Memory and Spaced Repetition System

Having a deeper understanding of how our brain works can really help us optimize our language learning approaches.  This is an area of study called metacognition, or understanding our cognitive processes and how our brain works.  For example, if we understand how memory works, and specifically how long-term memory works, we can improve our learning processes.

The graph below shows a concept that all of us are familiar with if we’ve ever tried to retain someone’s phone number in our short-term memory (maybe just long enough to write it down). The same applies to language learning. Anytime you learn a new fact, you have a pretty good chance of remembering it soon after.  But without review, a few days later, your chance of remembering that new fact drops to zero. We need regular review to consolidate the new facts.  Yet what the graph also shows is that each time you review that new fact, you are able to remember it for longer. This may seem obvious to you, but many people fail to take advantage of this phenomenon.


Enter Spaced Repetition System
The implication of the truth above is that each subsequent review of the new fact can be postponed further and further into the future.

Let’s take an example: You are trying to learn 100 new vocabulary words.  You want to use flashcards to commit them to memory.

Option A: You tediously flip though all 100 vocabulary flashcards.  You keep doing this each day until you have memorized all 100 vocabulary  words.

Option B: After studying the 100 flashcards for a few days you quickly realize that there are some words that are very easy to recall and some words that are still very hard to recall.  You choose to set aside the easy flashcards and only review it a week from now.  Then you choose to only focus on the hard words for the next couple days.

Here is a good video that explains this concept further:

In the example above, the most efficient use of your time is to only review specific flashcards just as you are in danger of forgetting them.  You can manually set up a system (e.g. Leitner System) or you can allow technology to figure out the SRS for you.

There are various flashcard apps and software out on the market.  Just make sure whichever one you choose, that they are utilizing SRS.  Here are a few recommendations:

Universal Flashcard Apps

Language Specific Flashcard Apps





Chinese Text Analyser

I want to highlight a great resource for studying Chinese: Chinese Text Analyser


As a language learner you should already be taking advantage of the benefits of extensive reading. But one major requirement of extensive reading is the need to select material that is at just the right level for you (i.e. Roughly 1 unknown word for every 50 words).

Fortunately there are various reading resources, such as graded readers, that have become available in recent years.  It’s become easier for learners to find books that are at their current level (i.e. novice, intermediate, advanced).

But what if you wanted to read something beyond graded readers or textbooks?  Maybe Harry Potter in Chinese or the Chinese Bible? How could you assess whether a novel is within reach or completely beyond the grasp of your current level of Chinese?

Chinese Text Analyser helps fill this gap.  The software, which is available for both PC and Mac, is a tool that helps you analyze Chinese text.  In seconds it can process and segment various text files to give you statistics on characters and words.  You tell the software which characters and words you are familiar with, and the software will highlight the unknown characters and words in red.  The software also lets you export lists of words.

So for example, if after studying the HSK 6 vocab, you were keen on reading Harry Potter.  You can simply ask Chinese Text Analyser to highlight all the unknown words in Harry Potter that are not part of the HSK 1-6 vocab.  You could even export this list of unknown words to import into your favorite SRS flashcard app.

Here is a sample of some books I have analyzed with Chinese Text Analyser:


Title 名字 Unique Characters Unique Words
Fantastic Mr Fox 了不起的狐狸爸爸 1,227 1,927
Little House on the Prairie 草原上的小木屋 1,398 2,479
The Little Prince 小王子 1,496 2,572
The House on Mango Street 芒果街上的小屋 1,859 3,495
Grandma in the Apple Tree 苹果树上得外婆 1,875 3,670
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 查理和巧克力工厂 2,038 4,227
To Live 活着 1,881 4,361
Charlotte’s Web 夏洛的网 2,112 4,445
Chronicles of Narnia – Book 1 纳尼亚传奇 – 狮子女巫魔衣橱 2,149 4,827
Peter Pan 彼得潘 2,505 6,709
Wolf King Dream 狼王梦 2,826 7,457
Harry Potter – Book 1 哈利波特与魔法石 2,582 7,738
Hunger Games – Book 1 饥饿游戏1 2,728 8,458
Anne of Green Gables 禄山墙的安妮 2,751 8,879
Twilight – Book 1 暮光之城1 2,818 9,472


Title 名字 Unique Characters Unique Words
Power of Habit 习惯的力量 1,775 3,871
Tipping Point 引爆点 1,797 4,451
5 Love Languages 爱得五种语言 1,942 4,739
Country Driving 寻路中国 2,387 6,918
Knowing God 认识神 2,482 7,609
River Town 江城 2,911 10,760


Title 名字 Unique Characters Unique Words
Bible 圣经 3,001 10,562
Old Testament 旧约 2,903 9,430
New Testament 新约 2,209 6,169
Genesis 创世纪 1,502 2,723
Exodus 出埃及记 1,424 2,347
Leviticus 利未记 1,095 1,608
Numbers 民数记 1,303 2,135
Deuteronomy 申命记 1,433 2,341
Joshua 约书亚记 1,027 1,565
Judges 士师记 1,242 1,881
Ruth 路得记 490 555
1 Samuel 撒母耳记上 1,330 2,172
2 Samuel 撒母耳记下 1,338 2,141
1 Kings 列王记上 1,314 2,136
2 Kings 列王记下 1,284 2,063
1 Chronicles 历代志上 1,193 1,845
2 Chronicles 历代志下 1,381 2,332
Ezra 以斯拉记 846 1,137
Nehemiah 尼希米记 1,039 1,470
Esther 以斯帖记 727 907
Job 约伯记 1,577 2,689
Psalms 诗篇 1,755 3,449
Proverbs 箴言 1,441 2,315
Ecclesiastes 传道书 842 1,123
Song of Solomon 雅歌 683 743
Isaiah 以赛亚书 1,905 3,665
Jeremiah 耶利米书 1,679 3,095
Lamentations 耶利米哀歌 802 907
Ezekiel 以西结书 1,593 2,833
Daniel 但以理书 1,098 1,634
Hosea 何西阿书 954 1,180
Joel 约珥书 587 594
Amos 阿摩司书 864 990
Obadiah 俄巴底亚书 275 239
Jonah 约拿书 411 398
Micah 弥迦书 795 898
Nahum 那鸿书 575 543
Habakkuk 哈巴谷书 585 573
Zephaniah 西番雅书 535 524
Haggai 哈该书 335 313
Zechariah 撒迦利亚 930 1,167
Malachi 玛拉基书 518 507
Matthew 马太福音 1,420 2,461
Mark 马可福音 1,224 1,921
Luke 路加福音 1,493 2,701
John 约翰福音 1,011 1,638
Acts 使徒行传 1,368 2,560
Romans 罗马书 969 1,498
1 Corinthians 哥林多前书 956 1,437
2 Corinthians 哥林多后书 824 1,166
Galatians 加拉太书 605 763
Ephesians 以弗所书 653 810
Philippians 腓立比书 545 638
Colossians 歌罗西书 559 634
1 Thessalonians 帖撒罗尼迦前书 485 536
2 Thessalonians 帖撒罗尼迦后书 362 357
1 Timothy 提摩太前书 628 764
2 Timothy 提摩太后书 564 614
Titus 提多书 418 426
Philemon 腓利门书 226 211
Hebrews 希伯来书 980 1,430
James 雅各书 633 701
1 Peter 彼得前书 658 765
2 Peter 彼得后书 522 573
1 John 约翰一书 336 400
2 John 约翰二书 155 140
3 John 约翰三书 171 158
Jude 犹大书 358 322
Revelations 启示录 1,069 1,557