Memory champion and Memrise CEO, Ed Cooke, shares a few of his secrets that will help you too. Check back next month for tips from him!
The thing to understand about memory is that we all have the capacity to retain information on things that are important to us. If something very memorable happens, such as sky diving for the first time or getting married, you tend to remember that time vividly, as well as the feeling that accompanied it. Similarly, we remember details from our favourite book or movie. The experiences that incite emotion and pique our interest are the memories that stay with us. What we tend to forget are those boring, everyday mundane tasks and information: things, you might say, that don’t deserve our attention.
This is often why people struggle to learn new languages in a classroom. We’re missing out on all the context of real-world excitement and joy that meks learning a language fun, and instead stuffing our brains with endless vocab and hard to understand grammar, which actually slows down the learning process.
So to make your memory your friend, and so learn a language with speed and pleasure, you need to learn to make language fun and interesting to your brain. Here are six simple tips to help you:
- Connect a foreign idea to a familiar one: When you find it hard to memorise a word in a new language, use metaphors and build a visual story. Look for things you know that are similar to how the name sounds and tie them into a story. For example “Oishī” in Japanese means “delicious” so you could picture a cheeky-looking Shirley Temple eating ice cream and you ask her “Oi, Shirley, isn’t that delicious?”.
- Use melodies you know: If you struggle to memorise a tricky sentence in German, fit it into one of your favourite songs. Melodies are one example of imposing a structural narrative to fit the mind better. Just think of how happy birthday became a top hit again during the lockdown.
- Practice paying attention: We don’t usually realise when we’re not paying attention, so if you train yourself to be mindful of being in the act of paying attention, it will make it easier for you to fully focus on what you are trying to learn.
- Proactively practice: Making yourself remember what you are trying to learn will help your mind reinforce your memory. Try, for example, to run through the words and phrases you learned during a day’s lesson before going to sleep, and saying out loud the ones you found trickiest. You’ll find yourself remembering more if you actively try to recall what you learn.
- Enjoy saying the words out loud: much of language is confidence, and much of confidence comes from familiarity. As a bonus, the act of speaking out loud – preferably in an exagerrated accent, does magic for memory- as your body does the remembering.
- Immersion: When learning to speak as babies, all we had to do was absorb the world around us. We learn through immersing ourselves in the company of people who speak it, enjoying life itself through the food, the music, the culture. That doesn’t necessarily mean packing your bags and going to live wherever it’s spoken. You can immerse yourself in the language by watching videos, listening to podcasts, switching your phone’s language, reading, playing video games, the list goes on!
Got questions for Ed? Follow him on Twitter!