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How to use the Memory Palace technique to boost your vocabulary retention

In this article we’d like to show you a proven language learning technique you can use to memorize and recall difficult new words and phrases.

A mnemonic is a learning device that helps you recall difficult information. 

One of the most powerful types of mnemonics is the Memory Palace. You can use it to memorize hundreds of words and phrases from your language of choice at will.

Scientists and professional linguists found the retention rate of learners not using mnemonics was 47 percent, whereas students learning their target language verbs, adjectives and other points of grammar using mnemonics had an 82 percent retention rate.

If the term “Memory Palace” isn’t right for you, many people use other terms, including:

– method of loci

– mind castle

– mind palace

– memory castle


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If mnemonics work, why don’t more people use them?

A key reason more people don’t use mnemonics is because the books advocating this method of language learning are filled with examples that come from the imagination of the author rather than teaching the reader how to create their own. 

Few books teach you how to come up with your associative-imagery to encode the words and phrases you learn into your memory.

On top of that, mnemonics are rarely taught in the context of language learning or a Memory Palace. One reason why is that people think using these techniques only adds more work. When used inefficiently, they will. 

But when used well and with the tips we’ll be covering today, they not only reduce the amount of work needed to learn, but also save you time and create more enthusiasm. If they were only dreadful hard work, they would not have stood the test of time.

What is a Memory Palace?

A Memory Palace is an imaginary construct in your mind that’s based on a real location. If you can see your bedroom in your mind, then you can build a Memory Palace.

Within your Memory Palace, “stations” are locations like a bedroom or sitting room and the space between them is called a “journey”. 

As you build your Memory Palace, you will leave words and phrases at these stations and then pick them up later on when you take a journey through your palace.

Please don’t rob yourself of this powerful language learning device by saying you’re not a visual person. In whatever way feels natural, just think about where your bedroom is in relation to your kitchen. 

Consider how you would move from the bedroom to the kitchen. Take note of the doors, hallways and rooms along the way.

How to create a memory palace in four steps

Step 1: Choose a familiar building and draw a floorplan. This can be your home, a school, church or movie theatre. It can be any building so long as you know it well enough to draw a floor plan.

Step 2: Form a linear path through the floorplan. Do this before you number your stations. Memory Palaces work best when you don’t cross your own path or lead yourself into a dead end. Don’t cram every possible station into your first palace. Include the obvious locations like a bathroom, bedroom, living room, kitchen, as well as an entry point.

Step 3: Make a top-down list of those stations in linear order. This step is useful for testing purposes. 

Step 4: Review your palace: At this point, you should have: (1) a floorplan of a familiar building, (2) a linear path drawn on the floorplan that does not cross itself, (3) designated a starting point and exit point, (4) numbered the stations, (5) written the top-down list, and (6) walked through the Memory Palace (floorplan) several times so you can see or recall each station.

Congratulations on constructing your first Memory Palace!

How to use your memory palace

Now, it’s time to learn how to place words and phrases on each of the stations in your Memory Palace. 

To make these words and stations memorable, you need to use the three classic principles of learning and memory. 

These are:

– Paying attention in a special way to target words and phrases.

– Encoding the sound and meaning of information using imagery and action so each word or phrase becomes memorable.

– Decoding imagery and actions so you can move words and phrases into long-term memory.

– To encode your information, create images that are large, bright, colorful, weird and filled with intense action. You can stick the images to a station in your Memory Palace and revisit them at any time.

Tips for using your memory palace to master a foreign language

– Build a well-constructed Memory Palace using the principles you’ve just learned.

– Relax. Memory techniques work best when you’re mentally and physically free from stress.

– Memorize a selected list of words, ideally in alphabetic order.

– Catalogue the words, meanings and mnemonics either by hand on paper or in an Excel file or the equivalent.

– Remove yourself from your written record or Excel file and all other materials that might cause you to cheat by looking up the meanings of each word.

– Write out the words and meanings based on your memory on a piece of paper. Don’t worry if you miss a word or your associative imagery fails to trigger the sound and meaning of a word on your list. You can fix this later.

– Check the list you produced from memory with your record.

– Use these words in conversations, write them into a ten-sentence email and keep your eyes and ears open for them as you read and listen to your target language.

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