Learning French Verbs: From The Never Ending Story to Winnie the Pooh

I sat down with Aaron for an intensive walk through one of his already formed memory palaces with the promise of learning the verbal system for the regular verbs in French. It was a mind opening (and destroying) experience that I feel privileged to have been a part of.

I had completed the Linguisticator “Memory Course” a few days prior, and was eager to see the theory put into practice and have some of my questions answered. As the session started, Aaron (very patiently) took me through his map of the French language, and highlighted what it was we would be focussing on. It seemed slightly overwhelming, but Aaron was very encouraging and assured me it was less daunting than it looked. This is when the first main difference to my previous experiences learning French occurred. Instead of breaking the verbs down into their usual groups (1st, 2nd, 3rd etc.), Aaron showed me a table he had made which focussed on the similarities between the conjugations for each group as opposed to the differences. He explained that this was to minimise the information we would actually have to learn. Seeing the similarities on a table really helped me visualise what it was I actually had to learn, and the workload condensed massively.

We then moved on to the – even more – exciting part: the memory palace itself. Some time was spent explaining each of the rooms, what they represented and how they related to one another, and then we began. I must say I continued with blind faith at the start. I think I understood what was supposed to happen, but couldn’t quite match it up in my head. Aaron was incredibly patient and thorough in his explanations. He taught in, what I found to be, a very layered way: so long as you followed each step, you would be able to understand the next, and then look back and understand it as a whole.

And so we went, room after room, story after story. Whilst it felt like my brain was going to melt, it got easier to focus on what was important. At first, I was trying to think of the story, the mnemonic, the conjugation etc. all at once. After a while, it became clear that by focussing on just the story, you could reach the others with very few issues. Sometimes I got muddled, and couldn’t quite picture how what I was learning fit into the big picture, at which point Aaron would take me back to the table and show, in very concrete terms, what it was I was learning, and then we would continue.

In perhaps 5 hours I learned 10 very short, simple and, in some cases, ridiculous stories and, a week later, I feel fairly confident in reciting them. What this means is that, in 5 hours, I accomplished what I had been struggling for over a year to achieve: a way of confidently recalling the conjugations of regular French verbs, without having to guess and hope for the best. Learning it was a little more draining than drilling exercises at first, but I have found the retention to be much higher and recall much quicker. I feel the difference is, with drilling, I was doing repetition after repetition hoping it would stick, with no way to corroborate this until it came time to prove it in an exam. With this new method, I know that if I have the story, if I can visualise the mnemonics, then I can trust that the information is there, and much more readily at hand.

I am incredibly grateful to Aaron for giving me this opportunity. After a year and a half of studying French and feeling like I was getting nowhere, he has reignited the hope that I will soon have a mastery of this language, and an autonomy to rely on myself and not the textbooks.

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