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Haitham Jendoubi

Haitham is a language educator and international journalist with a specialty in cognitive science. After receiving his degree in Cognitive Science from Yale University, he spent a year in Japan teaching English and designing language curricula before returning to New York to join the Brainscape team. Haitham’s insight and his strong way with words have led to several published academic articles in peer-reviewed journals as well as through the Dow Jones Newswires, while landing him a spot on a key faculty committee with the dean of Yale College. He fluently speaks English, Japanese, French, and Tunisian Arabic, and he is currently improving his Spanish and Portuguese using Brainscape.

Haitham Jendoubi's Posts

You’re not learning Na’vi!

By , 2/23/2011 at 11:47 am

The linguistic philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine poses an interesting thought experiment in his book Word and Objectsuppose a linguist conducting field research is trying to unlock the secrets of a rare language isolate by spending time with the speakers of the language.  A rabbit darts out from a bush, prompting a speaker of this rare language to exclaim, “Gavagai!”

The problem Quine poses is how the linguist can then come to know what that word means. It could mean “rabbit”, of course, but it could also mean “mammal”, “dinner”, “fast”, or “finally!”.  Or possibly “Finally, a fast mammal that we’re going to have for dinner!”  (Hey, it could happen.) (more…)

The Naruto Effect (Why my roommates know about 100 Japanese words without cracking open a textbook)

By , 1/18/2011 at 1:43 pm

My roommates have never set foot inside a Japanese classroom, yet they each know about 100 Japanese words and use them productively (if ironically) in English conversation.  The question every language learner should be asking is: How can I get me some of THAT?

Many American adults believe they must be linguistically challenged, since they took four (or six, or eight) years of Spanish yet can’t speak a word of it.  However, this assumes that their mere presence in a classroom should have been enough for them to absorb the language through “osmosis”.  Their conclusion—that something must be wrong with them—is misguided for this reason. (more…)

The Problem with Multiple-Choice Self-Tests

By , 4/16/2010 at 9:29 pm

Quizzes and study techniques generally come in two forms: production and recognition.  Flashcard engines such as Brainscape lend themselves to the production variety of study, as they require the user to freely recall the target rather than simply recognizing it from among multiple choices.  A large body of research shows that production is tremendously more effective than recognition even if the goal is to perform well on a multiple-choice test (see Karpicke and Roediger, 2006). (more…)

Working Memory

By , 3/5/2010 at 6:49 am

Have you ever had to remember a phone number long enough to scribble it down?  It probably wasn’t too hard, was it?  The type of memory that we use for those types of tasks is often called working memory.  It is a different beast from long-term retention—and one that we have to be wary of if we are serious about learning. (more…)

Leveraging Break Time to Improve Learning

By , 2/4/2010 at 8:26 pm

As learners, we often find it difficult to crack open our books and start studying.  It often seems like the highest hurdle, whether due to procrastination or the legitimate demands of other tasks, is to just sit down and begin to study.

As a result, we often have a tendency to study in long stretches because we know that after we close the book, it will only be by sheer force of will that we’ll open it again.  So, once we’ve begun a study session, we want to squeeze the maximum amount of utility out of it before we finish.  We also prefer to interrupt our hectic lives as infrequently as possible by consolidating study into as few sessions as we can.  Makes sense.

…or does it?  (more…)

Long-Term Retention

By , 1/25/2010 at 4:45 pm

The question of memorization—or, couched in the terms of learning and memory theory, “long-term retention”—is essentially a battle with our tendency to forget.  Not only that, but because memorization is the absence of forgetting, it is painfully slow and unreliable by design.  Whereas it only takes a moment to forget a fact, remembering it is an arduous process that is never over.  As educators or learners, our work is cut out for us. (more…)