Introducing ICE – the most efficient way to learn a foreign language

Modified on by Andrew Cohen


We’ve all had excuses for not learning a foreign language faster.  For some of us, we simply don’t have time to study.  For others, we lack the motivation.  For still others among us, we find it difficult to “pick up where we left off” after a long break from learning.   Well Brainscape is proud to introduce Brainscape Spanish (iTunes), the first of many packages that will help solve all of these problems once and for all.  As explained in a new white paper, our revolutionary new web/mobile study method – known as Intelligent Cumulative Exposure (ICE) – makes learning a foreign language faster, more efficient, and more convenient than ever before.

ICE leverages  the convenience of the virtual flashcard to combine grammar, sentence construction, and audio pronunciation into an incremental and comprehensive language-learning experience.  The secret to the methodology can be found in the precise pattern that ICE introduces new concepts.  It essentially works in three simple, repetitive steps:

(1)    Brainscape asks you to translate a particular sentence (e.g. “I have two siblings”) into Spanish – where the single underlined word is the only concept that has not yet been introduced in previous flashcards.  (Translation is an extremely underrated tool for adult learners.)

(2)    Brainscape reveals the correct translation (Tengo dos hermanos) on the back of the flashcard, and explains or annotates the new concept in smaller text.  (e.g. “Although the word hermano usually means ‘brother’ when singular, the plural hermanos could mean either ‘two brothers’ or ‘a brother and a sister’.)

(3)    Brainscape asks you, on a scale of 1-5, “How well did you know this?” which determines how soon that flashcard will be repeated.  Cards rated a 1 would repeat often until you report a higher level of confidence, while 5’s are very rarely repeated.

The process continues to repeat one card at-a-time (with AUDIO accompaniment), at gradually increasingly levels of complexity, with previous cards being repeated on an as-needed basis according to Brainscape’s machine learning algorithm.  Interspersed with these sentence-building exercises are simple vocabulary enrichment and verb conjugation-practice flashcards – which also employ a confidence-based repetition technique.

These educational software best practices seem very intuitive and simple, yet they have never before been implemented in a complete curriculum that is sliced & diced in such an incremental bite-sized process.  Brainscape Spanish includes over 2,000 “Sentence Builder” flashcards (as illustrated above) as well as over 4,000 cards – most with audio – for key vocabulary words and verb conjugations.  It is the first complete Spanish curriculum that promises to teach you the language from the ground-up, using nothing but an iPhone.

Overall, ICE’s easily “chunkable” yet progressively incremental curriculum is the most convenient and efficient way to learn a language on the iPhone.   While some people may still prefer competitors’ apps that offer “fun” activities like hangman, word searches, and multiple-choice quizzes, those who are serious about learning a language will use Brainscape to optimize their limited use of study time.

Brainscape is a web & mobile education platform that helps you learn anything faster, using cognitive science. Join the millions of students, teachers, language learners, test-takers, and corporate trainees who are doubling their learning results. Visit or find us on the App Store .


George Wade 9 years ago

I both agree and disagree with this. Translation must offer one of several short cuts to learning the first few thousand words of foreign languages. Easily understood pictures and video are others that appeal to me personally; I don't expect everybody to like my methods.

More progress can be made continuing with these methods in European languages that are essentially distant dialects: while increasing immersion. But when we get to Chinese and Japanese that really are different languages: the very best translations can easily be death traps. There the translation may be used as a crutch for an introduction but learning must go on immersed in the language being learnt. Not that translation need be forbidden from that point but that multi-media can augment Japanese learning of how to politely decline a present or invitation while both sides expect acceptance in the end. How to understand refusal of a business offer when the translated words were, "Oh yes, of course."

Kschultz05 9 years ago

I am excited to try the confidence-based flashcards. The most useful to least useful method of organization is very smart. I have a friend who is trying to learn Spanish via Rosetta Stone and so far the only sentence he can remember is "Cuantas llaves hay?" which means "How many keys are there?". What kind of situation would he have to be in to allow him to use those few Spanish words? The language learning theory behind the Brainscape app is both cheaper and more efficient!

Amanda Moritz 8 years ago

Thanks for the comment, kschultz05. Brainscape's ICE method ensures you're learning in sensible building blocks and in context...even in flashcards!

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