The Role of Repetition

The role of repetition's role in learning a language learning...?

I finished Harry Potter y la Cámara Secreta last Friday and had to decide what to read next.  Well, not really, Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban would be next, as I’ve been saying that I wanted to stay with the series.  It’s a longstanding favorite that I find myself rereading again and again, and I was overdue for a reread in English when I started in on this project; it’s not just a case that it was next in general for learning Spanish, it was next because I wanted to read Harry Potter.

Well, Saturday came around and gave me pause as I was looking over the messy pile of books I have on my desk.  I’ve been thinking about rereading and repetition a lot over the past few weeks, as I finished up El Odio que Das and was prepared to go back into Potter, about how it felt both different and the same to read the series in Spanish instead of English, about how I feel in general about rereading stuff, and about how that relates to one of the most common pieces of advice in language learning I’ve stumbled across, but have not really addressed yet.

I couldn’t say the number of times I’ve come across a video or blog discussing the importance of repetition in language learning.  The host will talk about how they’ll read something over and over again, listen to the same thing dozens of times, not able to necessarily catch all of it at the start but getting more used to it with each listen.  A lot of the advice is built around doing this, with a suggestion to avoid novels or movies in favor of shorter things so it’s less cumbersome to go through them over and over again.  Obviously this isn’t something that they say you should continue doing after a certain point, but there isn’t much clarity on when that point is.  Regardless, it seems to be vital on some level.

I hate rewatching and rereading stuff like this.

That isn’t to say I hate repetition entirely, seeing as we got onto this topic from Harry Potter, a series I’ve read probably two dozen times in whole or in part at this point.  And half the stuff I’ve recorded in these blogs are things that aren’t new to me.  These episodes of My Little Pony I’ve been watching are all at the very least the third watch (I’m finishing up the second season, which is about where I started in on the show the first time around), when I’ve discussed movies it’s usually with a comment about my feelings about it in Spanish compared to English, and El Odio que Das was the first Spanish book I read where I hadn’t read it before in English.  Repetition isn’t a dirty word to me.  But the thought of watching an episode over and over and over again sounds like a torture chamber.

Still, though, the advice hangs over me in the air and it enters my thoughts regularly, because I worry that I’m hobbling my own progress by not doing it more.  I have done it a little, back in the early going.  I reread a children’s picture book called ¿Para qué Quiere el Ratón mi Diente? two or three times spaced out over a couple weeks, and I watched Puffin Rock through twice in Spanish.  Neither are repeats in the ‘over and over again’ vein like the advice tends to suggest, but the repetition was fairly soon.  And in both cases, I think going back was very helpful.  Mostly, though, I’ve finished something and moved on from it to the next thing, with at most a half-hearted thought to “maybe” go back to it later.  The new stuff is obviously helping, too, but the thought is still there, making me question if I could be doing more without that much effort by just going over stuff again.

So with that going through my head on Saturday, I picked up…El Principito to read again.

It was the easy choice.  The first read through was a frustrating marathon, taking ten days of fits and starts to get through despite its very short length, partially thanks to how difficult and slow it was to read but also because of how little of it I was willing to read at a time due to how tired and frustrated it made me to try.  Charlie y la Fábrica de Chocolate also took an inordinate amount of time to read, as did El Maravilloso Mago de Oz, but I had fond memories of them instead of frustrating ones.  Reading then was hard, and exhausted me, but I had an easier time following them and getting wrapped up in the story.  If there was a book that stuck out clearly in my head as a good yardstick to doublecheck my progress against, it was El Principito.

And from a different angle, The Little Prince is one of my favorite books.  Revisiting it had never been the same undertaking as Harry Potter—which, I mean, obviously; one is 30k words and the other is over a million—but it happened about as often.  And it was probably more overdue to be read again.  Going into it in Spanish, I was excited to see an old friend.  What I got was a battle.  A frustrating boxing match with a book that lasted ages too long and left me with a technical victory.  I finished it, yes, and I had followed it, but it didn’t register in my head as a reread of The Little Prince the way it usually did, nor how Charlie registered as a personal success when I’d finished it.  I didn’t feel accomplished, I felt tired and beat up.  It was discouraging, and doubly so because I’d wanted to read The Little Prince and barely felt like I’d had.

I thought at the time that I ought to follow the advice out there and reread El Principito right away, but the thought was revolting.  I spent a while questioning myself then about what to do, thinking that if I really wanted to learn Spanish, I needed to reread it until I got it, and that if I had to do that I might as well give up on this project.  Despite those questions, I moved onto the next book and tried to assuage my worries by half-heartedly promising to maybe go back to El Principito later, after some more practice and time with the language.

So I came back to it on Saturday.  I say ‘on Saturday’ specifically because I read it in one sitting.  The difficulty had been completely brushed away by the further experience with Spanish.  It wasn’t as easy as it would have been to read in English or anything; there were points that remained difficult to parse and a few words that I needed to look up to get through it, but the exhaustion was long since gone and the complexity of the writing style had been rendered simple.  And best of all, it wasn’t a fight, I was just reading The Little Prince again.

Did revisiting it help me the way all the advice blogs and videos said it would?  I dunno.  I doubt it was useless, but it certainly wasn’t as helpful as revisiting things were early on, when I was struggling to understand picture books.  It did make me feel better, though, not only over what had felt like a mercurial victory with reading it the first time, but also just from feeling like I’d read the book for real.  Maybe it could be called a “confidence boost,” something I’m not sure I really needed as I’ve been feeling pretty confident already.  Doesn’t really matter, because whether it was all that helpful or not, I’m very glad I did it.

I’m not sure how often I’ll end up going back and revisiting other things going forward.  There are a few movies I’m game to watch after a short amount of time, and Zootopia is one of them, so that might get a rewatch just out of a desire to watch it again, but these other books are a bigger question.  The sense of revulsion at the thought of rereading the earlier ones has passed at this point and I wouldn’t mind going back to them, but I don’t know how much value doing that would have over moving onto something else.  Part of the way into Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban now, I’m more excited by the idea of looking forward than I am backward, so I think I’m going to keep on that track for now.

All righty, let’s get into the numbers.

Tuesday 7/31

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 190 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y la Cámara Secreta, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~40 minutes

Wednesday 8/01

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 166 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1 chapter of Harry Potter y la Cámara Secreta, ~40 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Magic School Bus, ~20 minutes

Thursday 8/02

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 330 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1 chapters of Harry Potter y la Cámara Secreta, ~40 minutes

Friday 8/03

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 202 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y la Cámara Secreta, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Magic School Bus, ~60 minutes

Saturday 8/04

  • Anki: 110 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 224 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 27 chapters of E Principito, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode, of Miraculous 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Magic School Bus, ~60 minutes

Sunday 8/05

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 214 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban, ~45 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Magic School Bus, ~60 minutes

Monday 8/06

  • Anki: 150 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 180 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 1 chapters of Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban, ~40 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Magic School Bus, ~60 minutes
  • Total Anki: 890 cards reviewed, 70 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 1,506 XP, 390 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 15 tv episodes watched, 300 minutes
  • Total reading: 36 chapters read, 395 minutes
  • Total Time: 19 hours 15 minutes


Another great week.  I was right in my assumptions last blog that I was going to run into problems finding time for everything during the week, which became directly evident on Tuesday.  Thursday was a special case of being extra-busy with other responsibilities, but even on the normal-amount-of-busy days like Tuesday and Wednesday I found myself not finishing the hour of television, not because I didn’t feel like it, just because I ran out of time before needing to go to sleep.

Coincidentally, I finished completing the Duolingo Spanish Tree to fully maxed level this week, and as a result I’ve made the decision to pare back the amount of time spent on Duolingo to 20-30 minutes a day.  There’s a “story” section separate from the tree on Duolingo, which I’ve been putting some more focus on as the number of things to do dwindled, and right now I’m mostly just focused on going through those.  When they’re gone, I’m planning on just using the practice feature for the 20-30 minutes and having that be it for the platform.  I’d rather use that time on reading and watching.

And speaking of numbers, let’s look back on July as a whole.

  • Total Anki: 4,000 cards reviewed, 310 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 39,467 XP, 1,860 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 35 tv episodes and 1 podcast watched, 725 minutes
  • Total reading: 48 chapters + 2 short stories read, 1,920 minutes
  • Total Time: 80 hours 15 minutes

And here’s the money spent in July breakdown.

  • El Odio que Das, Fiction, EBook, Amazon, $8.57
  • Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban, Fiction, Used Copy, eBay, $3.74
  • Netflix Subscription Standard HD Plan, Television and Movie Streaming, $10.99 per month, $10.99
  • Amount Spent on Fiction Books: $12.31
  • Amount Spent on Services: $10.99
  • Total Spent: $23.30

So in comparison to June, reading’s almost doubled, watching is the same (which is impressive considering how poorly I did for most of the month on that), the average per day has gone up closer to 2.5 hours, and I met my goal of reading and watching to be more than Duolingo time handily, in that I beat it with just reading.  Can’t complain about that one bit.

Spending is also pretty low, about half of June’s spending (I erroneously attributed El Odio que Das to June’s spending when I discussed the total-for-June in the spending blog, so that total was closer to $50 flat).  I don’t think I can do much with the info from spending yet, as I don’t have enough info to look at trends, I don’t think.

Overall, July was a very successful month, I think.  I’m not seeing much in the way of weak points in my studying habits that I need to shore up, more just a need to stay on track with my current routine.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the total study time goes down next month, though, as I lower time spent on Duolingo without replacing it.  Though that will remain to be seen.

Anyway, feeling good about last month, and good about the start of this one.  Nowhere to go but forwards.  TTFN.

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