There is something fascinating about foreign languages, because they have their own underlying structure and logic, as well as different cultural overtones. As the world grows ever smaller with increasing globalization, a knowledge of foreign languages, traditions, and cultures is becoming increasingly important.

Children learn their parents’ language without grammar and reading exercises, by listening, observing, and speaking. Even if your adult brain has changed and you can now think in a more abstract manner, you can still consciously employ visualization and imagine what you hear in pictorial form. You can use the various memory techniques to refresh your knowledge of a language you spoke long ago or to learn a new language more easily.

Learning Vocabulary Can Be Fun

Believe it or not, learning vocabulary can be fun if you apply your ability for creative visualization. It is nowhere near as difficult as you may have thought. Th e trick is to think of a word in English that sounds similar to the vocabulary word, and create a scenario that links the English word with the meaning of the vocabulary word. Here’s a great example that I came across: What is the ultimate association for the Latin cubare (to lie)? An actor appears on cue and lies down on the stage, completely bare. Now how can you forget that word?

Of course, you won’t find such simple and amusing associations for all foreign words, but here are a few other examples.

In Spanish, “skirt” is falda. Think of the sentence, “Don’t fall down in your new skirt.”

The Italian word calmare means “to calm.” It’s similar to the word calamaries. Imagine yourself sitting in a restaurant eating delicious calamaries in order to calm down.

“Lilac” in French is lilas. The image comes easily enough: Lila’s beautiful vase of scented lilac branches.

Many people know that “table” is tisch in German. So a possible sentence is “A dish (sounds like tisch) is on the table.”

memory techniques to learn languages

Use all the associations you can think of spontaneously. Your first idea is often your best. Construct more detailed memory aids for items of vocabulary that you find difficult to remember. Even with plenty of imagination, it often takes a lot of time to find a really good memory aid. Usually a keyword is enough to remind you of the vocabulary term, or just searching for an association for a difficult new word might be enough.

Learn Foreign Languages Exercise

Try to find appropriate associations and images for the following words. Cover the suggested images at the end while you’re working.

corbata (tie)
abeia (bee)
papardear (blink)

bordo (edge)
crostino (toast)
incubo (nightmare)

admirer (admire)
tuba (snorkel)
panier (basket)

Gürtel (belt)
mürrisch (morose)
Teedose (tea caddy)

Suggested Solutions

corbata (tie): Mr. Corbett has a new tie with green polka dots. abeia (bee): Keep that bee in abeyance.

papardear (blink): “Papa, dear,” said the girl, blinking against the light. “I need new sunglasses.”

bordo (edge): The port of Bordeaux is at the southwest edge of France. Another possibility: to go overboard is to fall over the edge of the ship.

crostino (toast): Tino gets cross if he doesn’t have his toast. incubo (nightmare): In my nightmare, a cube fell on me—oh!.

admirer (admire): The admiral is admired by all. tuba (snorkel): The latest sport is snorkeling with tubas.

panier (basket): Put your new pan in the basket.

Gürtel (belt): Gird yourself with your new belt, or girdle. mürrisch (morose): In the bogs on the moor, the fish are morose.

Teedose (tea caddy): Your caddy is carrying your next dose of tea.

Make a habit of placing new words in a larger context. Think up a sentence using the vocabulary you already know and insert your newly learned word; imagine the situation you have described. Try to make as many sentences as possible using the new word and visualize them. Bizaare images work well. These thoughts and images will take only a few seconds each time, but they will provide your memory with many opportunities for making the word available to you when you need it.

Don’t worry about talking to yourself when you are out on a long walk by yourself or when you’re doing boring tasks. Try to activate your vocabulary by expressing everything you see, do, or want to do in the language you are learning, and see these things in front of you. Your active vocabulary will expand quickly. Remember to repeat the new words from time to time. Here are some revision tips for students. Soon they will occur to you whenever you think of an association for them.

As with every activity, motivation is the key to success when learning a language.

Figures of Speech

When learning a new language, put a great deal of emphasis on learning idioms and figures of speech. First of all, determine whether the structure of the phrase you’re learning corresponds to a similar phrase in English or if the image it conjures up is so strong that you don’t need memory aids to remember it. In such cases, you’re unlikely to have any difficulty adding the phrase to your vocabulary. Here are two more examples from German.

Nehmen Sie sich Zeit (take your time)—It should be easy to remember this expression because the structure of both sentences is closely related. The literal German meaning of “take time for yourself” can be clarified further by imagining yourself picking up a watch with the hands set to precisely twelve o’clock.

Bekannt wie ein bunter Hund. (Literally: well-known like a colorful dog; a well-known person)—Th is is such a visual figure of speech that it will remain in your mind once you have imagined a colorful, spotted dog at which everyone is staring.

Try to imagine figures of speech in actual situations, such as in the following German examples:

Sich ein Bild machen. (Literally: to form a mental picture, to form an impression.)—Here, you might imagine looking at people in a photograph in order to gain an impression of them.

Das Datum hat sich seinem Gedächtnis unauslöschlich eingeprägt. (Literally: the date was stamped in his memory and cannot be erased, the date is indelibly stamped on his memory.)—You can assist your recall of this phrase by imagining a large stamping machine imprinting an important date on your forehead.

If you are in the early stages of learning a new language, it may be helpful to include the different sound of the language in your memory aids. Here is an example from French.

Aujourd’hui il fait beaux temps. (Th e weather’s fi ne today.). You might think of the sentence “Oh, the jury feels a boat tempts you to go out in today’s fine weather.”

Extend your vocabulary in other languages or refresh it by using difficult keywords for your memory training. This kills two birds with one stone. Remember to apply the techniques of visualization and association as often as possible, and try to create links to your existing vocabulary.

I suggest now you read how to review information for better recall and understanding how memory works.

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