Should I Use English Words In My Memory Palace?

Image of a slinky to express a concept related to using memory techniques for language learningDear Memorizers,

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 Memory 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.

Cover of How To Learn And Memorize Spanish Vocabulary by Anthony Metivier

We’re all different, and as I point out in the book, How to Learn and Memorize Spanish Vocabulary, 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.

Why You Should Always Emphasize The Language You’re Learning

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 mother tongue.

(Mind you, you can certainly use Magnetic Memory Method to memorize words in our own language. Doing so makes for great brain exercise).

If you earnestly assign a letter to a single Memory Palace with all of its Magnetic Stations constructed so that you don’t cross your own path or trap yourself, here’s what will happen:

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 when 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.

What To Do After A Memory Palace Works Its Magic

Once you’re “there” in your Memory Palace, 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 Magnetic Memory Method, the faster you’ll be able to “translate” the words into the target language.

To be clear:

Mnemonics are a mental skill. Like all skills, the Memory Palace takes dedicated practice.

However, even without much practice, the dividends will come quickly.

Eldon Clem Magnetic Memory Method Testimonial

Eldon Clem

For example, Eldon Clem memorized 1000 words in Ancient Ethiopic just 6 weeks!

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.

The Fascinating Magic Of Memorizing Cognate Rules

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. (Notice that in this mnemonic example, I am incorporating sound into the image to give it even more dimensionality).

Now, this is an interesting example. “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.

There are a number of cognate rules, and some people say that if you learn them, you will have between 2000-3000 words in Spanish if English is your mother tongue.

Why You Don’t Need Cognate Rules To Memorize Vocabulary Rapidly

Let’s try a word 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 the learner with several words and their meanings at the same time
  • Reveals clues about how the language works through pattern recognition
  • Makes other variations on the same sounds apparent and helps you  literally “own” a chunk of the dictionary in your mind.

The only real weakness I can find with this method on your journey to bilingualism is this:

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 Memory 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.

How to Create a Bridging Figure

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. I will act as my own Magnetic Bridging Figure in this case.

For some people, seeing oneself in the Memory Palace creates too much cognitive load. In such cases, someone like Anthony Hopkins would be better.

To continue the mnemonic example at hand:

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.

Make All Of Your Mnemonic Examples Multi-Sensory

I’ve just mentioned a clock and calendar falling off the wall. To get the most out of this Magnetic Imagery, it’s important to tap into sensory memory. To do that, take a second to hear the clock and “feel” the calendar hit the ground.

That way, when you go back into the Memory Palace to recall the target vocabulary, you’ll have more mnemonic tools for ensuring successful recall.

Why Recall Rehearsal Works So Well

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. Both in the vocabulary source and the Memory Palace. (Speaking of vocabulary sources, I recommend the Teach Yourself story series put out by Olly Richards.)

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 outcome is essential when you’re learning how to memorize vocabulary in any language.

The Magnetic Memory Method Principle of Compounding

This compounding aspect is important, and here’s why:

Had I operated in reverse, I would in essence need three different locations for “antaño.”

This would be required because the word has at least three different uses: “long ago,” last year,” “days gone by.”

Would it be sufficient to have a Memory Palace for just one of those?

Probably not. However, by making all of my associations link with the Spanish term itself, I can compound more than one meaning at its station in the location.

This is a very powerful approach.

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. Or you can add entire phrases to a word.

I’m very grateful for questions like these and always appreciate feedback from readers. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with your questions, and for more on this topic, please see this Magnetic Little Tip On Memorizing Foreign Language Vocabulary.

Further Resources

Now that you know more about why you need to focus on the language you’re learning, you might be curious about grammar. Here are 9 tips:

And if you’re wondering how to keep track of all your vocabulary in your Memory Palaces without worrying that you’ll lose any of your effort, I recommend the Freedom Journal for language learning.

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