Should I Repeat?

One question I get asked a lot is, how often should I repeat material in my studying? Today I’d like to look at that question in a bit more detail.

We’re all used to this idea that in order to be good at something we need to practise the same thing over and over. We see this in music, in in writing, in maths, and, especially, we see it in language learning. If you go into a bookshop and pick up a book on Latin, odds are you’ll find a lot of exercises, and usually a review section somewhere as well. The idea is that practising something over and over is the way to learn it.

Now, there is some truth to this, in that your brain remembers things best when there’s a combination of repetition and variety. The variety keeps you interested, and the repetition reinforces what’s being repeated as important to your mind.

So the question is, how much should we repeat?

Well, let me start by saying that the right answer - as always - is to repeat the amount that works for you. But the amount that works for you isn’t necessarily the amount you think works for you. If you’re somebody who’s really used to repeating a lot, then chances are you’ll think that a lot of repetition is ideal for you, but the reality is that too much repetition isn’t good for anybody. At the very least, too much repetition will slow you down.

That said, having some repetition helps. I’ve been reading through some Italian short stories by Olly Richards, and I’ve found that if, as soon as I finish one chapter, I go back and read it again, then I honestly do get a lot more out of it. The English linguist Charles Duff used to say the same thing; he always said that when you finished a book in the language you were learning, you should go back and read it again from the beginning, because the second time you’ll enjoy it more, and everything will consolidate.

So repeating just once, and fairly immediately, is what I would recommend… if you repeat.

What? Didn’t I just say that repetition is important?!

Yes, I did, but we can take this in a number of ways. You see, although I’m repeating each chapter of the Olly Richards stories, I’m doing that because I made a commitment to myself that I’d do it; but the simple fact is that I normally can’t bring myself to do that, and as soon as I finish the book I’ll go back to reading everything once (unless ai really have no clue what’s going on).

The reason for this is that, basically, I get bored, and I find it a huge chore to re-read it straight after. I just want to keep moving ahead! So that’s what I do. But this doesn’t mean I don’t still get repetition and variety.

I mean, it’s pretty easy to see how I’d get variety this way, since I’m always reading something new. But I also get repetition, because, while I might not be repeating the individual book or article I’m reading, by the sheer volume of what I read, I get a huge amount of repetition of the most common words, phrases, grammar, syntax, idioms, and so on. In a way, I almost get more repetition this way!

Pretty cool, right?

So find how much repetition works for you, but as a rule of thumb never repeat more than twice (i.e. three times all up), because it slows down your reading. But also don’t be afraid not to repeat, because if you read often enough and in large enough quantities (which is what Decoding Latin is all about) then you’ll be getting all the repetition you’ll ever need!