The world is changing every day, and it’s changing faster than ever before. New discoveries, new inventions, and new technologies all lead to new knowledge. That’s why continuously learning and acquiring new skills are essential for self-growth and a successful future. The Internet enables us to access knowledge anywhere at any time. Everything we could possibly want to learn is at our fingertips.
But how can our brains retain and memorize such an enormity of information?
Mnemonics may be the answer. A mnemonic is an instructional strategy designed to help learners improve their ability to recall important information. It connects new learning to prior knowledge through the use of visual and acoustic cues.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about mnemonic memory techniques and how you can apply them to master one of the world’s most challenging yet amazing languages – Chinese.
What are mnemonics?
By definition, a mnemonic, also known as a mnemonic device or memory device, is a learning strategy that assists people of all ages in memorizing or retrieving knowledge. In other words, mnemonic techniques boost your memory and help you recall information more effectively.
The term “mnemonic” comes from the Ancient Greek word μνημονικός (mnēmonikos), which means “of memory” or “connected to memory.” It also is related to the name of the goddess of memory in Greek mythology. Mnemonics in antiquity were commonly regarded in what is today known as the art of memory.
The ancient Greeks and Romans recognized two kinds of memory: “natural” memory and “artificial” memory. The former is innate, and everyone has it naturally. On the other hand, the latter must be trained and developed by studying and practicing various mnemonic techniques.
Mnemonics may come in a wide range of forms, such as a song, rhyme, acronym, keyword, phrase, or sentence. They’re particularly effective for learning the new vocabulary of a foreign language.
How do mnemonic techniques work?
Much psychological research shows that one does not need a “special” memory to memorize. In fact, competitive mnemonists also point out that the key to their success is not natural mental talent but from the consistent use of a few mnemonic methods that, according to them, anyone can learn (Ericsson 2003).
So how exactly do mnemonic techniques work?
It leverages this fact: Our brains are better at remembering images, rhythms, sentences, and other patterns than recalling each detail or new information individually. Mnemonic techniques assign an image, rhythm, or sentence to new information. Specifically, they make use of data already stored in long-term memory, making memorizing new things easier.
A classic example is “I before E, except after C.” It is a mnemonic rule of thumb for English spelling, meaning the correct order is ‘ie’ unless the preceding letter is ‘c,’ in which case it is ‘ei.’
If you’re still in doubt whether mnemonics really work or not, check out this study carried out by top psychologists at Carnegie Mellon University to prove that it works!
The researchers invited average undergraduates to sessions where they would be shown sequences of digits that they would then have to remember. During the first few weeks, the students did not get far past seven digits (the number thought to be human short-term memory capacity). They then were trained to use mnemonic devices. Soon enough, they began recalling more and more digits steadily. After a hundred hours of training, they could remember 82 random numbers in the correct order after only seeing them once, according to Chase and Ericsson (1981).
In conclusion, mnemonics improve our memory by creating a strong mental connection between the one-to-be-remembered and the easily memorable ones.
9 Types of mnemonics to improve your memory (with examples)
Though there are many different types of mnemonics, we’ll list the nine most widely used mnemonics below. Read on to find out which style would work best for you!
1. Musical mnemonics
Songs and jingles can be used as a mnemonic. You can encode anything you want to learn into a melody, a song; a typical example is how children remember the alphabet by singing the ABC song.
With musical mnemonics, you can put any new information from the capital cities, science cycles, the periodic table, math equations, grammar structures, and phone numbers into a song.
Not only does it help you memorize knowledge quicker, but it also creates a fun & inspiring learning environment.
2. Acronym mnemonics
Acronyms are one of the most common types of mnemonics. You may have already been using this tool all along without realizing it!
The method is easy: take the first letter from each word that you want to remember and form a new word from all those letters.
Check out these examples of acronym mnemonics:
- ROY G BIV for the rainbow colors: red, orange, green, blue, indigo, violet.
- HOMES for the names of the Great Lakes: Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, Lake Superior.
- FANBOYS for punctuation rules: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.
3. Expression mnemonics
With expression mnemonics, the first letter of each word is combined to form a phrase or sentence.
Here are some examples:
- Remember the order of operations for math: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, and Subtract; we have the sentence ‘Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.’
- Remember the eight small bones in the wrist: Scaphoid, Lunate, Triquetrum, Pisiform, Trapezium, Trapezoid, Capitate, Hamate; just memorize this sentence “Sally Left The Party To Take Cathy Home.”
- Remember the order of 4 directions: North, East, South, West; try to think of this “Never Eat Soggy Waffles.”
4. Model mnemonics
Models such as diagrams, flowcharts, cycles, and graphs can also be used as mnemonics.
These are visual representations that aid in the learning and retention of a topic.
For instance, try a pyramid model if you’re attempting to recall information ranked in order. Write each keyword moving up the pyramid until you reach the most important thing. This can help you place the precise sequence in which a process must be carried out or the steps that must be completed to proceed to the next phase.
5. Chunking/organizing mnemonics
This mnemonics means grouping or breaking down information into smaller parts. By doing so, you simplify the complexity of new information, making it easier for your brain to ‘digest.’
This mnemonic is widely used with phone or bank card numbers. For example, instead of remembering a long series of numbers 238023740239, divide it into four groups 238 023 740 239.
6. Ode mnemonics
An Ode or Rhyme mnemonic puts information in a poem or doggerel format.
Apart from tapping your fingers’ knuckles to know how many days the month has, you can try this:
30 days hath September, April, June, and November.
All the rest have 31
Except February, my dear son.
It has 28, and that is fine
But in Leap Year, it has 29.
Or this rhyme “Cyanate, I ate” and “Cyanide, I died.” can help you distinguish the difference between cyanate and cyanide.
7. Visual mnemonics
The information in an image mnemonic is built in the form of a picture, which enhances the recall of information when needed.
You can visualize the data based on its physical features or characteristics. The more unique and vivid the image is to you, the better you will recall the information. Bear in mind; there’s no limit to the imagination.
Digits can be memorized by their shapes with the visual mnemonic:
0 – an egg or a ball
1 – a stick or a pencil
2 – a duck or a swan
3 – an ear; a pair of lips
4 – a sail, a yacht
5 – a hook or a pregnant woman
6 – a comet
7 – a knee
8 – a snowman or a pair of glasses
9 – an apostrophe or comma.
Another common example of image mnemonics is used in zoology:
- A Bactrian Camel’s back looks like the letter B.
- A Dromedary’s back resembles the letter D.
8. Note organization mnemonics
The way you take notes can be used as a memorization technique. Right below are two commonly used methods of note organization mnemonics.
Flashcards have been proven one of the most efficient ways to learn and remember things, especially in building vocabulary. This method is used by putting a question or word on one side of a paper/card and the answer or definition on the other side.
With this method, outlines can be presented in various forms depending on your preference and the amount of knowledge.
If the information you need to remember is not much, you can use arrows to list the steps of a process in a specific order: Introduction → Body → Conclusion.
If the information to remember is more extensive, you can list them down like an essay outline or a table of contents:
1.2 Thesis statement
2.1 First body paragraph
2.1.1 Topic sentence
2.1.2 Supporting points
2.2 Second body paragraph
2.2.1 Topic sentence
2.2.2 Supporting points
3.2 Call to action comment
9. Spelling mnemonics
Mnemonics offer special strategies for remembering hard-to-spell words. When you try to write down new words correctly, it would be more effective if you made the word’s spelling more meaningful and relevant to yourself.
Mnemonic spelling techniques can do just that. They make words more meaningful by connecting a difficult spelling term with a portion of the word in a phrase, a witty statement, or a rhyme. One mnemonic employs a smaller word to direct the speller’s attention to the problematic section of the word.
The following are some examples:
- “Memory Needs Every Method Of Nurturing Its Capacity” is a mnemonic for spelling mnemonic.
- You gain when you bargain.
- Ask someone to feed the cat before you leave for vacation.
- You would rather double your dessert than die in the hot desert.
- The word believe has a lie in it.
Study Chinese more effectively with the powerful mnemonics technique
Since the ancient Greek era, human beings have utilized mnemonics to retain new knowledge.
A popular study in 1967 by Gerald R. Miller confirmed that mnemonics increased recall, and students who regularly used mnemonics techniques had their test scores rocketed up to 77%. That explains why these mental devices have been applied in many study fields from science to sociology to improve academic performance.
Learning Chinese is no exception.
You can use all nine mnemonic methods above (or more) to study Chinese more quickly. For example, a Chinese word can be broken down into smaller layers like characters or radicals.
Using Chunking/Organizing mnemonics, start learning the most basic component first: radicals. It allows you to understand how a character is formed and makes learning Chinese characters/words easier as you go forward.
Visual mnemonics is also widely employed to help learners remember Chinese radicals or characters effectively. Here is a visual and fun way to remember Chinese words for ‘tree’ and ‘forest.’
How can Pandanese help?
Pandanese is a website for Chinese learners to build vocabulary fast and effectively. After researching how mnemonics can streamline the learning process and improve your memory, Pandanese has designed a one-of-a-kind curriculum with mnemonic devices and a spaced repetition system (SRS) to bring the best result for the Chinese language learners.
Sign up and experience mnemonics on Pandanese for FREE!