Adaptions on the Dominic foreign language learning method

So I’ve been reading how Dominic O’Brien learns foreign language words in his book “How to develop a perfect memory”

He provides an example:

The German word is “teller”, the English definition is “plate”.

German “teller” -> English “plate”

The Key image comes from foreign Word: a bank teller
The Location comes from the definition: restaurant (since you can find many plates there)

Now he places the key image into the location, and the key image is also interacting with the definition, so the bank teller is counting piles of money on a very large plate.

My native language is English already, however, I would love to apply this approach towards memorizing an English dictionary, like Websters for example.

If any of you have seen the video of Ed Cooke interviewing Dr. Yip Swee Chooi, you’ll know what I mean.

I think I get the reasoning behind Dominic generating location from the definition, it’s so you can work from the definition back to the foreign word, and also group sets of words based on meanings, grammar, etc.

But what about Yip’s approach, in his case, he has a location (filled with individual loci) that corresponds to each single page of the dictionary. And, as far as I can tell, his approach is more like a traditional memory palace, in that it is ordered. Frankly, I’m shocked that he has so many memory palaces, and has well-defined orders for them.

I think the longest memory palace I’ve got features about 100 loci… (sigh), which (unless I tried to encode multiple words into a single loci, which I hesitate to do) would only net me a measly 100 words.

Another problem I have with Dominic’s approach is that, for a great deal of definitions, I can’t seem to generate or find a location that is vivid enough. Let me give you an example, the word “queenfish”, which is defined as: A blue and silver fish which lives in the shallow waters off the coast of California.

Now naturally, the definition being that it is a kind of fish, I could easily pick a location for this particular fish, an aquarium, the ocean, etc. However, even though I have been to an aquarium before, I don’t really have any strong visual recollections of it. So when I put the key image into the aquarium, it’s really an aquarium in the abstract sense of the word, which I’m pretty sure is a no-no. And this is going to sound absurd, but the closest thing I have to a visual image of an aquarium is a random episode of the Simpsons where Homer Simpsons is fighting with a friend of Barts at a SeaWorld type amusement park.

And what happens when I encounter other fish words in the dictionary, I’m afraid of putting them in the same aquarium(or Simpsons episode aquarium).

As silly as it may sound, I have a ton of rich imagery from cartoons, fantasy movies, which could fit the bill for being locations, heck, I’ve seen so many episodes of the Simpsons, that I could probably conjure up an associative visual image for almost any potential definition. However, I’m a little apprehensive of making use of virtual locations, not to mention multiple different virtual locations(like one from Lord of the Rings, one from Simpsons, etc etc)

I know that Dominic places all his foreign words in a single city, but this just seems impossible for me. I live in an extremely urban environment, where, unfortunately, many of the buildings are highly uniform in their construction, making finding distinct markers somewhat difficult.

So what do you guys think? Any pointers about memorizing words and definitions? Any ideas about this? Again, this is for a standard English dictionary, no foreign languages/no translations involved.

I forgot to mention, Dominic also has a suggestion for memorizing Trivial Pursuit questions which is similar to his foreign language approach except for one minor difference, instead of letting the definition dictate the location, the location is determined by the question itself.

I presume this is because the trivial pursuit questions are always asked in “question to answer” order, thus it’s only important to go one-way, and retrieve the answer to the question.

However, for this English dictionary memorization project, I’m also interested in effectively only going one-way in terms of information retrieval. I want to be able to hear the english word, and then spit out a definition.

Do you think it would be advantageous to use the English word itself to suggest the place?

Basically, it comes down to two examples for me:(I’ll use the queenfish again as my example)

Word: Queenfish
Definition: A blue and silver fish which lives in the shallow waters off the coast of California

Dominic O’Brian Foreign Language Approach

Key location(based on definition): Lives in the water, I’m going to use a lake where I used to go swimming near my university campus
Key imagery: The Queen of England’s royal coach is partially submerged in the water, the queen steps out and is soaked by the cold waters, her body is bruised as fish keep ramming her in the water, for some reason on the coach’s gilded side, I can see a HOLLYWOOD sign, which reminds me of California.

Dominic o’Brian Trivial Pursuit Approach:
Key location(based on word): Buckingham Palace
Key imagery: The Queen of England doesn’t understand why her fish are so depressed(BLUE) even though she keeps dumping silver coins in the tank to feed them. She even gave them a miniature version of the Golden Gate bridge which is submerged inside the tank.

What do you guys think? Which approach would you recommend?


Another idea to find a location for fish is to go to a pet store, aquarium, fish pond, a fish store, or restaurant where the fish swim around in large tanks. :slight_smile:

I haven’t tried it, but it might work. Ben Pridmore uses a lot of cartoons and he is one of the best memorizers in the world.

You would probably only need a few locations to start with:
a couple of parks
a couple of food markets

Word: Queenfish
Definition: A blue and silver fish which lives in the shallow waters off the coast of California

If I were just placing images arbitrarily (not in a city), I might use the location (California) as the location… though I don’t know if it would be the best way.

I would do something like: the Queen is in a bright blue mermaid dress (fish) and silver chain mail bikini. The dress is inflated and she is floating around in the air on a string like a balloon. The floating queen is attached to the Hollywood, California sign by a string.

Thanks Josh, I appreciate the advice. Yeah, that’s a good idea about going out to find some new locations.

What do you think about mixing locations? I mean like using more than one city for a single language? For example, I have a bunch of non-overlapping locations if I used Taipei (current location) and my old university campus.

As long as it works for you, I don’t think that there would be a problem. Two locations in one town should be the same (mentally) as two locations in separate towns.

Taipei should be great for memory journeys: temples, MRT stations, night markets. You could eat your way through a night market stand-by-stand – the weirdest stuff possible so the loci would never be forgotten. :slight_smile:

One spot for fish (and a huge memory journey in general) would be around Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (below)…


I’ve used multiple cities before for words. I actually used them in order to separate genders, as well as verbs from nouns. It always worked very well for me. For French, in fact, I have used my home, Ahmeek, my high school town, Calumet, Escanaba, Marquette, Kinross, Albion, and the roads in between these places. I’ve also used animated images and scenes with success. The most important aspect of memorizing with mnemonics (I find, anyway) is having a consistent approach and a consistent practice.

I’m currently memorizing a Latin-English dictionary at the back of my Latin textbook. I just got through the A’s. To memorize it, I’m going on a rambling journey through my hometown, using a separate house for each of the first two letters of words (The first house contains all words starting with ‘ab’, the second with ‘ac’, the third with ‘ad’, etc.) I like this approach because your images can be more ambiguous – you have more creative room with them. For example, I use the image of a black Sid the Sloth (from Ice Age) for both ‘ad’ and ‘at’. (In my system, a->0=s; d->1=d/t) It’s a memorable image, and the order of the words prevents me from misinterpreting the handle. In my opinion, the more order you can impose upon your system while still preserving its memorable qualities, the better.

And you don’t necessarily have to know a location intimately to use it. Obviously I have not been inside all of the houses in my hometown, but if I don’t know what they look like inside I make it up. It has worked for me so far.

For “queenfish”, I would have the following: A female fish (from The Little Mermaid or Finding Nemo), dressed up in the Copper King’s uniform (my old high school’s mascot – the colors are silver and blue, with a crown of copper), tackling Katy Perry (dressed up with her daisy dukes – California Girls.) I would place the image somewhere between “queen” and “queer”, and probably in a shallow pool or pond. (Perhaps a kiddy pond.)

Moeris, what do you mean when you say “In my system, a->0=s; d->1=d/t”?

I think he is referring to the Major System. :slight_smile:

Hi,this is also my question,thanks