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Memory Tricks for Learning a Language

Mar 15, 2008
It is logical and to the point for anyone who wants to learn a foreign tongue to study first of all those words which are spelled the same, or nearly the same, in his own language. In English-German there are, for instance:

Rose - Rose
Ring - Ring
Gold - Gold
Grass - Grass
Rust - Rost
Man - Mann

Then follow the words which, while differing in spelling, yet have a fairly similar sound:

Steel - Stahl
Moon - Mond
Father - Vater
Come - kommen

Whether such words are few or many depends upon the degree of relationship between one's own language and the particular foreign one.

If thought-associations like those given above cannot be made, that is, if the foreign word sounds entirely different from the same word in our own language, we can lighten our task of learning it by employing linking words.

Naturally this plan again offers various possibilities. The simplest and most effective is to find a linking word in one's own language, a word which in meaning is similar to the given word but in sound resembles the foreign word to be learned. If we go back to the Latin, we find the following example:

In Latin, hand is manus. In English, we have the word manufacturer, originally someone who made something by hand. If we therefore insert manufacturer as the linking word between hand and manus, we use this chain of thought: I am trying to think of the Latin word for hand. Hand reminds me of the man who makes something by hand or causes it to be made by hand, therefore manufacturer. If I know this word, I can easily recall the Latin word manus.

Another example: To know is cognoscere in Latin. These are entirely different words, and there is apparently no connection between the two. But if I know someone I can say I recognize him. This word is so similar to the Latin term I am trying to think of that memorizing the latter offers no further difficulty.

There is a twofold advantage in learning words in this way: First, stupid, parrotlike repetition is done away with. The habit of endless repetition tends to destroy concentration. Second, terms learned by the method I have outlined make a much deeper impression and remain in the memory much longer, once they are learned. The reader cannot check this assertion offhand; but try to learn foreign terms with the aid of a modern textbook or by inserting your own linking words and you will shortly see how astonishingly well you remember them.

Now, of course, there are a great number of terms for which it is impossible to find linking words as closely related in meaning to the words in one's own language as the cited examples. In spite of this fact we need not discard our method.

Basing my conclusions on an extensive study of many languages, I have found that in almost all instances it is possible to discover a word in our own language that is similar in sound to the foreign word. Once I know such a word, with a little practice in inserting linking words I can make a connection in my own language whenever a natural connection does not exist.

The following examples demonstrate this point: The English word tomb is entirely dissimilar and has no relationship to the German word Grabmal. But it is easy to form a connection between tomb and grave, and the latter word sounds so much like the German word Grab, that remembering it presents no difficulty.

Since actual practice is much more instructive than theory, I shall present some examples, emphasizing the fact that the etymology of the words is entirely beside the point. I assume that the etymology of the word is unknown to the reader, for if it is known, we can naturally dispense with mnemotechnical aids.

Examples for English-French:

top summit sommet
women feminine femmes
share part part
danger risk risque
insanity demented demence
middle center centre
busy occupied occupe
death mortal mort
house mason maison

Using this method, learning vocabulary in another language becomes very easy indeed!
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