Interesting day in Cambridge yesterday

So, I had an interesting day in Cambridge yesterday - which was all a little unexpected.

I had a Skype chat last Friday with Tom, who is head of a small new 6th form college in Cambridge, and who had read my booklet on high intensity language training. We shared a lot of interests, but with some interesting variations because his background is physics while mine is language.

Then it turned out that his students were starting a 6 week sprint to acquire as much Portuguese as possible - and that they were starting on Monday.

So, like an entirely sane person, when Tom seemed to think that my input might be interesting, perhaps via Skype, I thought it would make more sense to do it in person (I found it really quite exciting that someone was throwing a group of students into that kind of intensive situation, and that the students were willing to give it a shot, which made me want to find out more about what Tom’s doing down there).

About an hour before I got to Cambridge (which, yes, is a little further away than I had fully realised), I got a text from Tom.

‘Update - we’re going on stage to talk about our project at a conference!’

Yes, it turned out that the ‘we’ there included me - and the conference turned out to be a visiting delegation of teachers from Africa who were looking at intensive learning methods in Cambridge.

No pressure, then.

I’d been dawdling slightly, because Tom had originally suggested I arrive any time after 2, and now we were due on stage at 2 - so I put the pedal down a little more enthusiastically, and made it with about three minutes to spare.

We invested about 10 seconds in meeting each other for the first time, 2 minutes in planning an approach to the presentation, and were ready and waiting at the bell.

It was fun and interesting - and Tom livecast my not-entirely-polished contributions, which are still available here:

[and other snips on Tom’s timeline if that doesn’t break you].

It all seemed to go down well, judging by the amount of photos we had to pose for afterwards, and Tom’s recitation of the first 100 numbers of Pi was particularly impressive…

Then we want back to talk to his kids about the value of pain and suffering, videos of which are also on Tom’s timeline - then we got a bit of time to chat in general terms and talk about the work Tom’s doing with a language training company, and the possibilities for doing some stuff together, and then I hauled my weary bones back up to Stoke-on-Trent to see my mother and brother.

All very unexpected and entertaining - but I’m now looking forward HUGELY to seeing how Tom’s students get on with their 6 week programme, and if they choose to commit to livecasting their 2 hours immersion each Friday afternoon (if they do, I’ll be posting those links in here…:slight_smile: ).


I enjoyed watching that. Fun to see SSiW live in a classroom situation! I have to admit that I have been too chicken to commit to the high-intensity model - I’m one of those people that really feels better doing revision and I like to feel “comfortable” before moving on. It’s a method which served me well in all my years of school, so it’s hard to change! But you are slowly convincing me… :blush: I’m going to start Course 3 when I finish going through the Course 1 and 2 Vocabs (which I left until after I finished Course 2), and I’m promising myself that I will just go straight through this time.

You are way too modest. If that was off the cuff, I can’t imagine what polished would look like. You are an excellent speaker and teacher :star:

Keep us posted on how Tom’s students get on!



(I don’t know what to say)

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You are too modest, too! :slight_smile: My brain wants to run out of my ears just thinking about what you did!


Very impressive and hugely inspiring Aran!
liked your reference to the nuns :wink:

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Shared this on Facebook and Reddit - seems there are people outside of this forum who would probably find this interesting.


Well, done @aran but what I would complain is that camera could be aiming a bit higher. (OK, they corrected this in the middle of the whole thing :slight_smile: ). It’s strange to see you talking and not seing you in face.

And, ja, “unpolished”? Come on! As @AnnaC says, how polished appears then.


Slightly tangential to the main topic, I realise, but I cannot help wondering about any similarities and/or differences between learning (using high intensity spaced repetition, of course), a new language through one’s mother tongue, and learning the same new language through a second language, especially one acquired as an adult.

It would be interesting then to see to what extent a second language, acquired through the spaced repetition method, was able to act more like a mother tongue as a medium for learning other languages, than a second language learned through more traditional methods.

Or, to cut a long story short, it appears that spaced repetition can increase speed of learning and reduce time wasted on unproductive practice, but how far can it also increase the quality of the language encoding in the brain? And how do first/second/third language learning cascades interact with the learning process?

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I believe that it is useful to distinguish between learning and acquisition when it comes to languages. People such as Stephen Krashen describe (in one of his models at least, in Second Language Acquisition - Theory, Applications and Some Conjectures) language acquisition as a largely subconscious process, in which language is acquired in a fairly predictable order (he contrasts the -ing verb suffix with the -s verb suffix), and describe language learning as a conscious process, very much concerned with grammar rules and such.
Spaced repetition - and the entire SSi method, as far as I understand it, is very much about acquisition which is ipso facto faster than learning because there is no need to worry about grammatical rules. The encoding then is the end-result of subconscious acquisition.


Probably a little bit worse for each extra hour of preparation…:wink: But thank you very much for your lovely words!

I don’t think it is a problem, to be honest…:slight_smile: We unlearn mistakes very naturally - it’s a central part of L1 acquisition, and I’ve seen it happening a huge amount with L2 acquisition as well. If we believe that avoiding mistakes is a vital part of learning, we just end up with massively less production, less exposure, and less learning.

That’s very common…:slight_smile: But exposure/production would cure this for you, and in the meantime, it has no negative impact on communication. The risks that come with fearing mistakes are far, far higher than the bumpy but successful journey that embracing mistakes gives you…:slight_smile:

Very interesting question…:slight_smile: I’m not sure that spaced repetition in and of itself necessarily improves encoding on an item by item basis (certainly not compared to a memory palace, for example) - other elements of what we do (like desirable difficulty, and interleaving) have more impact on encoding, I believe.

There’s a lot of research (and a lot of uncertainty!) about this - it’s a very interesting field. I’ve never met anyone multilingual who hasn’t experienced interference, so I think it’s fairly safe to say it’s inevitable - but it would certainly be very interesting to compare learning trajectories for people learning through L1 compared to L2… maybe one day… :slight_smile:


Haven’t been able to see it, as my phones overloaded with apps and can’t seem to get it without downloading periscope- any other way?

But whoa, that’s a hell of a coincidence! That Tom Cassidy just popped up on my Facebook timeline. Apparently there is a 75% off offer on his “The Science of Getting Rich” course.

I would imagine that’s tracking of some kind rather than coincidence…:slight_smile:

Seems to be a pretty popular course - Tom also has his students get involved in business building as part of their studies, which I think is an excellent idea. Interesting comment from him here:

'This book should really have been called ‘The Science of Giving Value’. But then it’s not up to me, I didn’t write the book. Wallace Wattles wrote it in 1910 and called it ‘The Science of Getting Rich’. Possibly when ‘Rich’ wasn’t such a dirty word.

I’m seeing the videos in a desktop browser without downloading Periscope - maybe that’s different in a mobile environment?

If you happen to have the twitter app, then try watching it with that. Worked for me. Otherwise I don’t know :smiley:


@aran is probably aware of it, but there is a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course, fronted by Coursera, called Learning How to Learn. The ideas of Space Repetition and Interleaving, Chunking and Procrastination, Short term/Working Memory and Long term memory are introduced. Some of the ideas that Aran introduces in his off the cuff talk in Cambridge.


I know that Aran has answered this point already, but I can’t stress enough how little this matters. The thing is, if you speak often with other Welsh speakers you will soon, naturally, either consciously or sub-consciously, recognise that they’re not doing this and phase your way into copying them. Conversely, if you don’t have regular Welsh-speaking contacts you will be given enough leeway during conversations for it not to matter in the slightest. Almost all Welsh speakers on hearing dwi’n eisiau would think to themselves “ouch, that sounds a little bit awkward” and then just let the conversation flow. Only the most pedantic know-all would ever stop a conversation in its tracks in order to comment on it. And that’s if they notice. As you say yourself:



Which is interesting as Rob points out - and also because what actually happened there (you’d pick it up on a second, looking-for-it listening) is that we side-stepped the entire ‘yn’ issue - they were saying ‘dwi isio’ and ‘dwi siarad’ - because a) that kind of detail doesn’t matter when you’re aiming for an example of how learning that focuses on the edges works, and b) in any case, it left them sounding like Welsh speakers when they said ‘dwi siarad’ - because if you record a first language speaker saying ‘dwi’n siarad’ and then slow it down enough, or look at the waveforms, you’ll see that the 'n doesn’t survive very often in front of a consonant… :slight_smile:

I thought that at first, but no, it was up as something liked by a facebook acquaintance. Weird.[quote=“aran, post:13, topic:6324”]
I’m seeing the videos in a desktop browser without downloading Periscope - maybe that’s different in a mobile environment?

Possibly. Only access to an ancient laptop at the mo, but doubtless it will become available at some point.

Oh, a wide depth to education is always a good thing, and it sounds like his are!
"I’ve spent the last 25+ years combining the wisdom of hundreds of years of the study of global philosophies, human effectiveness, modern findings of behavioural science, recent breakthroughs in the understanding of brain physiology and even the results of quantum mechanics into practical, continuous development frameworks for getting things done.

Systems based on practical algorithms of thought and of operation. Algorithms that are easy enough for most people to do just as they are, without having to change any aspect of their life. 'Reasonable Algorithms for Reasonable People.

In my experience, the most effective continuous development frameworks are those which have duration, cadence and autonomy:

Autonomy - The framework is customisable, adaptable for every participant.

Cadence - The framework has a natural rhythm to it, a cyclic frequency.

Duration - The framework is designed for longitudinal impact and long term growth.

And this framework that I have put together appears to be very robust in its ability to get results, mostly because it requires a very small amount of willpower to make it work. People can stick to it quite effectively.

You still need to do the work. But the willpower you need to get the results is almost certainly the lowest you’ve ever used for achieving anything in your life, ever."

Sounds interesting. He is certainly a man of wide interests and a comprehensive knowledge, which is a good thing!

As for popularity, the fees at Cambridge International School look to be going on for thirteen thousand pounds a year - you don’t get people to pay out that sort of money without them seeing a decent return!

That doesn’t mean it’s not tracking - any time Facebook shows you something linked to a page that a friend likes, it will note that a friend likes it - it might mean that it’s been shown because a friend likes it, but it could just as easily be that you’d visited Tom’s Twitter account or website - Facebook is continually adding/complicating the ways in which they target.

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Oh aye, I know they’re out there keeping tabs on me, but still a coincidence that one of my not very numerous friends (or really acquaintence in this case) liked it, whether that was the only reason for showing it or not!
I think anyway.

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If the alternative is them not having any dialect through a lack of confidence in their Welsh, that’s a good thing rather than a problem I would say. If they ever get to join another community, they will adjust to the language there. If they don’t, no problem - just another dialect of Welsh exists where there was not one before. Sounds like a win win situation to me!