Spaced repetition software is perhaps the most effective way to study using flashcards. The idea is that we review new material right before we forget it, then we wait longer before reviewing it again.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Each review, strengthens the memory.
Language, though, is learned through interaction with material that is at least ~95% comprehensible, rather than like a collection of facts to memorize. This can happen via reading, listening, conversations etc.
We need a lot of input for the brain to acquire language.
It's simply how the brain works.
For Greek, this means lots of reading (it is a classical language after all), but reading at or near one's current level.
Repeated exposure to comprehensible input, allows out brain to acquire the words and grammar in that input naturally.
But we need repeated exposure.
Could we perhaps combine spaced repetition with reading of comprehensible input to get the needed repetition?
How to combine them
Here's how I've done this.
I have two decks. One for shorter sentences that have words that I specifically want to learn. A second deck that just has the "address" of what I want to read.
In the first deck, I make a card with the sentence I want to review and bold the words I want to learn. Then I put the meanings of the new words on the back of the card.
For the second deck, I make a card that tells me what to read. I don't put anything else on these cards. For example, I have some cards that say
I Clem 17 (1st Clement, chapter 17) or
Rom 6 or
I Clem 20:1-3.
The second deck takes much more time to review and I need access to the books I'm reading. The first deck I can study on the go or whenever I have a few minutes.
For the second deck, I'd recommend creating cards with smaller chunks of text to read. So instead of a card that says
I John 1, you might consider
I John 1:1-4 and then making other cards for the rest of the chapter.
This means that you don't need as much time to reread the material and are more likely to keep at it.
Of course, you don't need a spaced repetition app to do this. The idea is simply to read and reread the same texts. This let's you learn grammar and vocab in a natural way.
The trouble is finding texts to read that are level appropriate, but that is a can of worms for another post ... or Ph.D. dissertation ;-).
What if I told you it's possible to memorize Scripture without boring repetition? You might think I'm crazy.
It is possible, however. In fact, it becomes a creative, almost gamelike process.
The problem is that most of us approach memorization without a mnemonic method. What is a mnemonic method you say?
A mnemonic is simply a memory friendly device like a acronym or mental story that allows us to encode non-memorable information in a memory friendly way.
This course will give you the ability to memorize Scripture in less time and remember it longer. We will do this by learning to select keywords, encode Scripture into memory friendly mental images, link these images, and fix them in memory for long term retention.
How to memorize Scripture and make it stick: Overview
The method has four steps and we can remember them using the phrase "KEy LoaF" (It's the key to memorizing our daily-bread, thus "loaf"). Each step will be explained in the following sections:
Before diving into these steps, we're going to begin with some theory.
You don't need to memorize every word
I want to begin with a principle that you may not agree with, but hear me out.
You don't need to memorize every word perfectly. Unless your goal is a memory competition, forcing yourself to memorize every little "this" and "that" perfectly will only create fatigue and make you more likely to give up on Scripture memory – or at least stop enjoying the process.
If your goal is edification, then the content is more important than having every tiny detail perfect. As an aside, unless you're memorizing in Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, you're memorizing a translation anyway. Thus there are little details that translators need to add or skip over in order to translate well because no two languages are 100% alike. So some of those little details aren't in the original anyway.
That said, if you're like me, you want to be able to recall the verse with a high degree of accuracy. This desire helps us determine how many and what keywords need to be encoded – more on that in a minute.
There are also two other reasons that we don't need to stress about encoding every word.
We don't need to memorize each word perfectly because our knowledge of English grammar helps us fill in the details. For example, what word goes in the blank, "He looked ___ her". Your knowledge of English tells you that either "at" or "for" must go in the gap. The context of the verse will probably let you fill in this detail without having to figure out a way to memorize it.
You don't need to memorize every word because there are patterns in the text that can help us fill in details. For example, what goes in the following blanks?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
____ who mourn, ___ they shall be comforted
____ the peacemakers, ___ ...
If you guessed "Blessed are" and "for", you're right. The patterns in this text mean that we can fill in the gaps. This means that we may only need to fully encode the first line ("Blessed are the poor in spirit ...") and we'll get the rest for free.
The first step in memorizing a verse of Scripture is to determine what words you need to encode (covert into images) in order to accurately recall the verse. We call these words "keywords". Don't worry about what "encoding" means just yet. We'll cover that in the next section.
We will apply the following principles to help determine what keywords we need to encode:
- Does my knowledge of English grammar help me fill in this word?
- Is there a pattern in the text so that I can remember this word/phrase without encoding it (every time)?
- Am I able to accurately recall the verse without encoding this word?
Principle 3 trumps the previous two. If you feel that you can accurately recall a verse without encoding a word, great. If you feel that you can't, then encode it anyway, even though you could probably fill it in from a pattern or from your knowledge of English.
Let's take I Cor 1:26 as an example (below). What words do you need to accurately recall from memory? The answer to this question will be different for each person. I've bolded the ones that I would probably pick.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. (ESV, Biblegateway.com)
So my keyword list is: consider, calling, brothers, not many, wise, worldly standards, powerful, noble birth. This means that I need to memorize 8 things to memorize this verse accurately.
Note that "keywords" can be phrases like "not many" or "worldly standards."
Homework: Pick a verse you want to memorize and identify the keywords you will need to accurately recall the verse.
Encode keywords as mental images
Now that we have our keywords, we need to encode them as memory friendly images. This is the fun and difficult part. It takes some practice and trial and error to learn how to do this, but it is worth it.
Different memory teachers teach encoding different ways. Some say that images should include action, emotion, and involve as many of the senses as possible. Others say that simpler, clear images are sufficient. I'm generally in the later camp. I find them easier to create and picture in detail.
A memory friendly image is one that has the following characteristics (from here), which we can remember with the phrase "TeDDy'S CaFe." Imagine a Winnie the Pooh having a coffee in Starbucks.
- It's Three dimensional, not flat
- It's Distinct and has clear contours (sharp angles are a bonus too)
- It's Detailed
- It's Still
- it's in Color
- It's the First image I think up that has the above characteristics
Some people like to make these images move and interact. I generally prefer still images.
Ok, enough theory! Let's encode some keywords.
When I think of "consider", an open book is the first thing that pops into my head. A book is 3D, it's distinct and has clear contours and sharp angles. I can imagine the size, red ribbon bookmark, the shape of the paragraphs on the page and the large drop capital letter at the start of the first paragraph. I can picture the page numbers and heading, the color of the paper and the ink. Thus it is detailed and in color.
For "calling", I imagine a black rotary dial telephone. You know, with the stainless steel rotary with the white ceramic name plate in the middle and the curly, black cord?
I'll probably combine these two images and imagine the phone sitting on top of the open book.
For "Brothers", you could imagine something reminds you of your own brother. I've read that people are not the best mental images because most people have the same basic shape and aren't very distinct. Instead, you could use something associated with that person. Since I don't have any siblings, I think of brown monk's habit like Friar Tuck wears in the animated Robin Hood movie. It's brown, has a hood, and is a bit dirty.
Repeat this process for each keyword and combine them into one image if you think it makes sense and will help you remember them. If not, you don't need to combine them. Combining images means that you have less separate images to link in the next step.
Another tip I've learned is notice what details you're imagining as you imagine an image. Even if you just think to imagine a book, your brain is probably thinking of a specific book. So take a minute and see what book you are seeing in your mind? Chronicles of Narnia? Lord of the Rings? Oxford English Dictionary? For another example, I wanted to use a knight to remember England (I was memorizing World Cup wins at the time). As I paid attention to the details, I realized that I was imagining a crusader knight with the red cross and white tunic over his armor. These details make the image "sticky" mentally.
Homework: Encode the keywords from your verse using the TeDDy'S CaFe principles. You might also want to write down what images you came up, but you don't have to.
Link images to a memorable location
The third step is to link the images to a memorable location. The goal is to provide structure and order to the images so that we have a way to mentally "look" for them. By linking our mental images to a physical location or object, we have a way to locate them when we need them. For example, if I know that John 1 is linked to places in my living room, then I can mentally look there when I want to recall John 1.
There are a few techniques to link images. I will talk about two.
The journey method
Also know as the method of loci or the memory palace technique, this method relies on using a physical space that is well known to store the images made during the encoding step.
To get a sense for the power of this method, stop and try to remember as many details about your bedroom as you can. Imagine yourself walking in the door; then move around the room clockwise. What do you see? Where is your dresser relative to your bed? What about the closet? My guess is that you can remember the furniture, windows, doors, artwork, and other details.
As humans, we remember physical spaces very easily and in great detail. By tying the information we want to remember to a physical space, it becomes much easier to remember it. Also, because we will mentally walk through the space in a set order, it becomes easier to recall things in a set order, which is what we want when memorizing Scripture.
To use this method:
- Pick an indoor location that you know well.
- Example: your house, job, parents' house, etc.
- Identify a number of places that are distinct within this place. These are called stations.
- Example: bed, side table, dresser, bathroom door, etc.
- Pick an order that you will mentally visit these stations with the following characteristics:
- You don't have to cross your path or double back
- The order is obvious so you don't have to think about it. Deciding that you will go clockwise around the room works well.
- Example: front door mat, kids bookcase, side table, recliner, lamp, chair, bookcase, kitchen door, etc.
- Optional: draw a rough map and number the stations. Dr. Anthony Metivier views this as vital to making the palace "magnetic".
- Begin imagining the images you created during the encoding step on the stations you picked out. One image per station and the images should touch the station in some way.
- Example: I might imagine an open book with a phone sticking out from my bedroom door like a shelf.
You can place images on stations however you like as long as it's easy to remember. As a generally rule, take about two seconds to visualize the station, then take two seconds to visualize the images you want to store there, then take two seconds to visualize the image on/in/under the station (see here.
This probably seems complicated, but we can boil down: pick a place you know well, pick a few places in there, pick a route, and put the images on those places.
The supporting image method
This is basically the same as the journey method, but instead of picking a physical space, we pick an object that has enough distinct parts that we can use to store images. We call this object a "supporting images". For example, we might store images in/on a car, a refrigerator, a bookcase, a desk, or a lawnmower.
To use this method:
- Pick an object that you can visualize clearly that has sufficient distinct parts. (You need to know how many keyword images you have.)
- Decide what parts you are going to use as stations.
- Pick an order that you will go through these stations. Left to right, top to bottom is a simply way to ensure consistency (from here).
- Link the images form the encoding phase with the stations of your supporting image as you did in the journey method.
Once you are comfortable with the method you can combine the encoding and the linking phases and link a keyword to a station as soon as you encode it.
Now that you have your images linked to the stations of a journey or supporting image, you can mentally go over that journey or image and decode each image to recall the Scripture stored there. This will be slow at first, but decoding will become faster (almost automatic) as you go over the images.
Homework: decide which method you are going to use and create a journey or supporting image and link the keywords you encoded to that route.
Fixing images for long term retention
The final step of the method is to fix the images in long term memory.
Any memory will fade if it is not recalled frequently enough. This is especially true with something like Scripture. We overcome this by repeatedly going over the mental journey we created in the linking step and decoding the images stored there.
You need to review intensively for the first 4 days. After that, the verse should be pretty well "stuck" in your mind.
The basic review formula is:
next review = last review * 2.
Thus, if my last review was after 2 days, then my next review will be after 4 days.
I suggest the follow review schedule:
- 3 hours later
- 6 hours later
- The next morning
- 2 days later
- 4 days later
You can add more reviews if you like. Just use the review formula above to schedule them.
According to Rolph's summary of the Giordano Memory System, after the intensive review period, information needs to be reviewed every 6 weeks or it will begin to fade.
This schedule may seem a bit overwhelming, but we can simplify it by tying reviews to meal times. If you memorize in the morning, then your first review would be at lunchtime, your second after dinner/before bed, then the next morning, 2 days, 4 days, etc.
You can add reminders to your calendar so you won't forget the reviews. Another trick is to use a Leitner Box which you can read about here or watch a tutorial here.
Homework: Review the route you created and decode the images at least two times today and then tomorrow morning.
Congratulations, you've just learned a method to memorize Scripture faster and remember it longer (KEy LoaF). Instead of rote repetition, we identify keywords, encode them as memory friendly images (TeDDy'S CaFe), link them to a memorable location, and fix them in long term memory by recalling them on a specific schedule.
This method is not difficult, but does take some getting used to. For me the hardest part is thinking up images to encode keywords, but this gets easier with practice.
I'm more than happy to teach this method in a workshop format to your group (large or small). Sometimes you just need someone to walk you through the process and answer questions. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can figure out what's right for you and your group.