Spaced Repetition to Master European Portuguese Vocabulary

You can think of spaced repetition as a tool that keeps you from losing your hard-earned Portuguese skills. After putting so much effort into understanding the grammar behind possessive pronouns, learning that irregular verb conjugation, and finding the most useful European Portuguese phrases, it can be frustrating when something you used to know has suddenly vanished from your memory. It’s so rewarding to move forward (completing another lesson, checking off another unit, etc.) that many learners forget that it’s just as important to “go backwards” and review!

What’s the Best Way to Remember What You Learn?

In school, I’m sure many of you stayed up late the night before a test, cramming all of the “learning” into one marathon study session. Maybe you got a good grade, but how much of the material were you able to remember a week later? Probably not much!

Without adding some kind of repetition to your learning, memories quickly fade. However, if you try to repeat too much at once, your brain gets overloaded or bored.

How Do We Hold Onto Memories Longer?

Portuguese spaced repetition online practice

What’s too much? What’s too little? How often should you review?

Let’s say you’re trying to learn the word cão dog. You sit down and review it 50 times in a row: cão, cão, cão, cão, cão… This is very easy for your brain. You just saw the word a second ago, so there’s no effort involved in continuing to recall it.

Now, imagine you only review it once or twice, then you don’t see it again until the next day. Your brain now has to work harder to find this memory amongst millions of other pieces of information it ingested over the past 24 hours. “What was that word…? I know it started with a c… Oh yeah! Cão!” Making the process more deliberate is what helps to store long-term memories.

Timing is Everything

The best time to review something is actually right before you are about to forget it. This tells your brain, “Hey, don’t lose that! It’s important!” You train your brain to retain this piece of data, instead of discarding it. Over time, this strengthens the neural pathways that keep information ingrained in your memory and easily accessible.

These ideas are all part of spaced repetition. This effective learning strategy involves reviewing regularly across gradually increasing intervals, which adjust based on your performance on each individual piece of information. You review the things you find more difficult more often, and the things you already know pretty well, less often. The time in between grows longer and longer each time you successfully recall something.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Knowing a language is one thing, but being able to use it spontaneously in conversation is another. This is where quick recall plays an important role. Studies show that you need to know about 10,000 words to be considered fluent in a language. You couldn’t possibly practice 10,000 words per day, or even 500! This is why consistent practice over the long-term is essential. Spaced repetition helps make that process more efficient and less ambiguous. Who doesn’t want to learn more with less time and effort?

Applying Spaced Repetition to Your Portuguese Learning

Trying to use this Spaced Repetition technique to learn Portuguese on your own can be quite complex. That’s why we’ve used these principles to design a new tool called Smart Review (because “Magic Sticky Long-Term Memory Machine” was too long!) Our goal is to strengthen and speed up the connection between your memories and your mouth, so to speak. (Pun definitely intended.)

There are two different options for reviewing:

1. Flash Card Mode

Flash Card Mode is the recommended way to review because it gives you the challenge of producing Portuguese on your own with no hints or structure. You are forced to recall and/or formulate a sentence, instead of just recognizing the right answer. Here’s how it works, including a few keyboard shortcuts using the arrow keys that make reviewing more efficient:

  1. See the phrase in English
  2. Translate it out loud (or in your head) to Portuguese
  3. Flip the card to see the correct translation ( ➡️ right arrow )
  4. Check yourself: was your translation right or wrong?
    • ⬅️  left arrow = wrong    ➡️  right arrow = right

Keep in mind that with this method there can be multiple correct translations, so you should be comfortable with taking a more independent approach. For example, if the phrase was “please” and you answered se faz favor , but the translation showed up as por favor , you could still mark yourself correct because you know that both are acceptable translations.

Try it out

2. Quiz Mode

If you’re not quite ready for the no support, self-guided approach, we also have Quiz Mode which is more similar to answering questions like you did within the lessons. We removed some of the easier question types, though, since at this stage you are reviewing, rather than learning for the first time.

Try it out

How Does Spaced Repetition Work?

Smart Review keeps track of every phrase you’ve learned in the Units and automatically determines the ideal intervals and frequency, to help you gradually commit these phrases to your long-term memory.

Instead of having to go back through each lesson on your own (which many members have been doing), you can keep all of this vocabulary fresh in your memory by doing Smart Review on a regular basis. Our spaced repetition system takes care of the details behind the scenes so that you can focus on having fun learning European Portuguese.

That said, we know everybody likes to learn a little bit differently, so we decided to give you some control too:

Manage Phrases

Spaced repetition Portuguese phrase management

Inside the Manage Phrases page, you can tweak your phrases to influence when and how often they appear in your Smart Review tool. Right now, every phrase you’ve started learning already belongs to one of these following levels:

  • New Phrases: After learning new phrases in the Units, they will show up in your Smart Review within 24 hours. Once you’ve successfully reviewed them a few more times, they will enter your Short-Term Memory.
  • Short-Term Memory: After successfully reviewing these phrases over the course of a few weeks, they graduate into your Long-Term Memory.
  • Long-Term Memory: These will appear for you to review a few more times over the course of a year. If you continue to successfully recall them, they will become Mastered.
  • Mastered: By the time a word or phrase reaches this stage, you should be able to recall it easily, even if it’s been a long time since you last reviewed it.
  • Removed: You may find that certain phrases aren’t useful or relevant to you right now. You can move phrases to this category to remove them from Smart Review.

If the Smart Review button appears on your main Units page, that means you have phrases that are “due for review”. As you continue to review over the long-term, your phrases will gradually (and automatically) move up through these categories until they are mastered. But you are free to make these changes manually if you feel a phrase is in the wrong category. Or, if there are specific phrases in the list you’d like to practice right now, selecting at least 4 will allow you to start your own Custom Review.

I’ve been reviewing a lot! Why is the number of phrases “due for review” still going up?

If you’ve been a member for a while and are just starting Smart Review, it may be overwhelming to see thousands of phrases to review! Don’t worry so much about the number. The most important thing is to get into the habit of doing regular reviews to help your brain store what it’s learning. (Keep in mind that you can use that Manage Phrases section if you want to mark any as Removed or Mastered.)

Here’s why the number fluctuates… Every time you do another lesson in the Units section, more phrases appear in your “New Phrases”. The system keeps track of whether or not you got each phrase right or wrong the last time you saw it. Each time you get one right, it gradually increases the interval in between when it shows you that phrase again in Smart Review (i.e. when it’s due for review). At first, the interval is very short — it will show you the phrase again right away to help store it in your memory. But then, when you get it right a second time, it will wait a bit longer before adding it to your review again, and so on.

Eventually, the phrase will graduate to Short-Term Memory, then Long-Term Memory, then Mastered. This means the phrases “due for review” can come from any level. In the beginning, there will be a lot of phrases due for review because they still have short intervals until you get each one correct a few more times.

The goal is that eventually you can remember each phrase even if months have passed before you saw it last, suggesting that it’s truly “Mastered”. These increasing intervals are designed to help your memory by showing you the phrase right before your brain would normally forget it, to help keep it “active” in a sense.

Give Spaced Repetition A Try!

Portuguese spaced repetition review tool button

In short, Smart Review helps you keep your hard-earned skills from fading. We hope you find a good place for spaced repetition in your European Portuguese tool belt, along with our other content and your real-life experiences. If you’re already a logged-in member, you can use these links to access it:

Once you’re logged in, when you have phrases to review, a button will show up inside your Units page. You can also access Smart Review from the Learn menu along the top of the page.

Comments:

  • Love this new tool. It forces me to think in Português when forming the sentence. I have spent a few days now doing the review and it’s really helping me remember. So Thank you.
    Regards
    Liz

  • WOW…these are REALLY helpful..They show me how much I need to go back and review a few things. YIKES!

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