The Steps I Took To Memorize 3 Chinese Poems In 2.3 Weeks

chinese-poems-magnetic-memory-methodChinese poems thrill poetry fans around the world. They’ve been translated into umpteen languages and create wonderful images in the mind.

Here’s something even cooler:

As a student of the Magnetic Memory Method, it’s easy to encounter a new Chinese poem just once and memorize it with a high level of recall.

We’re talking 92-95% accuracy after 24 hours, with 98-100% accuracy thereafter using MMM Recall Rehearsal.

And the best part is:


Each Poem Is Easier To Memorize Than The Last!


So by now you’re probably asking …

How does the Magnetic Memory Method work for memorizing Chinese poems? And how can I do it too?

I’m glad you asked because the steps are clear, crisp, clever and concise.


1. Get some Chinese poems (Duh!)


In this regard, I’m the luckiest man on the planet. I’m married to a woman who knows a bunch of Chinese poems by heart.

But even if you don’t have a Chinese speaker in your life, it’s easy to find someone using a learn languages online service.

The important thing is to choose poems that are short, sweet and simple. This helps reduce the cognitive overload at the beginning.

Songs work too. Like this one:


2. Have More Than One Memory Palace On Hand


It’s no secret that I teach the Memory Palace technique as a skill of multiples. One is the most dangerous number when it comes to memory, so make sure that:

1) You always have more than one Memory Palace ready to go.

2) You have the ability to create an impromptu Memory Palace on the fly.

With these two abilities, you can either use a pre-existing Memory Palace or just whip one up on the spot.

In this case, each of the Chinese poems I’ve learned are only four lines each. I used a new Memory Palace for each.

I created the first two Memory Palaces on the fly, one in a hotel room, the other in an AirBnB. The third was in my current kitchen, a Memory Palace I’ve been using and reusing for Chinese since I started learning the language.


3. Create Your Associative-Imagery
Word For Word, Line By Line


Nothing creates more fun than creating associations that let you recall information like the lines of Chinese poems.

I like to get a sense for the word and let my mind do the work without force. Daily meditation helps because I’m relaxed, but I also tell April to give me a second when she feeds me the lines. In that second, I’m breathing and accessing the deepest reservoirs of relaxation I’ve cultivated over the years.

I also do a quick body scan and squeeze all my major muscles. This calms and centers me. My ego gets out of the way and all forms of resistance slip away.

Please don’t laugh at the meditation and relaxation. They are key to the success of most memorizers and memory competitions incorporate a version of it into the events.


The “Buttock Squeeze” Memory Technique
You Should Not Dismiss


I’ll never forget the Amazon reviewer who dismissed one of my books because I talk about relaxation and memory – including squeezing your buttocks. It was a seriously strange review.

But here’s the thing:

If taking a second to clear the mind and body good enough for memory competitors who demonstrate intense memory feats like memorizing a deck of cards in under 20 seconds, it’s good enough for my simple goal of memorizing some Chinese poems.

Don’t discount the power of relaxation in your memory practice. It makes a huge difference.

And yes, squeezing each muscle in your body – including your rear end – helps. Try it before you knock it. 😉

4. Keep Your Mindset Intact


As April feeds me the lines, I see Han Solo, Dee Snider and Shania Twain interacting in uncouth ways with Horton from the Dr. Suess book. I see my friend Shayne strangling Jar Jar Binks and Bruce Lee fighting a Chia pet. And that’s just for starters.

Are all these images a lot to juggle?

Not really. I do it all the time, as you can see on my Basic Chinese Phrases and Mandarin Mnemonics playlist:

And the truth is … I don’t even really see the images. It’s somewhere between sight and sense using all the Magnetic Modes.

I made this infographic to help explain what I mean:

Magnetic Memory Method Magnetic Modes And Magnetic Imagery Infographic For Powerful Memory Palace creation



In such, the Magnetic Modes are entities of thought that have specific locations in a Memory Palace. Like Carl Jung dumping sand on my mom’s old friend Sandy. Where else could that be taking place except over the garbage can in the kitchen?

That where else question is one of the most powerful tools in mnemonics you’ll ever use.

But even if this jumble of characters and actions were challenging to keep moving in the air, it’s all a question of mindset.

Think of it this way: If the people who built rollercoasters said, “Woah, that’s WAY to much track to erect in the sky,” there would be no amusement parks.

Same thing with using a Memory Palace. If you tell yourself it’s too much to handle, it will be. But if you take it just one Memory Palace Station and one word at a time, you’ll have no problem memorizing Chinese poems.


5. Make Sure The Images Are Strong Enough


When memorizing Chinese poems in a hurry, it’s tempting to use the first images that come to mind. But that’s not always a good policy.

For example, in one line I saw a guy I used to know named Dan doing …

… something.

The reason I couldn’t see what that something was?

Because the image wasn’t strong enough. I had to crank up the volume on whatever forgettable image I’d seen before and see him stomping on a record from The Who with Roger Daltrey and crew screaming in protest.

Yes, screaming. It’s the exaggeration that makes it more memorable. Plus, Dan’s a big music fan, which makes the image incongruous. Because he would never actually destroy music, the image of him harming an album is that much more memorable.


6. Rehearse According To A Plan


Sometimes I can get away with just encoding the Chinese words and leaving it at that. But usually not and it’s stupid to take the risk.

Instead, I rehearse the words of the poems according to a plan. In the Magnetic Memory Method, it’s called Recall Rehearsal.

Recall Rehearsal is based on a few things:

1) The Primacy Effect

2) The Recency Effect

3) Von Restorff effect

4) Dominic O’Brien‘s Rule Of Five

5) My stubborn insistence on using internal repetition cues rather than SRS to learn.*

* The exception is that, in the spirit of Ebbinghaus, I sometimes complete n=1 experiments with various software as part of my memory research. So far, none compare to the power and the glory of memory techniques – at least not for me.


7. Speak And Write The Chinese Poems


Although I rehearse the Chinese poems quietly several times, nothing beats reciting them. Getting them out through the mouth creates muscle memory and helps with general pronunciation practice.

Likewise, writing puts the words into the muscles of the hands, arms and eyes as you see the words. Together, you are giving your memory the highest possible chance to succeed.


8. Memorize More


I also memorized Chinese phrases, individual words, some numbers and an English poem during the same period. This extra activity is not necessary, but I like to do it.


Because it’s like being a chef. Normally, I’m an expert with cooking eggs, but to get better at cooking eggs, I also need to make the occasional soup or steak or some other complimentary dish. Variety enriches and enlivens the core skills.

And that’s important for all of us as we live our lives using memory techniques. Memory improvement is the most critical activity in the world, especially now that we’re relegating so much of our memory needs to machines.

Be it math, Chinese poems or some other information that will make a difference in your life, following steps like the ones I outlined above will keep you in good stead.

Memory improvement is fun, easy and you can use it to recite Chinese poems – or anything you like – at any time.

Isn’t that exciting?

9 Responses to " The Steps I Took To Memorize 3 Chinese Poems In 2.3 Weeks "

  1. Alex says:

    Thanks for this pod cast, Anthony. I like that you have eight principles for memorizing Chinese poetry, since eight is a mystical number of luck in that culture. It’s very poetic of you. 😉

    I have seen questions on memorizing poetry on the web, and the askers tend to be students who have to recite something the next day, or three days hence. Maybe they should give themselves eight magical days of work to succeed in memorizing the piece of literature. Moreover, if they make it a “do-or-die” situation, they’re asking to choke. Positive attitude and unhurried practice are keys to success in this endeavour.

    Your technique is, of course, excellent for lists. In previous pod casts, you have discussed memorizing lists of Canadian PMs and other lists. I am currently working or memorizing the 266 (at last count) official Roman pontiffs and am using my imagined St. Peter’s Basilica as an MP. I use the animal alphabet technique for each century. The challenge with pontiffs is the number of ones with the same name but a different number (John XXIII, for instance); here my idea is to have the image for 23 Johns doing something ridiculous 23 times. For example, Pius I through XII has a lot of pise being thrown – up to 12 anyway! It’s early days in this, so I am learning as I go. If you have any suggestions for me I’m all ears.

    Your technique also is likely well suited to remembering plays or movie scripts. Shakespeare’s plays are often written in meter and rhyme so the players can deliver the lines powerfully and smoothly. Poetry is an artistic way to convey imagery orally.

    As for memory palaces, as you say, it’s better to have more than fewer. My suggestion would be one for one. Poems are unique; therefore their memory palace should be unique. If you have a long poem (or play,) have a larger MP. You can have a memory station per stanza, or per logical block. As you wish.

    If you want to start easily, try kids’ poems or Dr. Seuss books. Then maybe Haikus. I find it’s better to work up by getting quick wins in the same way as you describe by memorizing a quarter of a deck first. But memory is like swimming, you have to jump in and get wet to enjoy it.

    I like your suggestions for Word For Word, Line By Line associative imagery. You need to have a logical memory trek with vibrant and evocative images.

    Your suggestions for breathing and relaxation are also well founded. Anything that can dispel worry or anxiety can be employed. The idea is to have fun.

    As well, the idea is to avoid overwhelm. Memorizing a little bit is like eating a little bit at a Chinese buffet. If you try to eat it all at once you’ll get sick. If you take small bites, and chew it well, as my mother used to say, you’ll get more nourishment.

    Zany crazy imagery is the way to go. Some people who want to memorize religious texts might try for ridiculous grandiosity or zany humour if they’re uncomfortable with scatological images. Refine the imagery and make it as vivid and kinetic as possible.

    Rehearsal is crucial to feeding your memory. Rehearse, repeat and rehearse.

    Recite often, and enjoy your accomplishment! You’ve achieved a wonderful goal and now have a wealth of new imagery you can reuse in your ongoing mnemonic adventures.

    • Ha ha … this is one of those opportunities where I could claim that I had this in mind for my eight principles all along. Alas … I did not.

      Actually, the title of this post is misleading. It didn’t take me this long to memorize the poems. It was much less time than that. The title would better be “The Steps I took Over Less Than 3 Weeks to Memorize 3 Poems.” The actual time, with Recall Rehearsal was probably 35-45 minutes per poem. I’m testing now longevity with far longer intervals between recitation. So far so good, but there’s been a bit of slippage in two of them, one word each following 7 days without recall.

      Yes, memorizing shorter poems first is beneficial. I went whole hog at the beginning and there’s nothing wrong with it, but even then, I was memorizing stanza-heavy pieces, so it amounts to memorizing small poems at a time. But one of Pound’s Cantos in a single bound as a beginner would be a bit much.

      Great to hear about your project with the Roman pontiffs. Sounds like you’ve got a great pattern going that will be run to rehearse.

      Thanks as ever for the great feedback! 🙂

      • Alex says:

        Thanks Anthony.

        What confounds me, however, is the fact that there can be scads of pontiffs with the same name, but with a different “serial” number. 6 Alexanders; 12 Piuses; 23 Johns; etc.

        Although each MP station will be different (different centuries have different alphabet characters,) the name will be identical (I suppose I can handle it with a Major method image — far better than having 23 of something cluttering up the picture!)

        How would this work in the case of poetic imagery with similar lines? Often there can be a play on words or a rhyme scheme that introduces more than one of the same concept?

        (… Hope this isn’t a case of overthinking! …)

        • I’m not sure it’s a case of overthinking, but there is always the risk of thinking instead of doing. It’s in motion that all the answers are usually found.

          I take poetry, and indeed just about everything on a case by case basis and see mnemonics as a kind of martial art (the Russian martial art System, to be more specific). Every “opponent” has a body, but exactly how you’re going to direct its energy to where you want it to stick in the dojo of your mind requires actually engaging it.

          I think this is a very wise approach because in Systema, there are no rules. Only principles, the main one being engagement with the opponents energy in order to give your instincts the opportunity to use your knowledge within the constraints of that given situation.

          This is why similarities in information need never be confusing. Even if you have a confrontation with the same opponent 100 times, each act of engagement will have its own unique set of properties. For the martial artists, as the mnemonist, this can only be an advantage if your awareness, presence, relaxation and creativity are primed and at the ready.

          Hopefully that’s not too metaphysical or metaphorical. But it’s been a useful way of thinking about the use of memory techniques for me and more valuable all the time. 🙂

          • Alex says:

            What an interesting concept: “I see mnemonics as a kind of martial art.”

            I suppose mental arts can be martial in nature. Games like Go and Chess were invented by warrior rulers who needed to be mentally and martially acute. Pattern recognition and mnemonic activity often spells the difference between patzer and prodigy: the more seasoned take the time needed to assess and evaluate patterns, and this is quite analogous to the memory journey and memory stations

            I have practiced some forms of Chinese martial art boxing, notably T’ai Chi and some other forms. Mnemonic ability greatly assists in that study to be sure.

            Like other forms of dance and art, muscle memory and learning by doing and visualizing are powerful methods to improve martial art. This is true of memory practice as well.

            Therein lies the challenge in the chess game, the Systema practice, the memory challenge, etc. The challenge is to find and emphasize the the imagery.

            It might be quite an issue for 23 guys with the same name (but finding unique attributes for each will be fun.) It rather makes me think of the Bruces who want the new professor in their Philosophy department to be called “Bruce” to avoid confusion (old Monty Python skit plug.)

          • I like how you frame this: Mnemonics really are about differences in imagery. I have never seen this to be more true than with my current Chinese vocabulary learning project.

            The imagery has to first and foremost stick out from the background and because I have such a mass of repetition in my Bridging Figures, what they’re doing really has to pop. Perilous, but fun!

            My thinking would be that the same name reduces the cognitive load. You get to skip the detail altogether and focus on other data. I could be wrong about that, but if I were to mirror your project, I would find this kind of core repetition an exciting prospect. 🙂

  2. Bill says:

    Hello, I had a quick question about the g sound. In my studies my # 87 is fig. In the literature of the major system I learned that 7 has C k and g for some reason the g is not found. Maybe an oversight? Just wanted to be sure. Thanks. Great pod cast again as always.

    • Thanks for this, Bill.

      You’re right that hard ‘g’ is not often represented in Major Method or Major System grids even though it does belong to 7.

      Fig is a good solution here, but I would prefer it to be a specific fig, perhaps a Fig Newton, or a fig from a tree I once saw in Egypt. It’s minor in some ways, but the specificity gives it more memorability.

      I’m glad you pointed this out because it’s definitely something I could add when I mention the Major Method. And I might start using hard ‘g’ as well because there certainly are possibility. I can think of two people named Graham off the top of my head who will be very useful going forward.

      Thanks again and looking forward to your next post! 🙂

    • Alex says:

      Hi Bill,

      In many interpretations of the Major method, 7 can be represented as a hard C, K, Q or G sound. So 17 could equal DuCK or DiG; 77 could be QuaCK, CooK or KooK. 775 could be GooGLe, for example.
      Kind regards.

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