The use of mnemonics in mastering a language

by Angelica Jennsen

There are an infinite number of techniques, strategies and methods that claim to make you proficient, or at least relatively fluent, in a language of choice. While most of them have managed, with mixed success, to settle into the field of foreign language learning, there is one that seems to be just paving its way into the market. Mnemonics are methods of memorizing based essentially on the power of mind to build associations, visualize and imagine. Present in other branches of education and officially acknowledged as one of the most effective learning methods, mnemonics could as well be used as an efficient tool in expanding one's foreign language vocabulary. What are the key ways of learning any language through playing a memory game? Here is a step-by-step guide for you to make the most of your mnemonic language learning experience.

Firstly, simple breaking a long word into easy-to-remember syllables should mark the initial step in the memorization process. A memory trick to use with this type of task is to visualize each part of a word and create a unique association for every element. This may include similarity to other words in the chosen language or in learner's mother tongue - the idea is to make it as easy to remember as possible. Also, opting for associations which seem uncommon and original could help get the new knowledge to stick better.

Then, making use of the creative power of mind and matching a certain mental picture to each singled syllable would be the next step of the memorizing process. The choice of what to imagine is unlimited, though most satisfying results will be obtained if the pictures closely resemble the "associated" words. Since the mind has a remarkable ability to store uncommon and non-typical images much easier than ones that do not appear to be anything extraordinary, another rule emphasizes the fact that the more bizarre and overdrawn the portrayed image, the better remembered it will be.

Lastly, having paired each word with its visual equivalent, it is time to use the outcome to create a pictorial story, whose plot would stand for any sentences or fixed phrases that need to be remembered. It is also worth noticing that this step works just as well with longer idiomatic phrases, where the literal meaning not necessarily matches the figurative one. In this case, making up separate chains of events for both and then combining the two could prove highly effective.

Ever since man has discovered the greatness of mind and its ability for creative thinking, researches and scholars alike have tried to hone the art of imagination-backed memorizing. Now that the trend has reached foreign language learning, the few simple tips presented above could well serve as a useful addition to regular textbooks and in-class exercises. Since combining meanings and pictures should be enough for a word or phrase to settle into memory, it looks like mnemonics may soon take over the language learning world.

About the writer

Angelica Jennsen is currently employed by Seven Spots and divides her time between work and her passion for traveling and learning languages.


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