Memorizing Foreign Language Vocabulary By Hand

| Memory Method Tips

Image of graffiti in an abandoned room to illustrate the role of writing for better memory when using a Memory PalaceA lot of people use typing as part of learning a language.

Although it’s great to type in your target language, there is strong evidence to suggest that we learn better by practicing cursive writing.

I first read the science on this issue in Richard Wiseman’s 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot. I’ve since come across other compelling studies about it too. Many people, for instance, attribute part of Da Vinci’s genius to the fact that he practiced mirror writing.

That’s worth repeating: they attribute part of his genius to his mirror writing. That’s different than saying that he practiced mirror writing because he was a genius.

It’s the same thing that Joshua Foer mentions in his TED Talk. As he says, none of the people he met while learning the art of the Memory Palace have any extraordinary ability with memory.

They have only the persistence needed to train their minds. And just like building muscles, the practice of Ars Memorativa needs consistent training, lest the skills fade away.

How can you develop similar persistence?

Writing by hand every day is definitely a step you can take, especially if you write in your target language.

But let’s be careful here!

I’m NOT talking about writing out words by rote.

I’m talking about either writing out your raw vocabulary words for the purpose of testing (i.e. writing the word once and then looking into your Excel file to check your accuracy).

Or, I’m suggesting you compose a letter, story or some phrases using your vocabulary.

It really doesn’t matter with what level of sophisticated you write. It could be a shopping list or it could be a manifesto. The important thing is to experiment with using your hand rather than typing.

At a more advanced level, you can try writing with your non-dominant hand. I’ve been doing this for about a year now, and although it was slow at first, I’m now quite good and getting better all the time.

This exercise has a very beneficial effect. It is sending more blood to the brain, for one thing, which means more oxygen and nutrients. It’s also making your mind access different parts of the brain.

As thinking and recall skills expand, the brain builds new pathways, leading to greater speed, accuracy and ultimately improved fluency.

The level above this is to write right-to-left in both hands.

This practice may seem silly, but it’s actually another powerful form of exercising the mind in relation to the dexterity of the hand. I haven’t gone to the next level, which is mirror writing, but I’m looking forward to adding this exercise to the Magnetic Memory Gymnasium sometime soon.

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Here’s what I suggest you do:

1. Using one of your Magnetic Memory Palaces, place 10 new vocabulary words.

2. Make sure you keep a record of the words using an Excel file or some other means of storage (if you haven’t seen it, there’s a video I created for you about using Excel files for your Memory Palaces).

3. Get out a piece of paper and write out your ten words with your dominant hand in the regular left-to-right fashion.

3.5 (optional) Test your memorizations by referring back to your records.

4. Using your dominant hand again, write out the same 10 words right-to-left, or better yet, try writing at least one complete sentence using one or more of your new words. This will help avoid the drudgery and temptation of rote learning (it’s the ultimate paradox that as one of the most painful activities, we so often want to fall back on rote learning, isn’t it?)

5. Using your non-dominant hand, write out your 10 words in the reverse order of the Memory Palace journey you created in normal, left-to-right fashion. If you don’t think you can master ambidextrousness, think again.

6. Using your non-dominant hand, write out a sentence or phrase using one or more new words you’ve learned in right-to-left fashion.

7. Let me know about your experiences with this technique, and as always, feel free to send me your comments and questions about anything related to the acquisition of vocabulary using the ancient art of the Memory Palace.

If you don’t like using Excel files, give The Freedom Journal a try as a powerful alternative.

What to do next? I suggest you learn and use these 3 Memory Palace Training Exercises.

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