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Train your brain with high-tech version of old-school flash cards

Cards allow customer to improve memory, learn

Remember what it was like as a kid memorizing your spelling words or math facts and using flash cards to help them stick in your brain? These days, there are high-tech versions of the old-school flash cards to help make you smarter.

Ellen Jovin is a polyglot. That means she speaks more than one language.

"Over the past six years, I've studied 19 different languages," she said.

She adds to her vocabulary each day using an app that shows her new words, then quizzes her on the meanings. It works like paper flash cards, only smarter.

"It very intelligently remembers how you did with certain cards the day before, so it will keep feeding you things based on how it thinks you need to be reminded in order to store things in long-term memory," Jovin said.

"There are a number of different systems that have digital flashcards," said Jill Duffy, of PCMag.com. "One is called Cerego, another one is called Memrise. There's some language learning specific ones called Byki, for example."

But they're not just all about languages.

You can use these high-tech cards for anything you want to learn, from anatomy to zoology, with flags and bird calls in between.

"You can be fed the sound of the bird and then you have to figure out which bird it was," said Duffy.

Most of the tools use something called "spaced repetition" to help make sure what you see sticks in your mind.

"If you have that optimal time space in between, you're more likely to remember the vocabulary the next time around," explained Lila Davachi, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience.

"We can actually look using functional MRI and we can see that at 24 hours, when you recall memories that have been spaced, there's evidence that those memories have been more distributed across your brain," Davachi said.

That is very different than what many of us probably did in college.

"College students will typically study all night the night before an exam, and that's not a bad strategy for remembering that info for only, let's say, eight hours, but if you really want that information to stick around in the long term, spaced repetition is what actually enhances the availability and durability of those memories in your brain over days and weeks and even months," said Davachi.

The flashcard systems differ in how they work. Some come prepopulated with the information you're going to learn and memorize. Other systems allow you to upload all the information you want to study yourself.


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