Using the memory palace technique to remember anything

Ranger
Posts204Likes 112Joined 6/10/2018LocationLagos / NG
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I came across this in my many reads and I'm wondering if anyone here has heard about this or actually used it and it worked for them.

From what I gathered, it works like this; you give your memory a shape. It could be anything but make sure its something easy for you to remember. Then you pay a visit to this place with your mind's eye and pick up bits and pieces you may have lost along the way.

Take a look at the article yourselves and tell me what you think. Can you use this same approach to language learning, is it really doable?

https://curiosity.com/topics/use-the-memory-palace-technique-to-remember-basically-everything-curiosity/

Kevwe A.

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#1
Dwarf
Posts68Likes 37Joined 6/10/2018LocationJonestown / US
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I find this very fascinating. Im sure this technique could be used with language learning somehow. Im going to think of some ideas but hopefully others will comment ideas in the meantime. My brain is fried today

Taylor Fabio

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#2
Elf
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It is apparently possible. Some Jesuit missionary used it in the 1600s to memorize Chinese when he went to China to evangelize. However, it's incredibly time-consuming, and a bit of overkill sometimes. 

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#3
Hobbit
Posts10Likes 14Joined 3/8/2018LocationSeattle area / US
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Yes, I've played with the memory palace technique (and many similar) in the past. It does work, however, as mentioned above it is incredibly time consuming.

I don't recommend it for language learning as you tend to lose sight of the forest for the trees.


IMO memorizing a zillion short definitions of words in your target language isn't the goal. This is merely a tool that helps you along the way. The real goal (for most) is to be able to fluently use the language, both understanding it and producing it. Successful language learning isn't merely memorizing more and more grammar rules and vocabulary items until someday you have 'enough' and you are suddenly fluent. Memorizing this stuff gives you a rough grammar cheat sheet and a (very short, poorly edited) dictionary in your head, sort of like a pop-up dictionary on your computer. It is the act of USING these clunky tools repeatedly, over and over on real language, decoding the language and generating bits of it with lots of conscious effort, that eventually builds that automaticity/fluency in the automatic part of your brain that we are really after.


Note that many successful language learners will use tools like the Reader tool on this site and don't even attempt to put special effort into memorizing grammar and vocabulary. I'm not saying that memorizing that stuff isn't efficient if done with some restraint, but just that it isn't completely necessary on its own and it isn't really the end goal.


It is very easy to get overly focused on the acquiring or creating these kinds of tools and forget to do the real work to actually learn to use the language (ask me how I know)...

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#4
Elf
Posts147Likes 64Joined 5/6/2018LocationLapu-lapu / PH
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Very helpful. But for me, it depends on the learner's ability to adapt the said steps/methods.

Charlyn Amoin

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#5
Dwarf
Posts68Likes 37Joined 6/10/2018LocationJonestown / US
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I enjoyed reading everyone's comments. It does seem time consuming but if it works for some it works. I guess it depends on the person and their abilities. 

Taylor Fabio

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#6
Ranger
Posts410Likes 211Joined 4/9/2018LocationCaracas / VE
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I've heard about the memory palace but I've never used it. It's good to read some feedback about it :)

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#7
Ranger
Posts291Likes 147Joined 10/7/2018LocationBinan City / PH
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I think this technique is more effective in remembering lost keys, wallets, cellphones and simular things. I've quite done this many times since I got this seemingly malignant memory loss after I gave birth to my youngest. And it usually did help me. 


It is also very helpful in witnesses and practioners like Sherlock Holmes, who is by the way my fave character by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when I was young.

Edzky-18

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#8
Ranger
Posts347Likes 188Joined 13/7/2018LocationPasig / PH
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I rather enjoy Thomas Harris's descriptions of Hannibal Lecter's memory palace. I tried this myself, once, albeit halfheartedly, and it didn't stick. I had no idea this technique required such an investment of time, though. That's news to me.  

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#9
Elf
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Personally, this is how I learn new languages, and it's a combination of two methods. 


1. On a need-to-know basis:

I have a crap memory (probably small brain), and so, with most things in life, I learn them as I need to know. Language is no different. I learn stuff on the need-to-know basis, and over time, organically, I do end up with sufficient knowledge to operate. Some things organically repeat on the need-to-know, so eventually, it enters my long term memory, because my mind registers that knowing that is quite important.


2. Hobbies/using a hook:

It's no secret that I like to eat, so I wind up with a rather extensive vocabulary revolving food in several languages. Sometimes, when certain languages are fairly similar, e.g. romance languages, I then create mental maps to map certain languages to something else that's already more ingrained in my mind. My friend describes this as the "inkblot" method, where you link new things with things you already know, so it sticks a bit better. 

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#10
Dwarf
Posts68Likes 37Joined 6/10/2018LocationJonestown / US
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meifeng wrote:

Personally, this is how I learn new languages, and it's a combination of two methods.

1. On a need-to-know basis:

I have a crap memory (probably small brain), and so, with most things in life, I learn them as I need to know. Language is no different. I learn stuff on the need-to-know basis, and over time, organically, I do end up with sufficient knowledge to operate. Some things organically repeat on the need-to-know, so eventually, it enters my long term memory, because my mind registers that knowing that is quite important.

2. Hobbies/using a hook:

It's no secret that I like to eat, so I wind up with a rather extensive vocabulary revolving food in several languages. Sometimes, when certain languages are fairly similar, e.g. romance languages, I then create mental maps to map certain languages to something else that's already more ingrained in my mind. My friend describes this as the "inkblot" method, where you link new things with things you already know, so it sticks a bit better.

Thanks for sharing this with us. I'm glad you have found a way to learn a language that works best for you. This is helpful and gives me some ideas too. Good luck in all your journeys!

Taylor Fabio

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#11
Elf
Posts135Likes 81Joined 3/9/2018LocationLagos / NG
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This is something to try though, not sure how it would work for languages though but its worth a try i guess.

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#12
Ent
Posts742Likes 460Joined 18/3/2018LocationBellingham / US
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We talked a bit about this here. While I find mnemonics helpful when I have difficulty recalling a word, I use simple ones like Linkword:

One example is the Russian word for cow (корова, pronounced roughly karova): think and visualize "I ran my car over a cow."

Memory Palace isn't suitable for memorizing vocabulary ime. It was designed by the ancient Greeks to memorize long stories and even entire books. I tried to use it for memorizing the Jōyō kanji and found out very quickly how poor a method it was for doing that.


I try to avoid study methods that take me out of normal usage context. For example, I consider reading to be normal usage, but memorizing lists of words not. There are people who advise us to use beautifully manicured, time consuming anki decks to learn your entire target language. For me at least that would be a big mistake, and I use anki but in a very controlled limited manner. I feel the same about using a memory palace. There is no need to do something so drastic when a simple little mnemonic here and there is sufficient to bail me out of my memory problems. 


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#13
Ent
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zKing wrote:
IMO memorizing a zillion short definitions of words in your target language isn't the goal. This is merely a tool that helps you along the way. The real goal (for most) is to be able to fluently use the language, both understanding it and producing it. Successful language learning isn't merely memorizing more and more grammar rules and vocabulary items until someday you have 'enough' and you are suddenly fluent. Memorizing this stuff gives you a rough grammar cheat sheet and a (very short, poorly edited) dictionary in your head, sort of like a pop-up dictionary on your computer. It is the act of USING these clunky tools repeatedly, over and over on real language, decoding the language and generating bits of it with lots of conscious effort, that eventually builds that automaticity/fluency in the automatic part of your brain that we are really after.


Great post! These days I'm of the opinion that learning grammar rules and studying vocabulary are just props, and they eventually fall away and are replaced by memorized/internalized chunks of lexis. For example, I feel like when I'm speaking Spanish, my only advanced foreign language, I'm basically producing memorized phrases or chunks of phrases. Sure, I swap things out here and there, but no thoughts about grammar rules/word selection cross my mind. This is probably yet another clear hallmark of being advanced, rather than just intermediate. 


In other words, being advanced in a language doesn't mean you can very quickly find the correct grammar pattern and vocabulary and assemble a sentence. It means the chunks are already there. 


To be clear, I'm not saying we shouldn't be studying grammar or vocabulary. In fact my personal opinion is that for most learners it's good to use these props, and it will yield faster results, but as you said before - the final product is quite different from the path. Thoughts? 


wrote:

Note that many successful language learners will use tools like the Reader tool on this site and don't even attempt to put special effort into memorizing grammar and vocabulary. I'm not saying that memorizing that stuff isn't efficient if done with some restraint, but just that it isn't completely necessary on its own and it isn't really the end goal.


I completely agree, and I am jealous of those people. I've tried just using the reader tool before, and while my results were better that reading without the tool, there is a dramatic improvement when I take some of the unknown words aside and memorize them. I don't take too many because that tends to drive me nuts.

wrote:
(ask me how I know)...

How do you know how?

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#14
Hobbit
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Thanks, leosmith, for the kind words. I think we have very similar learning styles in many ways.


leosmith wrote:
wrote:
(ask me how I know)...

How do you know how?


Hehe, I guess I left that bait there, didn't I?


I have a bad habit of 'preparing to learn'.


For hours on end I would OCR text from books, correct formatting of text files, rip DVDs, process Mp3 to strip dialogs of introductory music or titles, read blog posts of polyglots that say something I've already heard 20 times before, develop memory palaces for vocabulary, search the internet endlessly for 'better' content, carefully curate Anki decks with TTS audio and closures, write software to 'speed up' all of the above tasks, etc. etc. etc.... and still fail to take 15 minutes to read/listen to that bit of content I already had ready to go.


At some point not so long ago, I was hand writing out some Chinese characters and it hit me:  

My real goal is to have fluid conversations in Cantonese. Hand writing characters, while fun and interesting, was VERY far removed from actually accomplishing my goal and ate a lot of what little time I had to study languages. And many of the other things I was doing were more or less in the same boat.


I've curbed this habit significantly, but it is still something I am careful to watch out for.


I strongly believe in Krashen's Comprehensive Input model (for input at least).  

And to me, for Listening/Reading: Language Skill = Input Comprehension Level * Total Input Volume

Or put another way: If you want to understand speech or text in your target language, you must attempt to listen or read and ensure that input is at least somewhat comprehensible.


And to learn to Speak or Write, you must attempt to Speak or Write... a lot.


Everything else in language learning is just scaffolding for the above.


Vocabulary flashcard decks, memorized grammar, etc are all great ... if they are directly increasing your comprehension of the input you are currently getting or allowing the output you are currently creating to be better.  

But if they are words/grammar you'll need 'someday'... or worse, building these tools is eating a lot of time you needed to actually read/listen/speak/write....

Then building these tools may not be needed right now (or perhaps ever?). Note that, ironically, many of these bits will likely be FAR easier to learn, or even come collaterally, when you have built a solid base of skill in using the language.


It is very easy to end up like that guy who has a workshop stuffed to the rafters with tools, but he's never actually built or fixed anything.

He is constantly collecting tools and organizing his workshop, but never seems to find the time to actually do the task he's been preparing for.


It is very easy to be doing "something" related to your TL and think that this is progress... IMO, if that "something" isn't reading/listening/speaking/writing at least full sentences and more in the TL, it may be generating a lot less progress than you think. (Note that I DO believe in an initial bootstrap period where you learn some basics of pronunciation, grammar, and a set of the most common words.... I'm talking here about after that beginner phase.)


I've been learning Cantonese off and on (more off than on) for more than 10 years now and I've probably taken every wrong turn there is along the way.

I consider the above issue to be the worst of them.


I have made FAR more progress on my goal of being conversational in Cantonese after I got really focused on actual (intensive) listening and speaking as my absolute number one tasks and I put all that other stuff in their proper secondary roles.


That said, after all that 'sounding like an expert' talk, I should caveat with:  

I'm now a solid B1 in Cantonese and a rusty B1 in Italian... so I'm far from the most experienced language learner around.  

YMMV.

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#15
Ent
Posts742Likes 460Joined 18/3/2018LocationBellingham / US
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That was a very interesting background story Z, thanks for sharing.

zKing wrote:
I strongly believe in Krashen's Comprehensive Input model (for input at least).

I agree that we need comprehensible input, and tons of it, to learn a language to a decent level. Without it, we fail. But when he says nothing else facilitates acquisition, I disagree. Sure, there are some people who never study grammar, vocab, etc and reach high levels in a language, but I think they are pretty rare. 


You went through a lot of experimentation to find out how to best prioritize your time. I also think we learn in similar ways. One thing I did in that regard was to put a time limit on anki, and when I hit that limit delete old cards. That way I limit the time I spend on anki, and I spend my time doing the most useful reps - the newest cards. Manicuring anki decks is something I'll never do again either.


Cantonese is probably harder than any language I've learned, the deciding factor being the lack of resources, and that's saying a lot. Your level is commendable.


wrote:
I have made FAR more progress on my goal of being conversational in Cantonese after I got really focused on actual (intensive) listening and speaking

Just curious - do you do conversation lessons with tutors, take notes, then put them in anki?



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Elf
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Re: Useful conversations + intensive listening as a learning method


Interestingly, based on one of my friend's description of his learning methods, it appears that that's the way he learns as well. 


He does a lot of language exchange (usually 30 min each with his language exchange buddy) learning with individuals, and has learned German, Spanish, Russian with this method. He recently started trying to learn Italian by listening to radio broadcasts. I have no idea what his level of fluency is, but he is a remarkably good listener. 


By contrast, I spent more of my time being "bookish", and still sound like a retard. 

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