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The 40 most important minutes each day: are you using them well?

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Recently I had a conversation in Beijing with an adult Chinese friend who was complaining how difficult it is to study English. No surprises there. It is a difficult language to master, just like Chinese.

最近我在北京听一位中国朋友吐槽英语难学。这并不奇怪,英语跟中文一样,都不好学。

I made a few suggestions based on my own experience. One involved a very valuable fact which I learned from my high school Latin and Greek teacher. He was a Jesuit priest, a gifted linguist, and had an amazing ability to memorize things, like poetry, essays, speeches, etc.

根据亲身经历,我有几点建议,其中也包括我高中拉丁语和希腊语老师的真传。这位老师是名耶稣会的牧师,很有语言天分,对诗歌、论文、演讲等记忆力超群。

His advice to us students was that for memorization purposes, there are forty minutes each day in which our memory is vastly more receptive than it is during the other 23 hours and 20 minutes. This 40-minute “super memory” period is divided into two parts: the 20 minutes before we sleep, and the 20 minutes after we first awake.

他告诉我们这些学生,人在一天之中有40分钟记忆力最强,接收能力超过其余23小时20分。而这“记忆超强”的40分钟又可以分为两段:临睡前的20分钟和醒来后的20分钟。

The theory supporting this is pretty simple. First, the last information you input into your brain before a good night’s sleep has a better chance of taking root than information acquired during the hustle bustle of normal daily routine; and, second, your mind is free of distraction when you first awake in the morning — so more receptive to inputs, like a blank slate.

要证明这一理论十分简单。首先,在进入梦乡前把信息植入脑海比在白天乱哄哄的情景下更容易扎根;其次,早晨醒来精力不容易分散,就像空白的页岩,吸收能力更强。

I took the advice to heart and it served me well in my school years. In my university days, our Chinese teacher would assign us 200 new vocabulary words each day, on which we would be quizzed the following day. Without the “magic” forty minute technique, there’s no way I would have passed those daily quizzes.

我牢记他的教诲,上学期间身体力行,受益良多。大学期间,我的中文老师每天都会教200个新单词,次日还要搞小测验。幸亏有这“魔力40分钟”秘笈,否则我早就“挂科了”。

The technique really works, but like many things, it takes practice and discipline to hone and perfect it.

这个办法真的很管用,但和其他很多事一样,也需要练习和自律才能日臻完美。

As far as language study goes, it’s not only useful for memorizing vocabulary. It’s also a very useful window of time in which to listen to the language you’re studying, even as background noise, and even if it’s at a level you find difficult to comprehend. It might be audio language study aids, or just radio, TV or whatever.

随着语言学习的深入,这个方法不仅对背单词有帮助,也可以成为锻炼听力的最佳时段,而且不论收听的是背景音、晦涩的内容、外语听力材料、广播、电视、还是其他什么。

Beyond our years of formal education, memory skills are hugely important in any career.

记忆力除了上学必需外,在各行各业中也很重要。

How many times have you heard a speaker read their speech from a prepared text, or read the word-by-word content of a powerpoint presentation as they present each slide?

你听过几个演讲人会照本宣科,又见过几个人在做演示时会逐字逐句地朗读每张幻灯片的文字?

These are annoying, distracting, boring, and ineffective ways of communicating. They are almost guaranteed to lose the audience’s close attention and interest, let alone persuade or inspire anyone to do anything. And yet lots of people still make this mistake.

这样的沟通方式令人厌烦、精力涣散、枯燥乏味、效率低下,保证会让听众兴趣索然,味同嚼蜡,根本就无法说服或激励听众采取行动。但仍有很多人会犯这样的错误。

If you use the “forty minute” technique, you may not succeed in memorizing your presentation contents on a 100% word-by-word basis, but you’ll be familiar enough that you can spend much more time making eye contact with your audience. You will engage them in the process, while glancing at your text instead of staring at it. This will also free up your hands and arms to add some emphasis through gesture.

运用“40分钟”技巧,也许你并不能一字不落地背诵演示稿,却可以充分掌握内容,从而留出更多时间与听众进行眼神交流。你可以让观众参与其中,抽空儿再扫一眼屏幕,不用紧盯不放。你还可以解放胳膊和双手,增加一些动作,以示强调。

Memory is of course a big challenge for any language learner, especially as we grow older. Possibly an even bigger challenge, which starts around the pre-teen years for most people and gets progressively worse, is the fear of looking or sounding stupid.

不管学习哪国外语,记忆都是个难题,特别是随着年龄的增长。另外一个更大的难题可能是大多数人从年少时起就害怕出丑,而且越老越怕

Younger children are generally uninhibited by this kind of self-consciousness when among their peers, and that’s one reason they learn language so quickly. They are not afraid to mimic, even if they get it wrong. Mimicry and imitation are core elements of the natural process of language learning.

小孩子因为还没有形成在群体中的自我意识,所以学习语言会更快。他们不怕有样学样,就算犯错也无所谓。重复和模仿是语言学习过程中的核心要素。

So, for young adults learning English or any second language, my advice would be threefold: 1) seize the forty-minute learning window; 2) slay the dragon of self-consciousness associated with mis-pronunciation or sounding funny; and 3) find ways to use the language outside of the classroom, as regularly and frequently as possible.

所以,我对学英语的年轻人有三点建议:一要抓住四十分钟的时间窗,二要克服担心念错或发音搞笑的心魔,三要在课余时间尽量找机会多用。

One fundamental rule of language learning is: “Use it, or lose it.”

语言学习的根本法则就是“用进废退”。

The paybacks of success are enormous and life-long.

成功的回馈十分巨大,终生受用。

Likewise, the cost of failure is high. It includes all the money spent on tuition and associated expenses, plus a huge amount of time poorly spent. Not necessarily wasted, but poorly spent because the results could have been so much better.

同样,失败的代价也很惨重。不仅是学费和相关支出打了水漂,付出的时间成本也不可估量。虽然说不上是浪费,但与取得的成果相比就得不偿失了。

2016-06-21

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