Can I Use A Memory Palace For The Vocabulary of More Than One Language?

santier-shutterstockDear Memorizers,

Another great question has come in, this time about using the same station in a Memory Palace more than once for the vocabulary of more than one language:

“I have just started your memorization technique and quite quickly was able to remember the alphabet backwards, so am hopeful with the technique.  I have a couple questions before I begin with my German vocabulary.  Have you found that once a location is used for one memory it is better not to use the same location for a different set of memories?  I used my house as a location for my backwards alphabet and wondered if it would be at all confusing to use the same stations for “a” words for example.  I am not at this point trying to learn a third language, but I wondered if the location for “a” words in one language could be used for “a” words in a different language and whether that would be beneficial or a hindrance on the retrieval of memories?

Thanks for the information.”

This is a great question – and as ever, there is more than one way to answer it.

Memory Palace Fossils

At one point in my study of Memory Palace techniques, I greatly benefited from Dominic O’Brien’s Quantum Memory Power. One of the first exercises he gives you, after helping you chart out a journey through your home, involves memorizing the ten largest oceans and placing one per room (or what I would call a “station”). This was a very long time ago, but if I really press myself, I can remember that the Atlantic ocean was in the first room, and so forth. I can’t quite catch all of them, but 50% still come back to me. In other words, the “fossils” of the original mnemonics are still there.

Since that time, I’ve used the same apartment I used to work along with O’Brien with the oceans to memorize an E. A. Poe poem, a certain Buddhist meditation ritual, and a whole host of words that start with the letter ‘B’. The deck of cards I have memorized for magic tricks is also in that first room, sitting on the desk I had at the time (this is the pack I talk about with the four cars lurking inside it) – and it is in fact that “pack” of cards that I had originally used to remember the Pac(k)ific ocean during the O’Brien exercise.

Memory Palace Ghosts & Palimpsests

I personally don’t find creating a “palimpsest” of mnemonics to be problematic when the subject matter is completely different. Lines from Poe don’t seem to “bump” into words that start with the letter ‘B,’ and nothing seems to be disturbed by the nearly transparent ghosts of the O’Brien exercise.

If you do find ghosts and fossils distracting, here’s a simple mental exercise:

Close your eyes and float through your predetermined Memory Palace and sweep it out. You can use a broom, a vacuum, hot soapy water and a mop or whatever your imagination brings to you. This is a powerful and meditative exercise that can really help increase the power of a Palace. While you’re in there, take some time to “amplify” the palace itself. We sometimes forget that having the journey bright and vibrant also offers benefits, especially when we make the Palaces pleasant places that we love to visit.

Experiment

Ultimately, to find out what will work for you requires individual experimentation. I personally would not try to mix ‘A’ words from different languages in the same Memory Palace, but can imagine there are people who would have no problem with this.

Let’s think this through a little further.

Let’s say that you wanted to study 5 languages at once that happen to share the basic layout of the English alphabet. I don’t think it would be very difficult to come up with 5 different palaces for each letter of the alphabet on paper, but juggling them in your mind might be a different ball of memory. If I were to do this, I would look for – or allow my mind to naturally sunder – some easy association between the languages in question and the Palaces. For instance, there might be a certain street in Amsterdam you know very well that would be a perfect Palace for the letter A in your Dutch studies. For French, you might use the hotel in Azille you visited during a wine tour in France. That restaurant you enjoyed in Amatrice would be the perfect beginning for your Italian ‘A’ Memory Palace and so forth.

The point being is that you don’t want to have to think about where the Palace is located in your mind. You want to zoom there magnetically.

On the other hand, if you were working on French, Italian and Spanish, it might be possible to use a single Memory Palace for the letter ‘A’. I can imagine dividing each room or station into “channels.” If you set a predetermined rule that French will allows be in “channel” one, Italian in two and Spanish in three, you have the potential benefit of strengthening what you are learning because you will be seeing the relationships between these languages in many cases.

Options, options, options …

Ultimately, I think that the most important principles are to make sure you don’t cross your own path and don’t trap yourself within a Palace. If you can store the vocabulary of more than one language on a station-per-station basis while still obeying these two principles, then I think it could be very successful.

Until next time, make sure to teach someone what you have learned about memorization. It’s the best way to deepen your own understanding and to help make the world a better – and more memorable – place. The more we remember, the more we can remember, and the more we learn, the more we can learn.

2 Responses to " Can I Use A Memory Palace For The Vocabulary of More Than One Language? "

  1. Dylan says:

    Quick, pointless question:

    You were asked to memorize the 10 largest oceans? I’m a bit confused by this as there are only 4 (or 5 depending on who you talk to) oceans. How did you get up to 10?

    Love all the work you do

    Dylan

    • Thanks for raising this, Dylan. It’s not pointless at all.

      I didn’t word the exercise properly. I meant to say the 10 largest bodies of water.

      The question is: was this absent-mindedness, my ignorance of world geography or a lapse of memory? 😉

      Something to talk about on a future podcast, I think.

      Thanks again!

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