Memory Palace Learnings


As we prepare to launch our French program in the next couple of weeks, I thought I'd share some significant learnings that I've been able to carry over into French from creating a memory palace for Italian.

  1. Go from the outside in
  2. Create all spaces first
  3. Refresh on a spatial level first
  4. "Mark" endings differently from stems
  5. Store similar patterns completely differently

1. Go from the outside in - This means start with the big pieces, then gradually drill down into the detail. When most people try to apply memory techniques to language learning, the first thing they do is start creating mnemonics for specific pieces of information. This should be the final step. First, create the over-arching structure, then the micro-structures, and only at the very end, store the individual pieces. With our maps, this process is easy, but without them, it is nearly impossible.

2. Create all spaces first - It can be tempting to start storing the individual pieces once you have defined a space for one of the parts of language. Let's say you decide to put verbs in your house. It is better to go and place nouns, articles, adjectives, and all the other pieces before going further with verbs. In other words, only drill one or two layers of detail below the rest of the language at a time. This isn't critical, but it helps you keep a balanced sense of the language as a whole.

3. Refresh on a spatial level first - Once you've decided on locations for each of a language's components, it's good to wander around those spaces a bit first (in your mind). Get a sense for the over-arching structure of the language, then gradually go down into greater detail. Also, you can explore nested spaces without having to recall the individual details. For example, "I know there are five types of regular verbs here, and six types of irregular verbs…" or whatever. You don't have to start conjugating them all — just get a sense for the big picture first and work on getting comfortable recalling that. If you start storing the details in your memory palace before the big picture is set, you will run into serious trouble. All the details hang on the skeleton of the larger structure, so if that is not strong, your memory palace will crumble.

4. "Mark" endings differently from stems - This is a detail point, but it's important and can save you a lot of time, particularly when learning verbs. In a language like French, the verbal endings are highly regular, while the apparent irregularities in the verbal system are almost entirely in the stems of certain verbs. By keeping these two patterns separate, you can store the irregular verbs of a language very quickly because you only need one or two pieces of additional information per verb — in other words, you'll have already stored the endings, so you just need to store the stem changes. This means you don't have to store entire conjugations for every verb. Instead of needing 90 spaces, for example, you might only need 10 per verb. This lightens the load and also keeps you from getting confused. If in your system you sometimes have an ending, sometimes have a stem and ending, it will be easy to get confused as to what is stem and what is ending.

5. Store similar patterns completely differently - This last piece may seem to create some additional work, but it is a useful time-saver in the long run. When two patterns are very similar, perhaps differing in only one letter or one part of a conjugation or declension, it's tempting to reuse associations and narratives you've already created, marking only the difference. If you do this — which you can — you must make sure that the difference is marked in a very pronounced way. Otherwise, it's best to simply create a new pattern of associations or narrative, as this will keep you from getting things muddled in your head. It adds an extra layer of stability to the memories.

If you haven't done much with memory before, I'm sure this post will seem very confusing. If you go through our courses, though, and learn how to apply memory techniques to constructing a memory palace for a language, this will make a lot of sense.

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