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Traveling with Mnemonics

Japanese is hard. Really hard. To those of us versed only in the Romance languages, the linguistic strings of any Asian language could just as easily be barks and purrs from some foreign animal. But despite their complete lack of commonality with languages like English, Spanish, or French, Japanese words still sound like something. Mems (Memrise’s unique take on mnemonics) take advantage of this fact to help bridge the gap between one’s own language and a foreign one.

Imagine a sushi chef’s shock as you announce “gochisosama deshita” at the end of a meal, giving him the traditional Japanese thanks after a “feast.” I was recently awarded such a look of incredulity in the heart of Tokyo. Of course, I never actually memorized the alien phrase. Instead I learned the utterly nonsensical, but incredibly vivid phrase “Goat Cheese, Osama the cheater.” After using the phrase (and associated mem) a few times, I was able to ditch the mnemonic crutch and was left with a new phrase to use throughout my trip.

Next time you’re abroad and need to learn an utterly daunting term, take an extra 10 seconds to make yourself a mem, you won’t regret it.

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