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Whenever I've learned a language, I've usually learned in two ways:

  1. By quickly learning the material (learning more material in less time), later coming back to improve proficiency.
  2. Spending large amounts of time learning one subject, slowly learning new material. By "large amounts of time learning", I mean, continually and rigorously practicing the material to ensure it sticks in your head.

Which way of learning is more efficient/faster to developing proficiency/fluency in the language? A more progressive style to increase proficiency, or a slower, more rigorous style?

  • What do you mean by "subject" in your title and 2. Do you mean a single topic within the language? – virmaior Apr 5 '16 at 23:28
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The efficiency and speed of learning depends on a number of factors such as the difficulty of the learned material (how meaningful it is), its representation and physiological factors (motivation, health, stress, sleep, etc).

However in general, it's more efficient to get familiar with the learning material briefly, so you have time to process that new information subconsciously and come back to the material again to improve retention of that information in the human memory, rather than learn large amount of information at once.

This can be supported by the forgetting curve hypothesis which demonstrates the decline of memory retention in time:

The forgetting curve of memory retention in time - A typical representation of the forgetting curve

Image source: Wikipedia

This shows that every time when you coming back to the same material, each time it increases strength and durability of that memory in the brain, so you are able to recall it for the longer period of time.

Definitely a spaced repetition could be more useful for improving learning and much more efficient in comparison of absorbing too much information at the same time (more than what is usually necessary) which makes your easily tired and exhausted, so the information is more impervious to being lost or forgotten.

See also: Spaced repetition, Forgetting curve, Forgetting, Mnemonic.

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If I were learning a "first" new language, I'd use the second method, learning slowly but steadily, to get "foundational" knowledge in place.

If I had one new language under my belt, I'd try the first method, "fast" learning, because I'd be building on the foundation of the first one.

It's like the military: In launching an attack, I'd work slowly for the first "breakthrough." But once it is achieved, I'd use a fast "exploitation sequence," e.g. sending tanks through enemy lines.

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