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My friend Maneesh Sethi spent five years travel hacking his way around the world, learning Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and German along the way. Now Maneesh has launched the Pavlok, a wearable device that uses electric shock to help you change your habits. It’s a device I see so much potential for that I was even an early investor in it!
Today, I’ve invited one of Maneesh’s team, Michael, to share a unique language hack based on the science of learning.
Very few language hacks are developed in a laboratory.
Yet there is one hack so powerful that it took a whole team of scientists to uncover…
They had fancy equipment, an institutional budget and decades of experience between them. And it turns out you can replicate their results at home.
All you need to get started is some flash cards, your two fingers and the step-by-step guide in this post.
Let’s get started!
How Hard Pinches Increase Your Memory And Help You Learn Vocabulary
Language hackers have accepted truths:
- You will get better if you are willing to make mistakes
- There are around 1000 words in any language that make up 90% of everyday use
- Immersion forces you to improve
But almost no-one talks about using science to learn languages faster (with one notable exception: spaced repetition).
Yet scientifically proven approaches can be VERY effective. Why have we ignored the science for so long?
For 80+ years, researchers have reported the successful results of negative stimuli for self improvement.
The reports range from using electric shock to help 60%+ of smokers quit their habit, to using nausea-inducing substances to help people quit drinking alcohol (studies show this is more effective than Alcoholics Anonymous).
The DIY version of an electric shock is giving yourself a hard pinch.
Let’s dig into the science and then I’ll explain how you can start using pinch-power for rapid language acquisition.
Here’s the Science Behind Improving Your Vocabulary
In a 2014 study, four researchers tested the effect of threat inducement on memory.
Spoiler: your body’s threat response improves memory! Here is the cool part — memories can be enhanced both selectively AND retroactively, which means a little threat today can enhance the memory of something you learned last week.
The study was conducted at the Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Sciences at New York University. It cited 25 other studies, spanning five decades of rigorous scientific testing.
In the study, electrodes were used to improve short term recall of images after study sessions.
In Phase 1, subjects were asked to classify 60 items as either a “tool” or an “animal”. They were not asked to remember the images.
In Phase 2, shocking electrodes were attached to the subject’s right wrist. Again, they were asked to classify 60 objects as either a “tool” or an “animal”. This time the subjects were shocked on one of the two categories. Some were shocked on every tool, and some were shocked on every animal. The shock is perceived by the brain to be a threat, which increases awareness.
The subjects were then given a surprise recall examination (AKA: a memory pop quiz). Some received the memory test immediately following the study. Others received the follow-up assessment six hours or 24 hours later.
Conclusion: Electric Shocks Can Boost Your Memory and Vocabulary
The study found that participants who had an electric shock paired with their flashcards had an increased ability to remember those cards when compared with the control group.
And the findings were not only for those specific cards, but also applied retroactively to cards viewed in the past.
The above chart shows that without exception, threat-inducement resulted in increased memory and recall.
Here’s how this memory enhancement can be used in everyday life:
- Vocabulary retention via flash cards
- Useful phrases in a foreign language
- Names of people you meet at a party
- High-priority flashcards before a test
- Bullet points before a big presentation
- An email address or to-do item from someone you meet in person
- Recall words on the tip of your tongue
The next section is a step-by-step guide on how to use threat inducement (via pinching yourself) to increase vocabulary retention and speed up your language learning.
How To Rapidly Memorize Vocabulary
The following guide shows how to use both software and hard pinches to learn languages faster.
The software is Anki. Anki intelligent flash card software based on the way your brain learns new things, like vocabulary.
The hard pinch is the “threat inducer” that forces your body to operate at a higher level.
Here’s what to do:
- Download and install Anki. The Anki software is available for all major desktop and mobile platforms. You can then upload your own word lists or use one from the Anki library. Not sure about Anki? If you have another flash card method, you can use that.
- Master the hard pinch. The goal is to induce a “threat response” and activate your brain’s increased awareness of an event. To do so, you need a pretty strong pinch. When I do this I squeeze a bit of skin, put my index finger on the back of it and then dig my thumbnail in. An effective pinch is uncomfortable and a little bit painful. An alternative is an elastic band that you can snap against your wrist
- Review a category of flash cards. Examples of categories may be general (e.g., verbs, adjectives) or more focused (e.g., food, clothing, jobs). Don’t pinch yourself at this stage, but you may use another memory enhancement technique like reading the vocabulary out loud.
- Review that same category, adding the pinch. This time when you review the category, pinch yourself once on each vocabulary word. Twenty flash cards? Twenty pinches. Also, spend a moment to focus on each flashcard before moving to the next. You may repeat this step as many times as you like on the first day.
- In future study sessions pinch only on forgotten vocabulary. The goal is to focus your increased memory retention on those words giving you the most trouble. Again, spend a moment on each card before moving on to the next.
That’s it — a 5 step, science backed system proven to enhance your memory and help you rapidly increase your vocabulary.
You can learn 100 common food words.
You can learn the names of places to go.
You can learn how to check into a hotel.
You can learn it all.
And for most people this “pinch hack” will be enough. However, if you think you could use a little help, there is an upgrade available.
Want to Upgrade Your Pinch? Try a Real Electric Shock
Once you’ve mastered the pinch-hack above, you may be ready for the “upgraded pinch” – a safe electric shock. WARNING: The key word here is “safe”. Electricity can cause serious harm if not administered safely.
Pavlok is a wearable device that gives you small electric shocks on command. It’s safe and scientifically proven as more effective than DIY techniques like pinching or rubber bands.
It’s not just for improving your memory. Pavlok users are quitting smoking, nail biting, wasting time online and dozens of other bad habits.
Decades of scientific research show the majority of people who apply electric shock are able to quit these habits in less than 5 days. And more importantly, after a 12 month check-in they continue to abstain from their former addiction.
And you can use it for good habits too: exercising, eating healthily, learning languages and more.
Pavlok pre-sold thousands of devices, raising over $270,000 on Indiegogo. You can get the latest Pavlok here.
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.