Trivia about Learning and Remembering

Here are some odd bits of information about language learning. My hope is to inspire and motivate students. The information about learning words comes from this useful site.


  • ESL students need to know about 2000 word families to read and understand 85% of the words in general texts.
  • To read a novel, magazine or newspaper, students need about 8000 to 9000 word families.
  • We need to see or hear a word 10 to 50 times in order to learn the word and its meaning. (Waring)


A website from the University of Waterloo suggests how easy it is to forget new material if we do not review.

This graph shows the speed of forgetting. It starts with material that students learn in a one hour university lecture.

  • At the end of the lecture, students know 100% of what they can learn (the actual amount of learned material can be different for each student).
  • By day 2, 50 to 80% of that knowledge will be forgotten if there is no review.
  • By day 7, students will remember only 2% … if there is no review.









There is good news. A small amount of review can greatly increase your ability to remember (look at the yellow curve on the graph).

  • a 10 minute review within 24 hours of the class will return your memory of the lecture material to almost 100%.
  • after 7 days, you only need a 5 minute review to keep the lecture material fresh in your memory.
  • by day 30, the brain only needs 2-3 minutes to bring back the memories.
  • for students with a normal number of university classes, the website suggests spending 30 minutes each weekday  and 1.5 to 2 hours on the weekend doing review. 


If you are a fan of brain games, try the puzzles on this page.


A quick fun word game.




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