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Have you been looking for the perfect learn Japanese app…
Or maybe just wondering how to learn Japanese on your own with memory techniques?
Are you still at the level where you’re searching Google with “learn Japanese alphabet,” unaware of its unique character sets?
Or how about that wish to know how to speak Japanese fast?
Well, in today’s guest post and featured podcast guest host, Kevin Richardson share his experiences using the best app to learn to speak Japanese in the world:
The Memory Palace.
But not just any Memory Palace.
Scroll up and click play to hear my interview with Kevin and read his separate assessment below. Take it away Kevin!
The Man Who Almost Gave Up On Learning Japanese
Without Magnetic Memory, I would have packed up my bags and given up on ever learning the readings of Japanese kanji.
Now, I have no doubts that I’m going to complete my mission. I want to be fully literate in Japanese … and I want to be able to handwrite kanji too.
In for a penny, in for a pound!
This is actually my second attempt at using the Magnetic Memory Method.
I won’t lie to you, the first time I tried making a Memory Palace wasn’t a great success.
So take heart, don’t give up if you don’t get everything right the first time. Treat it as a learning experience. I promise you, you’ll get better quickly.
I’m still only a fledgling Memory Palace maker, yet now I’m able to remember up to thirty kanji readings in a single day!
Best of all – I know they’re there forever!
Before employing the Magnetic Memory technique, I’d used Heisig’s “Remembering the Kanji” volume 1 to memorize over two thousand kanji meanings in six months.
I wasn’t setting the world on fire, but for someone who can’t even remember why I’ve gone to the convenience store, I was still pretty pleased with myself.
Maybe The Memory Palace Stuff Wasn’t For Me…
In hindsight, I wish I’d known more about Memory Palaces when I set about using Heisig’s method, but my first attempt wasn’t very successful and I resigned myself to thinking maybe this Memory Palace stuff wasn’t for me.
It was then that I listened to Olly Richard’s podcast with Anthony Metivier talking about learning hiragana with the Magnetic Memory Method.
By happy coincidence, I was just starting to think about the daunting task of learning thousands of readings for the kanji characters. I knew that if I could get the hang of it, this would be make or break.
After all, Japanese people take about ten years to accomplish the same task; so for me, any technique that’s going to supercharge my memory was worth a punt.
My first Memory Palace was a modest affair. I drew a sketch map of my apartment in Japan, numbered my memory stations in a logical route from bed to genkan (the place you leave your shoes).
The first kanji vocabulary word I added to the bottom of my bed – 主に (omoni – ‘mainly’). The story, “oh money is mainly found at the bottom of my bed”. Next, 大気 (taiki – ‘atmosphere’) …
That utter tyke, Russ Abbot singing “Oh what atmosphere, I love a party with an atmosphere” in the cupboard next to my bed. And as the tour went around my apartment, the story developed into a bizarre journey that I couldn’t forget.
Do you remember the Hana Barbera cartoon of Godzilla? I always hated the baby Godzilla, “Godzuki”, yet when I came to the bathroom, I have to think about that dinosaur, Gojira (as the Japanese say) … I’m a big fan of Godzilla … (dai no gojira zuki desu).
My Mind Couldn’t Help But Fill In The Gaps
I took Anthony’s advice and walked through my Memory Palace ten times that first day. That made a big difference; I think by walking through the same linear path through my apartment, visualizing the story ten times, the story in my mind became like a sequence of video clips.
My mind couldn’t help but fill in the gaps, so I’d see myself mainly getting my omoni from the bottom of my bed, so that I could throw some spare yen at Russ Abbot busking “atmosphere” in my cupboard etc etc.
The next day, I walked through it in my mind a couple more times during breaks at work. I loved the fact that I didn’t need any technology, no batteries and could simply walk through my Memory Palace whenever I had some downtime.
I decided that I’d start making one Memory Palace a week from that moment onwards. I’m now on my fifth Memory Palace and have gone from making twelve Magnetic Stations to now making over thirty Magnetic Stations in each Memory Palace.
(* Note: During the making of this Memory Palace, a mosquito collided violently with my notebook … to honor it’s death, I shall always remember “Yuu HAVE made a mess here”)
I’m not rushing anything. Like I say, I’m still a fledgling at this technique, but in the course of a month, my Memory Palaces are becoming richer, stranger, surreal and most importantly … unforgettable.
I now draw my map and number my Magnetic Stations. Then I think of a mnemonic to connect the kanji with it’s reading.
Then I write the whole story out as a walkthrough. Read it to myself and my mind can’t help but connect one station to another.
My favorite on this page has to be Hulk Hogan speaking in his “hougen dialect”!)
Now, I remember Olly and Anthony talking about the effort of making Memory Palaces being “top loaded.”
Certainly seems to be true for me at the moment – I spend far more time constructing my Memory Palace and creating a walkthrough story.
The Time I Save
BUT … it works … and if it means I don’t forget anything, that’s time I save in the long run.
In time, I can see myself not needing to write out my walkthrough story … and in time, I’ll eventually be able to take forty or fifty kanji readings, plot them out in my head, walkthrough the Memory Palace without having to write everything down.
I can see how that will give me the ability to remember hundreds of readings a week … but small steps grasshopper … I’m happy enough that I’ve gone from having a sketchy memory of maybe six readings a week, to now remembering fifty or so kanji readings a week.
That’s already a massive improvement … it’s certainly given me a huge boost in confidence that this heady goal of remembering thousands of kanji readings is much more achievable than I’d ever thought possible.
Want To Hear From Another Student Who Has Turned His Mind Into Something Better Than A Japanese Learning App?
Check out this interview with Magnetic Memory Method student Sunil Khatri. Like Kevin, he’s memorized hundreds of Japanese words.
Brad Zupp is a memory expert who has also learned a lot of Japanese. Listen as we discuss his adventures with this language.
Finally, John Fotheringham is an incredible teacher of learning techniques for Japanese. It was an honor to have him on the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast.
I’m learning japanese and this podcast was really interesting!
However I was unable to find KR page.
Thanks a lot anyway!
Glad you found this interesting, Thomas.
KR should lead you to this page that you’re on to hear Kevin’s story. I’m not sure why the link didn’t work for you, but I just tested it and it seems to be fine.
Thanks for checking this material out and I look forward to your next post on the site. How long have you been learning Japanese? 🙂
I’m learning japanese for 1 year and a half maybe and like Kevin, I live in Japan.
As he said the amount of “Japanese data” that you have to absorb is insane. I’ll try to mix memory palace and “interactive story” to see the result.
My main problem is the “switch” from short term memory to long term. I can easily remember vocabulary words for some days but once I learn new ones, the old ones have vanished. That’s really frustrating.
Are you using a Memory Palace and Recall Rehearsal, Thomas? This is what Kevin used to rapidly transfer words into long term memory in a way that lasts.
Then there are the simple tips and strategies such as the Big Five of Language Learning discussed in the videos on this page, 15 Reasons Why Learning A Foreign Language Is Good For Your Brain.
Hope this helps!
Well, I tried but I think that something didn’t work and I didn’t try to push further to be honest. I really think that I will give it another try after hearing that podcast!
Thanks for your help! 🙂
Thanks for the follow up, Thomas. One of the key problems people encounter is that they simply don’t make enough Memory Palaces to fully experience the asset of spatial memory and what it can do to support the other elements of mnemonics.
The also often don’t use all the range of senses available. Check out the memory improvement infographic on the Memory Palace Science post and listen to that podcast for more tips that will boost your practice and help ensure success.
And rest assured. Kevin isn’t the only one who has had huge breakthroughs. It’s just a matter of diving in and exploring how these techniques can work for you. Have fun and enjoy!
This podcast with Kevin Richardson was both fascinating and motivating. I was especially intrigued about how his initial “hopping” between separate memory “stations” morphed and grew into story threads, adding a richness to enhance his ability to recall. I am a beginner, yet very excited how these techniques may enrich personal learning beyond rudimentary fact memorization.
Glad to hear that you found this useful and inspiring, Barry. Thanks for letting us know.
As someone just beginning the adventure with memory techniques, are there any other questions you have?
Thanks a lot for writing this post. I hope you could help me with something I’m struggling myself.
For pretty much any other language furnishing your palace with images explaining the sounds would be enough. The issue is how do we add over 2k squiggles to them as well. I really like your mnemonic for 平安 as it explains both the reading and meaning of each kanji. These kanji are however fairly simple. My problem is when on top of sound and meaning associations I need to add the writing, which has a story of its own as it’s composed of components as well.
Let’s take 仮想（かそう）- imagination as an example.
I have a person, a cliff, and a crotch associated to the sound “そう” and meaning “temporary”. I also have a tree, an eye, and a heart associated with the sound そう and the meaning “thought”/”idea” (temporary+thought = imagination). Now, my imagination CAN turn this temporary thought into a long lasting vivid and unforgettable memory, but it just takes forever (15-20 min) and after just a couple words I feel drained and have not strength to continue.
I also add intonations to my words, so 仮想 mnemonic would have to be either red or hot as it has a rising pitch on そう。
Could you please tell me how you’re dealing with this?
Thanks for checking this out, Jakub.
This post was actually written by Kevin. If you listen to the podcast episode, you can hear our conversation. I’ll see if he can stop by to comment.
In the near future, we’re releasing a course on Japanese Kanji with Michael Swain. Likewise, I’ll see if he can stop by to share his experiences on your questions.
From my experiences with a bit of Japanese and a lot more Chinese, I feel that your imagery is too vague and not as robust as it might be. For example, which “cliff”? Can you use a guy named Cliff instead? If so, I think you’ll find you can bolt on a lot more variation by working with specifics.
Thanks and please stand by and I’ll do what I can to get you more perspective. While you wait, please also search up the podcast with Sunil Khatri. He’s had some great successes using the Magnetic Memory Method for Japanese too. They’ve accelerated his career greatly as his language abilities have grown.
Thanks a lot for getting back to me and reaching out to Kevin and Micheal. I’ll check out the podcast from yours and Kevin’s talk as well as Sunil Kharti’s podcast.
Regarding the kanji, I think you just helped me realize that I always look at that part as a just a regular cliff and then would “mnemonize” it for each kanji that contains this component or even same kanji but in a different word. I guess I should have just one association, like Cliff Curtis.
“There is this guy Cliff KArtis (the sound association is accidental) grabbing his crotch that is *temporarily* getting bigger as he *thinks* of that wooden dildo he used last night. It had a shape of a heart that had eyeballs for testicles attached to it, KArtis’s imagination is just SOO dirty.”
So the above example took me like 5-10 min to make, the sounds association is a bit weak but the kanji association is really strong, it was mentally draining and I still have not placed Curtis and his dildo in any of my real estates. Will this get faster and be less draining as I practice? Mnemonizing (is this a word?) words written in a latin alphabet is just so much easier.
Does storing things that do not have a progression link (like vocabulary) in memory palace even makes sense? At the end I’ll probably have over 10k words and I’m worried that it might take a long time to find my word if I have to walk through all of my memory palaces.
Any techniques that worked for you or resources that you could recommend would be greatly appreciated.
Generally, when people feel drained, it’s from poor diet or lack of sleep/exercise. Using memory techniques is the most exciting activity in the world and should create inspiration and energy.
“Easier” is a mental label we put on things. Why wish anything was easier when you can focus on getting better?
You’re not wrong, however. There is a sleight advantage, but the “ease” that you feel has nothing to do with anything inherent in latinate alphabets themselves. It has to do with your existing competence.
That’s why we always E.E.C. in the Magnetic Memory Method world:
Expand existing competence.
We have loads of resources all over the site and there’s a search button.
For a curated course based on a syllabus, please consider the MMM Masterclass. All of our success stories jumped straight to the goal by taking a dedicated course that helps them:
1. Create proper Memory Palaces.
2. Learn the tools of association for numbers, symbols and words.
3. Learn the fundamentals of Recall Rehearsal. (This is how you use the Memory Palace technique to get the info into long term memory.)
4. Practice the techniques consistently.
5. Repeat by continuing to study the techniques for more knowledge of how they work.
You can also start with the free course and just start listening to the podcast and related media. Repetition is the mother of memory, and even if we can severely reduce the amount of repetition needed to memorize information, we all still need repeated exposure to inspiring messages and new ways of looking at the fundamental art, craft and science of how and why these memory techniques work.
In the meantime, I’ve messaged both Kevin and Michael and hopefully they’ll show up here soon. 🙂
Yeah, I also found plenty of compound kanji where it just seemed inefficient to be coming up with elaborate mnemonic stories to remember the characters. So I can completely empathise with you. The example you give with 仮想 reminded me that kanji are kind of squishy with their meaning … and that yes, 仮想 means “imagination” in some contexts, but also can mean virtual as in 仮想空間 “virtual space”. And it’s at that point in my own kanji learning adventures where I’d think … okay … associating the meaning has to be pretty flexible … so instead of thinking that this 仮想 compound kanji means “imagination”, I’d be happy enough that I remember か with 仮 for temporary and そう with 想 for thought with a separate memory stations. As you learn more and more kanji, the sheer volume of compound words results in the sound associations becoming easier and easier to recall because you’re reusing them so often with different compound combinations. So, for myself, I ended up becoming less and less worried about making long convoluted stories for compound kanji characters … if I couldn’t make something vivid enough to stick in my mind within a few seconds, I’d just move onto the next compound word … sometimes an idea would happen instantly, sometimes not … BUT … because the words you need to know tend to crop up again and again and again, the more you read, the more you see them … and then the more times you encounter them, the more chances you have of having that brainwave moment where an idea to associate the sound reading with something delicious for your brain to latch onto increases.
You know, when I think about it … I started learning about kintsugi (the art / philosophy of repairing broken ceramics with gold joinery – ie – celebrating the joins rather than being ashamed of the cracks) around a time when I was feeling pretty much broken by the enormity of learning kanji … and thus, I kind of changed my approach somewhat in accordance with this philosophy … forgetting things turns out to be rather useful … if it’s important, we can look it the meaning again and thus, repair the join in our neural connections (with golden sticky stuff) … and then our stories become more personalised to our experience of forgetting them.
Where I’m at now, is where I’ve learned the 常用漢字 pretty much … and now I read Japanese books with audio … the audio is constantly reminding me of the readings the whole time and when I look back on my journey, I think I was less efficient in the beginning because I was striving for perfection with my memory … turns out, your memory is a brilliant little computer for memorising everything it deems important enough to retain … and so spending too much time on convoluted stories just doesn’t work … move onto the next word … sure it’s great when a strong image enters your mind and you can place that in your memory station instantly … and of course, as Anthony says, practice practice practice … you certainly get better over time … but yeah, from my experience with kanji, I say … if it isn’t happening within a few seconds, move on … and eventually, the words that you need to know will have occurred so many times, the chances are, you’ll have encountered them at a moment in time where a strong story will just jump out and make you laugh … and that’s the one to use!
Anyway, hope that helps.
Thanks so much for expanding on your experience, Kevin. These additional notes are fantastic!
Sorry for not replying in the thread but for some reason it does not let me.
My diet and physical wellbeing definitely can use some improvements. Never thought I would want to improve these for the purpose of better mental performance.
I will follow your advise on the points that you outlined. I’ll hold off on the course as I have little over 30 days to double my Japanese knowledge that took me 4 years to acquire.
Also, thank you again for reaching out to Kevin. His advise is extremely helpful.
Glad Kevin’s post helped.
Definitely consider physical well-being as a huge driver of success.
Meditation is also a huge booster and if you ever want to hear me rattle off a ton of Sanskrit from memory, I’m happy to share that link with you. Or just search “Metivier” and “Ribhu Gita.” I think that discussion will help you even further.
Thanks for the conversation and enjoy the next 30 days! 🙂
Thanks a lot for the advise and the time you took to write it.
It’s really great to hear from someone that understands exactly where I am, what I’m trying to do, and knows how to get there. I’ve wasted hundreds of hours writing each kanji over and over again, and it’s just the most masochistic thing I’ve ever done.
Coming up with these elaborate stories for each and every compound is indeed extremely strenuous, if not simply inefficient.
I’ll act on your advise and move on to my next word if I cannot come up with something quickly enough. I was guilty of never skipping a word no matter how long it would take me to commit it to memory, that led me to simply tossing my notebook/book with the rest of the Genkis and Tobiras collecting dust on a shelf.
I was going to listen to your podcast today on my way to work but ended working from home, from the part that I did listen to and the way you describe you memorized both of these kanji I see you first used Heisig and then once you memorized the meaning of each kanji you proceeded to learn the vocab. Do you see any particular advantage in doing it this way rather then learning kanji and vocab simultaneously? Please correct me if I’m wrong but I feel like it would require many more palaces to learn the meanings in English first.
If you’ve already answered this in the podcast, just ignore this question, but if not could you tell me how you’re organizing your palaces? Do you have a kanji and its meaning stored somewhere (Heisig) and then you have a set of whole new real estate just for them?
I’m trying to get organized for my 30 day marathon to passing N2 in December. I was thinking of having a separate palace for each radical, though the pictures might get too similar. Maybe one for each letter a word starts with or a number of strokes? Is there any order/method to the way you placed your images in your palaces?
Also, thank you telling me about kintsugi. It does make me feel more willing to just make mistakes and come back as whole later.
Sorry for a lot of questions, please do not feel obligated to answer all or any of them. Your thoughts and advise have already dusted off my motivation for learning.
Glad you’ve found insight and inspiration, Jakub. That’s why I want this community to be all about. Please share this one around so that we can have more conversations like these with other Japanese learners.