Retrieval Practice: a Key to Success with Russian?


What's your favorite study method for new vocabulary or other material? Flashcards? Reviewing the book? Copying out word lists?

I'm working on a project that takes a different approach, and I'd love to get your comments on it.

A little background: in preparation for a trip, I've recently started learning Mandarin Chinese. At, I've been working with audio exercises that are different from what I had experienced as a language learner in the past: these exercises prompt me in English, asking me to express various thoughts in Mandarin.

I was skeptical: wouldn't it be better to hear more Mandarin? Besides, it's much harder to come up with the thought myself, without relying on what I've just heard in the prompt!

And yet... I'm retaining the material far better than I thought would be possible. Best of all, my kids, who have had 4 to 5 years of Mandarin in school, are no longer laughing at my attempts!

I'd like to share some research that may explain why these exercises have been so effective: when I'm required to retrieve the material myself, actively "pulling it out" of my mind, it's more likely to stay in my long-term memory.

Dr. Pooja Agarwal, a cognitive scientist at the Berklee College of Music, has studied techniques of retrieval practice extensively; see her website for more information, or check these evidence-based recommendations.

Would you like to try this with your Russian?

I'm developing an in-depth online course on motion verbs, and am incorporating audio review exercises based on this principle of retrieval practice. They are 3 to 10 minute audio files that you can download, put on your phone, and practice – actively – whenever you have a spare moment.

Here are two sample exercises. The first follows on this video on ходил vs пошёл:

The next follows on this video on при-:

This format can be challenging, but that's OK. As Agarwal puts it, "The more difficult the retrieval practice, the better it is for long-term learning" – which makes retrieval practice more effective than re-reading or, perhaps, repeating from a prompt.

Give these exercises a try. Download them (links are below), put them on your phone, practice with them a few times a day until you can respond with little or no hesitation... and let me know what you think!

ходил-пошел audio review (728 downloads)
при- audio review (706 downloads)

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