Am I wasting my time?

This may seem to be an odd question to ask on here. But I am hoping to get people’s perspectives on here who have used memory palaces and mnemonics to learn languages. I have been studying a language for 6 months now but about a month ago I discovered the wonders that mnemonics and memory palaces can do. After reading some books I decided to start a project of adding every vocabulary word in my flashcards into memory palaces with different mnemonics to memorize the words. This, without a doubt, helps but I am finding it to be extremely time-consuming. It takes me an hour to add mnemonics for maybe 20 or 30 flashcards. Is this about the same amount of time it takes for you all to make mnemonics for vocabulary words? And the other question and the most important one is, how useful do you think this is really? I tried learning a very difficult language a few years ago and failed because I couldn’t learn enough vocabulary. Do you think this is really much more of an improvement for memorizing vocabulary when compared to just writing the words down? I’d like to hear what people think about mnemonics and their effectiveness with vocabulary long term specifically.


Mnemonics is the best way to learn a new language.

I also advise you to read about Dominic O’Brien’s method for learning languages. He appeals to me the most.


Please elaborate more on this point, on what you’re doing. At least for me, depending on the language, it shouldn’t take too much time.
I think your problem maybe on your algorithm of memorization or your psychology to the gist itself. Maybe you want super duper vivid striking complex images, as that’s one of the most given unnecessary advises.

There are so many ways to implement mnemonics that it could be paralyzing if you’re not seriously committed.

Summary of my methods:

Method 1 - Based on resource

  • Get recourse, follow all instructions, memorize everything that’s not easily memorable. Memorize vocabulary, but don’t worry to recall them later. The goal of this method is to create adaptation to the language as soon as possible. Whatever your resource is start with the pronunciation rules and alphabet or syllabary, get yourself able to read words even without knowing the meaning.

Method 2 - Base dictionary of images

  • You must create a dictionary of images for words in any language you speak well. This dictionary can be of two ways: personal interest or usefulness interest. Personal interest, start with all the words about topics you want to speak right away. Example: you want a foreign partner, you want to speak with a niche community, you want to expat. All these words, should be selected by you after making a serious analysis of the things you would like to talk. Usefulness, this almost like Method 1, if you have a resource with vocabulary and basic things, make your dictionary. The amount of words, could range between 200-500. More words, it’s not needed. The point of this method is acquire enough of the language to later learn by adaptation and relationships.

Method 3 - Universal Dictionary of Images for Language Acquisition

  • Considering you want to learn many languages seriously and fast. You must increase the level of maturity of your dictionary but it can take many paths:
    1. A dictionary of images (doi) for definitions. Useful enough to read a word in a dictionary of definitions and by following up, you can learn the definition of words. This means you go will decide to read, maybe the same set of words, and always learn them in the native languages. Meaning the keyword method, substitution method of memorization of foreign language words, should only be use to the based dictionary. For instance, you learn the first 500 carefully selected words and then you read, the rest of the worst by context and dictionary of definitions. New words, will be learn either without mnemonics or like you would memorize text in your native language.
    2. A doi based on grammar. Consider you want to learn Slavic languages, all of them. They all share similarities, then start by learn the grammatic origins of the root language: East Slavic or Slavic itself, depending on what you want. The basic notions of this method, I don’t know it all. Consider reading Boris Sidis and his wife’s works about teaching and the alleged way they taught William Sidis, languages. I include this method here, because it goes by using a base purely memorized with mnemonics (not Sidis’ works), but this base is to be a central part of a family of target languages.

Method 4 - Based Image Stories

  • This method entails creating an story with carefully selected words, modes of speech and all the gramatical accidents known of your normal speaking or your known speaking. For instance in Spanish many phrases can be said that in Russian, although the words exist and the modes and gramatical accidents exists, rarely people use those to say the same. Some languages don’t have certain words or grammatical logic to say the same thing and yet having a based image of the target expression you want to speak, these you won’t use. Algorithmic variations:
    1. Create three stories in past, present and future tense. Insert all the grammatical moods you care to use: indicative, interrogative, imperative, subjunctive, injunctive, optative, and potential. Advice: don’t. Make your base dictionary on your preferred ways of expression. Though if you wish to increase your verbal witty, then be my guess.
    2. Instead of stories, poems.

Method 5 - Practical Sentences

  • Like method 4, create a set of sentences like the Tim Ferris phrases. I like this method, you end up learning how to speak and understand quickly, however it could have the weakness of not learning all the caveats of the grammatical rules. However, why would you like to know grammar in depth? (ironic :D). You can have your own algorithm, here’s an example real quick:
    • New word. What is this word? Verb, noun, adjective… O is a verb? Then replace verb from base sentences and apply the rest. And visualize the based sentences with the new word.

Method recommendation: 1 and 5.

Very useful to use mnemonics. Again, I recommend you to get resources for your language, preferably free ones. For the most spoken languages, there are many. Get the resource and apply mnemonics asap.

If it is one language, you can still learn a language fast without mnemonic, you just need the learning resource and consistency.
Do mnemonics aid? Consider you NEED to learn many facts, really fast, what would you do? Read and read or listen and listen, and hope it sticks. It doesn’t matter how you look at it, something will be forgotten. You use mnemonics, you know you know… you check on your mind and wait, it’s there. Then you feel like a lot of time has elapsed since your memorized it, then you check on your mind and hurray! it’s there!

Yes. Mnemonics, visual ones, no, more specifically, the art of memory, that is, working against the rote memorization but active use of your imagination, in whatever fashion and the use of places as a the reference of all.

Now, again. You need consistency and the learning resource. What languages are you learning and what’s your base language?


A language comes down to actually using it and being exposed to it. Use techniques where you need them but you shouldn’t need to write all your images or palaces out and just have them in your head because writing what you are picturing uses a lot of time.


I am learning Latin, my base language in English. For memorizing vocabulary I have something like 12 memory palaces, each contains a type of speech and each room/place within the palace has a general “genre” or category of the type of speech. For example, I use one of my old houses for first declension nouns. One place is dedicated to animals, one place is dedicated to types of places, the other is dedicated to items, etc. I will determine if nouns are feminine, masculine, or neuter by having the character in the mnemonic be that gender (or for neutral I use fantasy creatures). I will take the stressed syllable of the word, find something that sounds like the stressed syllable or a character whose name reminds me of the stressed syllable and have that character do something memorable that also lets me know what the meaning of the word is. I will usually look at the other syllables in the word and add that in as well.

If I can give an embarrassing example of how I learned the word “cognosco” which means “I learn” here is what I did. I found the stressed syllable, “nos” and thought of the word “nose” I figured out that the word was a 3rd conjugation verb so I put it where the other ones are and in the room where “intellectual acts” are. I imagined a giant nose that was floating in the air, and then imagined cogs coming out of the nose and entering my mind, spinning and making me learn all of the knowledge that could be learned. Now, this is very memorable of course and I don’t think I will ever forget what the word “cognosco” means. But this probably took me 2 or 3 minutes to come up with. I hope I am doing this right and this isn’t making it too overcomplicated.

As for what else I am doing. I am taking a class that teaches me the grammar, and learn the vocabulary that comes along with this, I am also reading what I can and am going to start listening to some more stuff as well. But I am also using flash cards for vocabulary where I list the word on front and the translation and mnemonic on the back.

Do you have any advice based on this method that I am using?


The easiest way to cut down on time is to reserve this approach for words that aren’t etymologically obvious. If your first language is English, it shouldn’t be that hard to see that cognoscere is used in incognito, recognize, and cognitive. If you happen to know any French, they still use connaître as a verb on a daily basis.

About half the words in English come from either Latin or French, so generally I’d check there first if I were you. (Most French words have Latin origin as well.)

Words that you want to have mnemonics for are words like fenestra where the English word window has nothing to do with the Latin word. Unless of course you know any French or German, etc. where that’d be fenêtre or Fenster, respectively.




My thought is:

If you believe it is a timewaste, yes it is a timewaste.

So stop thinking like that and change the system till you start believe that it is worth the time.


You are very new to the world of mnemonics! So,of course, it will take a lot of time for you to encode data for using as mnemonics!!!

What makes you think just by using a Memory Palace, you can convert and store anything within seconds!?!?!

Mnemonics is a skill,and like all other skills,it takes time to master the skill of mnemonics!

Speed comes from a lot of deliberate practice! Practice requires a lot of time,efforts and motivation!


About the times it takes you, I don’t think 2 or 3 minutes is bad. A word could take you an instant, another 10 seconds and another you would simply have to force but when you realize you’re not inspired you already wasted time thinking of an image. You could make a personal algorithm depending on the kinds of words you find.

Do you deal with verbs as you do with nouns? and nouns as with adjectives? These gramatical categories by themselves already have types or kinds and you could see that there are difference that apply to the visuals.

Typically we are advise to come up with a connotational image, most of the time, a visual one. Connotation does not matter, if you’re going to review within your mind. With this I say, try vague images instead, and focus on speeding up your associations.

My algorithm of review (or my association creation):

  1. Depending on the target idea or information, create an image for a word:
    A. If it is an object or set of, I visualize such.
    B. If the word is abstract but relatable to objects. I use a connotational image of an object.
    C. If it is abstract non relatable, I imagine anything pretty to visualize and force an association between abstract idea and this visual.
    D. Sometimes I don’t do C, but I compound an image of the abstract idea, this may come in handy for foreign words that keyword methods and substitution method make seem tedious to use.
  2. Associate the image with the idea.
  3. Review your association on the little context of it.
  4. Select your mental spot and insert the image.
  5. Review your image on the spot. (Sometimes I keep memorizing more and then get back and review)

Recommendations: force more your imagination, but FOCUS on your associative power and speeding this up. Instead of having an image for one word, let it be a compound image for many words preferably related.


Have a look at Tim Ferriss’ tips. He has a thing about 10 questions and then I think 5000 words as the basic in learning a language.

If you get a dictionary that is organized by topics, such as: clothing, farm work, tools, real estate, etc. then you can create a story that uses blocks of these words. I found that to be useful for learning various classes of nouns. Of course in your story you can also bring in colors and certain verbs. I found that heterogeneous lists was too dull to keep my attention. For language learning, the most important thing is sticking to the task. I have applied the story method in French (C1), Spanish (B2-C1), Dutch (B1-B2), and German (A2-B1).


I have just started learning about memorization techniques about a month ago so I am a real newbie so take the following suggestion with that in mind. I have recently begun studying Spanish. I use a program called Flashcard Hero to create my vocabulary flashcards (and I use Duolingo for online study). What I am doing is using a mental image only for my vocabulary memorization - no memory palace. For example, if I want to learn the word “suitcase” which is “la maleta” I create a visual in my mind, no memory palace. I create a mental image of a suitcase overflowing with mail/letters. (“mail - letters” sounds like “maleta”). I guess that I could add “mail-letters” to my written flashcard, but I do not because seeing “maleta” is enough to bring up the image of a suitcase overflowing with mail and letters. By creating wild images of what the Spanish word sounds like, I am finding it sufficient to help my memorization greatly. Also, one other visual cue that I am using - a hat and an arrow. This suitcase that is overflowing with mail/letters has an arrow sticking through it. Any image that has an arrow is a masculine noun. If the noun is feminine, there is a huge hat included in my mental image. Again, this is from someone who has only learned a little bit about memorization tools…but it works OK for me and it makes creating flashcard very fast - just type the two words on the card.

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I’m going to give what might be a controversial opinion based on the comments above. :slight_smile:

Learning languages is one of the cases where mnemonics CAN be a big waste of time. Especially mnemonics using words you already know.

Imagine you are learning French. And for every French word you associate with English words to learn it. But how did you know all those English words? With Mnemonics? No, you just know them! So instead of:

Brain → French

Now you’re trying to do:

Brain → English → French

This can slow down both memorization and recall. So in summary, mnemonics aren’t a silver bullet for learning languages.

Here is a tip to learn a language. Relax, learn words in context, speak and converse. Every day note how many minutes you spent speaking that language, and think of every way you can to increase that metric. You will become fluent. :slight_smile:

I agree with @jamjams. If your goal is memorize vocabulary, then spending a lot of time encoding flashcards can be a good investment. Unfortunately there is heavy inertia in the way that languages are taught with too much emphasis on vocabulary memo and grammar and not nearly enough on true communication. The answer also depends on your language goals. You might check out Stephen Krashen’s work on second language acquisition and comprehensible input to get a flavor of more contemporary methods.