Visualization techniques are the bedrock of memorable mnemonics, and they are what memory experts use when memorizing long strings of numbers, people’s names, or lists of words in competitions (yes there is such a thing as memory championships).
Some people’s imagery is largely nonvisual: visceral or emotional or kinesthetic or something else. Well, no matter what kind of imagery comes most naturally to you, says Earl Stevick in “Success with foreign languages: seven who achieved it and what worked for them,” it will be well worth your time, when learning a foreign language, to pause and associate the new foreign word or sentence directly with that imagery, rather than with some translation equivalent in your native language.
Coming back to the author of “Moonwalking with Einstein“, Foer mentions one of Rome’s greatest orators and prose stylists, Cicero, who agreed that the best way to memorize a speech is point by point, not word by word. In his De Oratore, Cicero suggests that an orator delivering a speech should make one image for each major topic he wants to cover, and place each of those images at a locus. Indeed, the word “topic” comes from the Greek word topos, or place. (The phrase “in the first place” is a vestige from the art of memory.)
Without exception, all memory champions rely heavily on this 2500-year-old “method of loci” (also known as a “memory palace”) for remembering information. With papyrus for writing in scarce supply, the ancient Greeks had been using “loci” (places) as an aide-mémoire long before modern-day memory champions revived this long forgotten art of memory. The idea is to create a space in the mind’s eye, a place that you know well and can easily visualize, and then populate that imagined place with images representing whatever you want to remember. Foer explains that the techniques of the method of loci were refined and codified in an extensive set of rules and instruction manuals by Romans like Cicero and Quintilian, and flowered in the Middle Ages as a way for the pious to memorize everything from sermons and prayers to the punishments awaiting the wicked in hell.
If you are interested in reading more about this, I encourage you to pick up a copy of “You Can Have an Amazing Memory: Learn Life-Changing Techniques and Tips from the Memory Maestro” by eight-time world memory champion Dominic O’Brien, or “Moonwalking with Einstein,” by Joshua Foer. These are great books and will be well worth the $10-13 you’ll spend.
This is Memory Tip #5 out of 12. To access additional tips in this series, click on any of the following links: Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3, Tip# 4, Tip #6, Tip #7, Tip #8, Tip #9, Tip #10, Tip #11, Tip #12