Why redundancy is good for language learning

The 17th rule in Dr Wozniak’s 20 Rules for Formulating Knowledge is about redundancy in the learning process.

Redundancy is often seen as a bad thing when effiency is the priority. If that’s the case, why is it a good thing when learning languages? Dr Wozniak explains that due to the way the learning process works, covering the same material in different ways is beneficial because it exercises a greater variety of mental pathways. This makes the knowledge and skills you acquire more flexible.

Passive and active knowledge

The concept of passive and active knowledge has been covered elsewhere on this blog, and is the main example that Dr Wozniak gives for the benefits of redundancy in learning.

Passive knowledge is your ability to recognise given material; it’s about input. For example, you may be able to read and hear the word 杂志 in Chinese. That’s not the same as being able to write or say it fluently though; being able to use it in output is active knowledge.

That raises another example of the need for duplication and redundancy. It’s possible to learn Chinese “audio-only”, being able only to speak and listen (this is usually described as illiteracy when referring to native speakers). If you want to learn to read and write as well, there’s going to be a lot of overlap, or redundancy, in your learning. This is not a bad thing.

Because of this difference, you need to exercise your Chinese knowledge in at least two different ways, even though it’s the “same” material in each case. This is commonly seen in flashcards where you have “forward” and “reverse” versions of a card, or more accurately passive and active prompts and responses.

From that you can see how redundancy is useful for thoroughly acquiring a language.

Defeat in detail

This blog explains the idea of defeat in detail elsewhere, but it’s worth mentioning again here as it’s very relevant to the concept of redundancy in language learning.

Defeat in detail is about thoroughly attacking the material you’re trying to learn from as many sides as possible in order to solidify it in your mind. Duplicating the learning with a variety of approaches builds stronger mental scaffolds around the material that improve your fluency and retention long term. Redundancy is what makes this approach effective.

Multiple courses

As well as redundantly covering specific material in your Chinese studies, it’s also good to have redundancy in the material you study. In other words, use multiple courses, multiple textbooks, multiple apps and so on.

Studying only one route has a tendency to create strong but narrow knowledge. A lot of language learners realise this in their first “out of the classroom” encounters with native speakers. Olle Linge refers to it as “the illusion of advanced learning”.

By using multiple courses, textbooks and other sources of input, you not only cover a greater variety of material, but reinforce what you’re learning by harnessing redundancy. Olle has also covered this in “why you should use more than one textbook”

Redundancy is not a waste of time

As you can see, it’s not a waste of time to include redundancy in your Chinese study time. Duplicating practice and coverage of the same material benefits you in the long run, as you will build stronger knowledge and greater fluency in the language.

Series: Twenty rules for learning

  1. Understand before you learn
  2. Learn before you memorise
  3. Build upon the basics
  4. The minimum information principle
  5. Cloze deletion for learning Chinese
  6. Use imagery to learn Chinese
  7. Use mnemonics
  8. Graphical deletion and audio deletion for learning Chinese
  9. Avoid sets
  10. Avoid enumerations
  11. Interference when learning Chinese
  12. 5 ways to optimise your Chinese flashcards
  13. Refer to other memories
  14. Personalise your Chinese learning
  15. Using emotional states to remember Chinese
  16. The importance of context in Chinese flashcards
  17. Why redundancy is good for language learning (this article)

Keep reading