I received a great question yesterday from a reader about the Magnetic Memory Method concept of using the alphabetized Memory Palace system to store the foreign language vocabulary of his target language.
Here’s what he writes:
I understand that I am placing Spanish words in the memory palaces with their English meanings. How do I translate English to Spanish? The words in the palace are cataloged in Spanish to English. Do I need another palace from English to Spanish? I don’t understand how to do this if I need to translate my English to Spanish in a conversation.
I will probably know the answer to this question after I get into it more, but I am trying to conceptualize to process now.
The first thing I would like to say in response is that you will definitely know the answer once you try the method out. We’re all different, and as I point out in the book, these memorization techniques are like a bicycle. If we can just see the techniques in this way, then it’s easy to figure out ways of adjusting the parts to suit our mental “bodies” so that we get the smoothest and most successful ride possible.
That said, my experience is that the Memory Palaces should be devoted to the target language. The main reason is that we are focusing on learning another language, not our own (though we can certainly use Magnetic Memory method to memorize words in our own language that we haven’t learned yet, such as “ecmnesia,” which I talked about in yesterday’s message).
I believe that if you earnestly assign a letter to a single Memory Palace with all of the stations constructed so that you don’t cross your own path or trap yourself, you will find yourself zooming to the words you have memorized and their meanings with no difficulty. It’s something that has to be experienced, but if the associations you have made in your mind follow the guidelines of using a secure station within a familiar Memory Palace, coupled with vibrant associations that make use of exaggerated colors, size and zany actions, you will be magnetically pulled to the location almost without thinking about it.
Once you’re there, it’s just a matter of reconstructing the word by allowing the associations you made to reverse-engineer it for you. The better rehearsed you are, the quicker this process will be. The more you use the system, the faster you’ll be able to “translate” the words into the target language. This is a mental skill, and like all skills, it takes dedicated practice. However, even without much practice, the dividends come very quickly, though my hope is that people will get a taste of that power very quickly and become hooked. Things just keep getting better and better the more we expand the natural abilities of our minds. Trust me on that one.
Let me turn now to examples of why moving from English towards the target language is key. Yesterday I learned and memorized that “franco” means open, frank or outspoken. In my ‘F’ Memory Palace for Spanish, I saw my friend Frank opening a window while shouting “oooooo-pen” at it through a bullhorn (here I am incorporating sound into the image to give it even more dimensionality).
Now, this is an interesting example because “franco” is cognate with the English word “frank.” They cross over, meaning that to search for “franco” is to search for “frank” and vice versa. That helps, and in fact, cognates are very common in Spanish.
Let’s try one that isn’t a cognate. In this example, I hope to demonstrate further why it is important to store the words of your target language and not the English words.
Let’s work with “antaño.” This word means either “days gone by,” “long ago,” or “last year.” Using the Magnetic Memory method, I would have many words that start with “ant” along a journey in my ‘A’ Palace. It’s not always possible to use this principle, but I do so whenever possible because it familiarizes me with not only several words and their meanings, but also how the language works. I get to see variations on the same sounds and literally “own” a chunk of the dictionary in my mind.”
The only real weakness I can find with this method is that the actual meanings of the words can become quite random. For some of my coaching clients, this has been readily solved by creating special Memory Palaces for storing foreign language words that belong to a particular theme. One could have a palace for vocabulary associated most closely with shopping, for example. Ultimately, it’s a matter of preference, but I still think that for those of us serious about really knowing the vocabulary of a language, the alphabetical Memory Palace method is best.
Back to “antaño.” Since my name is Anthony, I will see myself fighting ants using a retro yo-yo that says “the past” on it. The ants are all dressed like Roman soldiers from days gone by. I can compound this even further by having the yo-yo accidentally strike a clock that sends the hour hand whirling backwards to help strengthen the idea of the past. I can also have a calendar from “last year” knocked off of the wall.
Now, my experience is that when I want to recall something like “last year,” my mind is naturally going to go back to this little vignette about the yo-yo and the solider ants. My mind is going to fly to the vignette almost faster than I am able to rationalize the process.
This effect occurs because that the word has a location. In other words, my mind actually has a place to go instead of fishing around in the void. Also, I’ve taken care to compound the meanings of the word using several elements that help me remember variations on the word’s meaning, rather than just one. Finally, I’ve made the images of battling the ants with a yo-yo evoke the sound of the Spanish word.
This compounding aspect is important, and here’s why:
Had I operated in reverse, I would in essence need three different locations for “antaño” because the word has at least three different uses: “long ago,” last year,” “days gone by.” Would it be sufficient to have a palace for just one of those? Probably not. By making all of my associations link with the Spanish term itself, however, I can compound more than one meaning at its station in the location. This is very powerful, and as far as I can tell, too unwieldy to use the other way around. For every word in your target language you store at a well-selected station in a Memory Palace, you can pack in or string together an unlimited number of meanings. This is readily the case the other way around.
I’m very grateful for questions like these and always appreciate feedback from readers. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with your questions.
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.