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Nobody likes learning difficult things. When we see a complicated topic in front of us, such as inflection of nouns or the hated subjuntivo mode in Spanish, we often begin to feel that it is too much for us. Dr Piotr Woźniak, the inventor of the SuperMemo method, comes to the rescue, as he claims that even the most difficult thing can be simplified! Therefore, in this article, you can read about his minimum information principle.

SIMPLE IS EASY – WHY SIMPLIFY LANGUAGE LEARNING?

Simple, uncomplicated pieces of information are easy to remember – everyone knows it. First of all, it is much easier to master a few easy things, than one big one that is complicated and complex. When you’re learning, say, a word, your brain goes through a maze full of different paths (this is more or less how we can imagine a neural network). During this journey, your brain leaves traces on the “walls” to remember the route it has travelled. Therefore, it is easier for it to follow the same path several times in a row than a complicated road full of deceptions, dead ends and forks.

THAT’S ALL WELL AND GOOD, BUT HOW CAN WE USE THIS IN PRACTICE?

By dosing information appropriately. When we approach a complicated topic, it is worth breaking it down into the smallest, simplest parts. This can be compared to assembling a wardrobe, which consists of screws, sides, doors, handles, and so on. Let’s illustrate this with an example – declination in German. If you try to learn all the cases at once, you will find it more difficult than if you focus on each of them separately.

MINIMUM INFORMATION PRINCIPLE IN QUESTION-ANSWER EXERCISES

people praise learning using the “question-answer” principle – and we also use it in our courses. So what does such an exercise, combined with the minimum information principle, look like? Let me use the example of declination again.

If we take on too much information at once, it will look like this:

Question: What is the article declination in German?

Answer: Nominativ: male: der, ein, kein; female: die, eine, keine, neuter: das, ein, kein Genitiv: male: des, eines, keines; female: der, einer, keiner, neuter: das eines keines …

Sounds complicated? And these are just the first two singular cases!

But what if we break down a complex topic into its first parts?

Question: What questions does Nominativ answer?

Answer: wer? was? (who what?).

Question: What are the definite articles in Nominativ?

Answer: der die das and die in plural.

Question: What is the feminine definite article in Nominativ?

Answer: die.

Question: And what is the definite masculine article in the Nominativ?

Answer: der.

Question: And what is the definite neuter article in the Nominativ?

Answer: das.

And so on. Of course, we can use a table for this – many of us are visual learners. But by breaking the topic down into individual cases and articles, the whole topic suddenly becomes much simpler! The minimum information principle can be used to learn anything – not just languages. In SuperMemo courses, we use it to create each course!