What is learning? It is the process of going from not knowing something to knowing it.  If you can recall it one second after it was said to you, then you have completed the learning process.  What is memorisation? It is the process of moving information from short term (electrical) to long term (chemical) storage. What is the process of understanding? It is seeing how one thing relates to another.

How long does it take to learn and retain one item of knowledge (grammar or vocabulary) using the approach you were taught at school and continued to use at university and on into your adult life?  About 20 minutes on average.  Did anyone ever share that with you? They should have.  It’s important!

Let’s put first things first. If you can find a way to decrease that time to just 18 minutes per item, and assuming you have given yourself 2 years to learn a language, you’ll finish 10 weeks earlier. If you are paying a decent tutor say £30 /  hour once per week then you will save yourself £300 – which you can use to buy Spanish wine to celebrate your Spanish success or German wine to celebrate your German success.  Or you could go completely crazy and buy German wine to celebrate Spanish success.  I don’t know if buying German wine to celebrate Spanish success is a good idea; I’ve never tried it.

Is being able to reduce your learning time per unit of information from 20 minutes on average to 18 a realistic goal? One might first ask if there is a precedent that would indicate a reasonable chance of success.  Sure. There are many.  For example when my business partner and I learned Spanish we used accelerated learning to learn and retain 2,000 words in 70 hours. When tested at the Instituto Cervantes for our A2 level exams (GCSE / ‘O’ Level) we both achieved over the 60% pass mark on average across all four skills, reading, listening, writing and speaking.  70 hours is 4,200 minutes – so we took about 2 minutes per word rather than 20.  If we can save 90% of our time you ought to be able to find a way to save 10% of yours at least. 

So put first things first – learn how to be an efficient learner before you start to learn a language.