At Linguisticator, we teach how to build memory palaces to store the complexities of language structure. In other words, we teach you how to use memories of building and images in order to learn grammar. Our focus is very much on language structure, as this is the most challenging aspect to learn as an adult. But what if you want to build a memory palace for vocabulary?
Back in the autumn we met the folks from Flashsticks at the Language Show Live in London. Aside from being a really cool bunch of language lovers, they've developed a flashcard app for learning vocabulary that has much more than your bog standard flashcard. Vocabulary is first of all grouped into usage categories like family or home. This is key for using memory techniques. Second, there are several other features, from audio recordings to quizzes and games. You can even use your phone's camera to scan an object, and the app will identify the object and give you the translation! This was a little bit slow for me, but is still a really cool feature.
So, how can you use memory techniques to remember all the words contained in a Flashsticks module? Let's go through the steps of the process now.
STEP 1: Create Your Mnemonics
The first thing you will need to do is become familiar with the vocabulary you are learning. I'd recommend flipping through all words in a module quickly just to get a sense for what's included. Familiarize yourself with the content.
Next, you'll want to create a mnemonic or memory hook to help you remember each word. Suppose you want to remember the French word verre, meaning glass. You can use the spelling, pronunciation, or meaning to help you remember. Picture Jules Verne (left) sitting in an old leather chair with a book and a glass of cognac. From the sound of Verne I get back to the sound of verre, and from the action I get the meaning of the word. This particular example might not work for you at all - it is just an illustration of what you could do. You will need to create your own mnemonics.
Create a vivid image association for each of the words in a flashcard module and refresh them a couple of times so you are familiar with them. If you find yourself forgetting a particular mnemonic, you probably need to change the association.
If you want, you can actually write down a list of words and their mnemonics at this stage. Later on, you'll want to leave the pen and paper behind!
STEP 2: Create a Memory Palace
If you are just going to create mnemonics for flashcard vocabulary, you might find yourself getting lost very quickly. On their own, mnemonics are useful bridges between old and new information. When you have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of them, however, you will need a way of managing all of your different associations. You can do this with space.
OPTION 1 - Locate in The Natural Environment
The simplest way to organize lots of information is to use the memory of a physical space. Since many of the flashcard modules in Flashsticks are grouped according to common environments and activities, this is easy to do.
If we start with all the words in the house or home, we can simply use our own home as a memory palace. Think of the kitchen and where you keep the glasses. Now, when you open the cupboard to get a glass, what do you see? Who is there? Jules Verne sipping his cognac, of course. Once you have created your mnemonic for each word, you can quickly locate that mnemonic on the actual physical object in question. Open the drawer - who or what do you find tucked away with the spoons, forks, and knives?
Many people get frustrated with the time it takes to create mnemonics or they struggle with trying to remember them after they have been created. By locating mnemonics in space, you significantly increase the ease of remembering and the strength of retention and recall.
This method is particularly good if you are new to memory techniques and if you only want to learn one language.
OPTION 2 - Create a Purpose-Built Memory Palace
Another option for using space to locate your mnemonics is to create a purpose-built memory palace. This memory technique takes a bit more practice, but ultimately requires less space in your mind. If you have done our Memory Course, this will make sense; if you haven't, it might not!
Now, instead of using an entire environment, you can use a single room for an entire level of Flashsticks vocabulary. Let's say you want to put all the Flashsticks vocabulary from all levels in a memory palace consisting only of the rooms in your house.
We'll put Level 1 in the living room. Within Level 1 of Flashsticks, there are 9 units:
- Family and Friends
- Food and Drink
- Health and Body
- Holiday and Travel
- Home, Time, and Leisure
- Nature and Society
- Shopping, Numbers, and Colours
- Work and School
The first thing to do is create an association for each category. Who or what reminds you of the â€œBasicsâ€? Maybe you think of your gym teacher from when you were 7 years old. Imagine him or her standing in one spot of your living room. What's your mnemonic for â€œFamily and Friendsâ€? Once you have created associations for all 9 modules, place those mnemonics in specific locations around the living room (in your mind).
Now you have the framework set up for the entire level. Within each module, there are 50-75 words. You will now need a structure to embed these 75 words in each location. If you have done our Memory Course, you will be familiar with the Macunx structure. This 2D structure contains 100 unique cells and can be embedded into each location within a 3D memory palace.
Imagine each of your associations holding the Macunx. If the association is a thing, then imagine the Macunx on its surface attached to it somehow. Now, within the cells of the Macunx, start placing your associations for the individual words within each module. You will only need three quadrants of a single Macunx to store each complete module.
As mentioned above, this is a more advanced method. If you have not done our Memory Course and are unfamiliar with the Macunx, it may seem complicated. In principle, this method is actually very simple and requires little training to master. It ultimately makes it easier to keep track of your material and how much you have done. It furthermore allows you to recall everything in sequence and even by numerical position. It has the added benefit of being a better setup if you intend to use this method for storing the vocabulary of multiple languages.
Once you have finished storing the modules for Level 1 in the living room. You can store the modules for Level 2 (there are 8) in a different room using the same technique. You therefore only need 3 rooms to store all the vocabulary in the Flashsticks app - as opposed to a multitude of spaces for the first method described above.
STEP 3: Connect with Narrative
In principle, we have taken two major steps to memorize the vocabulary in a Flashsticks module: 1) create associations or mnemonics for each word, and 2) place these associations into a spatial framework. The spatial framework may be related to the vocabulary itself, as in the first method, or completely unrelated and just used as a means of organization, as in the second method.
The third and final step for your memory palace is optional, but will help secure the memories - and therefore the vocabulary - in your mind more permanently. This is to connect the associations with narrative. Remember Jules Verne sitting with his Cognac? How is he related to the next association? Does he do something to the cuillÃ¨re or the couteau? By making the mnemonics interact in a story of some kind you both animate and connect them. This makes the fabric of your memory palace stronger.
Initial storage is the hardest part. You will need to review your work a few times in order to make it last. Review it right away, then later the same day if you can. Review it again the next day before starting new storage. Periodically review all your work. If something has slipped, don't worry. Just restore it.
As a final point, you might be wondering about how you store extra details like the gender, plural form, or spelling of each word. These follow rules within each language, and it is much simpler to learn the rules than it is to learn the gender of each and every word in the language. These are the types of patterns we include in our grammatical maps, and it is faster and easier to create a memory palace for a couple dozen gender rules than it is to store the gender alongside several thousand individual words!
View our memory course HERE.