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How to become fluent faster.

It seems to us that studying through rote memorization is the best method for retention. While it works (to an extent), unless you encounter what you’ve memorized on a constant basis, you will forget it. After all, how much do you remember after you took that last test at school?

Somehow, we’re under the impression that if we reread and repeat things enough times in our head, it will magically get stuck there. In a way, it’s the lazy and painful approach to studying. The difficulty lies in the fact that we’re introducing a new concept to our brain with nothing to relate it to.

Do logarithms make sense to you? (let the non-math lovers answer please)

The concept itself may have no relation to you or anything in your life. It’s too abstract and thus hard to remember. Think of it as placing a pebble into a big web – it will fall right through because it’s not connected to the web and has no relation to it.

So, what do we do?
We make the complex simple by associating it to something we already know.

In other words, we make the abstract more tangible, and thus easier to understand. While this takes a bit of creativity, the time you spend on making associations and remembering them will be significantly less than the time you spend memorizing and returning to it when you forget it.

1) Association is a fairly general term in terms of using it as a study method. There are many ways to utilize it, from using mind maps and acronyms, to drawing pictures and creating stories.

You’ve probably ran into some already without realizing it.

Take the acronym PEMDAS which stands for Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication and Division, and Addition and Subtraction. Remembering those mathematical terms would be more challenging had we nothing to associate with, but since we all know the letters P, E, M, D, A, and S – we can make a connection between something simple and something complex.

Mind you that this is a simple example that can be taken to complex concepts. You may need to stretch your imagination a bit to create a connection but as Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

2) The Loci Method, in a sense, is association in practice.

Say you have a list of 9 words to remember – first, think of a place you know well, such as your house, apartment, school, or work place. You know where all the rooms are in relation to each other. (Avoid using a place you’re not familiar with as it would be tough recall it.)

Once you’ve decided on a place, say your home, and can visualize it, go ahead and place those words in different rooms, but associate unusual images with them – the more bizarre it is, the better you’ll remember it.

If the word “orange” is on your list, replace the TV in your room with a big glowing orange. Once you’ve spread the words out across the rooms in specific places(it’s okay to place more than 1 word per room, as long as they’re in unique locations), imagine yourself going from word #1 to word#9 in that place.

For example: 9 random words to remember: muffin-blaster, croissant, hair-gel, zombie, platypus, logarithm, snowball, snack-a-holic, orange.

As I open the door to enter my apartment, there’s hairgel on the knob and it gets on my hand. I take off my croissant shaped shoes at the doorway, and proceed to the bathroom on the left. There’s a platypus surfing in my bathtub. I go to wash the gel off and in the mirror and see a zombie looking back at me! I walk out, towards the living room and there’s a big orange TV glowing in the center – my roommate must be home. I go to the kitchen and see that snack-a-holic raiding the fridge. There’s nothing left in the fridge except a snowball. As I walk out, I get hit in the head with a muffin – seem my roommate has gotten his hands on my muffin-blaster I ordered online. I enter my room, look out my window and there’s a tree log that has exceptional rhythm, dancing to salsa – a logarithm!

The fact that you turn it into a story, associate bizarre images with it, and place the words into a familiar location reinforces those words several times over making memorization a lot easier.

More so, the effectiveness lies in using a familiar location in which you organize the list of data. You know where your kitchen is in relation to your bedroom, bathroom, etc. and based on that you know which room contains which set of data.

Take some time out and research learning strategies! Tell us what works for you!

Learn Chinese Direct from Beijing with

Dear Chinese Students,

Today we’re pleased to announce the launch of This is a joint project between Popup Chinese and the folks at Innovative Language Learning.

If you’re familiar with the Innovative Language approach to teaching, you’ll know the strength of their materials has always been tight, step-by-step progressive lessons for beginners. At Popup Chinese, we’ve historically geared our materials towards more advanced students, so when we had the chance to cooperate with the Innovative team and work together to build something that could take advantage of the powerful system they’ve already built we leapt at the chance, and began work designing a focused and stepwise program for Mandarin instruction.

Although a few hints leaked out (*ahem*), for the past few months we’ve worked somewhat stealthily to build the best team possible for the task. You’ll find our progressive beginner lessons hosted by none other than the famous Frank Fradella. Other big names on our roster are Amber Scorah and of course everyone on our existing team like Echo Yao and Brendan O’Kane. This is a great team and I can say with confidence I’ve never worked with a stronger one. With more than 100 lessons on the new site, our content is off to a good start too. As Frank said once after a marathon recording session, “our first twenty lessons here teach more than I learned in a whole year studying elsewhere.”

We think this is a great step forward and look forward to hearing your feedback and thoughts as well. It is definitely a major step forward for Chinese language education online. There’s never been a better time to learn Chinese, or a better way to learn it online. Regardless of whether you’re an advanced independent learner or a total newbie, we hope you’ll enjoy the work we’ll be doing both here and at ChineseClass101. Thanks for your support, and 加油 everyone!

Best from Beijing,

David Lancashire

Best from New York,

Amber Scorah