this kind of memory stamina. They contacted former college students who had learned and relearned the English-Spanish word pairs at varying intervals for an investigation in 1979. Participants, who had not lived in Spanish-speaking or bilingual areas, were sent a list of the 50 English words and asked to write down Spanish equivalents without consulting other sources. …

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