Foreign languages are the ideal subject area for the use of memory techniques: the process of learning words is essentially a matter of association - associating what is initially a meaningless collection of syllables with a word in a language that we understand.
Traditionally this association has been carried out by repetition - saying the word in ones own language and the foreign language time and time and time and time again.
This whole tedious way of acquiring vocabulary can be eliminated by three good techniques:
Before we explain how to remember vocabulary, you will need to understand the principles of:
Explanation of Language Mnemonics
The LinkWord technique uses an image to link a word in one language with a word in another language. The following are examples of use of the LinkWord technique:
English:French vocabulary rug/carpet - tapis - image of an ornate oriental carpet with a tap as the central design woven in chrome thread grumpy - grognon - a grumpy man groaning with irritation to tease - taquiner - a wife teasing her husband as she takes in the washing.
The technique was formalised by Dr. Michael Gruneborg. LinkWord language books have been produced in many language pairs to help students acquire the basic vocabulary needed to get by in a language (usually about 1000 words). It is claimed that using this technique this basic vocabulary can be acquired in just 10 hours.
2. The Town Language Mnemonic (Editor's Choice)
This is a very elegant, effective mnemonic designed by Dominic O'Brien that fuses a sophisticated variant of the Roman Room system with the LinkWord system described above.
The fundamental principle rests on the fact that the basic vocabulary of a language relates to everyday things: things that are typically found in a small town, city, or village. The basis of the technique is that the student should choose a town that he or she is very familiar with, and should use objects within that place as the cues to recall the images that link to foreign words.
Nouns in the town
Nouns should be associated to the most relevant locations: the image coding the foreign word for book should be associated with a book on a shelf in the library. The word for bread should be associated with an image of a loaf in a baker's shop. Words for vegetables should be associated with parts of a display outside a greengrocer's shop. Perhaps there is a farm just outside the town that allows all the animal name associations to be made.
Adjectives in the park
Adjectives should be associated with a garden or park within the town: words such as green, smelly, bright, small, cold, etc. can be easily related to objects in a park. Perhaps there is a pond there, a small wood, perhaps people with different characteristics are walking around.
Verbs in the sports centre
Verbs can most easily be associated with a sports centre or playing field. This allows us all the associations of lifting, running, walking, hitting, eating, swimming, driving, etc.
In a language where gender is important, a very elegant method of remembering this is to divide your town into two main zones where the gender is only masculine and feminine, or three where there is a neutral gender. This division can be by busy roads, rivers, etc. To fix the gender of a noun, simply associate its image with a place in the correct part of town. This makes remembering genders so easy!
Many Languages, many towns
Another elegant spin-off of the technique comes when learning several languages: normally this can cause confusion. With the town mnemonic, all you need do is choose a different city, town or village for each language to be learned. Ideally this might be in the relevant country, however practically it might just be a local town with a slight flavour of the relevant country, or twinned with it.
3. The hundred most common words
Tony Buzan, in his book 'Using your Memory', points out that just 100 words comprise 50% of all words used in conversation in a language. Learning this core 100 words gets you a long way towards learning to speak in that language, albeit at a basic level.
Click here to see the 100 basic words.
The three approaches to learning language shown here can be extremely effective in helping to learn a foreign language, in terms of pointing out the most important words to learn, showing how to link words in your own language to words in a foreign language, and showing how to structure recall of the language through use of the town mnemonic.
The 100 basic words used in conversation are shown below. These typically comprise around 50% of all words used:
1. a, an 2. after 3. again 4. all 5. almost 6. also 7. always 8. and 9. because 10. before 11. big 12. but 13. (I) can 14. (I) come 15. either/or 16. (I) find 17. first 18. for 19. friend 20. from 21. (I) go 22. good 23. goodbye 24. happy 25. (I) have 26. he 27. hello 28. here 29. how 30. I 31. (I) am 32. if 33. in 34. (I) know 35. last 36. (I) like 37. little 38. (I) love 39. (I) make 40. many 41. one 42. more 43. most 44. much 45. my 46. new 47. no 48. not 49. now 50. of 51. often 52. on 53. one 54. only 55. or 56. other 57. our 58. out 59. over 60. people 61. place 62. please 63. same 64. (I) see 65. she 66. so 67. some 68. sometimes 69. still 70. such 71. (I) tell 72. thank you 73. that 74. the 75. their 76. them 77. then 78. there is 79. they 80. thing 81. (I) think 82. this 83. time 84. to 85. under 86. up 87. us 88. (I) use 89. very 90. we 91. what 92. when 93. where 94. which 95. who 96. why 97. with 98. yes 99. you 100. your
From: 'Use Your Memory', Tony Buzan, BBC Books, London, ISBN 0-5633-37102-1 Mind Maps
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