Mnemonics: Methods of the Experts
You might find this interesting to read, but probably will not find it very helpful. These are traditional mnemonic methods used for many centuries. Of all of these methods, the only one I use is Links which I use, not for remembering a list in order, but for visualizing the face that goes with a certain name.
There are people who are professional Mnemonists. They put on displays of their astonishing feats of memory. They write books about how to amaze people with your memory. They train people to develop their memories. One of these professional Mnemonists is Harry Lorayne. He says, in one of his many books, Page a Minute Memory Book, that millions have seen him on national television shows (apparently a good many years ago). “Millions have seen me remember the names and faces of up to 700 people after quickly meeting the once.” p. 47. These are some of the systems Harry Lorayne and others like him. They aren’t on my list of favorites but you might find some of the helpful.
Links, Loci, and Pegs
Herrmann, et. al. describe Mnemonics briefly as “Memory Strategies.” They elaborate, saying, “Memory manipulations work by intensifying your attention to information during learning, retention and retrieval phases of the memory process.” p. 85.
They go on to describe five categories of what they call mnemonics: Strength, Attributes, Association, Organization, and Retrieval Structures. As I studied the lists of strategies in each category, I realized that they were using the word Mnemonics to refer to all methods of remembering. I use the term, as most authors do, to refer to the special memory systems that can be used to retrieve memories. Herrmann’s many categories fit more appropriately under the ten pathways of memory along with some of the verbal strategies and visual strategies.
Most of the categories that fit appropriately in Mnemonics were under his category, of Technical Schemes. He calls them technical because “their use requires more involved instructions and preparation. p.103. These include Links, Loci, and Pegs (alphabet, images, and numbers). I agree with Herrmann that all of these systems take a great deal of time and effort to learn. I would add that, for me, and probably for most students, what he calls “first letter codes” work just as well or better.
Links: my choice of the technical schemes
Harry Lorayne uses a chain as an image for Linking. He says “In order for you to remember any new thing, it must be associated, in some ridiculous way, with something you already know.” Super Students, Super Memory, p. 15. He tends to use a random list of items or words for people to memorize. In his example He asks us to memorize -IN ORDER- by associating two items at a time:
lamp – paper – bottle – bed – fish – telephone – window – flower – nail – typewriter
1. We picture a lamp, familiar or unusual
2. We picture paper… let’s make it a very large piece of paper, covering the lamp.
3. Now we don’t need the lamp. We picture paper and bottle. The paper is being poured out of the bottle.
4. Bottle and bed: Imagine a giant bottle sleeping in your bed.
5. Bed and fish: The fish can be sleeping in your bed getting it all wet. OR think of the bed going fishing.
6. Fish and telephone: The fish is talking on the telephone.
7. Telephone and window: For some reason, you pick up the phone and throw it through the window.
8. Window and flower: Windows growing in your garden instead of flowers OR open a window and flowers fly in.
9. Flower and nail: You hammer a flower into a wall instead of a nail.
10. Nail and typewriter: your typewriter has long nails with the points up, instead of keys. It will hurt to type.
Lorayne says the advantage of this is that you can start anywhere. If you start with bottle you can think of paper pouring out of it or the bottle in the bed. You can go either direction. He also claims it can be used for a very large number of objects that need to be memorized in order. You will notice that this list contained all simple objects that are easily pictured in your mind. If you were learning abstract words such as “philosophy” and “through”, you would need to begin by finding a visual image that you can tie to these words. Perhaps an old man with a long white beard (the philosopher) is speaking about his philosophy. For through, you could picture walking through a door or a football passing through the goal posts. Or you could be through with your homework, saying goodbye to your roommate and going to a party. Now these images could be associated with the other words on the list.
I would prefer to write a nonsense sentence: Lucky Papa bats balls for teams wearing fabulous new ties.
This takes less time but now you need to know the items on the list well enough to remember them with just a first letter as a clue. It may be that, with a list of random words, the Link system would be more helpful. But, for classes, the purpose of the system is to help you remember information you have been studying. You expect that, eventually, you can forget the silly sentence because you remember the information, itself. There are many popular first letter codes like this that are used to remember information. Some were listed on the first page.
Loci or to put it in simple words: Locations
Apparently the Greeks are know to have used this system. You must start with a certain series of locations. You can go through your house, one room at a time: garage, kitchen, laundry room, hall, living room, dining room, bedroom, bathroom, study… Others have imagined going on a walk, picturing what they see everyday on that walk. A group of students chose the building on campus for this purpose.
If you wanted to memorize your shopping list, you would place each item in one of the rooms. You need to picture it there in some vivid way. The loaf of bread in in the garage, sitting in the driver’s seat, ready to go to the store. The milk is in the kitchen pouring itself into a dozen purple wine glasses. Sugar is in the laundry room in the drier because it had gotten wet. …. etc.
My response is that I’d rather write a shopping list. I have trouble picturing the planets or the colors of the rainbow, or the stages of cell division… in the rooms of my house or along a path where I walk.
Lorayne has an interesting peg system for remembering numbers.
1. He associates T and D with number 1 because they both use ONE downstroke.
2. He associates N with 2 because a lower case n has two downstrokes.
3. He associates M with 3 because it has 3 downstrokes. (so far so good.)
4. He associates 4 with R because it ends with an R sound.
5. He associates 5 with L because L is the Roman numeral for 50.
6. He associates 6 with J because 6 and J are nearly mirror images. He also includes SH, CH, and soft G because they sound like J.
7 He associates 7 with K, hard C, hard K because sometimes a K looks like two 7s linked together.
8. goes with F, V, and PH. A handwritten lower case f and an 8 look similar.
9. goes with P an B. P and 9 are almost mirror images.
0. goes with S, , and soft C because the word zero begins with Z. Lorayne, Super Student, Super Memory p. 38.
Have you noticed what’s missing? There are no vowels included. You can use whatever vowels you want
Let’s say you want to remember when Columbus discovered America. 1-T, 4- R, 9- P, 2- N. You can create Tarpon. (Columbus caught a Tarpon to feed his crew. Or 1 can be a D. We might get DaRe PaiN. So you could remember that Columbus and his crew were daring men, willing to DaRe PaiN.
If you had a hard time remembering dates or long numbers like a student ID number, you might want to use this method. You could, for example, remember pi out to 20 or 30 places. All you’d have to do is change each number into a letter, put all the letters together to words that will go in sentences, and then as you recite, think of the first consonant of the first word and what number it is associated with. Then do this for each consonant for each word. Not me!
It might help, however, if you really can’t remember your ID number, your new phone number, a locker number, or your social security number.
You might ask why Lorayne didn’t just use the first letter of each number. The first problem is that when you count to nine in English, there are two T’s: two and three, two F’s: four and five, and two S’s, six and seven. Secondly, using all the consonants leave you more freedom to form good words, especially to find words related to the topic. Herrmann et. al. use a simpler version of this system, using only 9 sounds, but matching letters and numbers is hard because again, we have doubles of three letters.
Lorayne uses another system based on numbers and words. Although he uses different rhyming words, these are more familiar. 1 – thumb 2 – shoe, 3 – tree, 4 – door, 5 – hive, 6 – sticks, 7 – heaven, 8 – gate, 9 – vine, 10 – hen. These are words that rhyme with numbers and they can all be visualized.
Lorayne chose these words because of the song that he calls The Children’s Marching Song. I’ve never heard that name and my version on the words are different from him. “This old man, he played one. He played knick-knack on this thumb. With a knick-knack, paddywhack, give the dog a bone, This old man went marching home. (Lorayne’s version has the old man play knick-knack on a gun.) As far as I can tell, he only uses these to put items in order. You could have the first president suck his thumb, the next one tying his shoe, the third, climbing a tree, and so on. He apparently uses this mainly for children.
I rather like this system if you need to memorize a list of items in order. It doesn’t take much effort to remember the rhyming words. Let’s say that I first played with a dog, then called my mother on the telephone, and finally , I ate chicken for dinner.
1. Thumb – dog: I then imagine the dog biting my thumb… or better yet, biting it off.
2. Shoe – called mother: I imagine my mother sitting in a shoe, a pink high-heeled shoe eating a telephone.
3. Tree – Chicken for dinner: I picture my chicken in a tree – or better yet, the top of the tree holds a giant plate with a very large chicken leg. I’m on the ground with a large fork, worrying about how to get the chicken out of the tree.
Now we can remember 3 things in a row:
1. Thumb – got bit off – DOG
2. Shoe – mother in shoe eating phone – I called my mother.
3. Tree – is holding giant plate and chicken leg – I ate chicken for dinner.
While nobody would bother to use this system for a list of only 3 items, it would be useful to remember a list of ten objects. I would use objects related to letters of the alphabet if I had a longer list. Notice that I used exaggerated images, making them easy to remember.
Obviously, these examples are meant for people speaking English. If you spoke Spanish, you would start with words that rhymed with Uno, Dos, Tres, Quatro, Cinco, etc. Creating your own words that rhyme with numbers in your own language will help you remember the number-word connections. Be sure to choose things that can easily be visualized, not abstract words.
For adults, Lorayne has a second way of using words to represent numbers. This is another alphabet peg system, this time with a visual alphabet such as A is for Ace (You can picture an Ace of Hearts. Or A is for Ape. He tries to get words that “name” the letter A is for apple. The B is for bean or for beach. C can be for sea (sounds like c) or city. You continue through the alphabet creating a peg word for each letter, being sure the word can be pictured easily. He goes on and links each letter to a number. Personally, I’d rather memorize the numbers than do all this work.
Next Link: Auditory Memory