Learning Hacks | Spaced Repetition, the key to vocab study

learning dutch vocabulary fast with spaced repetition

You’re putting in the hard work and have started studying vocabulary! Great job! But are you studying the smart way? Spaced repetition learning may be the key to finally making those new words stick. This learning technique, which involves reviewing new material at increasing intervals, has been shown to be highly effective for vocabulary acquisition. No wonder it’s at the basis of many modern language learning strategies. Let’s take a look at how it works.

Proof Spaced Repetition Works

Hermann Ebbinghaus was a German psychologist from the 1800s who is known for his work on the science of memory, specifically the concept of the forgetting curve. The forgetting curve is a graph that illustrates the decline in memory retention over time. Ebbinghaus observed that when information is not actively reviewed or used, it is quickly forgotten. His research showed that the rate of forgetting is highest immediately after learning, and gradually slows down over time. This concept has important implications for language learning, as it suggests that regular review and practice is necessary in order to maintain and improve language skills.

Since then, a whole host of studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of spaced repetition for language learning. For instance:

  • A review published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that spaced repetition was significantly more effective for vocabulary learning compared to massed practice (cramming), in which all the material is learned in a single study session (Roediger & Karpicke, 2006).
  • Another study published in “Perspectives on Psychological Science” found that participants who used a spaced repetition program to learn new vocabulary experienced increased neural activity in the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with learning and memory (Freed & Karpicke, 2016).
  • Additionally, Cepeda et al., (2006) demonstrated that spacing out learning sessions over a longer period of time can also lead to improved transfer of knowledge to new situations. In other words, you’re better and more flexibly able to use what you’ve learned.
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Why Does Spaced Repetition Work?

Recently, neuroscientific research has shed light on the underlying mechanisms behind the effectiveness of spaced repetition. One key aspect of this is the process of reconsolidation, which refers to the updating of memories during the retrieval process (Nader & Hardt, 2009). One important aspect of memory reconsolidation is its role in strengthening and stabilizing memories. When we first form a memory, it is fragile and prone to degradation. However, by accessing and reactivating that memory, we can strengthen it and make it more resistant to forgetting. This is especially important for language learning, as it allows us to retain new vocabulary and grammar structures over time.

Spaced repetition takes advantage of this process by strategically spacing out intervals between studying or reviewing material. This allows for the memory to be retrieved and reconsolidated multiple times, leading to stronger and more durable memories.

Spaced repetition learning algorithms are designed to optimize the intervals at which new material is reviewed in order to improve retention and memory. In other words, the algorithms try to make learning as efficient as possible. They typically work by trying to figure out your personal forgetting curve. By analyzing the curves, the algorithm can determine the optimal intervals for review based on your individual performance.

Using spaced repetition to make strong memories and learn Dutch quickly
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What are the steps in spaced repetition?

Here is a detailed description of how a spaced repetition learning algorithm might work:

  1. A learner inputs new material, such as vocabulary or phrases, into the system.
  2. The algorithm uses a generic forgetting curve to determine the initial review interval. For example, the curve might indicate that most people forget new material within a week.
  3. The learner reviews the material at the designated interval. The algorithm records whether they were able to recall the material or not.
  4. Based on the learner’s performance, the algorithm adjusts the review interval for each piece of material. If the learner recalls the material easily, the interval is increased to allow for more time to pass before the next review. If the learner has difficulty recalling the material, the interval is shortened to allow for more frequent review.
  5. The process continues, with the algorithm continually adjusting the review intervals based on the learner’s performance. This ensures that the material is reviewed at the optimal intervals for retention, making learning as efficient as possible.

As the learner becomes more familiar with the material, the review intervals become longer and longer. Eventually, the material may be considered “mastered” and no longer require review.

Spaced Repetition Learning Tools

There are several tools and apps available that can help you implement spaced repetition in your vocabulary learning. These include Anki, Duolingo, and Memrise, which use algorithms to determine the optimal intervals for review based on your performance. 

Our personal favorite is Quizlet. In fact, we have lots of free vocabulary lists available for you to study with: cognates & loan words, the most used dutch words, visual vocabulary flashcards, and even small grammar exercises. You can check them out here.

In conclusion, spaced repetition is a highly effective technique for vocabulary acquisition. By reviewing new words at increasing intervals, you can improve your retention and make those words stick in your long-term memory. Give spaced repetition a try and see the difference it can make in your vocabulary learning.

Rather have a personal teacher guide you instead of an algorithm? We can help there too. During our private lessons you can ask as many questions as you’d like, have lots of time to practice, and can focus on your own personal goals. Want to know more? You can read all about it here.

Scientific references in this article

We believe science-backed education is the future. Therefore we will always include links to the scientific research on which we base our methodology. The articles cited in this article are:

Cepeda, N. J., Pashler, H., Vul, E., Wixted, J. T., & Rohrer, D. (2006). Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 132(3), 354-380.

Ebbinghaus, H. (1885). Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology.

Freed, N. K., & Karpicke, J. D. (2016). Spaced repetition is the key to long-term retention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 22(3), 366-378.

Nader, K., & Hardt, O. (2009). A single standard for memory: The case for reconsolidation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(3), 224-234. doi: 10.1038/nrn2560

Roediger, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(3), 181-210.

Want to learn Dutch fast? Check out our other blogs about effective language learning, like our article on picking the best Dutch words to learn first with Zipf’s Law, follow us on Instagram for mini lessons, or explore the Dutch language and culture with private Dutch lessons!

About the author



Casper is an avid learner and the founder of Dutch Ready. He has a background in neuroscience and linguistics and is on a mission to transform the way languages are learned. Starting with his native tongue: Dutch.

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