You probably already know about mnemonics, a technique often learned in school. This is the simplest form of memory aid. Unfortunately, for a long time, mnemonics had a negative connotation and was thought to be useful only to people who weren’t very bright. In German, mnemonics are called Eselsbrücke, which literally means a “bridge for a stupid donkey.” But developing and applying mnemonics to simplify the process of memorization and ensure that information can be recalled on a reliable basis is actually an indication of cleverness.

Using tools to make tasks easier is a sign of human intelligence, and mnemonics is nothing more than a tool. It relies on the awareness that, when you’re memorizing something, it is more helpful if you can associate new information with knowledge that is already firmly anchored in your long-term memory. But bridge is an appropriate word to describe this process since a bridge links two separate shores and provides access to new ground. When forming mnemonics, you have complete freedom to create bridges between different facts. Use your imagination and self-discipline to apply this idea. Intelligent associations can be found for many aspects of knowledge. For example, which elephants have larger ears—Indian or African? You may be able to answer this question from your general knowledge, but if not, the answer is easy to learn if you use a mnemonic. Th e elephants with the large ears live in Africa, since the continent is known to be larger than India, where the elephants with smaller ears live.

Special Features as Aids

Another way of helping your memory is to match the initial letters of individual words in a sentence to the initial letters of words or letters you’re trying to remember. Here are a few examples:

“Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain” helps you remember the sequence of the colors of the rainbow, which are Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.

“Goose, Duck, And Eagle” helps you remember the keys of the strings of a violin based on G and tuned in fifths.

“Goshawk, Dove, Albatross, Eagle, Buzzard, Falcon, Condor” represent the sharp keys on a piano; “Falcon, Buzzard, Eagle, And Dove, Goshawk” are the flat keys.

In the past, rhymes were far more important in everyday life than they are today. Consequently, many aphorisms were passed down from generation to generation in rhyme; for example, “Who needs not a penny will never have many.” Proverbs and rhymes use both alliteration (“Look before you leap.”) and rhyming as stylistic mnemonic devices. This method of remembering things is probably the best-known mnemonic, even if it is sometimes not the easiest method. Hardly anyone didn’t learn the following rhyme at school to help them remember what befell each of Henry VIII’s six wives:

Divorced, beheaded, died,
Divorced, beheaded, survived.

Rhymes make remembering easier because they differ from normal language. Th e simple syllabic structure of a verse is also an acoustic aid. And even if you are unable to make up a rhyme, occasionally playing around with language is a good exercise, and the very attempt to create a short verse will increase your recall ability.

When committing numbers to memory, remember that a few numbers can also be remembered with mnemonics by noting special combinations such as 22 32 23, 72 40 32, or 7 14 17 89. Do you notice anything special about these numbers? The last four digits of the first combination are palindromic, meaning they read the same backward and forward. In the second combination, the third pair of numbers is reached by subtracting the second pair from the first (72 40 32). Th e last combination is an important date in history (7/14/1789, or July 14, 1789, the storming of the Bastille). You can develop an eye for such associations. Remembering historical dates probably won’t occur to you much initially, but birthdays, anniversaries, or other important personal dates will be more readily available. It is just a question of practice.

It often helps to note the rhythm of number combinations and recite them in rhythm with an emphasis on one number after the other several times. But if no association is obvious, you shouldn’t spend too much time looking for points of reference on which to form an association; this is a waste of time.

The Number-Rhyme System

In the number-rhyme system, every number between 0 and 9 is allotted an appropriate rhyming word. Before you take a look at my suggestions, try to find rhyming words for each one yourself. Generally, the words that occur to you spontaneously are the best.

In this exercise, the most important thing is to select words associated with easily remembered images.

The more unusual the associations or scenarios you create, the more likely you are to remember them. If you forget a word, you will come across it again by trying to form a rhyme, because there aren’t too many words that rhyme with these numbers. The advantage of this technique is that you’ll be able to remember several numbers at once by inventing a small story that you can understand and follow. You will certainly remember it until you have the time and opportunity to jot down the number in your notebook.

To remember the numbers, try to use only nouns for the numbers in your story. Use verbs to add detail and prevent any confusion. Don’t forget to add appropriate adjectives to the relevant words, since this will help make the images easier to remember.

The Number-Symbol System

Th is method works in much the same way as the number-rhyme method. With this one, however, a symbol is associated with each number.

The Number-Shape System

Th is method is also similar to the number-rhyme method. Here, each digit from zero to nine is assigned to the relevant image.

The Number-Rhyme System Used with Verbs

You will note that the images used with these simple mnemonics are frequently repeated, since only ten words can be used. If you use these methods to memorize many numbers, this can easily lead to confusion.

Th e following variation bypasses this problem: you can expand this system by assigning verbs to the images. This means that you select either a noun or a verb for the number depending on whether the figure is the first or second element in a two-digit number. For example, you might select the following verbs:

8—gate—breaking down
9—vine—wine bottle—drinking

The Letter-Word Memory System

Similar types of systems use the letters of the alphabet. You may know the phonetic alphabet used to spell difficult names over the telephone: Alpha, Beta, Charlie, Delta, Echo, and so on. The phonetic alphabet is appropriate for memorization, but other systems that promote visualization are easier, such as the animal alphabet. Depending on your interests and knowledge, you can compile an alphabet with flowers (anemone, buttercup, . . .), fruit (apple, banana, . . .), or cities (Anaheim, Buff alo, . . .). This system is especially useful for remembering complicated abbreviations.

Here is an example of an animal alphabet:
A—ape J—jaguar S—snake
B—bear K—kangaroo T—tortoise
C—cat L—leopard U—unicorn
D—donkey M—mouse V—vulture
E—emu N—nightingale W—weasel
F—fox O—otter X—xiphias (swordfish)
G—giraffe P—panther Y—yak
H—hippopotamus Q—quail Z—zebra
I—ibis R—rat

Th is system can be used together with a number-based system to remember brief information such as license plate numbers, flight or train connections, and so on.

By now you’ve realized that these simple methods aren’t really that simple, since not all the images can be remembered easily. Some are more readily recalled than others and are simpler to associate with new words. These systems are advantageous for training your imagination and discovering your creativity. It is fun to come up with new and unusual stories using the words. But these methods only allow you to remember information for short periods of time, since the thread is not all that clear and the images are often superimposed on one another because the selection of possible words is limited.