Cracking the Code of Grammar Memorization

cracking the code of grammarDear Memorizers,

I received another email recently asking me about how to crack the grammar code of memorization. It’s a good question and an important question … but perhaps not the essential question.

Most Magnetic Memory books have something to say about memorizing at least a few grammar rules. Memory Palaces can be used very effectively for memorizing grammar rules with some personalized experimentation that is specifically engineered to the target language and your personal depth of fidelity with respect to the core Magnetic Memory principles.

But in my view, the ultimate key to cracking the grammar code is …

(wait for it …)

… the memorization of vocabulary.

Ta da.


Bling bling.

There’s no doubt in my mind that grammar is a key component of fluency, but I also think it’s a barrier we (or our language instructors and language-learning books) erect before us.

One of the main reasons that grammar can be a barrier rather than a passage is that one simply cannot practice grammar without vocabulary.

It’s odd too.

You can describe the grammar of a target language readily enough in your mother tongue once you’ve understood the formulas (and that’s pretty neat), but to use the equations without a pile of words from the target-language populating your mind is like trying to pedal a bicycle without a chain. You get nowhere fast, and you might just tip over completely and find yourself on the ground with a bruised hipbone.

Grammar can be become such a huge barrier, than many people never pick that bike again, let alone fit it with a chain of vocabulary and apply the oil of practice.

Scrapes and Bruises …

But on the matter of tipping over and sustaining a few scrapes and bruise, substantial vocabulary acquisition is also important for making mistakes. We know that most advancements in life come through “failure,” but in order to fail, you’ve got to be doing something that makes failure at least an option, if not a certainty.

Of course, one then needs to couple vocabulary and grammar with context, be it through travel, reading, listening and above all discussing.

Ah, love …

I’m blessed to have a girlfriend who barely speaks English. She’s my hardwood floor in the dojo where I take my knocks and practice the presence and awareness of striving after spoken fluency in an atmosphere of comfort, patience and love (of course, with the right mindset, so is the worldhood of the world, as such).

The point is that I have someone close to me before whom I can “cook” the words I’ve memorized in the “broth” of the grammar rules that really took only a few weeks to learn well enough that I could coast upon them before starting to soar. And she leaves it up to me to ask whether or not I’ve gotten this or that construction correctly, and I can tell by the shape of her eyebrows when a word I’ve selected is either sour or plucked from the wrong tree.

And I have to tell you too something amazing. Yesterday, coming back from Aachen with my band, the guitarist, a Chilean who has been speaking German since he was a kid, asked our singer about the definite article for a particular word. Dear Memorizers, after more than two decades of fluency, he’s still stirring the pot.

Fluency, in any language, including one’s mother tongue, most certainly comes from an endless curiosity about how these shifting words and word fragments can be pieced and re-pieced together.

Memorize en Masse

So please, memorize words and memorize them en masse so that you actually have some toys to play with in the sandbox of grammar.

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.

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