How To Remember Foreign And English Vocabulary
Now that you’ve learned how to apply the Substitute Word idea to intangible words and names—and Link them—you can go a step further. Instead of associating, say, one state to the next in order to form a Link, you can associate a state to its capital city. You can also associate a word to its meaning, whether it’s an English word or a foreign word.
This brings us to an important point. Most often, where memory is concerned, an entity consists of two things. Even the most complicated-seeming memory chores can usually be broken down into entities of two: a name to a face, an address to a person or company, a price or style number to an item, a telephone number to a person or company, a definition or meaning to a word, and so on. Even when forming a long Link, you’re still basically working with only two items at a time.
The capital city of Maryland is Annapolis (that’s right; it is not Baltimore); if you form a ridiculous association of a bride (marry) landing on an apple, you’ll find it difficult to forget. The capital of Wyoming is Cheyenne; you might picture a shy girl, named Ann, carrying a large letter Y and roaming. Michigan’s capital is Lansing; associate mix again to land sing. California’s is Sacramento; associate call a fawn to sack cement toe. Tennessee’s is Nashville; associate tennis to gnashing your teeth (see a tennis racket gnashing its teeth). Vermont’s is Montpelier; associate vermin to mount peeler. Apply this to any state whose capital you’d like to remember, and whenever you think of the state, the capital city will surely come to mind.
The same system can be applied to Presidents and Vice Presidents. Associate the Substitute Word for the name of the one to the Substitute Word for the name of the other. For example, President Rutherford B. Hayes’s Vice-President was named Wheeler. Associate hay to wheel in order to remember that. If you picture the hay saying, “oh, hi,” to the wheel, you’ll also be reminded of the fact that Hayes was from Ohio.
The Substitute Word idea can be applied to any word of any language. There is no word that does not sound like, or make you think of, something in your own language. To remember the meaning of a simple French word like père (father), you might picture a gigantic pear being your father. For pont (bridge), you might see yourself punting a bridge instead of a football.
The idea applies to any word, short or long. The French word for grapefruit is pamplemousse. Picture huge yellow pimples all over a moose; each pimple is actually a grapefruit. If you try to see any of these silly pictures, the system must work—for reasons you already know: You’re forcing yourself to be Originally Aware, you’re really concentrating on the word, and you’re forcing yourself to use your imagination. There just is no way to apply the Substitute Word system to a foreign word without concentrating on or being Originally Aware of that word, and using some imagination. And finally, applying the system reminds you of the two things (that entity of two mentioned before) you must know: the pronunciation of the foreign word, and its English equivalent.
If you used our or your own Substitute Word and saw a ridiculous picture, the next time you hear or see pamplemousse, it must make you think of a moose with grapefruit pimples. When you hear, see, or think grapefruit, the same thing will happen. Students of ours do this with twenty foreign words in an evening, every evening, and remember them all easily—simply because the intangible, abstract conglomeration of sounds of the foreign word is changed to a definite, tangible picture in the mind.
Since Portuguese has been mentioned, let’s use a few Portuguese words as examples. Walnut in Portuguese is noz, pronounced nawsh. Simply picture a gigantic walnut being nauseous, or you eat a gigantic walnut and it makes you nauseous. See that picture. The word for a woman’s skirt is saia, pronounced syer. Picture a skirt sighing—it’s a sigher. A peach is a pêssego, pronounced pess-a-goo. See a gigantic peach asking you to pass the goo.
A woman’s purse is a bolsa. Picture a gigantic purse made of balsa wood, or a large piece of balsa wood carrying a purse.
The word for dinner is jantar, pronounced John-tar (the n is really a nasal sound). Picture John eating tar for dinner.
Handkerchief is lenço, pronounced leng-ssoo (the ng is a nasal sound). Picture yourself lending Sue your handkerchief; make the picture ridiculous; perhaps you’re lending her millions of handkerchiefs or one gigantic one.
Father is pai, pronounced pie. A gigantic pie is your father.
A strawberry is a morango, pronounced moo-ran-goo. See a gigantic strawberry, or millions of them, eating meringue goo.
The word for socks is peúgas, pronounced pee-oo-gesh. You might picture a gigantic sock that has a terrible odor; you say, “Peeyoo, it smells like gas.”
Bear in mind that if you were trying to really learn a particular language, you’d be aware of the basic sounds and letters. In the last example, “true” memory would tell you that gas is pronounced gesh, with a soft sh sound. Of course, you would also be using the Substitute Word you thought of—the one that would remind you of the proper pronunciation because you thought of it. That’s why our helping with suggestions for Substitute Words is not really helping you—you might have used gash instead of gas.
At this point, why don’t you try something? Go back to the first examples of foreign words and really form the associations. Then see if you know the words and their meanings by filling in these blanks. Don’t worry about spelling—when you’re in a foreign country, you need the pronunciations and meanings, not the spelling.
The method is applicable under any circumstances. If the English equivalent is not tangible, you can use a Substitute Word or phrase for that English equivalent. The Siamese word for August is singhakom. Ordinarily, August is difficult to picture, because it’s intangible. But a gust of wind blowing over a singing comb is not. See that picture, and you’ve got it.
The system will work even if a foreign word contains sounds that we don’t often use in English (like the soft sh in Portuguese). The word for squirrel in both French and German contains unfamiliar sounds. In German, the word is Eichhörnchen; the ch is a back-of-the-throat, guttural sound almost as if you’re clearing your throat. We do not use that sound in English, yet the system applies. I horn kin might remind you of Eichhörnchen; or, perhaps, I corn kin. Use either one for your Substitute phrase, but be sure you get a squirrel into your picture. To help you not just approximate the pronunciation but pronounce the word correctly, you might add clearing your throat to your picture.
The French word for squirrel is écureuil. We do not have the euil sound in English. But egg cure oil can certainly get you close to the pronunciation of that difficult word. You might picture a squirrel laying a sick egg, and it cures the egg with oil.
The Greek word for scissors is psalidi. The p is pronounced. Associate pass a lady to scissors, and you’ll have memorized both the pronunciation of the foreign word and its meaning.
The grammar of a language will usually fall into place as you learn the vocabulary, although the system is applicable to any kind of word. It is also applicable to phrases— why shouldn’t it be, since phrases are made up of words? The French phrase rien de grave is idiomatic for It’s nothing or It’s nothing serious. Associate ran the grave to It’s nothing in some ridiculous way and you’ve memorized it.
When you fly to a foreign country, you’re usually armed with a money converter and a “conversation” booklet in that language. What you see in those booklets is the English equivalent, followed by the foreign translation. The translation is then spelled phonetically (as we did with the Portuguese examples) to give you the pronunciation.
All very well. Only, when you arrive, you end up searching through the booklet (feeling like an idiot), trying to find a word or phrase whenever you want to understand or be understood. Nowhere in these booklets does it tell you how to remember the words, phrases, pronunciations, and meanings.
What we’re interested in is having you spend the six-plus hours on a transatlantic flight with such a booklet, only remembering enough so that when you disembark you’ll be able to ask a porter to get your luggage, find you a taxi, tell the taxi driver where to go, etc. And to remember enough, during that flight, to help you through a few weeks’ stay. Apply what you’re learning here, and you will do just that.
Obviously, you’ll learn more if you also apply the systems during your stay. And we’re assuming you are neither a linguist nor are you determined to speak like a native. (The systems are extremely helpful for those people, too, but we’re concerned at the moment with those who would simply like to make their way more easily during a visit to a foreign country.)
The Portuguese examples were used to teach you the idea, in a language that isn’t familiar to many Americans. Here are a few examples in French—really, a mini in-flight French lesson.
If you intend to visit France, you certainly need to be familiar with the French words for many foods. In restaurants heavily patronized by tourists, you may and English translations on the menu—and food that makes you wonder what all the shouting is about when it comes to French cuisine.
In small restaurants, out-of-the-way restaurants, special restaurants, you may not find translations, nor will you find English-speaking waiters—which makes it a little difficult to find out what a word on the menu means.
We asked four volunteers who had no knowledge of the French language (but some knowledge of our systems) to apply the systems to the following words. In less than twenty minutes, they all knew the English meaning when we said the French word, and vice versa. See if you can do it in that time. The only way to do it that quickly is to think of pictures for the suggestions and really see them.
Watermelon—pastèque (pass-tehk). A gigantic watermelon passes a deck of cards to you.
Snails—escargots (ess-cahr-go). A gigantic snail is carrying a cargo of S’s—S cargo
Ham—jambon (zhan-bown). You jam a bone into a gigantic ham.
Remember to apply the system to phrases just as you do to words. The French for How much is it? is Combien est-ce? (kawn-byen-ehss). You see a comb that can change and be an S (comb be an S); you want it, so you ask how much it is. “Come be an ass’ would also do. Of course, if you only say “Combien?” the merchant will know what you mean. Picture yourself asking how much it costs to comb Ben. When you get the answer, you may want to say, “That’s too much” (or too expensive): C’est trop cher (seh-troh-shehr)— you want to sit and row in a chair, but it’s much too expensive.
If some of the Substitute Words or thoughts used as examples seem farfetched to you, make up your own. But it doesn’t matter if they’re farfetched; they’ll still serve as reminders. If you try to actually see the suggested pictures, you’ll see that they serve quite well.
Here is your first memory exercise.