Spanish Course Review: Earworms by BerlitzAug 05
Berlitz say “The earworms concept draws on the latest research into accelerated learning and memory enhancement and takes advantage of the scientifically proven capacity of the mind to memorize words far better in melodic patterns. Our own trials point to the phenomena being even more powerful than we had anticipated. With earworms, students usually get over 90% in difficult vocabulary tests, compared to less than 50% with conventional book learning.”
That’s a 40% increase. Very impressive! But do the statistics tell the real story? What exactly were their trials testing? The effect of music on learning? Or the effect of relaxation through music on learning? Research has shown that particular brainwaves seem to be more conducive to accelerated learning. These brainwaves can be induced through music but they can equally be induced by creating a relaxing enjoyable learning atmosphere. Also, changing how a learner psychologically frames the learning task from negative (books) to enjoyable (music) has a big impact on learning performance. So if we were to imitate Berlitz’s study but replace earworms with an all round pleasant learning environment and compare that to “conventional book learning” would we still get an increase in performance. Just about every study on accelerated learning would say yes.
My main issue with earworms is the underlying assumption within the following quote:” The earworms programme not only anchors words and phrases into your memory in a very short time, it also fits in with busy lives, also saving time. You can learn in a traffic jam, on the Underground, while jogging, where and when you want to”. The basic presupposition is that you can learn a language without ever paying attention to it. In fact, later or on they explicitly state that the learning “is of course without effort, as you are only listening to songs”. Ask any independent language learner if you can learn a language without any conscious effort and you’ll get a very different response.
In fact, if I ask you to sing me the lyrics of a song you know well without the music or any other cue you probably wouldn’t be able to sing it flawlessly all the way through. Furthermore, the songs that we could do this with we would have listened to literally thousands of times. Would I really want to listen to earworms thousands of times? No chance!
On top of this, although I may know the words to a particular song, nine times out of ten I couldn’t tell you what it’s about. I’m just mindlessly parroting with no awareness of meaning. That’s not really a good idea for language learning.
Now, Lets see what Berlitz say on how often you should listen to the CDs. Surely with such an advanced system you wouldn’t have to listen to them too often for them to be ingrained into your memory!
Berlitz say: “In practical terms this means listening to the whole album the first day, in order to ‘tune your ear in’ to the sounds of the target language. Then listen regularly, several times, over a period of one or two weeks, making sure that you listen to every song equally as many times.
After this, go through the booklet and test your knowledge, picking out any gaps that you may wish to concentrate on.
Lastly, the review phase. As we all know, memories fade, so it is important to refresh your memory by listening to the CD at your leisure, say, once a week for the following few weeks. Thereafter, monthly. This review phase is crucial as it consolidates your knowledge and transfers it into your long-term memory. “
So you are advised to listen to it several times over two weeks, then test yourself via the booklet, then listen once a week for three weeks, then monthly (lets say six months). Well since I don’t know what several means I’m going to say every other day. So in a six month period we are expected to study it 17 times. Is this good or bad? Well given the fact that each track contains barely 20 words I don’t find that impressive at all. I’m confident that I could memorize a word-list of 20 words in less than 17 goes.
All in all I think this course may be of some use to the typical tourist but for serious language learners I’d recommend learning some accelerated learning ideas and finding a more comprehensive course or two.