Learning Languages: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

Learning Languages: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.

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Learning Languages: The art and science of remembering everything…

My ability to remember names (people or places) is weak. Unless it’s for a short-term project like a script, my memory just doesn’t go there. So I skip over names whether in books or when meeting new people.

Carrying on a conversation without remembering names is doable. It has a potential for being embarrassing but profuse apologies will fix most snafus. Besides, a bad memory for names is not rare. A good one is.

But a lack of memory of this sort also makes learning a language like Thai a challenge. Seems that every new Thai word is exactly like a name. Can you explain the reasoning behind that to me? Because I’d like to know.

Like most (I’m sure) reading this post, over the years I’ve made attempts at improving my memory. Books were acquired but many were turfed out during moves. Still around (for no memorable reason) are: It’s All In Your Head (remarkable facts about the human brain), Dental Floss For The Mind (a complete program for boosting your brain power), and The Mind Map Book by Tony & Barry Buzan.

Last year (or was it the year before last) I purchased both the French and Italian Language Revolution Complete Beginners sets (yet another Buzan creation). Think mind mapping, but for languages. And after a quick skim, these too were put aside (for now).

This past Sunday I read Study Hack: Improve Focus by Tweaking your Senses, written by Zane at Life by Experimentation (no longer online).

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Right away I can say that I definitely have noticed that I am paying more attention to my studies. It is not a small difference, either. I walk away from each study session, now, feeling as though I truly learned something. Of course, in my next experiment (to learn French) I’ll be publishing more quantifiable data about just how much I was able to learn in how much time, and how much these techniques helped.

The above quote plus Zane’s mention of using sleep masks, headphones, and earplugs to study a language were quirky enough for me to download the book in question: Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Joshua Foer.

The book is so good that I bored the man of the house with it on Sunday, finishing it first thing Monday morning (today). And now here we are. A review. Sort of.

After an intro Josh takes readers through the Loci Method, an age-old method of memorising lists of things (not numbers). Within minutes I’d memorised Josh’s disjointed list. And except for the name of the actor, I can still remember the list this morning. So obviously, following his exact instructions is something I need to work on. And I will.

As mentioned, I’ve read several known books on the subject of improving memory, yet only Josh’s winding explanations convinced me to actually try out the memory suggestions. His marvelous research (I’m a sucker for detail and his book is saturated) plus his wonderful writing kept me reading until the end. Just saying.

There are several ways to get a copy of his book (legally). As I’m way out here in the boonies of Thailand I went with a Kindle download to read on my iPad. But if you want a real book, and are closer to either amazon.com or amazon.co.uk, a hardcopy (an enviable choice) might be the better option.

amazon.com: Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
amazon.co.uk: Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
Kindle (co.uk): Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

PS: No, there is not an affiliate code on those amazon links. The links are included in this post because I really really really want you to read his book. It’s that good. Even Amazon thinks so as it was listed in Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for March 2011.

Joshua Foer: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything…

Amazon has a video where Josh explains how it all came about. With no way to share it here, I checked YouTube to find more than expected. My connection is sucky (I’m downloading heaps) so I’ve yet to get through them all. But as soon as this post goes live, and my downloads are finished, I aim to.

Memory resources…

If you have no intentions of getting Josh’s book (or want more convincing) then read more of what you’ll find in the book:

wikipedia: Method of loci
wikipedia: Mnemonic major system
wikipedia: Art of memory
wikipedia: Mind map

I’ve only just read Josh’s book, The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, but I guarantee that this post won’t be the last on the subject. Because for learning a language such as Thai, discussing tricks to access more memory is just too important to miss.

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