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Remembering Language


Techniques Memory methods > Remembering Language

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Use when you are visiting a country or where you want to pick up the basics of a language.


Identify the words that you want to learn. Languages often contain 30,000 or so words, but a basic working vocabulary can be gained with just 1000 words. Even a few dozen words can be very helpful for tourists.

Common words can be found in phrase books and include such as those used in buying, talking about people, food, places and so on.

For each word to learn, identify an image that includes both the meaning of the word (in English) and the word itself (in the other language). As with other methods, the cornier and more ridiculous you make this association, the easier it will be to remember.

For words that refer to physical things and places, you can use things you already know about, for example when learning French, you could imagine your local local cake-shop with a 'patisserie' sign on it. You can do the same with verbs, for example associating the word 'manger' with a person eating.

Where you need to remember gender, one way is to make male things blue and female things pink. Another way is to have a 'male' and 'female' parts of your imaginary town.

Phrases can be remembered in a similar way, translating them in as strange and memorable way as possible.

Foreign words are seldom pronounced in the way they are spelled (at least to an English reader). To help with this you can associate with sounds, thinking first about the pronunciation in English.

You can also remember the word as a silly mispronunciation of the word or phrase. Thus I remember 'S'il vous plait' as 'silver plate'.


French for hat is 'chapeau'. This can remembered as a chap wearing a hat, shaping the word 'Oh' with his lips.

French for 'What time is it' is 'Quelle heure est il'. This could be translated as 'Killer at heel' and remembered as a dog called 'killer', wearing a watch around its neck and walking to heel and biting your heel too.


As with other memory methods, there are two main parts to making this system work: setting up the system and then practicing diligently until it sinks permanently into your memory.

The hardest part is often at the beginning. When you get going with remembering a language, more words can become easier and easier.

Match the number of words and accuracy to the need. If you are just holidaying, then locals will often be impressed with your effort and forgive errors. For business language, you will need a great deal of work.

It can help to find an immersive environment to learn a language. The best way is to live in the destination country with people who do not know your language, hence forcing you to practice all the time. If you cannot move there, try things like watching sub-titled movies or internet videos.

See also

Associating, Remembering spelling


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