Bluebeard’s Castle of Memorization Techniques

Dear Memorizers,

Here’s a great question:

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Thank you for your excellent work. I have had an interest in learning German for decades. 

If I have as the beginning room in my home as a station and each other room as a station, then when I add stations, I am forced to go outside the house?  Or can I subdivide the room later to make room for new words in alphabet order? To do otherwise seems as a waste of possible stations because I see the potential to subdivide my rooms into many stations.  The problem for me is that if I am to stay strictly alphabetical, then I should leave station gaps in my word locations to use to add or drop new words alphabetically. Is it possible to add new words on the same path? Or am I to be like a pearly nautilus and have to move out of each chamber forever locking out new word locations from a room forcing me to create new palaces for the same letter? Even so, moving outdoors because of moving forward will not solve the problem of being alphabetized.

Perhaps I am over thinking this. Maybe you are teaching to just start learning in alphabetical order but in the palace itself and out into the garden and down the street does not require the words to be alphabetical.

I hope I am making my point clear.  You have really given me great hope that I can at last achieve my dream of being fluent in German. Your response will be eagerly awaited.

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First off, thanks for your question. Although the Magnetic Memory Method can be used to memorize the vocabulary of any language, I’ll always be fond of using it for German, because this was the language I was studying when I developed, innovated upon and ultimately launched the Magnetic Memory Method to help as many people as possible memorize foreign language vocabulary using the next wave of easy, elegant and effective memory techniques.

In short, this next wave never forces you to get all locked up like a victim in Bluebeard’s Castle. The system is meticulously designed to help users avoid that altogether.

You’re right that the books in the Magnetic Memory series keep things simple, which is why I started the Magnetic Memory Mondays newsletter – it’s designed specifically for those people who want more knowledge about my approach to mnemonics and to memory improvement strategies in general.

So yes, the books are a solid foundation for getting started. I teach an alphabetical Memory Palace system with the core principles necessary for building them so that they’re effective and fun to use. I teach all the essential strategies in these books, such as how to create a journey through the Memory Palaces, outside the Memory Palaces and how to use individual stations within each Memory Palace to store more than one word at a time, including full phrases. For really ambitious memorizers, I’ve even conceptualized a relatively easy way to use stations in your Memory Palaces to magnetically memorize the equivalent word in more than one language at a time. I talk about this several times in the pages of the Magnetic Memory Newsletter.

As for creating multiple stations in your house so that you don’t have to go outside, this valuable activity is more than possible. It’s a bit more advanced, but you’ll find a lot more guidance in the newsletter and in my video course.

But for now, here are some quick tips.

First, instead of using an entire room to memorize one word or one phrase, create multiple stations in that room. I’ve talked about this process recently in (this video) and give an example of how to actually wander through a room without trapping yourself or crossing your own path, which are the two pitfalls that both new and advanced people using memorization techniques to memorize foreign language vocabulary often fall into.

There’s one step beyond creating multiple stations within each room for storing foreign language vocabulary and recalling it with ease using the principles of exaggerated imagery and absurd action along with the Magnet Memory Method additions of using alphabetization, “word division,” “bridging figures” and “compounding.”

This step involves creating virtual Memory Palaces, or perhaps more likely in your case, virtual elements within your Memory Palace based on the actual location you live in.

There’s a lot of controversy about whether or not virtual Memory Palaces are actually functional or worth the trouble, but I’ve experimented with using them and with enough practice using the Magnetic Memory Method they can and will work gangbusters for anyone.

I mostly use virtual Memory Palaces for rapidly memorizing the order of cards in a randomized deck and talk about that in a book devoted to taking card memorization techniques one step further than I have found in most studies of this very fun memory method.

Card deck memorization is  a good memory exercise in general, but you can do the most amazing tricks to stun your friends even if you don’t have much experience as a magician. I myself am pretty good with a deck of cards, but still nothing amazes people more than what you can do just a few minutes after having learned this technique and memorized your first memorized deck. Of course, you can elevate the miracles even higher by learning a solid false shuffle, but I’ll let you, dear Memorizers, search YouTube for lessons in that devilish craft on your own.

All that said, virtual Memory Palace elements can help with memorizing foreign language vocabulary. One of the best ways, and the way most people I’ve heard from have benefited from this technique is to use imaginary – or virtual – bookcases.

In other words, you place an imaginary bookcase in a room in your house and then populate it with associative imagery that allows you to recall all of the foreign language vocabulary that you’ve memorized using the Magnetic Memory Method.

Simple, right?

Well, it is, but you do want to follow certain guidelines. For example, it shouldn’t be just any old bookcase, but a carefully defined bookcase that will be like all the other bookcases you use. Since they are conceptual bookcases, you don’t have to put time and effort into giving them colors or ornate carvings, etc.

Instead, I suggest that you simply set a rule like this:

All virtual bookcases will have 10 shelves.

You can have more than one virtual bookcase per room, which is ideal for  people just starting to use virtual Memory Palace elements, but if you are using multiple bookcases, then you again want to set a rule, something like:

All rooms with multiple bookcases have 10 shelves.

In this way, you’ve just fitted 100 virtual stations inside of a real Memory Palace station based on an actual location (a room in your house, in this example).

But wait! There’s more!

It’s easy to get carried away and forget that you need to avoid trapping yourself and crossing your own path at all costs. This can get tricky when you’re working with so many virtual stations at a time.

However, with practice it’s completely possible.

It involves setting another rule: decide in advance that you will always move from the top shelf of a virtual bookcase to the bottom shelf (or vice versa). You should also decide in advance if you are going to move from bookcase to bookcase from the left or right and again, set this as a permanent rule.

Why? So that you minimize the time you might otherwise spend figuring out what comes next during rehearsal and recall.

There may be other rules to set, so let me know if you think of any. If you want to take things to their extreme, you could actually use three parts of each shelf in each virtual bookcase, i.e. left, middle, right. You could double this by having these stations at the shallow and deep end of each shelf and zigzag between these mini-virtual stations so that you don’t cross your own path and burn up valuable mental energy, but this approach is rather advanced and probably more suited to people who are strongly conceptual thinkers.

In theory, however, it is entirely possible to have every known word in a language memorized, store and perfectly recallable in a single Memory Palace based on one building and no more, possibly just a single room, which may itself be completely imaginary or virtual.

But before I start to sound like a Borges short story gone mad, let me address your note about alphabetization:

No, of course you don’t have to memorize alphabetically with each letter of the alphabet assigned to its own unique Memory Palace based on a real location. Most people find more great success this way than any other for reasons I’ve explored before in earlier volumes of the Magnetic Memory Newsletter (not to pass the buck on my earlier self, but I can’t cram the entire Magnetic Memory world into just one response, if you know what I mean).

You can certainly also memorize thematically, based on certain vocabulary topics such as law or medicine or simply use your Memory Palace to memorize words helter skelter as they appear in your life. However, if you’re going to do that, then I recommend that you have a helter skelter Memory Palace worked out for that purpose in advance. You don’t have to use any of the Magnetic Memory Method principles for these purposes, but I guarantee you far greater memorization success if you do.

I hope that this answer at least scratches the magnetic memory surface of your question. Please feel free to send a follow up question at any time.

Until next time, dear Memorizers, stay inside and then teach someone else what you’ve learned about Memory Palaces. Teaching a skill is one of the best ways to learn it and helping people improve their memory is one of the best ways we can make the world a better place. The more we remember, the more we can remember. And the more we learn, the more we can learn.

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