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April 2018

Memorising with Mnemonics

Fast and effective techniques for aiding memorisation

There’s a lot to memorise when it comes to learning a new language. While flashcards can be beneficial for most, rote memorisation is often boring and time consuming. Thankfully for learners, we have mnemonics, fast and easy techniques that help learners memorise important information. Mnemonics aren’t limited to language study alone; they can also be applied to other areas as well. From phrases and definitions to remembering foreign characters, mnemonics can take a lot of pressure off the brain.

Getting Silly

Perhaps the most important tip with creating a mnemonic device is to make it weird. Really weird. The sillier your mnemonic device, the more likely you’ll remember whatever it is you’re trying to recall.

Japanese characters, for example, can be difficult to memorise. The shapes may seem foreign to anyone unfamiliar with the language. Let’s take the hiragana (the name of one of the Japanese writing systems, as well as a word for denoting their characters) for “ne”:

What does this look like to you? Would you be able to distinguish this character from the other 46 basic hiragana?

Now visualise the character as a “nail through a snail”. Macabre idea, surely, but not one easy to forget. Do you see the nail through the snail? The hiragana represents the sound “ne”. Imagining a nail going through a snail is a method for remembering this character and sound, one harder to forget because it is so absurd.

Rhymes and Acronyms

Like “nail through a snail”, rhyming schemes can also be used to remember facts. “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” is a particularly good example. For musicians trying to remember the order of flats in notation (BEADGCF), the order can be changed into a ridiculous acronym for “boys eat at diners, girls carry fish”. Similarly, and going the opposite way for the order of sharps, one could imagine that “fat cats go down alleys eating bread”.

How to apply such techniques to whatever it is you’re learning requires some creativity. For example, if you were trying to remember the word “car”, you could use the rhyme, “he drove his car, he drove it far, and then he crashed upon a star”. The imagery of driving is there, and it’s silly enough to stick in the mind.

Method of Loci

An ancient technique to remember longer passages, one especially useful for memorising speeches, is the method of loci. Loci means “places” in Latin, and this technique was used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. In modern times, it’s also referred to as the memory palace or mind palace technique.

The technique is simple, and it’s perhaps best illustrated with your front door. Imagine you’re walking through your front door into your home. No doubt you know it intimately. You know where each individual item in your home entrance resides, when you pass certain tables and paintings, and how you feel making this short and often overlooked journey.

Now take a passage or a speech you hope to memorise. Apply each point of that passage, in chronological order, to an item you see in your mind as you enter your home. When you visualise said item, it should help you recall the corresponding unit in the passage or speech.

Now imagine you are entering your home again. Each visual that you pass ought to remind you of what you’re trying to remember. Breaking down the speech into units and associating them in order with an intimately known journey is a simple way of using this technique.

You don’t have to use your front entrance, of course. Any place will do, so long as there’s an order to things and you can recall it easily. The method of loci is so effective, it’s been used by numerous World Memory Championship winners.

What techniques do you use to remember things? Share your tips with other language learners on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles!