In the post Remember Like Sherlock! I promised to expand on how the Memory Palace technique can be used to learn languages. There are a couple of ways in which you can create a memory palace to learn your language of choice.
The first way is simply to use your memory palace to remember a long list of vocabulary. Nigel Richards, a champion of several international Scrabble competitions recently added another title to his belt. This time he won the Francophone World Scrabble Championships or to be accurate, Les Championnats du Monde de Scrabble Francophone. What makes this victory remarkable is that Mr. Richards does not speak French. Instead of learning the language he instead memorized an entire French dictionary in nine weeks. There are no details on how Mr. Richards achieved this, but the following memory palace method could help you achieve something similar.
First construct a palace from a place that you know well. The more details you can include the better your palace will be. After this you need to think of famous people with names beginning with A to Z. For example A could be Aristotle, B might represent Beyoncé etc.
Let’s take a practical example. I want to learn the most common thousand words in Spanish. Now creating a memory palace with 1,000 objects in it is not really feasible but with a bit of work I should be able to make one with say seventy. To learn all the words beginning with ‘A‘ (there are sixty nine) I will walk through my palace as normal but I will be walking with Aristotle. So I’ll start at my front door, but when I try to open it it falls inwards and down a stairwell that shouldn’t be there. I’m not really noticing this however because Aristotle is inexplicably hitting me over the head with a banjo. So the Spanish word for downstairs is ‘abajo’ which sounds a bit like ‘a banjo’. Aristotle helps me to remember that it’s a word beginning with ‘A’. Continue on to your next stop and associate the next word with it and then on to the next and the next and so on.
There are problems with this however. Recalling the words involves walking through the memory palace with the right person until you hit the word that you need. If you forget what the Spanish word for flag begins with then you may have to go through the memory palace over and over again until you chance upon it!
There is a better way to employ the memory palace when learning languages however. Instead of using a house, office or apartment for example you could use a town, suburb or village instead. Make sure it’s one that you know quite well. We’re not going to define a walk through this type of memory palace, instead we’ll assign memory hooks to individual places within it. For example, verbs describe actions, so we could assign all verbs to a park or sports ground. All words that have to do with food or drink could go into a cafe or restaurant. Words dealing with books go into the library or bookshop, health can go into the doctor’s office, etc. etc.
So if I want to remember the Spanish word for rice (‘arroz’) I might mentally go to the Chinese restaurant and order rice only to be presented with a plate of arrows! I could imagine myself jumping over big mounds of salt in the park (‘saltar’ is to jump). The word itself directs me where to go to remember it rather than having to remember which letter it begins with and walking through the memory palace until I find it! To remember ‘flute’ I’d go to a concert hall or instrument shop where I’d have to jump into a moving sea of flutes and float over to the desk (‘flauta’ sounds to me like ‘float’).
What if your chosen locality does not contain all of the shops or areas that you need for your vocab? Cheat. Put a dock in a landlocked town. Add the Sydney Opera house to your local suburb. If it’s bizarre and out of place you’ll probably still remember it!
These methods should help make language learning a bit easier but don’t expect too much. Sometimes it can be hard thinking up an association for a word, ‘pollo’ is Spanish for chicken, to me it sounds a bit like ‘poor you’. So maybe I can imagine that I go to a farm, trip over a chicken, fall down and hurt myself while the chickens look at me and say ‘poor you!’. I might remember that, but it is a little convoluted.
As always the most important thing is to use your palace. There’s no point constructing and filling a Spanish Memory Palace if you don’t visit it often. Use it while learning and speaking a language, it may help a little or a lot. You may have to employ other tools and methods as well but think of it as another tool in your mental toolbox!
Speak in tongues!
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