Memorizing Vocabulary with the Mnemonic Technique

Mnemonic Technique

The most time-consuming part of learning a foreign language is memorizing vocabulary. If you want to understand native speakers you must know thousands of words. Some words come to mind immediately but there are many words for which memorizing is very hard.

Many language learners use a special method for memorizing such words. This is the mnemonic technique, which consists of creating images in your mind associated with the word you want to remember and the other words from your native language. I read that the mnemonic technique can be even seven times more effective than traditional methods of memorizing words.

An example of the usage of the mnemonic technique may be remembering the English word “silly”. There is a similar word in Polish, “silny”, which means “strong”. So you can try to remember word “silly” by imagining a strong man with big muscles, with a very “silly” expression on his face. The sillier the face and the stronger the man, the better the chance of remembering the word. You can use face of Arnold Schwarzenneger to make your image more expressive.

But this technique doesn’t work for me. I tried to imagine many “silly faces” and other pictures, but after a short period I had the same problems with memorizing these words. I forgot my images even if they were very bizarre. The problem emerged when I tried to create many images at the same time. I noticed that many times I remembered that I used the mnemonic technique for a specific word, but I didn’t remember which one. Maybe my imagination is not sufficient for mnemonics.

I think that this technique is easier to use for native English speakers, because the English language contains many very short words, sometimes consisting of even just one syllable, so you can find them in longer words in the language you’re learning.  Sometimes I’d use these short and well known English words to memorize other more complex English words, but the same problem appeared. I forgot all the images I created.

Do you have any better experiences with the mnemonic technique?

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17 comments
  1. Great post! For my language classes, I practiced the old fashioned way by making my own flash cards. By writing the flash cards and meanings I started the memorization process. Also for groups of words, you can put them into a song. I still remember all of the accusitive prepositions in German because my teacher taught them to us with music. Love your blog…it always gets me thinking!

    • Lotokot said:

      I’ve never heard about creating songs to memorize vocabulary. Unfortunately I’m not a singer at all, so I’m not going to follow this idea. It is very motivating to get comments like yours. Thank you!

  2. Daniela said:

    I’m the same as you, it just doesn’t seem to work for me for some reason. I only really use images when looking up a word (usually nouns), I use the google image search for a meaning and those pictures do get stuck in my brain. I guess I’m just not very imaginative

    • Lotokot said:

      So, I will abandon attempts to use mnemonic technique. You are a good example of person, who is passionate of learning languages with good results and not using this method. Seeing images for nouns is very useful, but there are so many other words, which you can’t find images even in your mind. This is what make me frustrating in memorizing vocabulary on my stage of learning English.

      • I didn’t need it for English, but I definitely used it to learn Japanese characters and counters. I did remember that recently in my own blog, hoping it might help me with Afrikaans. But I have to admit I don’t know exactly how. It may come to me. Then again, I draw for fun in my free time anyway. That may make a difference.

  3. Daniela said:

    I think learning vocabulary is frustrating no matter what. By far the best way in my opinion is reading, if you see a word in context over and over and over again, you will start to understand it and you will be able to use it. For me almost all other theories fail sooner or later. I may remember a word from a flashcard, but I can’t really use it effectively or I can’t recall them when I need it, etc.

    • Lotokot said:

      Yes, I think that reading is most important in memorizing vocabulary, especially these words you should use. But there are thousands of words used rather rarely, so you don’t meet them many times in a reading text. To understand native speakers you have to learn somehow these words. I think reading does not provide sufficient exposure to these words and I have no idea how to these words in the relatively short time.

  4. I think this technique worked for me but only in the beginning stage when I had to memorize more simple words. I think it also depends on the type of words too. Action verbs are pretty concrete to be assigned an image to. It never worked for adjectives for me though. In order to almost fully grasp the meaning of an adjective I usually create a spiderweb of synonyms surrounding the targeted word. But that’s time consuming :P
    BTW, I love your blog and learn so much from it !!

    • Lotokot said:

      I’m glad you enjoy my blog. Such comments encourage me to write more. I have to learn rather complex words on my level of English. So the mnemonic technique doesn’t work. I never tried using spiderweb of synonyms. Maybe I will try it.

  5. Reblogged this on The Afrikaans Challenge and commented:
    I’ll have to read this one again, but it seems a good idea to open this for discussion in my blog as well. I reckon I do some of these mnemonic techniques for Japanese. Not sure the same can be said for Dutch and Afrikaans, because usually the words are in fact really similar to German (i.e. my native language).

  6. Good one. Now, also increase your vocabulary strength by using Subcommune – a language learning app that helps you learn English effectively.

  7. Here said:

    The key to memorization is not the images, but the structure that holds the images. Research the concept of a memory palace.

    Once the word and info is tied to a location, then remembering that location gets you the rest. It isn’t about being imaginative, but about being properly structured. You walk through your locations, tying what you DO know (locations) to what you don’t … and walking through the one gives you the other.

  8. Anonymous said:

    simply superb

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