The Science behind Jalup 1: Learning & Memory
On my journey with Jalup I sometimes get a little stressed, confused, and frustrated. Remember that old saying, “No pain, no gain?” Could that annoying idea be true? While reading the current research in cognitive psychology and neuroscience about when the brain learns and why it forgets, two questions occurred to me:
Does Jalup work from a scientifically backed viewpoint?– A confused me
If yes, why?
Neuroscience and cognitive psychology have found that there are 3 elements crucial to long-term learning:
1. Complex thought processes
2. Moderate stress
Let’s take a look at how each one works and why Jalup is completely aligned with them.
1. Complex thought processes
If you use different parts of your brain at the same time, you will retain what you learn longer. One part of the brain, the hippocampus, regulates our emotions, encodes stuff in long-term memory, and helps us navigate through the world. Other parts of the brain, the cortical areas, helps us decide things, create things, and analyze problems. When you do something that makes all these different parts of your brain talk to each other, you learn faster and hold onto it longer.
Jalup and Complex Thought
When I began Jalup Beginner, I asked myself, where are the grammar rules? Where are the translations of all the sentences? Where are vocabulary lists? And why do I have to work so hard in Jalup Intermediate to figure out not only what the sentence means, but what the definitions mean?
Jalup makes me analyze each new sentence and see how it was similar, but not identical, to a sentence I had learned before. I have to piece meanings together like solving a puzzle. I can feel my brain clicking, whirring, and doing a lot of whining. That’s the complex thought process. Now I’m putting together my own novel sentences and feeling that thrill of accomplishment.
2. Moderate Stress
Isn’t stress bad for you? Doesn’t it make you want to give up? Several research studies tested the blood for cortisol, one of the stress hormones, while people solved puzzles and took tests. When the level of cortisol was low, people’s performance on tasks was low. Too much cortisol wasn’t good either. People froze up and freaked out. Everyone did best with moderate levels of stress.
Jalup and Stress
Adam has several blog posts warning against cramming, skipping meals, skipping sleep, and skipping exercise. Doing those things makes it harder to learn anything because the body and brain are less able to deal with stress. How does the Jalup method promote moderate stress though?
Jalup Beginner starts easy and gets progressively more difficult. However, even in the beginning, I experienced a little stress. I didn’t understand a lot of the notes below the definitions. Adam’s advice is to keep moving forward. Don’t sweat what you can’t figure out. It will make sense as time and practice goes on.
That turned out to be true, but soon too many reviews piled up and I felt anxious again. Vacation mode to the rescue – I put my reviews on vacation mode until I caught up and felt – whew! I like to think of moderate stress as excitement and anticipation, rather than as something to be avoided. It makes the whole process more like skiing (which I love) and less like bungee jumping (no thank you).
When I was adding too many Jalup Intermediate cards per day (only 3 a day, but too many for me) I became anxious because I couldn’t understand the definitions and was lost in a frenzy of clicking the links. The solution? I erased my progress in Intermediate (40 cards) and started all over, adding only one at a time. Finally, my brain fell into line and transformed the stress into an exhilarating game. Some of those definitions were so twisted they made me laugh. (Like defining a synonym as the opposite of opposite.)
Although repetition is critical in learning, the brain craves novelty. It’s how we evolved as a human species. We’re constantly exploring and pushing past boundaries. Research shows that novelty causes the dopamine system in the brain to become activated. Dopamine isn’t only the “feel good” chemical. It is key in stimulating the motivation for us to learn about new and unusual things in our world.
It turns out that the things that are hardest for us make us learn best. This concept is called “desirable difficulties.” If something is too easy we don’t learn well. We get bored and our mind shuts down. That also means that when we’re struggling with a new skill we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. Moderate struggle and confusion activate dopamine. Confronting a challenge stimulates neuroplasticity, the growth of new neurons and synaptic connections.
Jalup and Novelty
In Jalup, every time a card comes up for review, we have to do more than recall what it means. We aren’t doing rote memorization, as no direct translation is ever given. We have to decipher what the sentence means by pulling from all our past card memories. And when we can’t remember, we have to click the links to find out where we saw that word first and see how it is working in the current sentence. It gives the old cards novelty. It’s difficult, but desirable.
In Part 2, I’ll talk about the exciting strategies that can change the physical structure of your brain with new learning.
Slow and steady Japanese learner – taking it one small step at a time.
Thanks for this write up – I found it interesting.
You’re welcome. I love reading about how the brain works and how we can use that information to make it easier to change ourselves.