Repetition is the mother of all learning

Modified on by Amanda Moritz-Saladino

Repetition is the mother of all learning

This saying is really old…old enough to be one of those Latin phrases that’s engraved into stone somewhere in the sprawl of the former empire: Repetitio mater studiorum est. Repetition is the mother of all learning.

We love this phrase at Brainscape, because maximizing repetitions is one of the cornerstones of the science behind our app. What’s really cool is that scientists are still finding compelling research that back up this folk truth with hard data.

Often times, old(er) people will say, “I’m too old to learn a new language. Isn’t my brain closed off to learning new things anyways?” These people are wrong; you can learn a new language at any age. New research conducted at Cambridge University has demonstrated that all you need to do is see a word 160 times in 14 minutes to truly know it. What’s more, is that the scientists compared the memory traces of familiar words to the memory traces of the new word, and they were nearly identical! Learning is simple when you repeat.

So don’t tell yourself that you can’t learn a new language, and don’t blame it on your old brain. You can, and science keeps finding evidence saying that your brain can too. Just remember that repetition is crucial for learning new languages (as well as anything else), and systems like Confidence Based Repetition (the theory underlying Brainscape’s adaptive digital flashcards) make learning new languages easier and faster than ever before.

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 .


Ines Hijazi 1 year ago

Def the key of a good learning

Andrew Cohen 2 years ago

Practice makes perfect!

Praverb 2 years ago

Nothing like passive repetition

Thailand Reisen 5 years ago

So that essentially means I repeat a word every 5 seconds for 14 minutes and then it's set? This seems to make a point against repetition rather than for repetition - yes it works, but highly ineffective. I think it's an interesting study, I'm happy I know about it, but using association and imagination I can learn a new word in less than a minute and lock it in my memory. It might take more effort than just looking at a word, but I'd rather put in more effort and save a lot of time.

Amanda Moritz 5 years ago

This study was only looking at passive repetition (i.e. only listening to a
new word over and over). It's impressive that only hearing a new word
(passively, no less!) results in a memory trace identical to a familiar
word. I was making the case that it's important to know you can still learn
new words and new language no matter how old you are.

Andrew Cohen 5 years ago

Great points. But 160 repetitions??!! Cambridge could have ensured that their experiment's subjects learned those vocab words with a lot fewer repetitions, by just spacing those exposures out more efficiently over time.

As noted in that Confidence-Based Repetition white paper you cite, the optimal interval between exposures is the longest possible amount of time before you would have otherwise forgotten the concept. 160 times in 14 minutes is obviously pretty excessive in that respect.

Amanda Moritz 5 years ago

well...that's 160 PASSIVE repetitions(simply hearing it...experiments are always weird like that). I'm sure you can learn a new word a lot faster if you actually pay attention or say it outloud, you know, all those good study methods we should all employ at all times :)

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