The spaced repetition system or spaced repetition algorithm is a vocabulary learning technique that helps you memorize vocabulary for the long-term. The method increases the time intervals between the reviews until you can effortlessly recall the word. For example, you practice the word now, then in an hour, then in 1 day, 2 days, 4 days, etc. until it’s in your long-term memory. The interval increases only if you are able to correctly recall the word.
What is Active Recall?
Spaced Repetition encourages active recall. Active recall is the process of retrieving information from your memory.
Let me illustrate this. Imagine you want to stop by a bakery in Berlin and want to buy a loaf of bread. Before you even approach the shop, you remember that bread in German is ‘das Brot’. This is an example of an ‘active recall’. You essentially pulled the word out of your memory.
Alternatively, if you approached the shop and saw a sign ‘das Brot’, this would count as a ‘passive recall’. You saw the word and then matched its meaning.
A passive recall is much easier and creates a false sense of progress. However, recognizing a word when you see it doesn’t mean it is in your active memory – that you are able to use it in dynamic, real-life situations, such as a conversation with a colleague. That’s why multiple-choice matching games in some language learning apps are fun but often ineffective.