Posted 04/20/2012 16:25
I have been learning Japanese for the past few years, and since around last month I started applying GMS techniques to my learning. It's not long, so I can't testify to long-term effects (yet), but I've found it to be a great help.
I've used GMS techniques to memorise both words and sentences, but mostly I use it for single words - I find that it is not necessary to memorise sentences unless they contain a new grammatical structure or something like that that can only be memorised within a sentence.
I don't use only GMS for learning; instead, I rely on a series of tools and techniques I've selected over the years through a process of elimination - or more correctly, trial and error. I will probably make other improvements in the future or even discard some part of the process or add a whole new facet to it, but for the moment this is the best possible technique for me. I stress this because language learning is a personal process, and things that work for someone might not work for someone else, so my way might be complete crap for someone else, while still being the best way for me.
As I mentioned, I learn new words by memorising them with GMS. For this purpose, I use one single locus (a.k.a. Cicero image) to which I attached five random images. Each one of these images corresponds to a "language-learning day", that is, a day in which I learn some new words; therefore, each image contains all the words I learned on that particular day. I distinguish different parts from the image and memorise words by the return method. Sometimes I will stop using the return method and go on to the next part in the same image - I usually do this either when the chain gets too long, or when I feel that the last image is a difficult one to make a connection to, or just whenever I feel like it. By 'memorising words' I mean that I memorise an image representing the meaning of that particular word. I rarely, if ever, memorise anything else (e.g. pronunciation), because I find that I can recall all other information just from that single image. If a word has several meanings, I memorise only one of them through an image, and the others just come to me. The only case which spurs me to add other images representing additional meaning or pronunciation is if I consistently can't recall those other things. This hasn't happened more than twice in this month (a month and a week, to be exact).
Then there's the recall, which is very important. Every morning, first thing in the morning, I do a recall of the past 4 days. It doesn't take very long, unless I get distracted or start day-dreaming (which sometimes does happen unfortunately). I do this not only for Japanese, but also for English and my native language, Italian (I always meet new words even in my mother tongue, which is both fascinating and slightly scary) and, to a lesser extent, for Latin. For all these languages, I use the same method of memorisation outlined in the paragraph above.
Of course, it is also important to review the words learned on that same day. If anything, this is the most crucial moment, as most of the forgetting (around 80%, if I recall correctly, I had read it somewhere) occurs on the very first day. As a rule of thumb, I review one hour after my learning, then three hours after that, then six hours. After that, I review once a day for the next 4 days (as mentioned above), as part of my morning review.
The problem is that often I don't learn words in one sitting, but spread out during the day (e.g. I'm watching a movie and find a new word, I stop and memorise it). So the 1-3-6 hours 'blueprint' doesn't really work, as I have no set point when my memorisation is finished. When this happens, I usually just memorise the new word, review all the previous ones and 'reset' the counter, so my next review will be one hour after that.
So, that's the part about GMS, it's pretty much it. But my method doesn't end there at all. Where do I get the words I learn, for example? I don't like learning words in isolation, I think it's better to learn them as part of a sentence. Then why do I memorise single words instead of sentences?
The answer is that I do learn sentences, I just don't memorise them because they always contain some amount of superfluous information (i.e. stuff I already know), and memorising all that superfluous information would be redundant and more time consuming. So when I meet a sentence containing some new words, I memorise the new words in isolation, and then I put the sentence into Anki.
Anki is an SRS (Spaced Repetition "Something", don't remember what the last S stands for) program. An SRS program is nothing more than a bunch of flashcards, nothing innovative. What is innovative is that when the program shows you these flashcards, it asks you how well you answered it: you can rate it from 1 to 4, with 1 meaning you didn't know it (and will therefore be shown the card again in 10 minutes) and 4 meaning you didn't even need to think about it. According to that rating, the program decides when it will show you the card next: if you had some difficulty, you will be shown the card earlier than if you found it easy. So, basically, Anki manages your reviews for you. Anki is not the only SRS program, I just prefer it over others because it is both free and has support for Japanese learners (in the form of a nice function showing furigana only in the answer). Other programs may also have different rating systems or slightly differing mechanisms, but the substance is the same.
So, I memorise words with GMS and sentences with Anki. The only question remaining is: where do I get my words and sentences?
I don't like memorising lists. Lists are dry, and even if memorising them with GMS is much easier and much less dry than trying to learn them by rote, I still like to give myself as much help as I can instead of limiting myself to a single 'way'. If learning by lists is usually not very effective, GMS can make it effective. But if learning by other ways is usually quite effective, learning by other ways and supplementing it with GMS is ultra-effective.
For starting out, I use a textbook. My favourite ones are the Assimil series of language learning books, so I usually start with that. They start from scratch, but build up a nice pace and can end up covering some rather advanced stuff by the later lessons. I've been using Assimil for a long time, before I even knew GMS, and there's always something to learn in their books. Plus, the lessons are well-structured, easy and fun. So for me it's a killer combo.
With that being said, I tend not to enjoy textbooks too much. Some of them, like Assimil, are good and interesting (reason why I use it), but all too often they're about as interesting as watching paint dry. So my favourite way of learning is to actually read something written in that language, something that interests you. For example, I'm currently reading the fifth Harry Potter book in Japanese and taking sentences out of it. Stuff that interests you stands out much more in your mind than random stuff, and adding GMS on top of it seals the deal. Of course, if you're just starting out with a language you definitely won't be able to read a book written in it (unless it's specifically designed for your level), which is why textbooks are after all necessary. But I advise switching to (or at least adding) real books that interest you as soon as possible. Or not even necessarily books; if you prefer watching movies, or cartoons, then do that (be sure you have subtitles, though, and possibly a translation). Or comics. Or anything else in the language you want to learn, really, the important thing is that it should be interesting to you. If you're into cooking, read a cooking book in Japanese (or whatever language you're learning). In this way, you will also learn the 'field terminology', and will be even better suited to read further stuff that interests you.
So, that's about it. This was very long-winded, but I wanted to be thorough in my explanation. As I already mentioned, this is my personal method: there are no guarantees it might work for anybody else as well as it does for me. I believe that the principles I mentioned are fairly universal, and thus that this method could be used by most people with great efficacy; still, I don't make any promises or 100% guarantees, so be warned.
P.S. If anyone is interested, I recommend checking out the YouTube channel of Alexander Arguelles. He's an accomplished polyglot, and among his videos you can find excellent language-learning advice. Moreover, he has a whole series of videos dedicated to reviewing different language-learning textbooks. He has been my biggest source of inspiration and instruction.
Incidentally, he also advises the use of Assimil textbooks. I was already using them before finding out about him, but in one of his videos (a rather long one, around 45 minutes I think) he explains in great detail the method he uses to study with Assimil books - a method which I have been following ever since (until I started applying GMS techniques to language-learning). It's a little different from the instructions provided in the Assimil books themselves.
Since I've started applying GMS techniques to language-learning, I no longer follow exactly the method Arguelles outlined. I adapted it to include less repetition (which is supplemented through GMS and Anki). I'm not going to explain it in detail (especially because I've already explained the gist of it above), but I heartly recommend checking out Arguelles's videos on the matter.