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Imagination: your key to enjoying memorizing hundreds of words quickly

| 130 comments | Category: learning languages, Tool and Resources

kayak

Do you feel like you your memory capacity for learning lots of new words is holding you back? I certainly felt that way…

When I was given a list of foreign words (German in my case) to learn the meaning of in school, it was always unclear how to actually do this. Nobody ever taught me so much about how to learn things, they just told me what to learn. Since other students were doing much better than me, I logically thought that they were simply smarter than me. They must look at the word once and then it is magically burned into their mind forever. This is a very comfortable and defeatist conclusion most people make when they aren’t making much progress with a language, or generally have a weak memory (for people’s names, where they put the keys etc.). It’s because of an amazing memory that the other person was blessed with at birth, but you just weren’t. It never occurs to us, that maybe all we need to do is change our learning method!

The wrong way to learn words

So how was I learning these lists of words in school? I used the classic repeat method. For example, if you wanted to learn that the French word gare means train station, then just say aloud “gare… train station…gare… train station…gare… train station…” dozens or hundreds of times and eventually it will sink in, right?

Well… technically yes. After this mind-numbingly dull exercise you may indeed recognize “gare” as train station when you read it, and you will find a lot of people who have studied a language enough to say that they have no trouble recognizing words when they hear or read them. But when they have to actually speak the language themselves? They want to say the word for train station… it’s on the tip of their tongue… but no, it’s not coming. Time to fall back to English, or abandon ship and be shy and say nothing!

This method is obviously extremely boring, but it is more importantly very inefficient. A typical language has hundreds of thousands or even millions of words so this is another reason people may think that you do indeed have to be a genius to learn all of them, or it would take years for them to eventually sink in with your current method (if you happen to have a method as bad as the one I used to use).

The right way: have fun and use your imagination!

So today I want to share the way that I currently learn words! If you have your own interesting way, please do share it with us in the comments :)

I “naturally” have a very poor memory, but through lots of reading (I’ve definitely not come up with this myself, so I’m sure some readers apply these methods already), I’ve discovered how other people learn things in a way that is efficient and fun. Schools are great for teaching you facts, but I wish more would teach you learning methods!! (If yours did, you are luckier than I was!)

The obvious problem with my repetition method mentioned above is that there is no actual association. Even if you repeat the pair to yourself a million times you are still not actually linking the two words together, just trying to force them to match in your mind. Even other methods of using the word in as many examples as possible are still relying on something to just magically click in your mind to put these words together.

I am suggesting that all you need to do is create a very amusing, animated, unforgettable image in your mind that links both words to each other! This means that if you are translating either to or from the target language (unlike just from which most people will master easier), you will access the other word just as easily. This is especially important when the words look nothing alike. To demonstrate what I mean I’ll give you two examples that I used myself.

The story of why gare means train station

There is no word in English (at least that I know of) that sounds almost the same as “gar” (with an “ah”, not “ay” sound) so thinking for a moment the closest I could come up with was Garfield, a popular comic strip (and cartoon and even movie) of a fat, lazy and sarcastic orange cat (that talks of course). I also thought of a very specific train station that I used a lot in Valencia in Spain. It is important from the very beginning to make everything colourful and full of details and movement. I imagined the people rushing through the station, under where the timetable can be found, the platform I usually went to, and the machine I would buy the tickets from. Suddenly, there is a big fat orange cat, in very cartoony colours; not your typical tabby cat, but Garfield himself with his trademark sneeky grin.

But he isn’t just sitting in the train station (that would be very easy to forget). He is about to miss an important train directly to Bologna for a Lasagna eating competition!! He has his suitcases and sunglasses with him, since he is going on holiday of course, and he is puffing frantically as he runs around trying to figure out which platform his train is going to leave from. It’s quite funny that this fat cat has to actually run for the first time in his life. The train is pulling out of the platform but he dashes after it, throws his suitcase on the back compartment, pounces on… and makes it just in time!

With this image, whenever I picture a train station I will always see this ridiculous story of Garfield running through it and that will help me remember to say gare. Conversely, seeing gare and immediately recognising the similarity with Garfield that I assigned it, means that I will see Garfield in a train station. The recall process takes less than a second and barely slows down a nicely flowing conversation.

The story of why první means first

Here’s a tougher one, the Czech word první means first. No amount of stretching of the imagination will really get a similarly sounding English word from a word that doesn’t even contain a vowel in the middle… so I’ll invent vowels and make it easier! Before I tell you my association words, I’ll tell you the strange story first this time:

“My moment has finally arrived, after years of training and competitions and hard work, I have done it!! The year is 2012, I’m in the centre of the Olympic Stadium in London and they are presenting me with my prize! The crowds cheer me on, and a tear falls down my cheek as I approach the top position on the podium. But this is no ordinary podium, it’s got an area of 3m squared (about 33 feet squared), because I won’t be walking onto it… I’m driving onto it of course! It’s only fitting considering I am now officially the world’s number 1 professional van driver. My skills are unparalleled and the world can finally recognize this as I’ve won the Van Olympics! They present me with a prize of a small rabbit, which is rather disappointing, especially as it bites me in the leg and ruins my important moment!”

Of course, when I saw první I just looked at the core consonants and made the first word(s) that I could from them: PRVN gave me PRO-VAN, so I came up with this story and linked it to the concept of first (on top of the winning position of a podium). The final í is not as important to include this time because I’ve seen a lot of adjectives end in í or ý (both pronounced “ee”) in their standard form, so I’d presume that it happens (at least for the moment) unless I have to remember otherwise. I have decided to include a rabbit in associations in Czech when I need to remember that this word is mostly consonants. You can include other specific associations to remember syllable stress etc. if you wish (but better not to do it with gender; I’ll get on to noun genders another day!) So when I see the word první, I’ll immediately remember my pro van story and associate it with first, and more importantly, when I want to remember the word for first, this story will come to mind, and I’ll remember driving my van on the podium at the Olympics, so clearly I’m a pro-van competitor, i.e. první.

This method actually takes less time than you think

What do you think of my stories? They are absolutely ridiculous, with lots of irrelevant background information and emotions thrown in. You have to be as graphic and expressive as possible; that’s what makes them so easy to remember!! I can’t just put Garfield sitting and doing nothing in some non-descript train station and expect to remember that! In fact, if you have read these stories, I doubt you will forget what these two words mean in a hurry… so I actually try to do this to most new difficult words that I need to learn.

You may think that this is a lot of work; it took you several minutes to read my stories for just two words! It certainly took me longer than that to write them down, but we are talking about your imagination! I came up with all the details of each of these stories in just a few seconds (describing them to another person does indeed take time, but you’ll never need to do that; and the speed of thought is much quicker than the speed of speech or typing words-per-minute!!). I find both stories amusing so it was actually fun trying to come up with an association, and I will very easily remember both of these with very little effort. The best part is that you only actually only need these stories a couple of times; then the word really does get “burned” into your memory and you will remember them naturally; especially once they have come up in conversation a small number of times (each time requiring maybe just one second to recall the word; a lot better than scratching your head and desperately trying to remember something that you may have learned in a less efficient way).

In this way, going through lists of vocabulary does not have to be so dull – you can at least try to enjoy yourself! It’s hard to be very imaginative at first, and certainly took me a lot of practise (at first it did take me maybe a about minute to create each story), but soon your expressive childhood imagination will come back to you, and you can use funny images from cartoons, TV shows, books, movies etc. in your mini-stories to make them more funny and personally relevant to you. In a short time this quick story-making talent actually becomes second nature and you start to do it much quicker… and you can actually go through a list of dozens of words in just a minute or two, and others may just think that you have an amazing memory! Similar techniques are used to remember large shopping lists, dates of friends’ birthdays and phone-numbers etc., so a “naturally” good memory isn’t that far out of reach for those of us who are more forgetful! A little Googling into mnemonics and associations for memorising things will give you some more ideas; any useful links or other interesting memory techniques appreciated in the comments!

So what do you think? Am I crazy in trying to make a story for each word? In most Western European languages, you don’t even need to do this with a lot of words, since there are so many words that are already similar to English (I’ll talk specifically about these later), but for the non-similar words, this is what I do! Perhaps you have an even more interesting (or efficient) method? Please do share in the comments! And if you think your other language learning friends may benefit from this advice, please do share this post in twitter, facebook and Stumbleupon!! :)

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  • Stefan

    Learning words by making imaginative pictures is very effective. I started this when learning latin in school and I’m using it now to learn korean. As most korean word are not similar to words in any european language, I’ve developed my own association system, that works especially well with sinokorean words: I split the word in syllables (which is already done by the korean writing system) and link each syllable with a meaning, that may differ from the actual meaning of the syllable in the word. To give an example: The korean word for “Asthma” is “천식”, which is actually “喘息” in chinese Characters. These characters mean “gasp” and “breath”. If I had a good knowledge of chinese Characters, it would be easy to remember that, but I haven’t. So I interpret both syllables as “天食”, which would sound the same, but means “heaven” and “food”. So I imagine someone, who ate too much heaven and therefore coughs a lot. With this picture in mind, it’s easy to remember the korean word for asthma.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      lol, I love it!! :D Eating too much heaven makes you cough a lot so you have asthma :D An excellent association!!
      Best of luck with Korean, keep up the good work!! :)

  • Stefan

    Learning words by making imaginative pictures is very effective. I started this when learning latin in school and I’m using it now to learn korean. As most korean word are not similar to words in any european language, I’ve developed my own association system, that works especially well with sinokorean words: I split the word in syllables (which is already done by the korean writing system) and link each syllable with a meaning, that may differ from the actual meaning of the syllable in the word. To give an example: The korean word for “Asthma” is “천식”, which is actually “喘息” in chinese Characters. These characters mean “gasp” and “breath”. If I had a good knowledge of chinese Characters, it would be easy to remember that, but I haven’t. So I interpret both syllables as “天食”, which would sound the same, but means “heaven” and “food”. So I imagine someone, who ate too much heaven and therefore coughs a lot. With this picture in mind, it’s easy to remember the korean word for asthma.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      lol, I love it!! :D Eating too much heaven makes you cough a lot so you have asthma :D An excellent association!!
      Best of luck with Korean, keep up the good work!! :)

  • http://www.nerdynomad.com/ Kirsty

    Thanks for the tip! I am pretty forgetful and have proven time and again that the repeat method does nothing for me except bore me to tears. I’m going to have a wee study session later and see if I can cram a few more words and interesting stories into this skull of mine.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Good job Kirsty!! :) You’re learning Spanish, right? If you have any trouble trying to make up a story for a particular word, just write another comment and I’ll give you a suggestion to help your creative imagination flow! Seriously, it becomes natural very quickly (and is always great fun!)

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AKIWO4UL6ICRN4PXJWFFMX2XEQ Tim

        In the end, what’s the point of being polyglot? apart from the fact that you could earn money by doing translation and spot factoring jobs.

  • http://www.nerdynomad.com Kirsty

    Thanks for the tip! I am pretty forgetful and have proven time and again that the repeat method does nothing for me except bore me to tears. I’m going to have a wee study session later and see if I can cram a few more words and interesting stories into this skull of mine.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Good job Kirsty!! :) You’re learning Spanish, right? If you have any trouble trying to make up a story for a particular word, just write another comment and I’ll give you a suggestion to help your creative imagination flow! Seriously, it becomes natural very quickly (and is always great fun!)

  • http://www.spanish-only.com/ Ramses

    Please don’t tell me you’re actually learning LOOSE WORDS?! No wonder you need to come up with stories like that; you’re missing context. Really, the easiest way is to put it into context (that way you see it in use, see different forms of a noun/verb/adjective/etc. = no need to cram grammar).

    I can really recommend you using an SRS for this. Why? Because seeing a word/sentence one time won’t help you; you need REPETITION.

    People fail at learning language at school not because they don’t know how to memorize a word list, but simply because they use word lists. It’s something you can actually only use for perfectly regular language (like Esperanto), but even for those languages I wouldn’t use this method.

    People that read/listen a lot in their target language are often vocabulary ‘geniuses’. Why? Because they see/hear lots of words in context. Best of is all is that they can actually use the vocab they’ve learned.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      I am not suggesting that you learn lists of words and leave it at that. I said that the words will be recalled easier when you use them in context a small number of times. If your learning method is flawed (which basic repetition is for many people) then when you are put on the spot, then you may not remember the word at all, even if you repeated it to yourself hundreds of times. That method is ok for inactive RECOGNITION when others use the word. It’s inefficient for actually producing the word yourself unless you do naturally have a fantastic memory, and I’m writing this for people who don’t ;)

      [comment edited - too long]
      Please don’t confuse each post as each being a replacement for a language learning method in itself. They are always to be combined with other things unless I specifically say otherwise.

      I am open to adapting new methods (in fact, my next post was entirely inspired by a commenter and his suggestions), and if someone has another suggestion for learning words I want to hear it. But repetition is not new, is extremely boring and simply does not work as well as memory techniques. You mentioned something about “SRS”, so maybe you have a particular type of repetition technique that is imaginative and interesting? [Edit: see comments below] If so, you will have to be more specific. Otherwise, please be open to expanding your learning methods too!! ;)

      • http://www.spanish-only.com/ Ramses

        I’ve read you long comment, so will also comment on the things you said before editting it. Also; yes, I should’ve explained what’s an SRS. Sorry for the confusion.

        About me disagreeing with you: I’ve only disagreed two times with you so far. And no, I’m not here to bash you nor to promote my own site; I actually care about other people and want to help them.

        It’s also clear that you didn’t read my blog well enough. If you had done that, you would’ve known that I don’t talk about Spanish alone; I’m also talking about learning methods. A LOT. You can apply my tips to any language (besides, they aren’t even MY advices – I got most ideas from http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog and http://www.antimoon.com).

        And please, don’t accuse me of not being open to other ideas. In fact, I applied more or less the same method you’re using and it brought me nothing. Only when I decided to shut up for a while, get Spanish input and learn Spanish SERIOUSLY (as outlined at the AJATT blog and the Antimoon site) I saw results. I still see people struggle with the same methods you use (studying grammar BEFORE getting input, learning single words, speaking before they should (and thus ruining their accent and pronunciation), and it hurts me seeing them sucking at Spanish or any other language they’re learning.

        Having said that, I want to comment on your opinion that using an SRS is boring. It’s not. Okay, it can be boring, but only if you add content that you don’t like. I have MANY sentences with slang and I collected quite some sentences from watching tv. I like each and every sentence, and I’m often doing my repetitions and laughing all the time.

        I hope we can talk like adults, and I’ll try to be a bit more constructive in the future :-).

        P.S. I didn’t learn English in school. I learned everything at home (including Spanish). That I only know two foreign languages so far is only because I became serious about language learning two years ago. In fact, I’m currently working on my third foreign language (Turkish).

        • http://www.spanish-only.com/ Ramses

          P.P.S. About using mnenomics to learn things: I actually think it’s a very effective method and I use it myself from time to time. The only thing I have against it is the fact that you still don’t know how to conjugate a verb, thus forcing you to cram grammar and conjugate things in your head. In my opinion this is BAD, because it hinders your fluency. That’s why I use an SRS with thousands of correct sentences, so that I don’t have to worry about stories or learning grammar in a formal way. It’s really the most relaxing way of learning massive amounts of vocab fast and get a feeling for the grammar.

          • http://www.facebook.com/rickcjlove Rick Love

            Still not exactly sure what an SRS is.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

          Ramses, I sincerely apologize for the negative comments in my first response. I took them down immediately and actually didn’t think that you would have had the chance to read them. Sorry about that; I know you were (and always have been) trying to contribute to the discussion. I don’t remember implying you were trying to promote your own site, but sorry if I did.
          Please keep on commenting!! I was having a bad morning; sorry that I took it out on you! :( Thanks for being so mature about it :)
          Anyway, you are still misinterpreting me!! :P When did I ever imply that one should study grammar first?? I’ve clearly suggested quite the opposite; speak early and often and make mistakes and tidy it up as you go is my motto :)
          Otherwise we’ll continue to disagree. I think that the whole concept of stopping “people speaking before they should” promotes the fear most learners have that slows them down.
          I never said that SRS was boring; I said that repeating was boring. You presumed that I knew what SRS was ;)
          Good job on learning the languages at home! Your methods clearly work for you… you believe that they would work for most people and I believe that mine would work for most people… just keep on giving us your version and the reader can choose which they prefer :)
          Just note that one way we differ a lot is that I didn’t learn any of my languages “at home”, I learned them on the street, in parties, travelling etc. :mrgreen: Your methods definitely work, but I’m just saying that making it more fun and active would mean that you would learn faster and perhaps more efficiently :)
          Sorry again about this morning!! :oops:

  • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

    Please don’t tell me you’re actually learning LOOSE WORDS?! No wonder you need to come up with stories like that; you’re missing context. Really, the easiest way is to put it into context (that way you see it in use, see different forms of a noun/verb/adjective/etc. = no need to cram grammar).

    I can really recommend you using an SRS for this. Why? Because seeing a word/sentence one time won’t help you; you need REPETITION.

    People fail at learning language at school not because they don’t know how to memorize a word list, but simply because they use word lists. It’s something you can actually only use for perfectly regular language (like Esperanto), but even for those languages I wouldn’t use this method.

    People that read/listen a lot in their target language are often vocabulary ‘geniuses’. Why? Because they see/hear lots of words in context. Best of is all is that they can actually use the vocab they’ve learned.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      I am not suggesting that you learn lists of words and leave it at that. I said that the words will be recalled easier when you use them in context a small number of times. If your learning method is flawed (which basic repetition is for many people) then when you are put on the spot, then you may not remember the word at all, even if you repeated it to yourself hundreds of times. That method is ok for inactive RECOGNITION when others use the word. It’s inefficient for actually producing the word yourself unless you do naturally have a fantastic memory, and I’m writing this for people who don’t ;)

      [comment edited - too long]
      Please don’t confuse each post as each being a replacement for a language learning method in itself. They are always to be combined with other things unless I specifically say otherwise.

      I am open to adapting new methods (in fact, my next post was entirely inspired by a commenter and his suggestions), and if someone has another suggestion for learning words I want to hear it. But repetition is not new, is extremely boring and simply does not work as well as memory techniques. You mentioned something about “SRS”, so maybe you have a particular type of repetition technique that is imaginative and interesting? [Edit: see comments below] If so, you will have to be more specific. Otherwise, please be open to expanding your learning methods too!! ;)

      • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

        I’ve read you long comment, so will also comment on the things you said before editting it. Also; yes, I should’ve explained what’s an SRS. Sorry for the confusion.

        About me disagreeing with you: I’ve only disagreed two times with you so far. And no, I’m not here to bash you nor to promote my own site; I actually care about other people and want to help them.

        It’s also clear that you didn’t read my blog well enough. If you had done that, you would’ve known that I don’t talk about Spanish alone; I’m also talking about learning methods. A LOT. You can apply my tips to any language (besides, they aren’t even MY advices – I got most ideas from http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog and http://www.antimoon.com).

        And please, don’t accuse me of not being open to other ideas. In fact, I applied more or less the same method you’re using and it brought me nothing. Only when I decided to shut up for a while, get Spanish input and learn Spanish SERIOUSLY (as outlined at the AJATT blog and the Antimoon site) I saw results. I still see people struggle with the same methods you use (studying grammar BEFORE getting input, learning single words, speaking before they should (and thus ruining their accent and pronunciation), and it hurts me seeing them sucking at Spanish or any other language they’re learning.

        Having said that, I want to comment on your opinion that using an SRS is boring. It’s not. Okay, it can be boring, but only if you add content that you don’t like. I have MANY sentences with slang and I collected quite some sentences from watching tv. I like each and every sentence, and I’m often doing my repetitions and laughing all the time.

        I hope we can talk like adults, and I’ll try to be a bit more constructive in the future :-).

        P.S. I didn’t learn English in school. I learned everything at home (including Spanish). That I only know two foreign languages so far is only because I became serious about language learning two years ago. In fact, I’m currently working on my third foreign language (Turkish).

        • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

          P.P.S. About using mnenomics to learn things: I actually think it’s a very effective method and I use it myself from time to time. The only thing I have against it is the fact that you still don’t know how to conjugate a verb, thus forcing you to cram grammar and conjugate things in your head. In my opinion this is BAD, because it hinders your fluency. That’s why I use an SRS with thousands of correct sentences, so that I don’t have to worry about stories or learning grammar in a formal way. It’s really the most relaxing way of learning massive amounts of vocab fast and get a feeling for the grammar.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

          Ramses, I sincerely apologize for the negative comments in my first response. I took them down immediately and actually didn’t think that you would have had the chance to read them. Sorry about that; I know you were (and always have been) trying to contribute to the discussion. I don’t remember implying you were trying to promote your own site, but sorry if I did.
          Please keep on commenting!! I was having a bad morning; sorry that I took it out on you! :( Thanks for being so mature about it :)
          Anyway, you are still misinterpreting me!! :P When did I ever imply that one should study grammar first?? I’ve clearly suggested quite the opposite; speak early and often and make mistakes and tidy it up as you go is my motto :)
          Otherwise we’ll continue to disagree. I think that the whole concept of stopping “people speaking before they should” promotes the fear most learners have that slows them down.
          I never said that SRS was boring; I said that repeating was boring. You presumed that I knew what SRS was ;)
          Good job on learning the languages at home! Your methods clearly work for you… you believe that they would work for most people and I believe that mine would work for most people… just keep on giving us your version and the reader can choose which they prefer :)
          Just note that one way we differ a lot is that I didn’t learn any of my languages “at home”, I learned them on the street, in parties, travelling etc. :mrgreen: Your methods definitely work, but I’m just saying that making it more fun and active would mean that you would learn faster and perhaps more efficiently :)
          Sorry again about this morning!! :oops:

  • cestina

    SRS???

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      This also confused me. I don’t know what SRS is (from Ramses’ comment above). Maybe someone can enlighten me?
      Wikipedia can only suggest things like “sex reassignment surgery”; I suppose that statistically women are better at languages than men, so maybe this could help :)

      • http://www.anthonylauder.com/ SplogSplog

        A “Spaced Repetition System”. It is “flashcard software”, that repeats the cards at increasing time intervals. It is based on scientific studies showing that spaced repetition increases retention of things studied.

        The most popular SRS these days is Anki – which is free of charge (Google can find it for you). It is simple to use, and pretty effective.

        SRS was made particularly popular by a guy who used this to become fluent in japanese in 18 months. That guy had 10,000 flashcards in Anki and studied them like crazy (plus surrounded himself with japanese all the time).

        Those 10,000 flashcards did not contain words, but rather sentences (to provide context). This became known as the 10,000 sentence method and I presume Ramses has been influenced by it.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

          Thanks for that explanation!! :)
          This is definitely not the same as pure repetition; I wish Ramses would have explained it in his comment… It can definitely help, and is much more productive than my initial method :) The flashcards and software approach can make it much more fun!
          Although I still see a flaw in “how” you study these flashcards. Using flashcards and spacing them out etc. makes the activity itself much more interesting, but you are still relying on your mind to just stick the words together automatically. When words are given in sentences and contexts as you mentioned, that is definitely a huge improvement :) (Other flashcard systems I’m familiar with don’t do that). However, when trying to “stick” one word to its equivalent translation, I’m suggesting adding some nails, nuts and bolts and superglue to keep them together ;)
          Admittedly either method will work better for each person depending on how their mind works. Flashcards is a fun version of pure repetition, which never worked for me unfortunately. This SRS may also be interesting if it has worked well for others :)

        • http://drusillah.wordpress.com/ Drusillah

          Thanks for the program suggestion, I will use it definitely :) !

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AKIWO4UL6ICRN4PXJWFFMX2XEQ Tim

            Me too! I’m a Magento Developer

          • Gottaknow716

            Here’s another thanks for  the program  suggestion. I’m currently learning Italian with a “For Dummies book and cd. I was sure there was another way.

  • cestina

    SRS???

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      This also confused me. I don’t know what SRS is (from Ramses’ comment above). Maybe someone can enlighten me?
      Wikipedia can only suggest things like “sex reassignment surgery”; I suppose that statistically women are better at languages than men, so maybe this could help :)

      • http://www.anthonylauder.com/ SplogSplog

        A “Spaced Repetition System”. It is “flashcard software”, that repeats the cards at increasing time intervals. It is based on scientific studies showing that spaced repetition increases retention of things studied.

        The most popular SRS these days is Anki – which is free of charge (Google can find it for you). It is simple to use, and pretty effective.

        SRS was made particularly popular by a guy who used this to become fluent in japanese in 18 months. That guy had 10,000 flashcards in Anki and studied them like crazy (plus surrounded himself with japanese all the time).

        Those 10,000 flashcards did not contain words, but rather sentences (to provide context). This became known as the 10,000 sentence method and I presume Ramses has been influenced by it.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

          Thanks for that explanation!! :)
          This is definitely not the same as pure repetition; I wish Ramses would have explained it in his comment… It can definitely help, and is much more productive than my initial method :) The flashcards and software approach can make it much more fun!
          Although I still see a flaw in “how” you study these flashcards. Using flashcards and spacing them out etc. makes the activity itself much more interesting, but you are still relying on your mind to just stick the words together automatically. When words are given in sentences and contexts as you mentioned, that is definitely a huge improvement :) (Other flashcard systems I’m familiar with don’t do that). However, when trying to “stick” one word to its equivalent translation, I’m suggesting adding some nails, nuts and bolts and superglue to keep them together ;)
          Admittedly either method will work better for each person depending on how their mind works. Flashcards is a fun version of pure repetition, which never worked for me unfortunately. This SRS may also be interesting if it has worked well for others :)

  • http://www.anthonylauder.com/ SplogSplog

    Benny – I really like your learning style. Very practical, and very effective. I find myself nodding to pretty much everything you post.

    In addition to learning vocabulary with imagination, I have been teaching folks to use the same approach for learning the very complicated word endings (declension and conjugation) in Czech.

    For example, as I am sure you know, there are seven cases for singular nouns (and another seven for plurals).

    Books give sample words with their endings, and folks are supposed to use these as patterns for similar words. Books usually list the 12 or so most common patterns (there are actually 57 such patterns, but some are rare). So, that is hundreds of endings to remember. But how can somebody remember them all?

    The method I have been using and teaching is to remember silly stories. Stories are great because the sequence of things flows naturally (rather than mixing up the order in tables of grammar rules) and the silliness makes them stick.

    Here is an example, for the singular endings for “neuter nouns with a hard ending”

    1: město
    2: města
    3. městu
    4: město
    5: město
    6: městě
    7: městem

    I saw folks (including myself!) struggling with learning these endings, and to make it far easier, wrote (and handed out) silly short stories for each such pattern, and those stories contain the endings. Friends who tried it said it helped a lot.

    So, for the above pattern, my own story (with the relevant word endings in capital letters) is:

    an Orangutan
    with Antlers
    attacks a Unicorn
    which falls into a lake of Orange juice
    and is swooped on by an Owl
    who plucks off its Ears
    and sticks them onto a Mouse

    After rehearsing such stories a few times, the word endings become much easier to remember. When you get stuck thinking up an ending in real life, you can recollect the story to help you.

    After a few weeks, the endings themselves stick, and you can leave the stories alone.

  • http://www.anthonylauder.com/ SplogSplog

    Benny – I really like your learning style. Very practical, and very effective. I find myself nodding to pretty much everything you post.

    In addition to learning vocabulary with imagination, I have been teaching folks to use the same approach for learning the very complicated word endings (declension and conjugation) in Czech.

    For example, as I am sure you know, there are seven cases for singular nouns (and another seven for plurals).

    Books give sample words with their endings, and folks are supposed to use these as patterns for similar words. Books usually list the 12 or so most common patterns (there are actually 57 such patterns, but some are rare). So, that is hundreds of endings to remember. But how can somebody remember them all?

    The method I have been using and teaching is to remember silly stories. Stories are great because the sequence of things flows naturally (rather than mixing up the order in tables of grammar rules) and the silliness makes them stick.

    Here is an example, for the singular endings for “neuter nouns with a hard ending”

    1: město
    2: města
    3. městu
    4: město
    5: město
    6: městě
    7: městem

    I saw folks (including myself!) struggling with learning these endings, and to make it far easier, wrote (and handed out) silly short stories for each such pattern, and those stories contain the endings. Friends who tried it said it helped a lot.

    So, for the above pattern, my own story (with the relevant word endings in capital letters) is:

    an Orangutan
    with Antlers
    attacks a Unicorn
    which falls into a lake of Orange juice
    and is swooped on by an Owl
    who plucks off its Ears
    and sticks them onto a Mouse

    After rehearsing such stories a few times, the word endings become much easier to remember. When you get stuck thinking up an ending in real life, you can recollect the story to help you.

    After a few weeks, the endings themselves stick, and you can leave the stories alone.

  • Joti

    I often use the same techniques, even though my stories usually aren’t as detailed or long. Mostly I just link the word I have to study in the one language to a word I know in my mothertongue and then I try to put it with the actual meaning. Where you use an entire story, I usually just keep one picture in my head. If you’re studying a language together with other people, it’s always fun to think these things up together.

    I am currently studying Russian and English at university (my native language is Dutch). We have a book filled with vocabulary grouped by theme. [English Vocabulary in use (upper-intermediate) - Cambridge]. Personally I like it, because you have pictures with it and excercices after each chapter. There are not so many words per chapter, so you can check it a few minutes a day. It also comes with a cd with fun excercices and tests you can make on your computer. As it is English, it’s not so hard to memorise most words (I can link them to French or sometimes even Dutch and I already have a rather broad English vocabulary) but sometimes I still have to use the linking-techniques.

    The one example I can think of is when we had to study the word ‘pantry’ and its synonym ‘larder’. I don’t even know the correct translation in Dutch as most people I know don’t have larders in their house. Anyway, a friend of mine helped me to come up with a picture. She told me to picture a couple about to have sex in a pantry. This may not seem very appropriate but the link between ‘pantry’ and ‘panty’ is made pretty fast. As for the larder, it makes me think of the word ‘ladder’, which is the same in English and in Dutch. In Dutch, however, we call a tear in stockings ‘ladder’ because it is usually laddershaped. I’ve never forgotten the words again. In Russian my connections are even more absurd, but I can’t come up with an easy example.

    Furthermore I can only agree with the combination of techniques. To remember words in context it’s good to read a lot or to listen to the radio. Try to have conversations with your friends using the words you just studied (this is of course only possible when you study a language together…). But personally I also like repetition techniques. Not (as you said in your post) repeating and hoping the word will get stuck somehow, but first linking the word to the meaning with imagination or knowledge from other languages and then repeating it on a regular base to keep the new words fresh in mind. I use the (Dutch) program Overhoor (http://www.efkasoft.com/overhoor/overhoor.html) to study wordlists. You type in the word and in the other part you type the meaning and then you can test yourself. This of course had no use if you don’t know the words already, to me it’s more of a revision of things I know.

    And the last fun technique to remember new words and sentences is studying songs. I love a lot of Russian songs but usually I have no idea what they are singing. So a few weeks ago I decided I would translate them and study them by heart. I only did one song so far, but i’s fun. I know what I’m singing and I remember the words a lot easier than I would when studying a wordlist. For Russian this works especially well for sentences and grammar as it uses declension. By recalling the sentences of a song, it’s easier to come up with the right case or grammatical construction.

    • jody

      Hi Joti,

      thanks for your post – what an interesting way to study and revise vocab lists. I shall try the website you recommend.

      You mention that you’re upper intemediate English, wow! I’m upper intemediate Italian but would struggle a great deal to write a post like this in Italian!

      Can I ask, how are you finding studying Russian? I am thinking of also studying Russian but am a little nervous about it!

      thanks!

      • Joti

        Hi Jody,

        glad you liked the post. I think the website’s only available in Dutch. If you have any questions about the program, feel free to ask them. But I guess there are a lot of English programs to study words in the same way.

        Italian must be a fascinating language as well. I took a few classes during high school and it’s one of the languages that’s on my list with languages I wish to learn before I die.

        I really love Russian. I decided to study it because it was so different from all the languages I knew. Most people are already scared off by the alphabet. As you probably know, Russian uses the Cyrillic script. Personally, I didn’t have much trouble studying the alphabet so it’s definitely not an excuse. There are tons of exercises to practise the alphabet and you should be able to master it after a few hours of intense study.

        As I said in my previous post, Russian has declension, which can seem complicated at first to people with a native language that doesn’t have declension. I studied Greek-Latin in high school and that really helped me, because I already knew how to use different cases. But of course it’s possible to study Russian even if you don’t know anything about cases.

        I don’t know how English speakers experience Russian (I’m assuming your mother tongue is English), but as it is so different from west-European languages I guess it’s more or less the same to English speakers as it is to Dutch speakers. There are some words you can link to English, Dutch, German or French words, but then again most words are completely different from anything we know. I think that pronunciation can also cause some trouble. Russian words can hold sequences of quite a few consonants. Furthermore, there are hard and soft vowels and consonants and wordstress is very important.

        This may sound complicated, but don’t let it hold you back from studying Russian. It’s a beautiful language and if you want to study it, you should. I really love it and the fact that it’s so different only makes it more fascinating.

        I hope that was a sufficient answer to your question. Should you have other questions, just let me know.

  • Joti

    I often use the same techniques, even though my stories usually aren’t as detailed or long. Mostly I just link the word I have to study in the one language to a word I know in my mothertongue and then I try to put it with the actual meaning. Where you use an entire story, I usually just keep one picture in my head. If you’re studying a language together with other people, it’s always fun to think these things up together.

    I am currently studying Russian and English at university (my native language is Dutch). We have a book filled with vocabulary grouped by theme. [English Vocabulary in use (upper-intermediate) - Cambridge]. Personally I like it, because you have pictures with it and excercices after each chapter. There are not so many words per chapter, so you can check it a few minutes a day. It also comes with a cd with fun excercices and tests you can make on your computer. As it is English, it’s not so hard to memorise most words (I can link them to French or sometimes even Dutch and I already have a rather broad English vocabulary) but sometimes I still have to use the linking-techniques.

    The one example I can think of is when we had to study the word ‘pantry’ and its synonym ‘larder’. I don’t even know the correct translation in Dutch as most people I know don’t have larders in their house. Anyway, a friend of mine helped me to come up with a picture. She told me to picture a couple about to have sex in a pantry. This may not seem very appropriate but the link between ‘pantry’ and ‘panty’ is made pretty fast. As for the larder, it makes me think of the word ‘ladder’, which is the same in English and in Dutch. In Dutch, however, we call a tear in stockings ‘ladder’ because it is usually laddershaped. I’ve never forgotten the words again. In Russian my connections are even more absurd, but I can’t come up with an easy example.

    Furthermore I can only agree with the combination of techniques. To remember words in context it’s good to read a lot or to listen to the radio. Try to have conversations with your friends using the words you just studied (this is of course only possible when you study a language together…). But personally I also like repetition techniques. Not (as you said in your post) repeating and hoping the word will get stuck somehow, but first linking the word to the meaning with imagination or knowledge from other languages and then repeating it on a regular base to keep the new words fresh in mind. I use the (Dutch) program Overhoor (http://www.efkasoft.com/overhoor/overhoor.html) to study wordlists. You type in the word and in the other part you type the meaning and then you can test yourself. This of course had no use if you don’t know the words already, to me it’s more of a revision of things I know.

    And the last fun technique to remember new words and sentences is studying songs. I love a lot of Russian songs but usually I have no idea what they are singing. So a few weeks ago I decided I would translate them and study them by heart. I only did one song so far, but i’s fun. I know what I’m singing and I remember the words a lot easier than I would when studying a wordlist. For Russian this works especially well for sentences and grammar as it uses declension. By recalling the sentences of a song, it’s easier to come up with the right case or grammatical construction.

    • jody

      Hi Joti,

      thanks for your post – what an interesting way to study and revise vocab lists. I shall try the website you recommend.

      You mention that you’re upper intemediate English, wow! I’m upper intemediate Italian but would struggle a great deal to write a post like this in Italian!

      Can I ask, how are you finding studying Russian? I am thinking of also studying Russian but am a little nervous about it!

      thanks!

      • Joti

        Hi Jody,

        glad you liked the post. I think the website’s only available in Dutch. If you have any questions about the program, feel free to ask them. But I guess there are a lot of English programs to study words in the same way.

        Italian must be a fascinating language as well. I took a few classes during high school and it’s one of the languages that’s on my list with languages I wish to learn before I die.

        I really love Russian. I decided to study it because it was so different from all the languages I knew. Most people are already scared off by the alphabet. As you probably know, Russian uses the Cyrillic script. Personally, I didn’t have much trouble studying the alphabet so it’s definitely not an excuse. There are tons of exercises to practise the alphabet and you should be able to master it after a few hours of intense study.

        As I said in my previous post, Russian has declension, which can seem complicated at first to people with a native language that doesn’t have declension. I studied Greek-Latin in high school and that really helped me, because I already knew how to use different cases. But of course it’s possible to study Russian even if you don’t know anything about cases.

        I don’t know how English speakers experience Russian (I’m assuming your mother tongue is English), but as it is so different from west-European languages I guess it’s more or less the same to English speakers as it is to Dutch speakers. There are some words you can link to English, Dutch, German or French words, but then again most words are completely different from anything we know. I think that pronunciation can also cause some trouble. Russian words can hold sequences of quite a few consonants. Furthermore, there are hard and soft vowels and consonants and wordstress is very important.

        This may sound complicated, but don’t let it hold you back from studying Russian. It’s a beautiful language and if you want to study it, you should. I really love it and the fact that it’s so different only makes it more fascinating.

        I hope that was a sufficient answer to your question. Should you have other questions, just let me know.

  • cestina

    My problem with the word association method is that senior memory syndrome (my new name for the forgetfulnessof aging:-)) means that I not only have trouble remembering the original word but I can only remember part of the associations….so although I like the theory it doesn’t always work for me in practice.

    When I was in the beginning stages of learning I would take a theme and work with it. One useful tactic was to take a book, usually one I had in both English and Czech, and work through it listing all the different ways of expressing the verb “to say”. The Secret Garden/Tajemná Zahrada was particularly fruitful, producing about 40 variations such as “he chuckled”, “he grimaced” “she scolded” “he blurted out” all of which with the aid of a dictionary I turned into Czech.

    I might not be able to produce all of them at the drop of a hat but at least I will recognise them if I see them again. The other thing it clarified for me was the use in Czech of prefixes such as roz, od, do, pro, u, po, za to alter the meaning of words.

  • cestina

    My problem with the word association method is that senior memory syndrome (my new name for the forgetfulnessof aging:-)) means that I not only have trouble remembering the original word but I can only remember part of the associations….so although I like the theory it doesn’t always work for me in practice.

    When I was in the beginning stages of learning I would take a theme and work with it. One useful tactic was to take a book, usually one I had in both English and Czech, and work through it listing all the different ways of expressing the verb “to say”. The Secret Garden/Tajemná Zahrada was particularly fruitful, producing about 40 variations such as “he chuckled”, “he grimaced” “she scolded” “he blurted out” all of which with the aid of a dictionary I turned into Czech.

    I might not be able to produce all of them at the drop of a hat but at least I will recognise them if I see them again. The other thing it clarified for me was the use in Czech of prefixes such as roz, od, do, pro, u, po, za to alter the meaning of words.

  • Edgar

    Valencia’s train station… figures

    =)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Damn straight :D I love that city!! So many good memories there :) And of course, lots of good friends from that time ;)

  • Edgar

    Valencia’s train station… figures

    =)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Damn straight :D I love that city!! So many good memories there :) And of course, lots of good friends from that time ;)

  • Terry Selder

    How funny! With první meaning first, I instantly thought of “primo/prima”, which is much closer, but in fact that doesn’t matter. If only it works for you.

    I use these links myself, but I don’t make long stories. It is often just a few words. For example to remember the Finnish word for brown:
    ruskea. Looks like the Danish word ruskind = kind of leather = brown.
    To cost: maksaa. I think of maximum amount, and the link to to cost is there.
    Creditcard: luottokortti. I think of “lotto” and “card”, lotto = gambling, will i get money —> creditcard.

    Crazy, but I am happy it works. :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      When I try to explain these stories they always sound way too complicated :-P I swear, it takes less than 5 seconds to come up with them :) They are the same as simple basic connections between words, but with some extra details to make sure they stay in memory!
      I liked your “prima” association :) It’s a good way to remember how to start the word! Sadly, we still have v and n to worry about, so sticking with the Italian you could maybe think of “primo vino” or “prima vena” etc., and make an image in your mind from that
      I like your reasoning for the words you mentioned!! They are indeed very simple and would be quite easy to remember! Not crazy at all! Thanks for sharing :)

  • Terry Selder

    How funny! With první meaning first, I instantly thought of “primo/prima”, which is much closer, but in fact that doesn’t matter. If only it works for you.

    I use these links myself, but I don’t make long stories. It is often just a few words. For example to remember the Finnish word for brown:
    ruskea. Looks like the Danish word ruskind = kind of leather = brown.
    To cost: maksaa. I think of maximum amount, and the link to to cost is there.
    Creditcard: luottokortti. I think of “lotto” and “card”, lotto = gambling, will i get money —> creditcard.

    Crazy, but I am happy it works. :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      When I try to explain these stories they always sound way too complicated :-P I swear, it takes less than 5 seconds to come up with them :) They are the same as simple basic connections between words, but with some extra details to make sure they stay in memory!
      I liked your “prima” association :) It’s a good way to remember how to start the word! Sadly, we still have v and n to worry about, so sticking with the Italian you could maybe think of “primo vino” or “prima vena” etc., and make an image in your mind from that
      I like your reasoning for the words you mentioned!! They are indeed very simple and would be quite easy to remember! Not crazy at all! Thanks for sharing :)

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu/ balint

    I’ve used this mnemonic technique and I’ve found it quite useful – but I’ve also combined with SRS. Anki is good, but for me, is a but user-unfriendly. :D I prefer audio stuff, and I was happy when I found a little program, that uses Pimsleur SRS method, but one can create his own lessons (the program is called gradint – I admit, this is not user-friendly either).

    By the way, I’ve read something about the aforementioned imagination mnemonic method: one has to visualize the image for at least 10 seconds, and afterwards, has to use the new word about ten times in real life situations, then it “burns into his mind”. My problem is that is OK that I learn a new word, but it takes relatively long time to recall it in a real life conversation. How can this time be reduced? Is there a good technique as such?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Hi Balint :)

      Where did you read that? 10 is much more than I ever need;

      For me 2 or 3 times max and then I can abandon the story altogether as the words become “naturally” linked in my mind. But keep in mind that this is exactly WHY I make the story so detailed, whereas most people would simply link the two words together in a simpler way in their mind; that is not as efficient for remembering them, so you may indeed need to try to recall them 10 times in that case. I make the initial investment (which, as I keep saying is only actually a couple of seconds) when studying and then reap the benefits very quickly in practise :) So that’s my advice to you; make the story much more detailed when you study it!! It needs emotion and colours and to be descriptive :)

      It’s good this technique has worked with you and that you have combined it with SRS :) I must be out of my game – most people seem to know this SRS and I never even heard of it before :P I’m learning a lot from these comments :D

    • http://www.spanish-only.com/ Ramses

      Balint,
      You can simply add audio to your Anki cards; there’s nothing hard about it. Actually, I do it myself for Turkish because I’m totally unknown with the sound of the language or where to put stress (although some say there’s no such thing as stress in Turkish, which shows that they have no idea what they’re talking about).

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu balint

    I’ve used this mnemonic technique and I’ve found it quite useful – but I’ve also combined with SRS. Anki is good, but for me, is a but user-unfriendly. :D I prefer audio stuff, and I was happy when I found a little program, that uses Pimsleur SRS method, but one can create his own lessons (the program is called gradint – I admit, this is not user-friendly either).

    By the way, I’ve read something about the aforementioned imagination mnemonic method: one has to visualize the image for at least 10 seconds, and afterwards, has to use the new word about ten times in real life situations, then it “burns into his mind”. My problem is that is OK that I learn a new word, but it takes relatively long time to recall it in a real life conversation. How can this time be reduced? Is there a good technique as such?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Hi Balint :)

      Where did you read that? 10 is much more than I ever need;

      For me 2 or 3 times max and then I can abandon the story altogether as the words become “naturally” linked in my mind. But keep in mind that this is exactly WHY I make the story so detailed, whereas most people would simply link the two words together in a simpler way in their mind; that is not as efficient for remembering them, so you may indeed need to try to recall them 10 times in that case. I make the initial investment (which, as I keep saying is only actually a couple of seconds) when studying and then reap the benefits very quickly in practise :) So that’s my advice to you; make the story much more detailed when you study it!! It needs emotion and colours and to be descriptive :)

      It’s good this technique has worked with you and that you have combined it with SRS :) I must be out of my game – most people seem to know this SRS and I never even heard of it before :P I’m learning a lot from these comments :D

    • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

      Balint,
      You can simply add audio to your Anki cards; there’s nothing hard about it. Actually, I do it myself for Turkish because I’m totally unknown with the sound of the language or where to put stress (although some say there’s no such thing as stress in Turkish, which shows that they have no idea what they’re talking about).

  • http://www.lexiophiles.com/ Marc

    Dear Blogger,

    you are nominated for the “Top 100 Language Blogs 2009″ competition. Congratulations! After last year’s success the bab.la language portal and Lexiophiles language blog are hosting this year’s worldwide language blog competition once again. We are confident to surpass more than the 350 blogs which entered the competition in 2008.

    We have made two major changes to last year:

    1. Due to the amount of blogs we have created categories.
    (Language Learning/Language Teaching/Language Technology/
    Language Professionals)
    You are in category Language Learning
    2. User voting will count 50% towards final score

    Voting will start on July 8, leaving you enough time to prepare your readers for the upcoming voting. Voting will close on July 27 and the winners will be announced on July 30.

    For more information on the 2009 competition and what it is all about visit [http://www.lexiophiles.com/english/top-100-language-blogs-2009-nomination-started]
    So now you may ask yourself what you can do. Here are some suggestions

    -Nominations are open until July 6, so feel free to share any blog you like with us
    -Each blog will have a one-sentence-description for the voting. If you would like a special description to go along with your blog, just send me an email [marc@bab.la]

    Kind regards,
    Marc
    On behalf of the bab.la and Lexiophiles team
    [http://bab.la]
    [www.lexiophiles.com]

    Marc Lütten

    bab.la GmbH | Baumwall 7 | 20459 Hamburg | Germany
    Phone: +49(0)40-707080950 http://bab.la/
    Handelsregister AG Hamburg | HRB 101207
    Geschaftsführer: Dr. Andreas Schroeter, Dr. Thomas Schroeter, Patrick Uecker

  • http://www.lexiophiles.com Marc

    Dear Blogger,

    you are nominated for the “Top 100 Language Blogs 2009″ competition. Congratulations! After last year’s success the bab.la language portal and Lexiophiles language blog are hosting this year’s worldwide language blog competition once again. We are confident to surpass more than the 350 blogs which entered the competition in 2008.

    We have made two major changes to last year:

    1. Due to the amount of blogs we have created categories.
    (Language Learning/Language Teaching/Language Technology/
    Language Professionals)
    You are in category Language Learning
    2. User voting will count 50% towards final score

    Voting will start on July 8, leaving you enough time to prepare your readers for the upcoming voting. Voting will close on July 27 and the winners will be announced on July 30.

    For more information on the 2009 competition and what it is all about visit [http://www.lexiophiles.com/english/top-100-language-blogs-2009-nomination-started]
    So now you may ask yourself what you can do. Here are some suggestions

    -Nominations are open until July 6, so feel free to share any blog you like with us
    -Each blog will have a one-sentence-description for the voting. If you would like a special description to go along with your blog, just send me an email [marc@bab.la]

    Kind regards,
    Marc
    On behalf of the bab.la and Lexiophiles team
    [http://bab.la]
    [www.lexiophiles.com]

    Marc Lütten

    bab.la GmbH | Baumwall 7 | 20459 Hamburg | Germany
    Phone: +49(0)40-707080950 http://bab.la/
    Handelsregister AG Hamburg | HRB 101207
    Geschaftsführer: Dr. Andreas Schroeter, Dr. Thomas Schroeter, Patrick Uecker

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu/ balint

    Hi Benny,

    I think it was in How to learn any language by David Fisher.
    Yes, I see your point and I think I’m goint to use your method – I’ll try to imagine more “colourful stories” :D My main concern is the time that the recall takes – but I’ll give it a shot and we’ll see how it goes. I won’t forget to report the results, if you are interested. :D When I encounter a new word, I’ll use this mnemonic method, then SRS to remember the word :D

    Ramses: Yep, I just noticed that there is a built-in voice recorder in Anki :D I’ve read through your site and you wrote that when you use Anki you only go with the Spanish –> English. My question is: how do you establish fluent verbal skills without trying to say Spanish sentences? Or did I get you wrong? Just because I can’t find (again :D) the “Reverse” button – and I don’t want to make 2 cards for the same pair. But I do want to use Anki.

    Sorry for the off-topic.

    • http://www.spanish-only.com/ Ramses

      Oh I *do* imitate the audio clip, and when there’s no audio clip I simply read the sentence out loud (giving special attention to the parts in pronunciation I have trouble with).

      I think I’ve written about this once or twice. I’m currently doing a series of posts about SRS’ing, so it’ll come up again.

      About using the voice recorder: I wouldn’t use it as a beginner. I was talking about the option to add audio from a file. For Turkish I collect sentences from the two Teach Yourself books I have and the free FSI course (http://fsi-language-courses.org). I then edit the sound file with Audacity (I simply select the sentence and click on “Save selection as mp3″). Then I import it into Anki. In the beginning this may take some time, but I’m currently adding 10 sentences per 15 minutes (which is quite fast, I think).

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      @balint I’ll be very interested in your results ;) The descriptive image has always given me and my students the absolute minimum time for recall (half a second to a second; so the conversation is rarely slowed down).
      As I say, I only need to actually use it a couple of times and then it’s memorised for life; it seems like overkill to combine both methods. I’d actually recommend that you try one a few times on one set of words, then the other method in the same way and decide which one works best for you. The mnemonic method doesn’t require any further work for remembering it if used correctly. If imagery really doesn’t work for you after trying it more graphically, then maybe SRS is the answer! One method will be enough, and it’s up to YOU to decide which one works best for you :)

      @Ramses Does seem like a lot of work… if you are doing that repetitively then I’m sure that someone with a bit of programming knowledge could automate the whole process? I know you said that the memory techniques didn’t work for you, but as I suggested to Balint, it’s about using them correctly ;) Flashcards never worked for me because I never tried anything as interesting as SRS.
      But even so, I’m afraid the extra work involved is against my whole study philosophy! I want less time studying and more time practising (practising with natives or other learners, not by myself…) Creating an image in your mind doesn’t require a computer, or a book, a pen or anything. You can do it at any time and in any place and all you need is your mind and the willingness to nurture incredible imagination powers that we all had as children and are sadly ignored by most adults.

      One request Ramses’ – you have a lot of interesting contributions, but could you please expand on them for those who may not be familiar with certain terms, and give a few more links? I didn’t know what SRS was (and it was impossible to guess which version of SRS to use from Wikipedia from the context; I presumed it was a linguistic term, not a use of Sotfware) and people may presume that Audacity is a paid program for example. A link to your blog when mentioning SRS would be very welcome!! :)

      For those curious in applying Ramses’ method, Audacity is audio editing software that is completely free and easy to use, so if you would like to try his suggestion then that program is worth a download!

      • http://www.spanish-only.com/ Ramses

        I’ll try to be a bit clearer in the future. I explained the method here in short.

        I think making an automated process is pretty difficult for most courses. First; the FSI courses come with a PDF that is a simple scan of the book (thus all pages being images). Second; the audio contains English as well, and it is next to impossible to know where a sentence starts and where it ends. You simply have to listen to the sound file, wait until the dialogue comes and then you can start selecting and saving. However, this goes very fast as soon as you understand how it works.

        Besides, I don’t see it as a negative thing. For every card I add I have to type the sentence (first exposure), re-read it to see mistakes (repetition), get the audio (repetition in form of audio input), add it to Anki (which plays it again; second repetition in audio form) and then have to add a short explanation and translation (which is provided in the PDF) to the answer field. This means that I got four times input before ever reviewing the item, which means I’ve learned the sentence and only need to repeat it (by using the SRS) in order to ingrain the grammar and vocab. This may look like a lot, but it goes really fast (longest part is adding the explanation, but it all comes down to understanding the sentence right away or needing to add grammar notes, etc. – this is important though as learning takes place right here and makes using an SRS so effective).

        To make things fun I add pictures, slang, and just weird sentences to my SRS deck (deck = database). I also add sentences I have a strong emotional band with (think of sentences taken from a movie that really touched me, or something a good friend of mine said in that target language; it all helps!).
        .-= Ramses´s last blog ..Spanish Word of the Day: enseñar =-.

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu balint

    Hi Benny,

    I think it was in How to learn any language by David Fisher.
    Yes, I see your point and I think I’m goint to use your method – I’ll try to imagine more “colourful stories” :D My main concern is the time that the recall takes – but I’ll give it a shot and we’ll see how it goes. I won’t forget to report the results, if you are interested. :D When I encounter a new word, I’ll use this mnemonic method, then SRS to remember the word :D

    Ramses: Yep, I just noticed that there is a built-in voice recorder in Anki :D I’ve read through your site and you wrote that when you use Anki you only go with the Spanish –> English. My question is: how do you establish fluent verbal skills without trying to say Spanish sentences? Or did I get you wrong? Just because I can’t find (again :D) the “Reverse” button – and I don’t want to make 2 cards for the same pair. But I do want to use Anki.

    Sorry for the off-topic.

    • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

      Oh I *do* imitate the audio clip, and when there’s no audio clip I simply read the sentence out loud (giving special attention to the parts in pronunciation I have trouble with).

      I think I’ve written about this once or twice. I’m currently doing a series of posts about SRS’ing, so it’ll come up again.

      About using the voice recorder: I wouldn’t use it as a beginner. I was talking about the option to add audio from a file. For Turkish I collect sentences from the two Teach Yourself books I have and the free FSI course (http://fsi-language-courses.org). I then edit the sound file with Audacity (I simply select the sentence and click on “Save selection as mp3″). Then I import it into Anki. In the beginning this may take some time, but I’m currently adding 10 sentences per 15 minutes (which is quite fast, I think).

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      @balint I’ll be very interested in your results ;) The descriptive image has always given me and my students the absolute minimum time for recall (half a second to a second; so the conversation is rarely slowed down).
      As I say, I only need to actually use it a couple of times and then it’s memorised for life; it seems like overkill to combine both methods. I’d actually recommend that you try one a few times on one set of words, then the other method in the same way and decide which one works best for you. The mnemonic method doesn’t require any further work for remembering it if used correctly. If imagery really doesn’t work for you after trying it more graphically, then maybe SRS is the answer! One method will be enough, and it’s up to YOU to decide which one works best for you :)

      @Ramses Does seem like a lot of work… if you are doing that repetitively then I’m sure that someone with a bit of programming knowledge could automate the whole process? I know you said that the memory techniques didn’t work for you, but as I suggested to Balint, it’s about using them correctly ;) Flashcards never worked for me because I never tried anything as interesting as SRS.
      But even so, I’m afraid the extra work involved is against my whole study philosophy! I want less time studying and more time practising (practising with natives or other learners, not by myself…) Creating an image in your mind doesn’t require a computer, or a book, a pen or anything. You can do it at any time and in any place and all you need is your mind and the willingness to nurture incredible imagination powers that we all had as children and are sadly ignored by most adults.

      One request Ramses’ – you have a lot of interesting contributions, but could you please expand on them for those who may not be familiar with certain terms, and give a few more links? I didn’t know what SRS was (and it was impossible to guess which version of SRS to use from Wikipedia from the context; I presumed it was a linguistic term, not a use of Sotfware) and people may presume that Audacity is a paid program for example. A link to your blog when mentioning SRS would be very welcome!! :)

      For those curious in applying Ramses’ method, Audacity is audio editing software that is completely free and easy to use, so if you would like to try his suggestion then that program is worth a download!

      • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

        I’ll try to be a bit clearer in the future. I explained the method here in short.

        I think making an automated process is pretty difficult for most courses. First; the FSI courses come with a PDF that is a simple scan of the book (thus all pages being images). Second; the audio contains English as well, and it is next to impossible to know where a sentence starts and where it ends. You simply have to listen to the sound file, wait until the dialogue comes and then you can start selecting and saving. However, this goes very fast as soon as you understand how it works.

        Besides, I don’t see it as a negative thing. For every card I add I have to type the sentence (first exposure), re-read it to see mistakes (repetition), get the audio (repetition in form of audio input), add it to Anki (which plays it again; second repetition in audio form) and then have to add a short explanation and translation (which is provided in the PDF) to the answer field. This means that I got four times input before ever reviewing the item, which means I’ve learned the sentence and only need to repeat it (by using the SRS) in order to ingrain the grammar and vocab. This may look like a lot, but it goes really fast (longest part is adding the explanation, but it all comes down to understanding the sentence right away or needing to add grammar notes, etc. – this is important though as learning takes place right here and makes using an SRS so effective).

        To make things fun I add pictures, slang, and just weird sentences to my SRS deck (deck = database). I also add sentences I have a strong emotional band with (think of sentences taken from a movie that really touched me, or something a good friend of mine said in that target language; it all helps!).
        .-= Ramses´s last blog ..Spanish Word of the Day: enseñar =-.

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu/ balint

    I’ve tried Benny’s method (please Benny give it a name, so I can refer to it in the future :D), and it just worked fine! At least I can say: so far, so good!

    The word was “Velero” (Ship) – I don’t want to bore you with the details, but the thing is, that the “colourful and detailed” approach worked very vell! Actually I’m trying to not-to-remember the word, just to test the method. But it seems I can’t delete it from my mind :D I could say: the word is mine :D That’s good for now, but I think I’ll use SRS to practice the word – to make it more “real” to me. Imagination helps learn the word, and this gives the advantage that you understand it, therefore a few repetition with SRS and you use it like a native :D IMHO, that’s gonna work (for me, at least). The bottom line is that one needs to imagine a colourful and detailed story, even better if one has some emotional connection to it (in case of “Velero”, I placed the whole story in a computer game (I like them)). Thanks Benny, it helped a lot! :D

    Ramses: looking forward to read your SRS posts! I have a little programming experience, and I think this whole procedure could be easily automated. I see your point that you study while you are creating the audio, but to me it seems like drudgery – time could be spent better :D I’m gonna work on this stuff, or maybe someone else can come up with a faster process. :D
    .-= balint´s last blog ..Nyelvcsere =-.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      That’s excellent!!! :D Thanks for getting back to us Balint :)
      Yes, calling it “Benny’s method” may have a nice ring to it ( :P ) but as I said in the post, I had discovered it from others. Unless someone suggests an official name, I’m going to say “Detailed image association” for the moment, to distinguish it from basic “image association” that you (and others) may have been using previously. I will NOT start using an acronym DIA though :P

      I am not surprised by what you said, but I am very happy to see that you have applied the method as I suggested and got the required results :) I also use computer games in a lot of my associations; Mario, pacman, the Doom monsters etc. crop up every now and again. Explaining most of my associations would be extremely confusing to most people, as I imagine it may be to those reading yours for Velero. But who cares :) You enjoyed creating it I’m sure, and now you can see how it works! It really is effective!! My preference is always for efficiency and fun ;) It will be a long time (and more likely never) before you forget that word and others! Do share your positive results with other learners :)

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu balint

    I’ve tried Benny’s method (please Benny give it a name, so I can refer to it in the future :D), and it just worked fine! At least I can say: so far, so good!

    The word was “Velero” (Ship) – I don’t want to bore you with the details, but the thing is, that the “colourful and detailed” approach worked very vell! Actually I’m trying to not-to-remember the word, just to test the method. But it seems I can’t delete it from my mind :D I could say: the word is mine :D That’s good for now, but I think I’ll use SRS to practice the word – to make it more “real” to me. Imagination helps learn the word, and this gives the advantage that you understand it, therefore a few repetition with SRS and you use it like a native :D IMHO, that’s gonna work (for me, at least). The bottom line is that one needs to imagine a colourful and detailed story, even better if one has some emotional connection to it (in case of “Velero”, I placed the whole story in a computer game (I like them)). Thanks Benny, it helped a lot! :D

    Ramses: looking forward to read your SRS posts! I have a little programming experience, and I think this whole procedure could be easily automated. I see your point that you study while you are creating the audio, but to me it seems like drudgery – time could be spent better :D I’m gonna work on this stuff, or maybe someone else can come up with a faster process. :D
    .-= balint´s last blog ..Nyelvcsere =-.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      That’s excellent!!! :D Thanks for getting back to us Balint :)
      Yes, calling it “Benny’s method” may have a nice ring to it ( :P ) but as I said in the post, I had discovered it from others. Unless someone suggests an official name, I’m going to say “Detailed image association” for the moment, to distinguish it from basic “image association” that you (and others) may have been using previously. I will NOT start using an acronym DIA though :P

      I am not surprised by what you said, but I am very happy to see that you have applied the method as I suggested and got the required results :) I also use computer games in a lot of my associations; Mario, pacman, the Doom monsters etc. crop up every now and again. Explaining most of my associations would be extremely confusing to most people, as I imagine it may be to those reading yours for Velero. But who cares :) You enjoyed creating it I’m sure, and now you can see how it works! It really is effective!! My preference is always for efficiency and fun ;) It will be a long time (and more likely never) before you forget that word and others! Do share your positive results with other learners :)

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu/ balint

    Yes, that’s exactly right. I’ve used this “image association” method before, but somehow they forgot to mention that the heart of the matter, literally, in the details: the bigger the scene, the stronger the effect (on your mind).

    DIA – lol. :D Sounds good to me :D

    Well, yeah, velero – it’s a bit disgusting, but it worked (my story took place in “God of War”, and Kratos was hanging off a column by his intestines :D – “VEL” – pronounced in Hunarian: bél (intestines), “ERO” closely to “lelóg” (hanging off)) And they say the more disgusting, extreme, obscene the story is, the better the recall. :D

    But yeah, the creation of these little stories is fun – and it hardly takes 1 minute. Sweet!
    .-= balint´s last blog ..Nyelvcsere =-.

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu balint

    Yes, that’s exactly right. I’ve used this “image association” method before, but somehow they forgot to mention that the heart of the matter, literally, in the details: the bigger the scene, the stronger the effect (on your mind).

    DIA – lol. :D Sounds good to me :D

    Well, yeah, velero – it’s a bit disgusting, but it worked (my story took place in “God of War”, and Kratos was hanging off a column by his intestines :D – “VEL” – pronounced in Hunarian: bél (intestines), “ERO” closely to “lelóg” (hanging off)) And they say the more disgusting, extreme, obscene the story is, the better the recall. :D

    But yeah, the creation of these little stories is fun – and it hardly takes 1 minute. Sweet!
    .-= balint´s last blog ..Nyelvcsere =-.

  • http://www.spanish-only.com/ Ramses

    @balint
    Well, you could try to automate it, but so far I know a simple piece of software can’t detect what’s English and what’s another language, and can extract text with special pronunciation marks above it from a huge PDF/image file. That would take some serious programming. But you can always try, of course, but I think adding sentences by hand is 1) important to learn the sentence and 2) will be less stressful.
    .-= Ramses´s last blog ..Spanish Word of the Day: enseñar =-.

    • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu/ balint

      I had another idea. There exists good speech synthetizators (ie: AT&T: research.att.com/~ttsweb/tts/demo.php ), which can imitate human speech. Surprisingly good! I thought I would write a little program which grabs the texts from a file, puts them to a synthetizator program, then generates audio flash cards, or something. I only have to provide the text. I’m more lazy than to add thousands of sentences by hand :D
      .-= balint´s last blog ..Effortless English összefoglaló – 3. szint 13-14. lecke =-.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

        Wow! 34 comments now on this post! Since a lot of it has been discussing SRS, I’ve opened a forum post on this site’s facebook page (since I currently have no forum directly on the site), which you are welcome to join in on the discussion, specifically for more thoughts on SRS, perhaps on automating the entry process, and how SRS compares to “Detailed Image Association” and has advantages over it.
        Through this site’s facebook page (join it if you haven’t yet!), you will find the discussion forum, where I have already started this topic. Feel free to contribute there :)

  • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

    @balint
    Well, you could try to automate it, but so far I know a simple piece of software can’t detect what’s English and what’s another language, and can extract text with special pronunciation marks above it from a huge PDF/image file. That would take some serious programming. But you can always try, of course, but I think adding sentences by hand is 1) important to learn the sentence and 2) will be less stressful.
    .-= Ramses´s last blog ..Spanish Word of the Day: enseñar =-.

    • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu balint

      I had another idea. There exists good speech synthetizators (ie: AT&T: research.att.com/~ttsweb/tts/demo.php ), which can imitate human speech. Surprisingly good! I thought I would write a little program which grabs the texts from a file, puts them to a synthetizator program, then generates audio flash cards, or something. I only have to provide the text. I’m more lazy than to add thousands of sentences by hand :D
      .-= balint´s last blog ..Effortless English összefoglaló – 3. szint 13-14. lecke =-.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

        Wow! 34 comments now on this post! Since a lot of it has been discussing SRS, I’ve opened a forum post on this site’s facebook page (since I currently have no forum directly on the site), which you are welcome to join in on the discussion, specifically for more thoughts on SRS, perhaps on automating the entry process, and how SRS compares to “Detailed Image Association” and has advantages over it.
        Through this site’s facebook page (join it if you haven’t yet!), you will find the discussion forum, where I have already started this topic. Feel free to contribute there :)

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu/ balint
  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu balint
  • John

    I don’t usually rely on mnemonic associations anymore. For certain languages (including Czech, I suppose) they’re a great hook to map that word somewhere on the memory. But after a couple correct answers in Anki I find it best to forget about the associations—unless they pop into my head spontaneously :-)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Yes, I also always abandon these associations after just 2 or 3 times. That’s why I make them so detailed; I only need to use them a couple of times and then it is burned into my memory ;)

  • John

    I don’t usually rely on mnemonic associations anymore. For certain languages (including Czech, I suppose) they’re a great hook to map that word somewhere on the memory. But after a couple correct answers in Anki I find it best to forget about the associations—unless they pop into my head spontaneously :-)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Yes, I also always abandon these associations after just 2 or 3 times. That’s why I make them so detailed; I only need to use them a couple of times and then it is burned into my memory ;)

  • Ornum Gnorts

    As far as an English word that sounds like “gare” is concerned, there is of course the word “gar” which denotes the family of primitive fishes of that name, the most well known being the alligator gar. And, in order to associate it with the French “gare”, I offer this loku:

    alligator gar
    from Lazare
    swam far
    beyond Bar
    Harbor

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Without looking it up on Wikipedia (or you telling me) I would never have heard of “gar”… I’m afraid my knowledge of specific fish species or “well known” alligators is not good :)
      But whatever word comes to the learners head first is what should be chosen! For me it was Garfield, but if you think of alligators or fish, then all the better :)
      Your poem is nice, but I don’t actually see the connection with a train station. Also, if you make poems, you would have to recite it in your head and that takes much more time than recalling the image, and would slow you down for trying to remember a single word. Such mnemonics are better for more complicated sets of words (Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain for rainbow colours etc.)

  • Ornum Gnorts

    As far as an English word that sounds like “gare” is concerned, there is of course the word “gar” which denotes the family of primitive fishes of that name, the most well known being the alligator gar. And, in order to associate it with the French “gare”, I offer this loku:

    alligator gar
    from Lazare
    swam far
    beyond Bar
    Harbor

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Without looking it up on Wikipedia (or you telling me) I would never have heard of “gar”… I’m afraid my knowledge of specific fish species or “well known” alligators is not good :)
      But whatever word comes to the learners head first is what should be chosen! For me it was Garfield, but if you think of alligators or fish, then all the better :)
      Your poem is nice, but I don’t actually see the connection with a train station. Also, if you make poems, you would have to recite it in your head and that takes much more time than recalling the image, and would slow you down for trying to remember a single word. Such mnemonics are better for more complicated sets of words (Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain for rainbow colours etc.)

  • Tanhi Tireafya'o

    Already did this. Though it wasn't with all the details. It was just seeing the word when reading it. So: when I hear train station: What happens in my mind in less than half a sec:
    I see the train station in my city, (Outside is covered in squared glasses). I see the word of every language I speak in one of those glasses. So then what happens: You say train station, I think: Train station, gare, trein station, Bahnhoff, etc. etc. etc. etc. (I know a lot of languages :P )

  • http://twitter.com/tumbledesign Tumble Design

    Wow, I discovered your blog stumbling and am so thankful for it! I have never succeeded in learning a new language despite always wanting to. When it comes down to it, I've never really been in a single foreign country long enough to need it. I have a feeling when I do, though, your work will be an amazing resource.

    This post reminded me of a book by memory champ Dominic O'brien (http://www.amazon.com/Quantum-Memory-Power-Impr…).

    His central techniques are very similar to yours, using very sensory images and associations to create memories the way that our brain does it best. The book includes techniques for memorizing vocabulary and a system for remembering gender as well. It is an incredible guide for improving one's memory in general.

    Thanks again!
    -Nicky

  • theleapstl

    I am headed to Europe on May 24th, landing in Paris on the 25th and be there until August 23rd ('quarter-life crisis” journey). I would love to learn enough French by then not only to get me around, but to be able to have in depth conversations with the aged locals and my French peers as well (I will be 24 in a few days). BUT, here's the kicker…I also want to learn Italian, German and Spanish (Spain) too……any suggestions? I do have Rosetta Stone, but can't stay focused. Am I not trying hard enough, or should I just use it as a way to start?

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    In future one comment is fine, no need to copy and paste the same one across several posts…
    Sorry mate, but you gotta be focused. I'm sure you want to learn all the languages in the world, but one at a time has to be your approach. When you reach intermediate stage you can start the next one and keep maintaining your level up to fluency and beyond for ones you've already learned. But taking on several at once will be spreading yourself thin and you won't achieve anything important in any of them.
    Spending lots of money on stuff like Rosetta Stone isn't commitment at all, it's just thinking that throwing money at the problem will magically solve it. I never used Rosetta Stone and I got by fine ;)
    Go meditate so you can be more focused :)

  • http://polhil.wordpress.com/ Polly

    I tried your way of remembering words today: making up images and stories to explain what the word means. Words I've had trouble remembering for years are now stuck in my head because I have ridiculous images attached to that word! It's so awesome, thank you!
    I'm revisiting German and a farm is Bauernhof. Now I see Jack Bauer hugging an N in front of a barn. And that works for me. :D

  • http://twitter.com/KianAmeli Kian Ameli

    This is such a great way to learn. I majored in communication studies with an emphasis in Rhetoric, and we called this method the memory theater. It was taught by the ancient greeks to help memorize speeches.

    On method that I've found useful is to remember a familiar room (bed room as a child, etc), and associate each item in that room with a word, sentence, story, etc. It helps for recall and makes the creation of the stories go quickly. All you have to do is mentally pick up or look at that object and the word will come back to you.

  • edisons

    Hi all :))

    I'm new hear and my english is very good so dont beat me hard and ofcourse as a polite person i apologize because of my bad english :P.

    So i read all post and i hope i understand in right way in general.

    Here is my conclusion about all your posts.

    We all are different and we all need different approach you cant suggest one approach to all.I think it's just wrong.Same is with the health,sport,job and so on.And best what i find is ayurveda which more or less correctly explain what is best for that or another person.And i'm very curios maybe some day some one will use it even in english and i think it will be very useful because in things like job and sport,food health,thoughts and so on it works.

    About imigination approach.Ofcourse it works.When you was kid how you learned new words?Only through real contact feelings,pain,smell,imagination,seeing and so on..

    Since we dont have around us language which we learning.What can we do?Only imagine,talk withself,listen some podcast,maybe watch some movie or radio or read and so on.

    Since i dont have mp3 player i'm using flashcard(i hope i understand this word righ :).Writing on it some word and when in job i have pause or free time i took it and trying to make sentence.trying to make sentence with real situation or my dreams.But i found that it not really works.No i understand why.Because it was not colorful.In other words it was maybe boring or not very much important for me.

    I think to learn any language we need to surround us with it.But not only with sentence or sounds or text but with feeling emotions and so on.

    I think all you here acctually trying to remember to revise how you learned your all native language.For me all your posts,thoughts basicly lead to your childhood.

    And conclussion for now for me is simple to learn any language all what you need is to make your enviroment around as much as possible native.:)

    So one more time sorry about my super duper english.I hope you will understand me.I started learning english only two month ago(acctually i'm not learning)i just listening that's all.Now i will use imagination more and i believe it will help.

    Thanks to all that you remind me some things from my childhood.

    Ye i know very weird post :))

    see ya with respect and love Edmunds

  • Dark Rats

    I actually learn words with even more troublesome metod. I just watch my favourite japanese serials with english subtitles and when I get to some word I don't understand, I simply look it up. It's very easy to remember it, because I don't even have to to come up with my own story. I just have the anime context. And they repeat the same words very often, so if I forget any word, I'll look it up again, and again, untill I don't fully understand all the text. (This method has only one negative. It's perfect when I want to write something, but I really suck at saying words loud. I usually say longer words like “suspicious” just as you write them. I find your metod way better than mine, but sometimes you just don't really have a list of a words you want to learn – you just want to learn something. I think watching you favourite series with subtitles in foreign language is really good way to learn.)

  • http://godlark.com Godlark

    Thanks for this method, I've started to use with English.
    Are you going to study Polish?

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Great suggestions! Nice to see how easily it works in Japanese :)

  • http://drusillah.wordpress.com/ Drusillah

    Hi,

    I agree with you about connecting it with a story :) I had connected a certain math equation years ago with a melody, and haven’t forgotten yet :D

    One thing though that I want to know your opinion on… How can I make up stories for thousands of words that is a language’s vocabulary? I think I would just confuse my poor brain with the stories :P

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      You only have to do it a few times and your brain naturally develops a pattern to learn new words very quickly. You don’t have to make thousands of complex stories that take a few minutes each time. After the first few times you just become naturally better at learning words and do something like this without realising it.

  • Anonymous

    The visualization method described in this article makes sense in implementation to me, but even though I am a very visual person I find it rather unwieldy to make use of in real life. Whenever I try to employ it, I find that my recall time suffers because I have to go through the steps of remembering the visualization instead of just coming up with the word. I definitely fall back on it from time to time with troublesome words, but my usual method is a bit different.

    The process I usually employ when encountering a new word is to “try to make it make sense.” With Chinese, this could mean examining the characters involved and considering other words I know in which they appear. With a Romance language, it could mean looking for roots or commonalities with other languages. Having learned Spanish and just started French a few days ago, it is easy to find commonalities in the basic structures of the languages. I know this technique sounds vague but there’s a hidden gem here…

    Ultimately, I don’t think it matters if I actually find a solid connection or “reason” behind a word that I am trying to learn. The exercise is really more of an attempt to look at the new word from all possible angles and dissect it. In this process I am asking myself questions like “what other words does it sound like? what grammar role does it fill? how does the word look when written on paper? does it have a direct translation into other languages I know?”

    By asking these questions, I make many more connections than I otherwise would. As Benny pointed out, one of the major problems with the listen-and-repeat method is that even when it “works” it is very mono-directional. I like to think of it in terms of a neural-network — by going through the exercise here, I am encouraging my brain to connect the new word neuron(s) to many other neurons. More connections == more pathways == more solidified. Or something like that.

  • Michael_Trew

    Great stuff. I just finished James Heisig’s system for remembering the Japanese charachters in just the same way. It really works.

    Here’s my question on relaxed Sunday morning… How/where can this power be harnessed for other things in life? If I can learn 2000 odd characters in 5 months by silly stories, what else are we tryingto do using an old, inefficient technique which could be replaced by imagination???!!!

    Enjoyed reading your post. Thank you!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      If you download a program called Anki (that I discuss in another post) and access its free decks, you will see many fascinating aspects of our memory that we could work on (capitals of countries, medical terminology etc.) You could apply an image association technique as I discuss here, although I only ever use this for vocabulary myself.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Search the blog for not mixing up languages – I wrote about this in more detailin that post. I have a technique to separate them. I already knew the Spanish words for train station (almost the same as in English) so I wasn’t going to mix that up.

  • Irene Sz

    Hi Benny!! :)

    Any tips on how to use this technique for phrasal verbs in English? I know you haven’t tried this yourself…;) The technique seems to work just fine for me with other types of words, but when it’s the same word with different particles that change the whole sense (give in, give up, give off…) I don’t really know how to use it!!

  • Katia Monasterio

    Fun! My favorite ways to remember vocab are these:
    1.) I make puns out of them. I remember plays on words every time. Example: I’ll never forget the French word for “trash can” since my friend referred to herself as “Plus belle que la poubelle” or “More beautiful than a trash can”.
    2.) I listen to French-language opera and rock opera. Sometimes, if I forget a word or grammatical construction, I’ll sing through a song where I know it occurs. So I always remember Il est vs. C’est, from a song from Notre Dame de Paris.

  • http://twitter.com/1MillionQuotes Kevin Woolsey

    Very cool insight. from http://passiontolearn.com/ 

  • http://twitter.com/1MillionQuotes Kevin Woolsey

    Very cool insights. from http://passiontolearn.com/ Web’s Best Slices

  • http://limerick2.livejournal.com/ fred hixton

    Korean I find it very hard to learn, I intend to learn German which is not easy as well but what we can do, what skin care language is easy to learn now, to be honest.

  • Dustin Goodwi

    Isn’t this called mnemonics?

  • http://mangodurian.blogspot.com/ mango wodzak

    I also use this technique for memorising new words in Czeach, the language I’m currently focusing on. I use http://memrise.com, which is great for studyiing pretty much every language in a imilar fashion.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4HNHKBQF5UJCLNVPKGSIUZWYVU MarkS

    Excellent advice, and great blog.    I use this method all the time.  It doesn’t matter how absurd the story or picture you have in your mind, you just need to give your mind SOMETHING to grab onto that it’s already familiar with.   

    “Chaub” = “like” in Thai.   Well, I can just picture Karate “Chaub”ing anything I like!
    “Piso” = “floor” in Spanish.    What’s a floor for?  Taking a piss on!

    Sometimes they can get crazy, but they still work.  “liáo tiānr” = “chat” in Mandarn.   Liáo = turn in Thai.   Tiānr sounds kind of like tire.    So I see a friend and turn my tire to pull over and chat!

    I find they’re crutches that my mind will automatically throw away after a while when they’re longer needed,  but my brain seems to still have a closet full of these more amusing ones :)

  • Brian

    Hey, old post I know. I’m studying Czech and am having great difficulty remembering intermediate/advanced vocabulary as there’s nothing to ‘hook’ it into my head. Some examples: napkin – ubrousek, supersede – překonávat, requirement – požadavek, convincing – přesvědčivý.
    The words are not related to English at all and most of them are not physical objects or activities, making them very hard to remember. Even breaking down the syllables, they don’t come to anything that I can remember. ‘press’, ‘vyed’, ‘chivvy’, how would one come up with a mental image of ‘convincing’ using syllables like these?

    How do people remember these abstract words? Do you just learn them as they come and focus on more basic vocab?

    Any ideas welcome.

  • hkfun

    Hey Benny. I just found your site recently, so sorry for being so late in the game! BUT, I just wanted to add that “gar” is an English word. It’s a kind of fish!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tara.lynn.lee Tara Lynn Lee

    Awesome! There definitely are some words that just don’t seem to stick no matter how often I repeat them. I’ll use your approach from now on. Your suggestion totally jives with what I’ve learned in a memory course I took years ago, but the technique I learned was really specific so I never thought of applying it to a new language, let alone how to do that. Seems obvious now.

    I took French for 10 years in school and have travelled 3 different French speaking countries yet I’ve never been able to make my mind relate “gare” to “trainstation” before. When I first read “gare” in your article I thought, “Um, that means ‘war’ doesn’t it?” I don’t know how gare got linked to war beyond the similar sound but that’s a mistake I’ve made 100s of time.

    Now I’ll never mix it up again! You rock, Benny.

  • Aika

    this is exactly how I memorize words. and I came up to this on my own. It is good to know that I am not crazy and not the only one who makes up such stories in mind ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/nyxielle Dannielle Spears

    I developed a technique a while back for retaining vocabulary, I figure I’ll share it with you and maybe it will help someone. But bear with me…it’s quite difficult to explain, and a lot of people I’ve met just don’t understand…but maybe you and/or someone reading this will get it, give it a go, and hopefully see good results.

    Firstly, think about the word in english, keep saying it (in english) and really try to concentrate on how that word feels. You’re trying to separate the word from the concept if that makes sense. Now, hold on to that concept, keep saying the english word until you have it, solid, you have the gist without needing the word. Now say the word in the language you’re trying to learn and try to fuse the new word with the same concept/gist/whatever you wanna call it. Sometimes it helps me to try to say the two words at once in my head, sort of overlapping them and fusing the new word to the concept.

    So…when you think of say…gare it automatically conjures up the gist of a trainstation, that concept in your mind, that thing that happens (usually) subconsciously when you say ‘train station’. no need to faf about with a middle man, just straight from word to gist. It’s how (i figure) we understand english (or whatever our native language may be). It might take a while at first to get used to the process of separating the gist/concept from the english word but after doing it a few times it can be really quick. The words I’ve learned doing this technique are the german words I just get. when i see/hear them it may aswell be english. But the words I’ve learned using other techniques I have to stop for a moment and actively try to remember. It’s no use having to constantly translate back to english!

    I hope this all made sense (at least to someone). I’ve never heard of anyone doing it but it seems like possibly (i’m no linguist or psychologist or anything) a short-cut equivalent of the same process that happens when we immerse ourselves.

    I’d be quite interested if you tried this method yourself and shared results (maybe you can explain it better than I can!).

  • Guest

    Very interesting. I am an interpreter and we use this same method to link bits of information together to retain more when we are practicing consecutive interpretation. I had not thought of using this idea in language learning, however. Thanks for the great idea!

  • Bri

    I’m learning Japanese.. This is actually fun. But I know it’s too late, because this is amusing me way too much. XDD My current one is for the word biyouin, beauty salon. The hairdresser, biyoushi (means beautician but made it his name) was working at the biyouin (beauty salon), but cut his finger so he had to go to the byouin (hospital)”. Biyouin and Byouin sound really similar, so that’s why I included it to make sure to note the difference.

  • Stan Stanislaus

    Hmm, I think I might have over-developed and misinterpreted this method. When I first started using it it was working really well for me. I could think of something like “A clown floating in red mist offers you gifts of cadmium and aurum.” to remember that “cadeau” means “gift” in French. Now however, I feel like I’m spending more time on figuring out why the mnemonics I made didn’t work. I remember part of the story, like the English definitions, but not the French word or vice-versa. Otherwise, I can’t even remember the mnemonic at all. When using this method I find that it works the best with a noun that has only one definition I have to remember. Should I only try to associate one word with one word instead of a list of definitions for a French word? If anyone has any advice I’d really appreciate it. Otherwise, great post!

  • Taylor Marie Shenberger

    I also learn words within their context. For example, at work I have a “word of the day” on a post-it note that I can associate with my job. I work in financial aid, so I have learned assistant, payment, loan, form, fill out, etc. Seeing the notes as I work and quizzing myself throughout the day has been really helpful. I’ve been able to help a few native Spanish speakers in this way……..I should also mention that Spanish is my major and vocab is the only thing left in which I have a lacking. I’ve definitely used my imagination a lot too!

  • Joshua

    Using methods like picturing Garfield at the train station, isn’t that very similar to the linkword method Unforgettable Languages uses? Like one of the examples on their site is when they take the Spanish word for cow, vaca, and tell you to picture a cow in a field with a vacuum. I thought it sounded kind of cheesy, but I went through the demo lists that they show and it actually worked pretty well. Were you able to build a large vocabulary with this method, or did you resort to other means in the long term?

  • Metrx Qin

    i thought it was a article which helps to memorize English words when i came in. :) You did good job

  • Seong-u Han

    hey I’m just curious how to memorize English vocabulary. Well.. actually, Most of Korean has indeed learned English so that they want to get a better job not as enjoying. Anyway I am going to ask you on a way how to memorize other language’s words efficiently. For example, there is a book written in Korean which has lots of English words to let students force to memorize them. But, here, which way between Korean and English to memorize is better? Frankly, it is easier for me to put them into my mind in Korean than just English, but I cannot use them to write or speak English easily. I am, now, using Longman English Dictionary to study many words. Is it more efficient? What do you think of it?

  • Wren Wilkins

    Oh my god this is exactly what I do. I’ve always used this method to memorize vocab. I’m a very visual learner so putting strange but fun pictures to new words makes it very easy for me to remember them. Especially if I make a connection that other people wouldn’t understand or that makes me laugh.

    For example, the Korean word for family 가족 (kachoke) I now remember because to me sometimes my family drives me so insane I just want to strangle them! (not true– it’s just an expression!) But hence the choking. ^^ And then recently I had to learn the word for train 기차 (geecha) and I broke it down. I don’t know if this is really how it was formed, but it makes sense to me. 기 reminds me of 길 which is short for 길다 which means to be long. And 차 means car. So if you put the two together it’s “long car” which makes sense because a train is like a long car! =)

  • Ian Worthington

    Just to add my 2 cents. I’m currently learning japanese and vocab is difficult because japanese (as you should know Benny) has a very limited set of sounds. So it becomes difficult to create stories without using the same things again and again which can end up confusing words and blurred stories.
    I’ve found that repetition is good to get my brain FAMILIAR with the word. But having a story is good to help me RECALL the word.
    Let me explain.
    We also forget words in our OWN langauge, and I was thinking how to NOT forget words I know in English. I realised that at the point where i forget a word in english, its not how to say the word, its WHICH word. The path in my mind to that word is broken, not the word itself.
    (To fix this problem i usually go slowly through the alphabet and just say A…a no word pops up, B…b… no word. This works 8/10 of the time)
    So this made me realise that actually just the BEGINNING of the word is all I need to be able to remember, and the rest would roll off my tongue.
    So repetition combined with a story to recall the sound of the beginning of the word, may be my new hybrid method.

  • Srilan Maranan

    How many languages did you start working on at once when you were still learning?

  • Diego

    hi Benny Lewis Im Diego from Peru (SouthAmerica) currently I ve been using those tecniques you share here,,I know there are all useful ,but Im pretty sure teres a good method to accelerate the process of memroizing a diccioNARY ,THANKS

  • Matthew Ottewell

    This is such garbage. I’ll take this challenge with you. Pick a language you and I both don’t know and you can make all of these fanciful connections. I’ll grab a beginner’s dictionary and transcribe 3-4 word phrases and repeat on a 6 period recall program and then read books aloud and watch subtitled movies. We’ll see who is more fluent in 3 months. I won’t use my imagination once, I promise you.

  • Yunier Perez Camacho

    Nice technique indeed!, I also read about it in the book How To Learn Any Language by Barry Farber. May I ask, what’s your opinion on that book?

  • Rodrigo

    Muito interessante sua técnica, Benny. É criativa. Mas achei muito trabalhosa. Atualmente, eu consigo apenas read in English and en español (este último por ser muito parecido com o português). Para mim, sempre foi mais fácil memorizar as palavras escritas, além, claro, de saber como são pronunciadas.