Relational Memory: Associate to Remember
This picture is described by the photographer as a path through a mangrove forest. The boardwalk path is the kind of path you would take through a mangrove forest. Mangroves grow in or very near the water. But those of you who are familiar with mangroves will wonder about the trees. These are not mangroves.
We relate what we see with our experience with mangroves. Perhaps, after we travel through these tall trees, we will arrive at the mangroves. Or maybe the mangroves are behind the photographer and we are heading back to dry land.
A very important part of learning is finding ways to relate what we don’t know to something we already know and understand.
When I was teaching in middle school, the science book had a chapter of petroleum distillation. Students had heard of petroleum but claimed they had never heard of distillation.
I mentioned distilled water. Yes, they’d heard of it but they didn’t know how it was different from “ordinary water.”
I asked if they’d heard of distilled beverages. No. Had they ever heard of a still? They giggled. Sure. They weren’t sure how it worked but it made whisky or something like that. So this is where we started — with something that was familiar.
Next we learned about various alcoholic beverages. This seemed exciting. The students were afraid this was something we shouldn’t be talking about.
They did some research and learned about moonshiners and what a still looked like. They learned that moonshine began with corn. Questions about other alcoholic beverages led to the information that corn is used for corn whiskey, rye for most whisky, barley for Scotch, rice for sake, and potatoes for vodka. They wanted to know about beer and learned that beer is an undistilled alcohol. So is wine.
Now, of course, the students were eager to distill something. I’m sure they were asking about making moonshine. Instead, we added salt or sugar plus some food coloring to water, salt or sugar. They were amazed to learn that the salt or sugar and the food coloring did not evaporate. The water we distilled had no color or taste.
Now that they understood distillation of familiar substances, they were curious about how petroleum could be distilled, especially since it didn’t have any water in it. Had we started with a discussion of distilling petroleum, they might have memorized some of the information but it would never have been meaningful. Once the test was over, they would have forgotten what they learned. This way, beginning with more familiar areas, the concept made more sense.
Meaningful learning involves finding relationships between what we are learning and what we already know. Sometimes your professor will help you discover these relationships. More often you will need to do this yourself.
This passage from the Book, Making Connections, describes how the brain searches “for how things make sense, to search for some meaning in experience.” The bold has been added.
This translates into the search for common patterns and relationships. It is a matter of finding out how what is being learned related to what the learner already knows and values and how information and experiences connect. In essence, we have to come to terms with meaningful learning and the art of capitalizing on experience. . p.4 Caine and Caine Making Connections
Using Association to Learn and Remember
I learned this method when I was young. My grandmother had difficulty remembering a lot of new words when she came from New England to Florida. She loved her beautiful Hibiscus plants but could never remember the name. She finally associated Hibiscus with “hot biscuits.” What was supposed to happen is that Grandma would look at a flower, think ‘hot biscuits” and remember that the flowers are Hibiscus flowers. Grandma never made it to the second step. She always talked about her beautiful red and pink “hot biscuits”. And we understood.
Sure, we all smiled when she made this and many similar mistakes. But it could have been more embarrassing when she did this with people’s names. There was a nice woman, Mrs. Pough, at Grandma’s church. Grandma had never met anyone named Pough. (it rhymes with through.) So she associated it with a bad smell because when she smelled something bad, she always said Pyeou. I still remember Grandma talking about that nice Mrs. Stinky. If Grandma ever called the woman by this name, I never heard about it. (And no, I am not making any of this up.)
I had studied association as a way of learning people’s names and, on the first day of school, worked hard to make some association to help me remember each student’s names. I tried this once with a class in the Marshall Islands, and to my dismay, they went out for recess and, after they returned to class, asked if I still remembered their names. I knew the girls’ names but, for some reason, I couldn’t remember any of the boys.
The boys, during recess, had switched shirts. While I hadn’t meant to remember them by the color of their shirts, I apparently had done exactly that. The only other time I had trouble with names was years later, I had two girls who looked a lot alike that sat together, both with long black hair, both named Melissa. The Melissa part was easy, but if they were away from their seats, I could never remember which Melissa had what last name.
How do you use association to remember names?
Harry Lorayne says in his Page a Minute Memory Book “When you look — that’s the key word — at any face, there is usually one feature on that face that you notice first. That one feature will serve as the second “thing” in this important entity of two — names and face.” p. 43
Lorrayne explains that with some names, it easy to create a picture to go with the name.
Mr. Brooks has big ears: picture two brooks, maybe one flowing from each ear.
Mr. Wolfe has a large mouth: you might picture him slowly turning into a wolf and howling. You could also imagine Mr Wolf leading a pet wolf around on a leash The wolf has a big mouth. You might remember even better is the wolf has a purple collar studded with rhinestones.
You meet Mrs. Carpenter: Picture her with her hammer and saw. But you will remember more easily if she’s making something unusual, perhaps a wooden spaceship. If her first name is Dolly, she could be making a life-sized doll.
Sure, these sound easy enough but what about the names that don’t bring some picture to mind. My maiden name was Ruhnke. People looked at the word but had no idea how to pronounce it. I got into the habit of introducing my self this way. “Hi, I’m Judy Ruhnke: it rhymes with monkey.” Nobody ever had trouble pronouncing my name, and, as a bonus, they never forgot my name, though many never learned to spell it. They probably looked at me and thought “monkey.”
Another way to remember a name is to associate it with someone you know well. When I meet someone named Libby, I think of a Libby I went to school with, my best friend for years. I picture this person talking to my old friend. It works just as easily with familiar last names.
So, if you meet someone and can think of a rhyming word that creates an image, use that to remember their name. Mrs. Blake swims in the Lake wearing an old-fashioned bathing suit.
But what if nothing rhymes with the name and you never heard of the name before? Harry Lorayne has a suggestion for this too. These are amazing. He listens carefully for how the name is pronounced and thinks of images that sound similar (even if they don’t quite rhyme.) His first example is a humdinger as my father would say.
It is Mr. Antesiewicz. Thank goodness, I only have to say it, not spell it. It is pronounced “ante-sevage.” Lorayne now thinks Anti-savage or perhaps Auntie save itch. This man doesn’t like savages. He is anti-savage. “Suddenly it’s more meaningful … and therefore easier to remember than Jones. Here is a list with a few of Lorayne’s suggestions. pp. 38-39
Cameron: camera on
Ponchatrane: punch a train
Tropeano: throw a piano
Carruthers: car udders
Rafferty: rap for tea
Pukczyva (puck-shiva) a hocky puck shivering
Papadopoulos: Papa topple us
Dimitriades – the meat tree ate us
Using Association to learn vocabulary
The system is very similar. Take the word and find words that sound pretty much the same but are easier to remember and picture. Then, associate them with another image that reminds you of the meaning. My son had a difficult time learning new vocabulary words in high school. The two of us spent a lot of time creating associations like these. The only one I remember was for the word “in a loud voice. Sten? The closest we could get was stand. Torian? We finally pictured a Tory in the Inn. We ended with a “Standing Tory in the Inn” who was standing to make a speech, speaking in a loud voice.
I didn’t know of this method when I was a student. I started trying to memorize vocabulary for the SAT when I was in seventh grade — yes, I agree, I was a little strange — but I did really well on the SAT and got a great scholarship as a result. It would have been a whole lot easier to remember them if I had used a method like this. Sure, it takes longer but you aren’t as likely to forget them so quickly.
Lorrayne gives an example with “litany: a form of prayer. You’ve set fire to one of your knees (lit a knee) and you’re saying a prayer over the lit knee.” Page a Minute Memory Book, p. 16. He also uses this method for learning vocabulary in a new language. I tried it for the word pajaro (Spanish for bird). Pa could be father. Ja in Spanish is pronounced “ha”. So Pa can be “Hairy Oh! If if stop here, I won’t know what it means. So Pa is Hairy Oh! He’s so hairy there is a pajaro (bird) nesting in his hair. I could remember that.
Visualization is easier when you picture something outrageous
Some of us say we can’t visualize well. I am one of these people. Perhaps we think too hard about what we see in our minds. Harry Lorrayne says “Think of, say, a zebra. Don’t you see that black and white striped horse-like animal in your mind’s eye? Of course you do — and that’s all I mean by visualize.” Page a Minute Memory Book, p.12.
My problem is that I have seen enough zebras in different zoos that I can’t get one clear image. Sure I have a vague picture of that horse-like animal with black and white stripes but I can’t tell you which ways he’s looking or if I see him from behind. If the only zebra I was familiar with was a large picture in a children’s book — an illustration rather than a photograph — then I could picture that exact picture. But I can picture a zebra much more clearly than a “before” or “when”. Some words need a little help to visualize like “running”.We can’t see running by itself. We need to picture someone or some thing running. It could be me, another person, an animal, a car, or even a faucet with running water or a nose that’s running.
Lorrayne also says,
Association aids visualization. When you associate one thing to another properly, it’s difficult not to visualize those two things. …How does association aid visualization? Let’s say I told you to see a zebra behind the teller’s cage at your bank. When you think of teller, you will visualize a zebra (cashing a check, perhaps), and vice versa. One makes you visualize the other.
The strange thing for me is that picturing a zebra cashing a check at the band is easier for me than simply visualizing a zebra. I am so focused on how to get the Zebra with hoofs instead of hands, to cash a check, that I no longer worry about which picture of a zebra to focus on. Visualization is easier and more memorable when we picture something outrageous.
The more intelligible a thing is, the more easily it is retained in the memory, and contrariwise, the less intelligible it is, the more easily we forget it. — Benedict Spinoza.
There are two other kinds of relational memory that are extremely important. We remember information better if we associate it with our own experience and if it brings forth a strong emotion. These are described in the next two pages.
To learn about other pathways to memory: