Transparent Language Blog

5 Ways to Fight Off Forgetting When Learning Languages Posted by on Oct 4, 2017 in Archived Posts

The forgetting curve is steep, but we can get you over that hump.

This article on Edutopia defined forgetting as the “nemesis of memory.” This rings especially true for serious language learners, who are never really “finished” learning.

The article goes on to explain Hermann Ebbinghaus’s “forgetting curve”, a measurement of how much (or perhaps how little) we can remember over time.  The curve drops sharply over time, from 58% retention within the first 20 minutes of learning to only 25% within 6 days. Fortunately, the drop tapers off, with 21% of material still committed to memory a month later. For language learners, though, that’s a frightening figure—what if you only maintain roughly 21% of all the words, phrases, and grammar rules you study? Will you ever reach your proficiency goals?

Studies show that you fight off forgetting by making more synaptic connections and accessing your memory repeatedly over time. With that in mind, there are tools and tactics available to help you learn smarter, not harder.
  1. Spaced repetition. Revisiting words, phrases, or grammar rules repeatedly over time forces you to access and strengthen your memory. This is why many educational apps—ours included—employ spaced repetition algorithms. Our algorithm organizes your learned vocabulary by “fresh” and “stale”, so when it’s been too long since you’ve seen a word or phrase, we give you the chance to refresh.
  2. Frequent testing. Don’t wait weeks or months to measure your progress. Assess your understanding regularly to identify gaps or weak areas. In formal learning environments, frequent practice tests can also reduce the stress associated with larger assessments, which improves long-term retention. For those learning on your own, take the same proficiency test often and compare your results. Or, make use of the Practice and Quiz activities in Transparent Language Online.
  3. Visual aids. You’re more likely to remember what you’ve read and seen/heard than something you’ve only read. That’s why we include both audio and images whenever possible in Transparent Language Online. Of course, there are other creative ways to make languages more visual, including labeling.
  4. Teaching someone else. Studies have shown that teaching a concept to someone else strengthens the material in your memory. Find a co-worker, friend, or online language partner to learn with you and take turns trading lessons. If you’re going solo, prep lesson plans anyway to replicate the effect and reap the benefits.
  5. Breaking it up. We’ve said it before and we’re going to keep saying it: consistency is king for language learning. The brain’s ability to remember starts diminishing after only 25-30 minutes of active learning. Commit to 25-30 minutes at a time, but do it daily. If you have more time, spend it reinforcing that material (perhaps with some testing or teaching someone else!) before adding anything new.

If you’re learning with us in Transparent Language Online or the CL-150, you’ll notice the ways that we safeguard your progress. Audio and visual cues tacitly reinforce the words and phrases you see on the screen. Quiz activities allow you to go over your most stale vocabulary and measure your progress. You can even opt in to daily refresher emails that remind you to log in and automatically point you to your most stale vocabulary.

If you’re not, we’d like to help you start fighting the good fight against forgetting. Find Transparent Language Online free in a library near you, or access the CL-150 free with a .gov or .mil email address.

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About the Author: Transparent Language

Transparent Language is a leading provider of best-practice language learning software for consumers, government agencies, educational institutions, and businesses. We want everyone to love learning language as much as we do, so we provide a large offering of free resources and social media communities to help you do just that!


  1. Ghani Senikg:

    I like the tips given on how to fight off forgetting when learning foreign languages

  2. Stephan Hughes:

    The tips will be surely useful when preparing strategies to help teach vocabulary systematically in class and to instruct students to develop their own learning tricks

  3. Juana Heathcock:

    This program is very useful to me; since I help Spanish students to learn English. Some of them need how to read and write both languages. Thank you for give us the opportunity to learn.

  4. Ada Choi:

    Learning a new language is not an easy task. Everyone feels that struggle to remember what they have learned. And its human nature to forget while learning new things. But these tips mentioned in this blog can really help to overcome those problems. I also faced the same problem of forgetting newly learned things while trying to learn the Hebrew language. But then I came to know about the flashcards. Ordered them from These are easy to carry anywhere. when you feel you are forgetting something you check it with help of these Flashcards.

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