Memory techniques in language learning

Welcome back! I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas and New Years, and have now settled back into everyday life. Upon coming back to university following the Christmas break, I found myself visiting the library on a daily basis in order to complete the three assignments I had due in. Nonetheless, they are now all complete and I can finally get back to writing my blog! 

I thought as this is the first post of the new year, I would write about something quite unique. Not just in language learning, but in everyday life. This is of course, memories, and the use of memory when it comes to learning new things. As a self-taught polyglot capable of conversing in roughly six languages, I am often asked by people how I do it. Do I have an eidetic memory? Or am I just supremely intelligent? The answer, I am neither. The reason why I cam able to learn languages quickly and retain vast quantities of foreign vocabulary is through the use of various memory techniques, which I will now explain. 

Many people will tell you that the best way to remember something is through repetition.Whilst this is of course very useful, there are other techniques which have been proved to be more effective. Firstly, let’s talk about the use of associative memory. .This is a particularly useful memory technique when it comes to language learning, and more especially when it comes to learning foreign scripts. As some of you may recall, last year i wrote a blog post and my experiences with learning Hebrew in which I mention that I used the associative technique in order to memorise the script. The way this technique works is by using the ability of human memory to associate certain things with a different concept in order to help them remember them. For example, I associated the Hebrew letter ‘lamed’ ל, with a bolt of lightning as it sort of looks like bolt of lightning. As a result, I have memorized each Hebrew letter simply my associating each one with a different concept. The best thing about this technique is that you can associate foreign vocabulary or scripts with absolutely anything you want, in fact, the more imaginative the association the better! We can use our imaginations to conjure up so many things, so why not use to help you to learn a language? 

The second memory technique I’d like to talk about is the visual technique. As many of you may know, there are three types of learners. That is auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic. Auditory learning refers to when someone learns best by listening, visual learning is when one learns best by visualizing the information, and kinaesthetic learning is when one learns best by engaging in practical activity. Today we are going to focus on the visual technique. This technique is very similar to the associative technique, as in one remembers a concept by visualising something associated with it. I feel this technique is best used to help one learn and retain foreign vocabulary which may at first see difficult, or even impossible to learn as it doesn’t look or sound like anything we’ve heard before. For example, the German word for ‘speed limit’ is geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung, now, at first this word looks rather daunting and almost impossible to try and remember. However, a good way to help visually memorise a word like this would be place it perhaps with a picture of speed limit sing, that way you’ll remember that it translates into ‘speed limit’ because you’ll see the picture.

The final technique I am going to talk about is one that I use in order to learn languages, and it combines the above two techniques as well as the use of spacial memory. How many times in your life have you forgotten someone’s address, yet you know where their house is. Or the times in which you have forgotten the name of the street where the shop you want to go is called you you know how to get there. This is called ‘Spacial memory’, as we often remember locations better than we do names or numbers. Now to business, for those of you who watch Sherlock, you’ll most likely be familiar with the term ‘mind palace’ This is a technique used by Sherlock in which he stores information by storing it in an imaginary location. I decided to research this technique, and found that it was in fact used by the Ancient Roman and Greek scholars as a method of memorising vast quantities of information. The way this method works is simple: Firstly, imagine a location that is familiar to you, such as your house (I use my university library). Secondly, design a route through your mind palace, try to picture each room as it is, then proceed to the next room. It’s always better to follow the same route through your mind palace as it will be easier to remember things. Finally, this is when we bring in the use of the first two techniques. For each word, concept or anything you want to remember, it’s best to associate it with something memorable, once that is done, place it in a room in your mind palace. As I mentioned earlier, I associated the Hebrew letter ‘Lamedל with a lightning bolt. Now let;s imagine we’re walking though the door of our mind palace and we see a strip of lightning across the door which then takes the shape of the Hebrew letter. We can now remember it simply by using our mind palace. Much like the previous techniques, this technique works best with the use of imagination as the more creative we can be when designing our mind palace and how we store the information we need, the more we will remember in the future. 


About Elliot Conway

My name is Elliot Conway and I am recent graduate in International Relations from the University of Lincoln. My passion in life is learning, and encouraging others to learn foreign languages. This bog will contain posts about specific languages, my experiences learning languages, as well as helpful guides to help you become an efficient language learner.
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