How Long Does It Take to Remember a Word?

26 March 2020
SpellQuiz

In a way, building up a strong vocabulary depends on your capability of memorizing new words. The more effectively you can memorize a word, the longer you can remember the word, and your vocabulary will become essentially rich.

But, how long does it take to memorize a word? Memorizing a new word depends on a few factors. However, it takes about 50 seconds to effectively memorize a new word if you follow a few simple tricks. 

Also, you should try spaced repetition system (SRS) for a better result. It’s a memorization method that suggests you go through a study material giving periodic intervals. The retention percentage reaches up to 80% after six intervals.  

At the same time, it’s also true that not everyone has the same cognitive efficiency. So, the actual time to memorize a word will vary from person to person. Still, you can say that 1 minute is sufficient enough!

Our brain functions are complicated, and the processes are very intricate. Even the best neuroscientists struggle to understand the behavior of our brains fully. So, you should go through the whole article to understand the topic at hand in detail.

 

Why Do We Forget Anything?

First, let me answer a simple question - what does “memorizing” mean?

The process of memorizing comprises of two things –

  • Acquiring information
  • Recalling that piece of information at will

That’s it!

Our brains hold on to every piece of information that we encounter in our lives. But, at the same time, we forget a great amount of information too.

So, why does that happen?

Neurobiologist Dr. Corette Wierenga from Universiteit Utrecht has shared some interesting information regarding the matter.

Whenever we acquire new information, we store it in our neuron cells. The more relevant or important our brain feel that piece of information is, the more synopsis connection that segment of the neuron cells have.

Memorize a word

When we want to recollect a piece of memory, we need to trigger the neuron cells that store that piece of information.

However, if that segment of brain cells doesn’t have enough synopsis connections, we can’t trigger it.

Thus, we forget something.

 

Types of Memories: How to Memorize Anything Effectively?

As we are on the topic, we should know that not all memories hold the same amount of importance to us. We consider some memories to be more important and some memories to be irrelevant.

Obviously, the memories our brain sees as irrelevant goes to "I forgot that" section!

So, let’s take a look at the types of memories –

  • Immediate Memory
  • Working Memory
  • Permanent or Long-Term Memory

 

Immediate Memory

The immediate memories are extremely short-term memories. Typically, these memories last for only about a millisecond.

When we constantly look through our eyes, we are creating uncountable numbers of immediate memories. Our brains mostly label these immediate memories as “irrelevant” or “unimportant.”

Being unimportant, we don't actively store them in our brains.

For example, when we commute through a train, we see thousands of things on the train. We skip storing most of these things in our brains. These skipped memories are the immediate memories.

In a word, they are the forgettable memories.  

Some neurologists also call the immediate memories as sensory memories. They are called sensory memories as these memories are formed based on our fives sensory abilities.

So, according to that point of view, you can divide them into three categories - 

  • Iconic memory – Connected to visual senses
  • Echoic memory – Connected to auditory senses
  • Haptic memory - Connected to auditory senses

 

Working Memory

These are the type of memories that we store in our brains only to serve some specific purpose.

Once that specific purpose is fulfilled, we term them as "irrelevant."

For example, imagine that you are reading a novel, and you stopped reading it to have some snacks. Then, you look at the page number so that you can resume reading again after having the snacks.

The page number then becomes a working memory.

You will probably remember it until you start reading the novel again. After serving the specific purpose of resuming reading the book, you will also forget the page number.

Anything that we remember for more than 0.5 seconds to an hour goes to our working memory section.

Sometimes, experts call the working memories – short-term memories.

When we learn a new word from any language, the piece of information is first stored as a short-term memory.

Our goal will be to convert this memory from short-term to long-term.

Memorize a word

 

Permanent or Long-term Memory

As the name suggests, our brains store these memories for a long, long time. We can effectively remember and recall these memories from one hour to complete life-time.

You remembering your full name is an example of a long-term memory.

The more neuron connections our brains attach to a piece of long-term memory, the better we can remember them.

The process of memorizing is strongly connected to this topic.

The typical act of memorizing is mainly, giving your brain more exposure to a piece of information.

For example, if you see an uncommon word like “agelast” for the first time in your life, you can easily forget it. So, how to remember the word or how to remember the spelling of the word? If the word gets more exposure, you will more likely to remember it easily.

The key to remembering anything for a long time is – more exposure.

 

The Forgetting Curve: The Science Behind Forgetting Anything

Have you ever noticed that you tend to forget things after a certain if you don’t study them? There is a hypothesis that tries to explain the phenomenon.

It’s the famous hypothesis by Hermann Ebbinghaus published in 1885 as Über das Gedächtnis that translates into English as Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology.

Ebbinghaus tried to memorize nonsense syllables (similar to newly learned words). Then, he plotted the result on a retention percentage vs. elapsed time graph.

Thus, he gave birth to the famous forgetting curve.

Ebbinghaus also formed a formula that justifies the forgetting curve. It’s like this –

 

Here,

b is the percentage of information successfully retained
t is elapsed time since memorization (in minutes)

 

Here is an illustration -

Forgetting curve

As you can see, you will fully remember anything while you memorize it. However, your brains will slowly start to forget it. And finally, after 31 days, you will only remember 21% of the material that you have studies. 

You might think that this equation and hypothesis might seem a far-fetched as it was published back in 1885. 

The thing is a group of scientists tried to replicate the forgetting curve using the newer data and approaches. Their results were surprisingly close to the original research done by Ebbinghaus!

Ebbinghaus hypothesized that many factors play influential roles in the rate and speed of forgetting anything –

  • Difficulty of the study material
  • The meaningfulness of the material to an individual
  • Psychological condition of the individual (stress or sleep)

 

Also, he suggested the two methods that would help someone to remember study material for a long time –

  • The Use of superior memory representation technique (mnemonic)
  • Spaced repetition

 

If you are looking for how to memorize words fast, Spaced repetition is the best option that you are going to have! It means to go through the study material after a while.

Here is an illustration that signifies the success of spaced repetition method –

spaced repetition

As you can see, your retention rate gets a spike every time you have reviewed an already learned topic. With the power of spaced repetition, you can store anything in your memory for a long time. This is how to improve memory!

More Exposure = Quicker Memorization

The key to effectively memorize a word is greatly connected to word exposure. It means the more you will encounter a word, the more chance of retention that word will have.

For example, let’s consider the word “agelast” again.

Agelast refers to a person who never laughs or barely laughs. Certainly, it’s an uncommon word. If you see this word for the first time in your life, you can easily forget it soon.

However, if you encounter this word over and over again, something strange will begin to happen!

Your brain will slowly convert this short-term memory into a long-term memory.

Linguistic experts suggest that if you encounter a word 12-times through a year, your brain will store the piece of information as a long-term memory.

Susanne Rott from the University of Illinois, Chicago, published a paper on this topic. According to her study, six exposure over a period of four weeks significantly increases the word retention rate.

There is still no definite number of exposure frequency that works for all. However, there is no doubt that a higher count of exposure ensures better word retention. So, how to memorize words quickly? Give frequent and regular exposure of the word to your brain. 

 

5 Factors that Affect the Memorizing Process

Now that you are clear about the types of memory and how you can successfully memorize a word (more exposure), you need to know about all the factors that affect the memorizing process.

 

The Degree of Attention

No matter what, you will never have constant attention towards studies. Sometimes your heart would want to play some video games; sometimes, you would want to see your favorite anime series, and so on.

Your brain will grasp onto any piece of information only when you are actively paying attention. The more attention you pay, the quicker you can memorize a word.

So, we can simply form an equation – the degree of attention is negatively proportional to the time needed to memorize a word!

At the same time, your wakefulness, concentration, and mindfulness also play a crucial role in a similar way.

Memorize a word

 

The Degree of Motivation

Have you ever noticed that you can memorize or study better only a few days before you have a big exam?

Why?

Your brain tells you that you need to do better in that exam, and there is no other option. Some feel afraid of the failure (not exactly getting an F), some feel the drive to have a good result in the exam.

This strange desperation or urge boosts your brain to memorize study materials quicker.   

However, when it comes to memorizing new words and building up a strong vocabulary, your motivation shouldn’t only be having a good score in the exam. You need to retain the words in your brain for a long time.

You need to store them as “long-term” memory, not “working memory!”

So, try to aim for excellence and motive your brain to see the bigger picture. It will help you attain better and long-lasting results. 

 

Your Mental State

Mindfulness is essential!

Clearer mind helps you to grasp more knowledge. At the same time, you need to feel the urge to memorize a word from the core of your heart.

If you truly want to memorize a word from the core of your heart while considering no other secondary reason, it will beget better results.

On the other hand, if you are feeling down or sad or feel forced to memorize a word, you will need way more time than you should need.

Here’s a tip!

Try growing a habit of memorizing ten new words in the early morning, when your cognitive functions are flowing with positive mental energy.

Memorize a word

 

External Environment

The location and external environment of your study place can influence your cognitive efficiency.

For example, if you are trying to memorize new words while commuting through the subway in a jam-packed train car, you will most like see a below-average result.

Now, if you do the same thing in the early morning in a calm and blissful park, you will a completely different result.

Right?

External environmental factors like the location, lighting, noise, and smell stimulate our brains in a different way. We will feel more conscious about them rather than focusing on memorizing the words.

So, choose your study location wisely.

Make yourself comfortable but not too comfortable (you will end up having a nap instead!).

 

Breathing!

Yes, you have read it right! Your breathing practices affect your memorizing capabilities too.

A 2016 study found out that having dynamic rhythmic nasal breathing helps our brains to work more efficiently. Also, we can memorize things better if we can breathe properly.

Scientists label this breathing behavior as olfactory breathing. Another 2018 study discusses that olfactory breathing stimulates the prefrontal cortex to take part in the memorizing functions.

So, you should practice having a steady and rhythmic nasal breathing while studying new words, and you will have better results. 

Partaking in the meditational activities will also come in handy!

 

How to Memorize a Word Effectively? 7 Essential Tips 

The first step towards is building a vocabulary base. And believe me, this is the hardest step of all.

Even learning all the grammatical rules of a language will seem like a piece of cake after you have a strong vocabulary base.

Things are even tougher for kids. If you are a native English speaker, then thigs could be a little easy for you. But still, you will struggle to boost your vocabulary to 25,000 words quota.

Why am I focusing on the number 25,000?

It’s simple!

It’s the average word collection that a native English language speaker has.

Here’s the thing, even though all the five factors of memorizing anything (mentioned in the previous section) are in your favor, you will still struggle to memorize new words.

Because memorizing new words is a daunting challenge.

Still, you could try following these steps. They will help you increase your word retention capability. Also, they are the answer to your question - how to memorize words fast!

 

Word Mapping

Word mapping is a simple and effective visual tool that you can use to develop your vocabulary.

A typical web has the main word in the center and a couple of branches connected to it. 

For example, consider the word “weather.”

Weather can be –

  • Cold
  • Hot
  • Windy
  • Rainy

Now, put the word weather in the center of the web and connect the four other words (cold, hot, windy, and rainy) connected to the weather with lined branches.

That was the first stage!

Now, begin the second stage.

This time, you will add up more branches with the previous branched word. The stage-two branches will be the synonyms of stage-one branches (cold, hot, etc.)

For example, you can define cold weather as – freezing, frigid, snowy, and nippy. So, these four words form the second stage of the web.

Similarly, you will add words to – hot, rainy, and windy branches too.

Are you still feeling confused?

Here, take a look at this completed example –

memorize a word

You can create different other forms of word maps –

Model-2 – A map consisting of parts of speech, synonyms, antonyms, example in a sentence, etc.

Model-3 – A map consisting of your personal definition, dictionary definition, association, word clue, and picture.

And so on …

 

Go on, make your own word maps that suit your needs and situations.

The only limit is your imagination and creativity.

 

The Context Library

The best way to remember a new word is by giving it a context.

For example, what does the word “set” mean?

  • Put something to any specified place?
  • Being in a fixed position?
  • Representation of a situation of a film or a play?

The right answer would be all of them! The definition of the word changes with the changing cases.

In fact, there are 464 different definitions of the word “set” 464 in the Oxford English Dictionary!

So, how can you know which definition of the word is active in a sentence?

This is where context comes to play!

Context refers to the other words that surround a specific word in a sentence. Even the whole paragraph can help you figure out the proper definition of a word.

For example, consider the following sentences –

Tom set the table for lunch.

Mark set the chair by the couch.

In the first sentence, set is referring to arranging the food and other tools to have a meal. But in the second sentence, set is referring to placing an object to any specific place.

You will have to use the context to help you memorize a word.

From now on, while making a list of words to memorize, don't just write the word. Add the definitions along with contexts in a sentence. If you find a different meaning of an already known word, add the new meaning with a context in your list.

This is how you can create a Context Library.

 

Listen and Read at the Same Time

When we think of memorizing new words, we typically consider only reading the words.

However, our brains gather and retain information better if we can collaborate more than one skill to perform a cognitive task.

In this case, combining reading with listening extensively increases the knowledge retention rate.

So, what does that mean?

Well, in simpler words, try to listen to the words while reading. By doing so, your brain will find the proper pronunciation of words and spelling at the same time. In short, your brain will retain the words better.

You can use simple tools like Google Translate here too.  

Also, you can also depend on the tools of SpellQuiz. SpellQuiz uses a dual skill approach (listening and typing) to enhance spelling skills. You will learn how to memorize words quickly and how to remember sight words better.

There are some other fun activities that can come in handy in this case.

For example, if you are watching a movie or a TV series, turn on the subtitles. You will listen to the words and read the words all at the same time.

You can also read the podcast transcripts while listening to them.  

There are many ways to incorporate listening and reading together to enhance vocabulary skills.

pronunciation | SpellQuiz

 

Learning Associated Words Together

Scattered approaches will always give you a poor result when it comes to memorizing anything. It’s even truer when it comes to memorizing new words.

However, tables turn completely if you pack all the connected words together and memorize them in a batch.

Our brains use the connection between the contexts of the words and try to establish some kind of link between them.

For example, try to find ten to twelve words related to geography from the dictionary. Like this –

  1. Channel
  2. Peninsula
  3. Valley
  4. Mountain
  5. Hill
  6. Plain
  7. Plateau
  8. Butte
  9. Canyon
  10. Glacier
  11. Fjord
  12. Cliff

 

Now, put these words on a page of your notebook and try to memorize them together. You will see that memorizing these words will become extremely easy.

 

Studying Compound Words

A huge portion of the English language is made up of compound words. Compound words are words that are comprised of two or more individual words.

For example, “spaceship” is a compound word made up of “space” and “ship." Similarly, newspaper, doorbell, friendship are some other examples of compound words.

If you see long words, try to break them into smaller parts. You will notice that most of the long words are, in fact, compound words. Breaking these words in smaller chunks will help you memorize them.

 

Don’t Use the Rote Memorization but Dynamic Memorization

When you study for a tough test for your final exams, how do you study?

Repeat reading the same study materials over and over again until you memorize every word, full-stop, and comma of the text?

Probably!

This is an old memorization technique commonly known as the rote memorization.

The problem with this technique is that it a very time-consuming procedure, and you will probably forget what you have memorized after a few months.

Rather, you should aim for a different approach known as a dynamic approach. In this method, you don’t rely on only one form of memorization technique but multiple different ones.    

Memorize a word

For example, if you have used the reading the words method in the first revision stage, you will use listening to the audio recording in the second revision. After that, you will write the words that you have learned during the third revision stage.

In short, you will use a different method in every revision stage.

Your brain will absorb the knowledge much better in this way.

 

Take Notes, It Helps

Whenever you are memorizing new words, have a notebook by your side. No matter which memorizing method you are using, using the notebook will help you memorize the content better.

In this way, even if you have forgotten what you have read, your brain might trigger by remembering what you have written in your notebook.

Your notebook will act as a supporting memorizing tool.

You can also use the notebook to plan out your strategies, or you could just note down a new-found word.

There is no hard and fast rule for using your notebook efficiently. Use your own methods to take down the notes.

But you need to take down notes – it will help, trust me!

 

Final Thoughts

Memorizing new words will definitely help you build up a strong vocabulary. So, the key takeaway of this article is that you will need about 30 to 50 seconds to memorize a word. But you need to give the words about 6 to 12 exposures over a period of time to covert the knowledge in your long-term memories.

Finally, you can adopt many different strategies to efficiently memorize a word.

Be relentless and creative; you will definitely attain success.

Hey you, there is a piece of great news, now you can participate in the Spelling Bee Online game. In this game, you will compete against players coming from all over the world in real-time. Participating in the SBO game will help you memorize a word in a fun way!

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