6 Memory Strategies To Supercharge Your Learning

Supercharge-your-learning

Today we have a fantastic post from memory specialist Bartosz Czekala. Bartosz is a Computer Science and Econometrics graduate and he’s learned over 7 languages. Check out his awesome website, and enjoy the post!

Many of us dream of having better memory. As if your memory was something static, something immutable. As if you couldn’t do anything to improve it.

But the truth is that it’s easier than you realize! Learning vocabulary, or should I say, learning in general, can really be an enjoyable activity… assuming, of course, that you use strategies to learn. And you use them, right?

Learning without any kind of strategy is kind of like straying in the dark and wondering why you can’t get to the place you’re supposed to go. If you’re serious about learning your target language, you’ll likely spend hundreds or thousands of hours getting exposed to it.

So hey, why not have fun along the way? I’d have certainly gone crazy, learning the 7 languages I speak, if it weren’t for using the right strategies. So what are they?

1 – LEARN WITH MNEMONICS

The effectiveness of mnemonics techniques has been confirmed many times throughout recent years (e.g. Bellezza, F. S., 1996, Mnemonic methods to enhance storage and retrieval). But why are they so effective? Because your brain craves all the things which are interesting. This is what keeps its motor running! And how interesting are some black letters on the white page?

Not very.

The three principles that underpin the use of mnemonics are association, imagination and location. Combined, these three elements make it possible to memorize and recall beyond what you would’ve thought is possible.

Associate

Associate words mnemonicsWhen you see a foreign word, the first thing you should do is to associate it with something that you’re already familiar with. It’s easier said than done, of course, but the great thing is that with practice, it really gets easier (and funnier!) over time.

Let’s use German word “die Frau” (wife, woman) as an example.

If you have never learned German in your life, this word might not evoke any feeling of familiarity in you. Most learners quickly come to terms with this fact and resort to rote learning. Urgh!

But you know better – you know that you have to encode this information. You need to associate it with something well-known to you. After closer inspection it turns out that this word actually is not only familiar but also makes perfect sense!

How come?

Well, the chance is that if you have a wife, she FRAUns at you frequently! Alright, we have an association. What next?

Imagine

We don’t think with words. We think with images. When you hear the word “cat”, chances are the image of a cat pops up in your mind. That’s why your main encoding strategy should be creating vivid images, since this is exactly what appeals to your brain and what makes it easy to remember stuff. But how should you do it?

There are certain rules which tend to make your images more memorable:

  • Use senses – the more the better. How does the object you want to imagine looks like? How does it taste? How does it smell? Use your senses in every way imaginable.
  • Add details – is it old? What color is it? Once again, use your imagination to its fullest.
  • Use emotions – your images should always trigger some reactions. Do you feel amused? Maybe scared? Sad?
  • Exaggerate – don’t imagine a key of normal size! Make it huge! Or make it talk to you!
  • Add some action – images you create should be like movie scenes. A lot of explosions, collisions and sudden plot twists!
  • Include yourself in the story – because you are the most important person according to your brain, and anything related to you is important as well, so you might as well include yourself in the story you’re making up.

If you’re not sure if the image you’ve created will work, ask yourself this: “could it happen in the real world?” If not – that’s great. Then you’re good to go! Indeed, the crazier your image, the better.

Locate

Once you have an association and an image, you have to place that image somewhere. And no, it can’t be just any place. You have to know it really well. It must be distinctive. It must mean something to you.

Your home, for example, is always a great starting point. So go ahead, let’s mentally place your FRAUning wife on the porch. This is where your mental story starts! Create more associations and images and generate scenes which your brain won’t be able to forget.

2 – LEARN WITH MUSIC

You probably have heard this piece of advice before. After all, music evokes emotions, which in their turn help us to remember better (Jäncke L., 2008, Music, memory and emotion). But what if you want to memorize some specialized vocabulary or something non-generic?

Perhaps, after all, you don’t really want to know your target languages’ counterparts of “Baby, I’m standing in the pouring rain”. Yeah… So that’s why we need to innovate a little bit.

Lady singing a songSay that you want to learn some industry jargon. First, choose your favorite song. It doesn’t matter from which language. Then, substitute the original lyrics with yours. Next, go to YouTube and find a karaoke version of the song and sing along! If that sounds too tedious (although it really does work well I must say), just try to find songs that have vocabulary you’re likely to use in everyday life.

3 – CREATE YOUR OWN STORIES AND CONTEXT

Don’t just read aloud. Speak from day one! The well-known advocate of this method is Benny Lewis of www.fluentin3months.com.

Remember that if you don’t have a conversation partner or you’re an introvert like me, you can (or rather should!) talk to yourself! In the early stages of language learning, almost every word is important and you’re likely to come across these new words many times over. Link them together and create some funny/absurd situations, once again using the power of your imagination.

If you learn Spanish, for example, and you know how to say “I’m hungry” and you stumble across the word “chair”, try to combine them!

“Tengo hambre y voy a comer una silla” – “I’m hungry and I’m going to eat a chair”.

Then add some more words and continue this bizarre story! It sounds crazy… no wait, it is crazy—but that’s the whole purpose. When you make crazy stories you are twice as likely to recall them.

4 – CREATE A GRAMMAR CHEAT SHEET

Create a cheat sheetTake a sheet of paper (personally I prefer A4 format) and write down all of the most important grammar constructions from your target language. Include things such as conjunctions, verb conjugations, etc.

Use this sheet before every lesson or conversation (even with yourself) you have. Let it refresh your memory whenever you need it without having to rummage through all your textbooks. This’ll save you tons of time and will really come in handy to remember quickly the most useful grammatical structures of the language you’re tackling.

5 – CHANGE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

Reflection of a tree on waterHave you ever found that you couldn’t recall a word, even though you repeated it dozens of time before at home? Of course it has.

It’s time to reveal why: limiting your learning to only one place limits your active recall. Our brain tends to facilitate the retrieval of information in the environment where it’s been acquired (Smith & Vela, 2001, Environmental context-dependent memory).

If you learn only at home or at school, be aware that your recall elsewhere might be impaired. Try to diversify the places where you learn to prevent this from happening.

6 – CHOOSE YOUR OWN WAY

I have just one more piece of advice for you: at the risk of sounding paranoid, don’t trust anyone!

Nobody knows you as well as you do. And that’s why you should be the only person who decides which strategies to use and which not to. Don’t get caught up in thinking that there’s only one solution. Experiment to see what sticks. If you suddenly discover that yodeling helps you to remember better, then be it!

So, what about you? Do you use other out-of-the box strategies to learn?

Let me know in the comments below!

————————-

Bartosz Czekala is a polyglot and an avid learner of about everything. Obsessed with making learning easier and faster. On the never-ending quest for perfect recall. You can contact him through his website: www.universeofmemory.com.

  • www.lingholic.com is all about the art of learning languages. Learn how to learn and dramatically improve your foreign language acquisition ability.

  • Show Comments (13)

  • I especially like number #6. There’s a lot of information on the internet about which method works best or which doesn’t work at all, or as well, but the reality is that people learn differently.

    Beginners often lose sight of that so it’s a great way to close an article reminding them to listen to their own intuition.

    • Bartosz Czekala

      Great point Jared! You’ll never know if something works if you don’t try it.

    • Good point Jared! I agree too, and I always try to remind people that in the end, everybody learns differently. Whatever works best for you is the way to go. 🙂

  • Jorge Durango

    I really agree with your point of view, actually I don’t know how or where I heard something about remembering things through images (on TV maybe), and it’s true, because whenever we think about something, all the information that comes to our minds are images, not numbers nor words. One of my teachers of school asked me “How could you imagine an elephant if you have never watched it?” XD, if someone speaks to us about something that we don’t know how it looks like, it is impossible to remember that thing, it’s not relevant… “just a word”. I recently started to read your blog. it has helped me a lot, and it’s a way to improve my english reading skills (I speak spanish), greetings from colombia :)..sorry any mistake 😉

    • Bartosz Czekala

      Remembering through images is relatively wide-spread so there’s a good chance that you could have heard it on TV 🙂 .
      And no need to apologize for your English, it’s definitely better than my Spanish! 🙂

      • Jorge Durango

        thank you @bartoszczekala:disqus

  • Griffin

    That’s really great I could encounter such a useful document ! I find Bartek’s article’s helped me a lot with better understanding of things I didn’t have any idea before. (Well..perhaps I won’t be singing because it’s a little bit to difficult with wearing mask..he he…however creating all these sheets and associating pictures with words can bring a lot of fun !)

    Keep on writting Bartek !

    • Bartosz Czekala

      It’s fun! 🙂 Thanks for your comment and try singing anyway 😉 !

  • Baghera

    Wow, thank you so much for this article. It is so true that we associate words with pictures. I was brought up bilingual and now speak English too on a daily basis. People often ask me what language I think in and I can only ever reply that I think in pictures and that my brain associates the right (language) word according to the situation I am in… I teach French to English students and they really struggle with their memory, so the above article will come in very handy. 🙂

    • Bartosz Czekala

      And that’s the way it’s supposed to work! 🙂 Glad I could help ! 🙂

  • Jorge Pablo Arribas Miguélez

    Firts of all, thank you so much Bartosz Czekala for this useful tips and
    thanks a lot Sam Gendreau for running this incredibly helpful website.
    Whenever I start learning a language I buy a notebook and I allocate
    some of the final pages for the “Grammar cheatsheet” and for “Verbs”.
    It’s extremely handy when you want to review something you might have
    forgotten. On the other pages I write down some words and then I try to
    write a short story using other words I’ve learnt before. A friend of
    mine told me that he records himself talking to a camera to make videos
    and improve his fluency.
    Thanks again Bartosz & Sam!

    • Bartosz Czekala

      You’re very welcome! 🙂 I prefer to speak more instead of writing as speaking seems to be more useful and beneficial. I’ve never tried recording myself. I’ve always thought that it would be a little bit weird! 😀
      Thanks for your comment Jorge!

  • Amapola

    Well done! Thank you for this amazing post! It led me to the Bartek´s page which is fantastic with a lot of useful content! It is like a chain- I found you thanks to Luca L, now I found Bartek thanks to you 😉 I am really happy to follow all of you guys and have a great dosis of motivation every day! Actually, it became my language learning method itself, to devote some time everyday to read blogs like this. It is a double benefit- I acquire new vocabulary and get to learn new language methods!
    Good job boys 😉
    Greetings from Poland!
    Ania

    P.D.
    I am your new subscriber Bartosz 😉

Ads

Send this to friend