Memory Tools to Learn a Language

Working in healthcare, I meet many patients who only speak Spanish. I also have many friends and students who are bilingual and I set a goal to learn another language. I have struggled to learn languages in the past. I have taken formal classes at a University, I have done Duolingo every day for months, I have watched TV shows in Spanish with Spanish subtitles, and more.

All of these methods have helped, but I wanted to see if there are any additional tools that could help me to make the most of the time I am spending studying. I decided to try a few different experiments. Ice baths, cold plunges, and all sorts of cold exposure are touted as being good for the mind and body.

So first, I wanted to see if cold exposure would help with memory. I decided to put this to the test by learning the preterite tense followed by cold exposure as compared to learning the imperfect tense with no cold exposure. Next, I wanted to see what could help me to learn vocabulary more quickly. I decided to try a Rosemary supplement and listening to classical music while studying.

Cold exposure experiment

Ice baths are often talked about as a way to improve physical and mental health. Some people even say that ice baths can affect memory.

A study wanted to look at if an ice bath after learning something, helped with memory. This hypothesis was tested by administering cold pressor stress or a placebo of warm water to subjects after they viewed slides of varying emotional content and assessing memory for the slides 1 week later. Memory was improved for the emotionally arousing slides but not for the regular slides. 3

Other studies show that cold exposure may worsen cognitive performance while being cold.4

For this experiment, I focused on preterite and imperfect past tenses in Spanish. First, I learned the preterite tense by taking lessons on This is a free website that has so many useful tools and lessons with videos, quizzes, and much more. I don’t have an ice bath available, but I wanted to see how helpful a freezing-cold shower could be. Well, not quite freezing, because the coldest my shower would go was 44 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celcius). But this was certainly cold enough to feel very uncomfortable. After learning the tense, I took a cold shower for 2 minutes to consolidate the memory. I waited one week before testing myself on the information that I had learned. The test consisted of a few components. I had to write the verb endings, take the lessons, remember three irregular verbs, and complete a tense quiz on I was able to correctly write the verb endings and I completed two sets of lessons and made a total of 3 errors. Additionally, I was able to correctly write out three irregular conjugations for ir, ser, and ver. Finally, I took a quiz on and scored a 19/20 (95%). Altogether, my score was 51/55 (93%).

I needed something to compare this to, so now I wanted to learn another past tense called the imperfect tense. I tried to mimic exactly what I did when learning the preterite, so I took all the lessons on to start. Then I took a regular old shower to see how well my memories would stick without the cold water. One week later, I completed the same tests as before. I wrote out all the verb endings correctly. I then completed the lesson sets and made 4 errors. As for the irregular verbs, I was only able to remember ir and ser and I had forgotten ver completely. Finally, on the quiz, I scored an 18/20 (90%). Altogether, my score was 44/55 (80%).

This showed that for me personally, the cold shower did potentially help with memory consolidation as my score was 13% higher as compared to no cold exposure.

Vocabulary learning experiments

Now I wanted to see what methods could help me to learn Spanish vocabulary more quickly. First, I needed to establish a baseline to see how strong was memory was without any difference in supplements or my routine. I utilized a website called, it has been a great tool to help me to learn Spanish. I used the “beginner” 1000-word vocabulary list to test my memory and I spent two weeks doing multiple sets of flashcards from this list. After each set of flashcards, I counted how many mistakes I made. At the end of two weeks, I averaged 8.10 mistakes per test with my best test having 2 mistakes and my worst test having 15 mistakes.


Now that I had a baseline, I decided to compare this to Rosemary supplements. Natural medicines database only has three supplements that it deems “possibly effective” for memory and many that it rates as having insufficient evidence to rank. The three supplements that are possibly effective are Rosemary oral supplementation, caffeine, and tyrosine. Out of these three, I decided to try Rosemary. First, let’s look at the evidence that supports the use of Rosemary for memory.

A study out of Iran included 79 students and had them take 500 mg of rosemary twice daily for one month. Memory was improved by 14% as compared to placebo.1

I purchased a product that was 700 mg of rosemary and I took this twice daily for one month. My average number of mistakes per Spanish test was 7.15 on rosemary with my best test having 3 mistakes and my worst test having 10 mistakes. This represents a 13% improvement from my baseline.


Music, especially classical music is commonly stated to improve memory. I wanted to check the evidence and put this to the test.

A study of 65 older adults compared the effects that silence, white noise, Mozart, or Mahler had on memory. Both Mozart and Mahler showed a significant advantage in episodic memory compared to silence.2

I continued to complete the Spanish flashcard sets for two more weeks while listening to classical music. I felt that the music was a little distracting and I thought my scores would worsen, but I was surprised to see that my scores improved even further. My average number of mistakes while listening to music was 5.50 per test. With my best test having zero mistakes and my worst test having 17 mistakes. This represents a 32% improvement in my scores as compared to my baseline.

Overall impression

Overall, I think the biggest strength of these experiments was that they motivated me to study more Spanish. I was excited each night to put the different experiments to the test. This excitement for learning was very important.

A weakness of these experiments was that I felt that my Spanish was just improving after doing so many vocabulary tests, so I am unsure if the classical music was the most effective, followed by Rosemary. Maybe I was just improving over time.


  1. Nematolahi, P., Mehrabani, M., Karami-Mohajeri, S., & Dabaghzadeh, F. (2018). Effects of Rosmarinus officinalis L. on memory performance, anxiety, depression, and sleep quality in university students: A randomized clinical trial. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 30, 24–28.
  2. Bottiroli, S., Rosi, A., Russo, R., Vecchi, T., & Cavallini, E. (2014). The cognitive effects of listening to background music on older adults: processing speed improves with upbeat music, while memory seems to benefit from both upbeat and downbeat music. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 6, 284.
  3. Cahill L, Gorski L, Le K. Enhanced human memory consolidation with post-learning stress: interaction with the degree of arousal at encoding. Learn Mem. 2003 Jul-Aug;10(4):270-4. doi: 10.1101/lm.62403. PMID: 12888545; PMCID: PMC202317.
  4. Muller MD, Gunstad J, Alosco ML, Miller LA, Updegraff J, Spitznagel MB, Glickman EL. Acute cold exposure and cognitive function: evidence for sustained impairment. Ergonomics. 2012;55(7):792-8. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2012.665497. Epub 2012 Apr 16. PMID: 22506538; PMCID: PMC3375336.

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