How to learn English effectively

Learn English with SuperMemo

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What is SuperMemo?

A sample item A sample pronunciation item with an audio recording The Contents window Learning statistics The Options window

A couple of screenshots for those who prefer pictures to words.

Have you ever heard of flashcards? A lot of learners use them to memorize vocabulary. They write a word in their native language on one side of the card and the corresponding word in the language they're learning on the other side. Then they test themselves on them.

Well, flashcards certainly help if you have to learn 100 words for next week's test. But I just can't imagine anyone carrying them around for longer than several weeks. And when you learn a foreign language it's not enough to remember a word for a short time - you have to remember it for your whole life!

Instead of using flashcards, I tried writing down my new words in a notebook. After a few months there were more than 1000 items in it. To make sure I didn't forget them, I had to review the list from time to time. But it took a long time. Some words I would remember better, and some I would forget very quickly. But still I had to review all of them.

SuperMemo, a computer program for speed-learning, was exactly what I needed. The principles are simple. You create your personal database of items and the program tests you on them. But that's not all! Each time you answer a question you grade how well you remembered the answer. SuperMemo schedules the next repetitions of the item based on your grades. This way, you repeat the well-known items less and less often and at the same time make sure you won't forget the problematic ones. And you save lots of time! Today my collection contains more than 8000 items, but I only need to spend about twenty minutes a day to retain them in my head.

Benefits of using SuperMemo

  • Stop worrying about forgetting. SuperMemo will help you keep what you've learned in your head for good!
  • Harness the power of active recall. With SuperMemo, you review your learning material actively. Every time you are asked a question you have to recall the answer. Scientific studies have shown that repetitions like this may be as much as 10 times more effective than passive review.
  • Get rid of mistakes. If you ever make mistake, add the correct sentence to SuperMemo. It's deadly effective!

But remember, SuperMemo requires regularity. You have to do your repetitions on a regular basis - every day is really the best option. Spreading repetitions in time helps your brain to structure the learning material better.

Download SuperMemo for free!

In March 2005, SuperMemo 98 was released as freeware. Here you can download the program:

SuperMemo 98 [ZIP file, 1 MB]

There's no need to install SuperMemo 98! To start using the program, simply unzip the downloaded archive to an empty folder and run the sm98.exe file.

For a quick-start guide to using SuperMemo 98 see the Online Help. You can also read about the Features of SuperMemo 98. (More links below.)

Improve your pronunciation with SuperMemo

You can use SuperMemo to improve your pronunciation. Simply, add every word that causes you trouble to your database. You put the word as a question and its phonetic transcription as an answer (read more about phonetic transcriptions in the Guide to English pronunciation). When SuperMemo shows you the word, you say it out loud and then see if your pronunciation matches the phonetic transcription.

I have almost 1000 pronunciation items in my collection. I add the transcription of every word that causes me trouble. If you want to have a look at my list of pronunciation items, you can download it as a Q&A file [TXT file, 37 kB]. You can import my items to your SuperMemo collection and save a lot of typing!

(Note that the list still needs some polishing. For example, some items lack the apostrophe sign to show where the word is stressed. Some items contain (r) sign to show the difference between the British and the American pronunciation, and some not. Oh, and I hope you don't mind the occasional short explanations in Polish - I just didn't have time to remove them.)

Some sample entries:

Q: pronounce: tension
A: /'tenS..n/

Q: pronounce: scar
A: /ska:(r)/

Q: pronounce: commit
A: /k..'mit/

The selected 100 words from this collection were published on SuperMemo Library's website (download [ZIP file, 24 kB]). It may be better to begin with this than a huge list of 1000 items.

How to add audio recordings to SuperMemo items?

It's a good idea to add audio recording to the most difficult pronunciation items in your SuperMemo collection. Here's how to do it.

  1. First of all, you need an audio recording of a word that you want to add to your collection (preferably in MP3 or WAV format). You can use recordings from an online dictionary like the Merriam Webster.
  2. Add a new item to your collection (click on the Add new button at the bottom of the SuperMemo window). Then type your word (or something like 'pronounce: word') as a question and the phonetic transcription of the word as an answer.
  3. To add a recording to your item, select the Edit | Add components | Sound option (only available when Middle or Professional level is set in the File | Level menu).
  4. Click your new component with the right mouse button and choose Import file from the context menu. Select the file with your recording. SuperMemo will copy the recording to its database, so you can safely delete the original file.
  5. Click your sound component with the right mouse button one more time. Make sure the Answer option is selected in the context menu. This way your recording will only be played when you choose the Show answer button during repetitions.

SuperMemo on the Web

To find out more about SuperMemo:

  • Visit the SuperMemo.com website. It not only contains information about the program, but also gives you lots of interesting articles on human memory and learning. You can also download the most recent trial version of SuperMemo.
  • Get to know the Online SuperMemo. It's a simplified online version of the program, available in English and in Polish. It offers you a wide range of ready-made collections for a number of languages. You have to pay for some of the collections, but a lot of them are free. Note that in most cases there are audio recordings of whole sentences available - it's a really good feature.
  • Have a look at the SuperMemo library. It gives you plenty of ready-made collections - both free and paid.

Questions and answers

See my SuperMemo FAQ for Frequently Asked Questions about SuperMemo.

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Comments? Questions? Post them on the forum.
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