Memorisation takes an important part in our lives, it’s incredible the number of things we had to learn to get to where we are today.

Since de 1800, how our brain commits things to memory have been part of various investigations. For a memory to be, the information goes through three processes or actions:

The first process is called encoding and it’s when an information produces in the brain the formation of a memory trace.

The second process is called consolidation and it occurs when the fragile memory trace is stabilised with the help of constant repetitions and this strengthens and integrates the memory into the pre-existing knowledge network.

The third process is called retrieval. It happens when the sorted memory is accessed and recalled.

One learning strategy to consolidate a memory is spaced-repetition.

A large number of experiments have taken place and one article published by Gerber E. et al in the Q.I.Expl Psychol (2012) revealed that a learner can get a better chance at remembering, if the material studied is revised the following day, and again 13 days later. They called it the expanding schedule.

In traditional language learning the method used by learners to expand their vocabulary is by memorising long lists of single words accompanied by their equivalent in the mother tongue. Even when using the spaced-repetition technique, the task seems daunting and at times impossible. That’s why Michael Lewis proposed the lexical approach.

The lexical approach is a method of teaching where the students are taught lexical phrases as chunks. These are a group of words that are commonly found together. The science behind it is that it is much easier for the brain to retrieve the words in context than when they are learnt individually.

Sentence mining was born later.

What is sentence mining? I hear you say.

As the word suggests, the student focuses mainly on gathering sentences in the target language and learning them. This is the main task, no chunks, no words or endless lessons. You find the sentences that illustrate the vocabulary you want to learn, and you memorise these sentences, ideally various sentences for each word so that you can have a better idea of how the language works. The grammar structures are learnt the same way.

Why is sentence mining so popular?

  • It’s free.
  • It’s easy to execute.
  • It works for beginners and more advanced students.
  • It adapts to your needs.
  • It’s a “all-rounder”: it improves your speaking, listening and reading skills.

Why does it work?

  • It helps create a mental association with what you already know.
  • It shows you how to use the new vocabulary in different contexts; you see the words in several different occasions which accelerate consolidation of the knowledge.
  • You can memorise faster.

How to do sentence mining in any language?

You must:

  • Accumulate and study a bank of high-quality sentences.
  • Keep adding new sentences to your stock.
  • Select simple sentences that show the meaning of the word you’re learning.
  • Study a group of sentences at least once a day and make room for revision.
  • Grab the general meaning of the sentence. Remember, it is not a word for word translation.
  • Use text/and or audio to practice reading, listening, speaking and writing.

It makes sense to learn a language this way because it will equip you with the necessary tools when you’re ready to communicate in your target language; what do you think?

Let me know in the comments below.