High Intensity Language Training – when to repeat sessions


Hang on a moment – let me just struggle to overcome this sudden temptation to write ‘Never!‘ and then hit ‘Publish’…

[Struggle, struggle, victory].

So, last week (here) I talked about how you should embrace mistakes – how making mistakes actually helps you learn, and how mistakes should NOT be taken as a sign that you need to revisit earlier material.  And I promised to talk about when you should repeat sessions.

The short version

[Which is also the most challenging version]

Repeat lessons only when you want to test how the system is working for you.

The slightly longer version

This ‘almost zero repetition’ is a bit scary, a touch on the extreme side, and yet – if you can bear it, it will make the process of acquiring a new language significantly faster for you.

Let’s look briefly at how it would work in practice.

Imagine, if you will, that you’ve committed to one full day of intense learning each week, and that you manage to get through five sessions in an intense day (which is a reasonable target, although if you do this for real, cut yourself some slack if those sessions include some of the ones where we get the length horribly wrong, and they roll on for 40 minutes or more!).

The first Saturday (for example), you get through 5 sessions.  A week later, you repeat the last couple of sessions from the previous week, and then do 5 more.

Oh no you DON’T!

Tut.  Shame on you.  Weren’t you listening?!…;-)

You’re only going to be repeating when you want to test yourself – not as part of the main flow of your learning.

So, a week later, if you did lesson 1 to 5 on your first day, you do lessons 6 to 10.  That’s right – you don’t repeat any lessons at all.  It’ll hurt a bit – with lesson 6, at any rate – but once you’re through the initial pain of revisiting everything for the first time (which will happen automatically in the course of lesson 6), you’ll probably be surprised by how normal the rest of the lessons feel.

A week later, the same deal – you move on, without repeating any earlier lessons, to 11 to 15.

Now let’s imagine you have a break – because you’re bored, or you get married, or you have children, or you accidentally drink three bottles of rum, any of the many and glorious ways in which life can interrupt you.

And let’s imagine it’s a big break – you don’t just skip a week, you skip three months – and you feel wicked and naughty, as traditional approaches to language learning tell you that you’re meant to feel when you take time off.

Now you have an interesting choice.

When you know this approach works, when you have no doubt left at all, you’ll probably want to carry straight on.  In other words, on your first intense day back at the coalface, you’ll do lessons 16 to 20.

But if this is the first time you’ve tried to accelerate, you’ll feel nervous by now.  The three months off will have convinced you that you’ve forgotten everything – so here’s a little pattern of repetition that will help show that you haven’t.

The last five sessions you did were 11 to 15.

Which do you think you should revisit?

Damn, I can’t hear you.

Well, the answer is 15.  Not 11, no, and certainly not 1 or 2 – if you’re thinking in those terms, you’re still stuck in the traditional approach which tells you that you should go through all the work again.

But in the world of High Intensity Language Training, you’re operating with interval learning wrapped around you – you only need to revisit each word or structure once – and that will happen (for the vast majority of words and structures) in the latest lesson you did.

One little trick

You won’t need this as your confidence levels rise – but the first time round, it might be a very helpful step indeed.

On your first ‘reactivation’ day after your 3 month break, just do lesson 15.  Don’t make it an intense day, because we’ve got a point to make here.

It should feel painful, and you should need to make serious use of the pause button.

Don’t worry.

The next day, do lesson 15 again.

The difference will be very likely to convince you that this method works, and that it works for you.

What difference does it make?

Let’s crunch a few numbers.

If you do one intense day a week, and get through 5 sessions a day, it’ll take you just four calendar weeks to get through an entire SSi Level.

To put that into context, we know that people who’ve got through Level 1 can survive a week without any English, in one of our Bootcamps (as long as they’re cheerful people, and they don’t mind resorting to mime occasionally).

In other words, four weeks from scratch to survivability.  That is a phenomenal rate of acquisition, but if you test yourself, you will discover that you are capable of it.  Even if the exact numbers vary for you – say you can only get through 3 sessions in an intense day before your head explodes – you’ll still have done a complete SSi Level in just 8 weeks.

All well and good – but what about taking breaks?

Maybe it would help for you think of it upside-down, in a manner of speaking.

When you start an H.I.L.T. approach, you’re four (or a few more) weeks away from completing Level 1.

If you do two weeks and then take a break for six months – and then carry straight on, as described above – you’re still only two weeks away from completing Level 1, even after a six month break.

We’ve been seeing clues about this for years – people going AWOL for a year or more, and then coming on the forum to say how surprised they were at how quickly it had come back – but in most cases, they were going back to Lesson 1 and doing all the work over again.

By now, the one-on-one testing I’ve done leaves me certain that they did NOT need to do all that extra work – they just needed to suffer one lesson of real pain, and then they would have found the vast majority of their learnt words and structures had been reactivated.

Putting it into practice

You don’t need any more preaching from me.  You know how to jump in and start doing this, based on what you’ve read in this post and in the last week’s post – so why not give it a go?

It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at – just start with the next new lesson you’ve got lined up – and it doesn’t matter if you choose to do an intense day each week, or once a month – set up a schedule or just go for it whenever you happen to have time, and only use the ‘testing, testing’ repetition after a break while you’re still trying to believe in the approach.

And come and tell me how it goes for you!

But… although you don’t need any more preaching from me, I’ve still got a lot of bits and pieces to tell you about what I’ve witnessed in one-on-one sessions, so I’ll carry on giving you more detail and more insight into the process next week.

If you’ve done one intense day by next week, though, what I write will stop sounding like abstract theory and start sounding familiar enough to get you nodding your head – in pain, perhaps, but that’s another matter…;-)


HILT – speed of production

HILT – forced production

HILT – Your First High Intensity Day


6 responses to “High Intensity Language Training – when to repeat sessions

  1. As I tend to go to Bootcamp, Spain and Antwerp each year I switch to the language my next holiday is in.

    I find it keeps it from becoming a chore and becoming less enjoyable and also gives me a deadline to aim for.

    This works for me with Welsh and Spanish, but not so well with Dutch. Possibly because the total amount of Dutch I know is much less than the other two.

    • Maybe also because we don’t have a full Level 1 available for Dutch, and because we don’t have any accelerated listening exercises…

      How many recap lessons do you find yourself doing? By the time the new Level 3 is ready (for Welsh and Spanish) the last 2 or 3 sessions should be enough to cover everything – and the listening exercises will also cover everything.

      It’d be interesting to see if you get to a point where you only need the listening exercises to reactivate everything…

  2. Welsh I can get away with no recap, Spanish just picking 1 or 2 lessons at random will get me back upto speed..

  3. challenge 1 got good results except a bit floundering on the last third of the lesson. challenge two made no sense at all. A smash into a cliff. i was going no where. Had to suspend activity. The magic wasn’t happening. Were told to not just listen but if you can’t contribute vocally all’s lost.

    • Hi Keith – did you go straight on into Challenge 2? If so, maybe you needed a bit of a break… also, what were you doing with the pause button? Maybe you needed to use it a bit more generously in 2… yes, you absolutely have to be saying something in the gap… test things out… you might find that waiting a day, revisiting challenge 1, waiting a day and then going on to 2 will be the solution for you… but don’t just hammer ahead when you can’t say anything in the gaps… 🙂

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