The problem of remembering numbers, probably the most difficult of all memory chores, can be solved by learning a simple phonetic alphabet, consisting of just ten pairs of digits and sounds. They are not at all difficult to learn, even if you use rote memory— which you won’t need to do. We want to eliminate rote, not find uses for it. You’ll be given a simple memory aid for each pair, and if you concentrate, you’ll probably find that you know them after one reading.

First, to break down the idea for you, there are ten digits in our numerical system: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 0. There are also ten basic consonant phonetic sounds. (Technically, of course, there are more than ten, but the ten basic ones will serve our purpose admirably.)

Think of the letters t and d for a moment. Although they are different letters, and fall in different parts of the alphabet, they make the same phonetic sound. Your vocal apparatus (tongue, teeth, lips) is in exactly the same position when making the t sound as when making the d sound. The t sound is a bit harder than the d, that’s all. For our purposes, they’ll be considered the same.

The rule—the vocal apparatus being in the same position—will hold true for other consonant sounds. For example, although f and v (and ph) are different letters, they form the same phonetic sound; again, the only difference is that one is harder than the other, and, again, your lips, tongue, and teeth are in the same position to form either one.

P and b are phonetically the same for our purposes. So are j, sh, ch, and soft g—your tongue curls the same way to sound any one of them. The hissing sounds, s, z, soft c, are also the same phonetic sound, and so are k, hard c, and hard g.

All right, then. There are ten of these phonetic sounds, and it is the sounds we’re interested in, not the letters themselves. All we’ve done is to pair a sound to each digit, and there are only ten pairs for you to learn. That’s the phonetic alphabet. Learn it; once you do, you’ll use it for the rest of your life—it will never change. Don’t worry now about how it will be used; just learn it. It can be useful to you in ways you couldn’t imagine.

how to memorize long digits with phonetic sound system

Pay attention to the memory aids; they’re silly but they’ll enable you to learn the phonetic alphabet in minutes. The sound that will represent number 1 will always be the sound made by the letters t or d, and vice versa. The memory aid, which you’ll need for only a short while, is this: A typewritten t has one downstroke. Think of that for just a moment.

The number 2 will always be represented by the sound made by the letter n. The memory aid is: A typewritten small letter n has two downstrokes. Think of that for a moment.

Number 3 will always be represented by the sound made by the letter m; 3 = m and m = 3. The small typewritten letter m has three downstrokes, or you might think of the 3M Corporation. Again, it is the sound we’re interested in, not the letter.

Number 4 will always be represented by the sound made by the letter r. The simplest memory aid for this is that the word “four” ends with an r.

Number 5 will always be represented by the sound of l. The memory aid: Spread the five fingers of one hand, thumb straight out, and the thumb and forefinger form the letter l.

Number 6 will always be represented by the sounds j, sh, ch, and soft g (as in gentle); they all make the same phonetic sound. The memory aid: The digit 6 and a capital letter j are almost mirror images.

Number 7 will always be represented by the sounds k, hard c (as in cap), hard g (as in glide). As the memory aid, you can form a capital k with two 7’s, one right side up and the other upside down.

Number 8 will always be represented by the sound made by the letters f or v or the sound ph. To help you remember this quickly, an 8 and a handwritten f are both made with two loops, one above the other.

Number 9 will always be represented by the sound made by the letters p or b. The number 9 and the letter p are almost exact mirror images.

And, finally, the zero (0) will be represented by the hissing sound made by the letters z, s, or soft c (as in century). The memory aid: The first sound in the word “zero” is z.

If you’ve read the last few paragraphs with some degree of concentration, the odds are that you already know all, or most, of them. But look at this chart for a moment:

1 = t or d. A typewritten small t has one downstroke.

2 = n. A typewritten small n has two downstrokes.

3 = m. A typewritten small m has three downstrokes.

4 = r. The word four ends with an r.

5 = l. The five fingers, thumb out, form an l.

6 = j, sh, ch, soft g. A 6 and a capital j are almost mirror images.

7 = k, hard c, hard g. You can make a capital with two 7’s.

8 = f, v, ph. An 8 and a handwritten f look similar.

9 = p or b. A 9 and a p are mirror images.

0 = z, s, soft c. The first sound in the word zero is z.

A few rules: The vowels, a, e, i, o, u, have no value whatsoever in the phonetic alphabet; they are disregarded. So are the letters w, h, and y. The only time that h is important is when it follows certain consonants, changing the sound. Also, although this is rarely used, the th sound will for our purposes be the same as the t sound: th = 1.

Silent letters are disregarded. The word knee would transpose to 2 in the phonetic alphabet, not 72. Remember, we are interested in the sound, not the letter. There is a k in that word, but it is silent; it makes no sound and therefore has no value. The word bomb transposes to 93, not 939; the last b is silent. The beauty of this, if you’ll forgive our saying so, is that it doesn’t even matter whether or not you pronounce (or read) a word correctly. If you happened to speak with an accent, and pronounced that final b in bomb, you would transpose that word to 939. But since you’d always pronounce it that way, the system would work just as well for you.

alphabet system for memory improvement

This leads to the rule for double letters. The word patter transposes to 914, not 9114. Yes, there are two t’s in the word, but they are pronounced as one t. The word bellow would transpose to 95: b = 9, l = 5; the ow has no value. The rule is simple and definite; always consider double letters as making only one sound. (Except, of course, where the two letters are obviously pronounced differently as in “accident.” The double c here transposes to 70.)

Finally, the letter x will almost never be used, but it transposes according to the way it is pronounced in a particular word. In the word fox the f is 8, and the x is 70. (The x makes the ks sounds in that word.) In the word complexion, however, the x would transpose to 76. Pronounce complexion slowly and you’ll see why. As for the letter q, it always makes the same sound as k—so it transposes to the number 7.

The phonetic alphabet should become second nature to you. That is, whenever you hear or see the sound r, you should think, 4. When you hear or see 2, you should think, n. You must know them quickly and out of order. Go over them mentally now; you probably already know them. Those simple little memory aids make the phonetic alphabet easy to remember. Don’t continue reading until you’re familiar with the ten pairs of digits and sounds and have really practiced transposing sounds (not letters) to numbers.

How To Memorize Long Digit Numbers With Phonetic System

941 140 494 275

The number has been broken into groups of three digits for teaching purposes only. Ordinarily you wouldn’t break a number into equal groups like that. Try to think of a word that would phonetically fit 941. There are many such words; parrot, bread, proud, apart, berate, pirate, brat, board, bored, to name only a few. The first one you think of is usually the best for you to use.

Now look at the next group of three digits, 140. What word would fit those phonetically? Tears, throws, throes, dress, duress … Think of one yourself.

Now, start forming a Link; your association might be a gigantic parrot wearing a dress. Be sure to see the picture. The next three digits are 494: robber, rubber, or arbor would fit phonetically. Continue your Link; you might picture a gigantic dress (just the dress; no lady in it) being a robber. See the picture; either the one suggested here or one you thought of yourself.

The last three digits are 275; nickel, knuckle, or angle would fit. Select one and continue your Link; associate robber or whatever you used for 494) to nickel. You might see a gigantic nickel catching a robber, or being a robber.

You’ve just formed a short Link of only four words. But if you know those four words, if you know the Link, you also know the twelve digit number: that is, if you also know the sounds.

Simply think of the first word of your Link, and transpose it to digits. If you used parrot, parrot can only break down to … 941. Think of parrot for a moment; that makes you think of—what? Dress, of course; and that can only transpose to … 140. Dress leads to robber, and robber transposes to … 494. And, finally, robber reminds you of nickel, and nickel can only be … 275. There are no decisions to make here; if you know the fundamentals—in this case, the sounds—any word breaks down, or transposes, to a specific group of digits.

Let’s try a longer one this time:

7412 3212 5390 0141 4952

Not at all impossible to remember—not now. Again, the number is broken into groups of four for teaching purposes only. Look at the first group; if you simply say the sounds to yourself, you’ll almost automatically form a word. Say k r t n; you may have thought of curtain, carton, cretin, or garden—any one of which is perfect.

Look at 3212: m n t n. If you voice those sounds, you’ll immediately think of something like mountain or maintain. If you picture a carton as large as a mountain, that’s the start of your Link. Just be sure to see the picture. You needn’t use our suggestions, of course; use whatever comes to mind—as long as the words fit the numbers phonetically, and your pictures are ridiculous.

Now, 5390: l m p s. You may have thought lamps, limps, or lumps. (No, lambs wouldn’t do. That would transpose to 530; the b is silent.) Associate mountain to, say, lamps; you might see millions of lamps (it must be more than one lamp to remind you of the plural s) piled as high as a mountain. See that picture.

0141: s t r t. Street, start, or store it will do just fine. You might see many lamps walking down a street, or starting a race. See the picture.

4952: r p l n. You probably thought of airplane, and that’s as good as any. Associate street or start to airplane; perhaps a gigantic airplane is parked on your street. Be sure to see the picture in your mind.

You’ve Linked only five words and those five words will remind you of a twenty-digit number. Try this on your own. Start with carton and go through your Link, to airplane. Transpose the consonant sounds into numbers as you go, and you’ll see that you know the number!