A primer on learning languages

Whether you believe it or not, it is true that foreign languages are one of the best areas of learning to which to apply the memory techniques discussed in this e-book. After all, the process of learning, memorising, and recalling words always goes back to the idea of association. So, even if it seems like a meaningless collection of letters and sounds in a word because it is not your native tongue, your brain can actually connect, understand, interpret and recall other languages quite easily.

Ever wonder why smaller children can learn languages more readily than adults? It is because they are not as caught up in putting meaning to the words but are simply collecting, memorising, and recalling letters, syllables, and sounds – proof positive that the older we get, the  more we actually complicate things for our brains!

The traditional way to learn foreign languages has always been repetition, which involves saying a word in your language and then saying the accompanying foreign language word over and over until you feel like you have it down. Let's face it – this is boring and certainly not the most efficient way to acquire vocabulary in a foreign language.

There are actually three ideal approaches to learning foreign languages that can be truly effective because they focus on the most important words to learn, illustrate how to link words in your own language to those in another language, and teach you how to structure recall capability of the foreign language through what is known as the town mnemonic.

The first ideal learning language technique is known as the LinkWord technique. Like other memory techniques, this uses an image that is linked to a word except that, in this case, it is an image that is linked to a word in your native language that can also help you remember the accompanying foreign language word that also represents that image. There are actually books available in various languages that does this for you by pairing up about one thousand common words to help you effectively learn another language. Those behind the concept state that it only takes a few hours to start speaking another language by using this technique.

The second ideal learning language technique is known as the Town Language Mnemonic, which combines the concepts of the LinkWord system with what is known as the Roman Room memory system. The Roman Room technique is based on ancient techniques that help recall what appears to be unstructured information without trying to find a relationship for the information. Instead, you focus on the function of the information by imagining a room – it could be a sitting room, a bedroom, a kitchen, etc. Within that room, there are objects that you can then associate or link images to those objects and then overlay that with the information you need to memorise. To easily recall the information you need, you take a mental tour of the room from a snapshot you have in your head and visualise the objects and their related images, which then unlock the information you need as you go through the room.

That concept is now applied to a town, city, or village rather than a room, which provides a way to incrementally increase the information that you will be able to recall. The system was founded on the idea that all of the basic vocabulary of a language can be related to common objects or places within a city, town, or village. You should select a city or town that you are familiar with (most often the one you have lived the majority of your life in) and then use objects and places within that city or town as the cues you need to recall specific images that can be linked to the foreign language words. Here's how to break it down by word type:

Of course, one of the most confusing aspects of some foreign languages is the fact that many words are tied to a gender. The use of the town concept works well with this challenging aspect to foreign language learning because you can divide your town or city up into two gender zones – male and female – and even add a gender neutral zone like a river or railroad tracks that runs through it for those words. Then, place those gender words in the appropriate location like town, park, or leisure centre to be able to learn the foreign word and the accompanying gender associated with it.

For each language you learn, you may want to choose a specific city, town, or village to go with it so as to not confusion between languages. Perhaps, you can even match the language with its home country, but you may need to also learn about the locale more intimately if it is not one you are already familiar with.

The third ideal learning language technique is called the 100 Most Common Words. This common was conceptualised by Tony Buzan in his book, Using Your Memory, so be sure to check this out to get his list of the 100 most common (basic) words, or Google this list to start working from this foundation.

In his research, he found that these 100 words actually make up about 50% of the words that are most commonly used in daily conversations whether it is between friends and family or as part of the work environment. And, since one of the reasons you learn a foreign language is to be able to converse with others, it makes sense to focus on these critical words used in everyday conversation.

Now, let's move from foreign words to foreign – well, even locally known – places and learn how to time and date stamp your memory ability for those history exams.

A walking quotation dictionary Time and date stamping: getting to know History