Looking at learning languages via mnemonics as a whole

What are your thoughts about learning languages via mnemonics as a whole?

Not an expert, I’m afraid. But there are some good threads on this forum where people have shared their different strategies in learning languages. I’d recommend reading a few.

A general caution when using these techniques. We’re all different, and some mnemonic techniques work better than others with a person. In other words, they’re a better ‘fit’ with your capabilities and personality. Invest a little time in each technique and see how it works with you. There is a time investment. First in finding loci and next journeys. But you don’t want to travel too far with a technique that’s not working.

In languages. The first is difficult. But once the techniques are mastered . . . .adaptable to any European language.

I believe a general feel of the grammar is important. Most importantly the terminology, the jargon. Next, how it’s different to your native tongue. In other words a feel for the logic of the second language. After that it’s a matter of vocabulary building, using it, and listening to it.

Language learning is a repetition based exercise. Mnemonics might help to pin unfamiliar words in short term memory for practice. But you still need to practice to shift it to long term memory. Sites like Memrise are useful for that.

Good luck.

Everybody is different, but this is how I learn a language. The following is based on personal experience. Your experience might be different.

First part. In this part I try to learn about 3000 words as fast as possible. I use a combination of books, spreadsheets and mnemonics. Next to that I use spaced repetition. The best software for this imho is Anki.

Why 3000 words? From that point on you can read websites in the language and infer the words that you don’t know from the context of the story. I then start to read the newspapers on a daily basis.
Google Chrome can automatically translate pages. Try to read a page, then translate it and see what you missed. The words I miss I add to the spreadsheet. Automatic translation might be off too btw.
If you don’t use Chrome, use Google translate.

Spreadsheets. I make a long list of words that I am learning. One column native, the other foreign.
I make one column as wide as the screen on my smartphone, and use fir rehearsing. From the spreadsheet I upload words to Anki.

Mnemonics. I use them only for difficult words. I do not put them in a memory palace. I only create a link from native to foreign and back.
I do not use mnemonics for grammar. I find that I can easily remember grammar. Maybe this is because I learned Latin in high school. But because of this I never use mnemonics for grammar.

More tips.
I tried Rosetta Stone, but this is way too slow for my taste.
Make friends who are native in that language. They can help you and thus speeds up learning.
Also check or Memrise.com

The Memoriser.

Kinma was one of a few key posters I read when I started learning a language, I respect his advice.

But . . .as we both said, ‘Everyone is different’. I noticed that Kinma had learnt Latin. Ive read elsewhere that learning the grammar and the jargon was more useful than learning the language. Why? Grammar and jargon is useful across all languages, including your native one. How to parse, what is an adverb, what is a dependent clause etc That’s a transferable skill set.
There is a method I’ve come across recently called the Dowling Method - basically a brute force memorizing technique. Mnemonics isn’t mentioned, but it drastically simplifies how to approach grammar. Worth a read.

You can skip the next paragraph as it gets a bit tedious, but it is illustrative. Getting the mnemonics right and getting enough of a linguistic toolkit to transition to the next phase.

I’m learning Latin. The jargon was the hardest. Been worthwhile though. I’ve relearnt or properly learnt material from my schoolboy English. I used palaces to learn 450 Latin words and found Latin to English easy, English to Latin difficult - an example where we’re all different. Using the palace technique I can drill through the Memrise lessons quite easily. I pinpointed prepositions, conjunctions and adverbs to be the most difficult - I put those into a couple of huts in my memory town and used a phonetic system on the English side. This seems clumsy, but Latin uses several words that in English we use one ie Esti, quaquam= for, quia = because and quod = because/ (as to) the fact that. In some cases the English definition is exactly the same,uses the same words but the word order is different. By phoneticising or using acronyms on the English side, I can keep the English word order in place and to recall the differences. I used similar techniques on declensions and conjugations. Basically, Through trial and error and seeing what was hard, what stuck and what didn’t. Notice I haven’t mentioned nouns, verbs or adjectives - these are the easiest to remember using a PAO system, straightforward one to one recall. Clear images.

For reference. I use memory room and the Major system - 0 to 99. I colour each room. I pack rooms into part of a town - in my case a Roman town. Difficult words are put into Anki and drilled out.

I believe you need to achieve some sort of critical mass with languages in pure memory work. After that it’s reading, writing and accumulating new words as you go. This is where exposure to native speakers and the written word comes in. . . . .repetition and processing. You can start podcasts when ever you like.

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It also depends on if you want it to learn just passively (you ‘‘know’’ the language, I can read, I am able to understand some difficult words and texts) or actively (speak it, write some article). It also matters if you learn just one foreign language or more at the same time. I can recommend you e.g. prof. Arguelles on youtube or Glossika. They could help you with some questions. Basically it’s all about hard work. In my opinion mnemotechnics are more suitable for passive knowledge. You’re going to remember language but then it’s much more hard using the language e.g. for speaking it. Here are some videos that maybe could help you a little bit. Some of them are maybe out of topic but could be useful too.


When you are studying grammar you should look for patterns instead of memorizing grammar rules . What I found useful was to find a conversational booklet … and take the examples from there and try to reconstruct my own sentences based on those sentences that are in the book without memorizing anything . That way I just get the feel of the grammar .

You need to watch a lot of movies , documentaries , radio and stuff like that to get use to hearing someone speak .

So you basically need input and output .

Also build your vocabulary from the most common words . That way you won’t waste time to understand basic conversation .

Grammar is boring. Fact of live.
However you will speed up learning a lot if you know the grammar of a language. You will be able to analyze your mistakes and thus be more productive when you learn.

Grammar tells you how to construct a sentence.
‘I bought a house’ is a normal sentence and you understand it immediately.
‘I house a bought’ sounds stupid.
Other languages build sentences in ways different from English.
So it pays to know these differences.
It helps to avoid mistakes.

People will tell you that it is possible to learn a language by not knowing the grammar. This might even be true. Rosetta Stone works like that. It works, but it was way too slow for my taste.

However this forum deals with learning quickly. Grammar is such a huge building block that you will lose too much valuable time not knowing it.

As long as you find this boring mnemonics will not help you.
You cannot make a boring thing interesting by using mnemonics.

As for not knowing what verbs are and what nouns are. You do actually know what these are. You might not know the terms but you do know how to use them.
‘Verbs’ are actions that you can do.
Any word that you can put ‘to’ in front of, is probably a verb. To do, to swim, to read, etc.
Any word that you can locate, point at, is probably a noun.
If you can put ‘a’ in front of it, it is likely a noun.
‘A house’, ‘a car’, ‘a mouse’.
Do not tell me this is difficult.

One house, two houses.
If you want to explain a foreigner how a noun changes when you have not one, but two of them you tell him/her that you add an ‘s’.
‘Mouse’ is different. Mouse-mice is irregular.
So first you need to know the rule, then you need to learn the exceptions if you want to become proficient.

Of course if you talk about ‘two mouses’, people will understand, but you will sound like a foreigner.

Imagine you are the foreigner. You have the option of learning all plural forms one by one or you have the option of learning the grammar rule for building a plural. What is quicker, learning thousands of plural forms or just one rule with a couple of exceptions?
The choice is yours, it always is, but I hope you see how much time you can save by learning grammar.

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Some knowledge of grammar jargon is necessary. The important ones like nouns, verbs and adjectives. These make up the vast amount of a vocabulary list. The logic of a sentence can be learnt by studying samples - its been done, it’s how children acquire language before learning to read and write. There are sites and studies where adults have got a working knowledge simply by drilling on a few books. The other is where they have picked it up by ear.

It’s a old argument as to what’s best. The consensus is that a variety of approaches should be tried, until one clicks. You can learn a language without becoming literate in it. You can be literate without speaking it. It depends.

Historically. Drilling and mnemonics seem to go together. Learning the alphabet is rote learning. How some words end are taught by rote, rhyme and mnemonics. Its the whole premise of Sesame Street, and it’s interesting to see how the same three things are employed but disguised as play.

The Memoriser wrote :

“Without being able to visit the various places, I think it is a mix of the other things really. I imagine that being around native speakers is still the fastest, especially if you learn “How do you say…” and “What is…” first.”

Yep. That’s the easiest way.
First though - listen to any examples of the language. Your brain has to attune itself to the tempo, accents and I guess . . .music of the tongue. Subconsciously you’ll start to hear patterns and your brain will put in scrambled meanings. I used to listen to Dutch broadcasts, couldn’t understand a word . . . .the occasional English word would come through but I found it restful when running. Came in handy when I visited Amsterdam as the Dutch cadence carries through into English.

Anyway you do it, something sticks.

Which language do you want to learn btw?

Dutch is my native tongue. Next to that I speak English fluently, German fluently, fairly proficient in Swedish.
I speak a little French, a little Latin and a little classical Greek. The last ones due to lack of practice.
I can read Norwegian and Danish websites.
I started with Icelandic, but I haven’t gotten far yet.
I can read about 300 Chinese characters.
All language training has stopped for now since my business and my son take up most of my time.

Hello Kinma

I am 77 yers old (not senile) I think or some friends would say so :bigsmile: but struggling with getting the German Language into my memory.

I am completly new to the system of using mnemonics for foreign languages. I myself am studying German and have done so for 3/4 years but I am not making progress with the language because of my memory. I have now adopted the ‘Goldlist method’ of storing words in my long term memory but when it comes to a difficult word to remember I am lost. So I am of the opinion that although the Goldlist method is a sound method and suits me fine I need to adapt the system further. If I say for instance I want to place the german word for responsible = ‘verantwortlich’ into my mind, How on earth do I break the german word down and associate it with responsibility. This is the crutch of my problem.

I wonder if there is a list of mnemonics used for german words, There usually is for everything else

It becomes worse with words using prefixes such as ‘aufgeweckt’ = bright, quick, smart. If the word is reasonable to be used with association such as ‘der Arbeitgeber’. I can visulize a Man with his hand outstretched with the words “do you want work” or similar and that is OK.

Have you any tips please.

I hope this message gets through as I am new to the system of Forums. Shows how desperate I have become although it may be enjoyable once I get used to it.

ver- ant - vortlich . ver sounds like fur in english
ant - the little insect
wortlich - sounds like word

Imagine some ant being responsible by doing homework with it’s body covered in expensive fur , and reciting homework word for word .

It is not perfect of course , and you must not search for perfection because you can;t achieve it . You try … some words will stick , some won’t , and you need to repeat them or search for another association more reliable


auf= out
ge = I image my dad ( HIs name is George )
Wekt - awake

So I imagine my dad woken up after sleeping in the grass outside , and he has a revelation after being hit by a graduation hat .

Again , not perfect . The problem is I think , people look for perfection when using this system and get frustrated .

Best of luck !!

Hi Darrol!

How many words do you think you know?
I am trying to assess your German proficiency.

With a lot of German words, I would break them down etymologically. Verantwortlich contains Antwort. English version of that word is answer. So for me, verantwortlich would be linked to answerable. Which is similar to responsible. Of course, if a response is an answer, then responsible is answerable.
The reason this works better for me is that this way I remember the etymological root of the word.

Look at this page for a while and you will understand why answer and Antwort are the same word:

Of course if you do not see that the root of verantwortlich is Antwort you can always use the breakdown of
fur-ant-word-ly. This works, because fur and ant are easily visual.

If you cannot come up with roots, try Google Translate:
Translate gives a lot of synonyms, which might help remember.

I do not know any. I also would not use them for it kills creativity.

Wecken, as well as aufwecken means to rise (in the morning) or to wake up.
Aufgeweckt literally means woken up. I would think of the sun waking me up in a bright morning sunlight.

See also:
Again, the synonyms help, a lot.

Some general tips. Try to read German newspapers like:

If you use Google Chrome as your browser it can translate full pages.
This is a great feature. Try to read a news paper story in German, translate it to see if you understood it well, then try to remember the words you did not get.
Machine translation is sometimes off, so do not depend on it too much.

Hope that helps.


Thanks for your comments:

Re the question of my knowledge of German. I should imagine I know approx. 1000 words in German and possibly more. These range from the word ‘gut’ to ‘abeitgeber’ etc etc. and even words like ‘verantwortlich’. But I have to think and they do not come out spontaneously. To some extent it is like most of us with our own language who fumble for words in open conversation.

Example: I have lived in Shropshire for several years and pass through a village call ‘Lebotswood’ several times a week and over the last 12 years have never been able to remember the damn word. So I devised last year a mnemonic comprised of a “friend of mine called Len, sitting on his bottom, in a wood: Lenbottomwood” = Lebotswood. I now never struggle for this word.

So this brings me to the question of applying difficult words with prefixs etc etc. Nouns are reasonable such as for example die Armbanduhr (en) = wristwatch or die/der Arzthelfer-in = medical assistant etc. Adjectives can be difficult as can the verbs also with prefixes. You may know the meaning of the prefix but this is not necessarily applicable as you will appreciate. However thank you Ginel for your suggestions which I wll look at and try out. It appears to me that if there enough people interested it would be worth trying to put together difficult words and applying mnemonics to them.

I enjoyed reading the comments. If I come up with further words I will write again.

Many Thanks

I have also read the various comments re ‘grammer’ and I don’t know how you can learn a language without at least understanding how the language is framed with the position of verbs and the PP of the verbs and their irregular form.

However back to my word lists and trying to use mnenomics with the difficult ones ( and easy ones I suppose) Thank you for your help to date.

Darroll … I am struggling with German for 2 years now . I have a very bad memory . Also I was a bit lazy and did only reading and learning new words for the majority of the way . BUT it is said that you need around 5 years to learn German if you study at home. People who want to do it in 3 months are kidding themselves I think ( There are advertisements that claim you can do it in 3 months or 21 days, I don’t think you can get very good in 3 months , only the basic conversation meaning memorized sentences from the conversational booklet. Your mind won’t be flexible enough to go where it wants to go ) .

I became a bit better at understanding the language after I start looking at documentaries downloaded from this site :


Also this guy seems to know what he is talking about . Has excellent advice :

He says that you don’t need to get frustrated by the vocabulary … just do a bit each day , and don’t try to rush things .

Also I think the best exercise you can do to learn better is to take a conversational booklet and try to construct your own sentences based on the correct sentences that are written in the booklet .

For example , from Italian :
Spero che il treno non arrivi in ritardo

Now you try to change a bit this sentence and construct a new sentence with some other words in it

Spero che l’arbitro ha sospeso l’atacante della squadra

So you keep something from the original sentence , and try to construct another sentence by adding words from different sentences from the booklet or better yet words that you already know . That way your mind will become flexible enough to construct it’s own sentences that are correct . So in this matter you will be exercising grammar as well as repeating vocabulary . You will force yourself to think of words that can work in the sentence that you want to create . :slight_smile:

I know you said you are 77 years old . But you cannot master a language so quickly if you don’t live in the country . Being exposed to the language each day and forced to speak it is what gets the job done . Don’t get discouraged … you will get there . You must enjoy the process of learning languages and not think about it like a big mountain you need to climb.

Best of luck !!


I take your point:

So you keep something from the original sentence , and try to construct another sentence by adding words from different sentences from the booklet or better yet words that you already know . That way your mind will become flexible enough to construct it’s own sentences that are correct . So in this matter you will be exercising grammar as well as repeating vocabulary . You will force yourself to think of words that can work in the sentence that you want to create .<<<<

I like this aproach and will try it.

I spend an enormous ammount of time on German as it is my hobby and I feel within two years I should have a good working and usable knowledge of it. I generally go to Germany/Austria each year and am due in March again. Whenever I do go I use as much Deutsch as I can and I usually get a good response: ie “Sie spechen gut Deutsch” I know I don’t but by March I must have an ability to speak more generally. AS I say I work quite hard and I have a German Teacher who I meet each week on skype although i do break this down to Grammer (in particular: ‘cases’) and a short essay freely done. I will try your approach here.


I do use google but I probably do not have your knowledge re ;roots’ although I understand were you are coming from.
I will take this on board.

I must however give my system a reasonable try, which is to use the Goldlist method interlinked with mnemonics (now) and persist with this for the next two/three months. I will also think of the root. For instance : beabsichtigen = to intend. ’ A bee attending an abscess drinking Gin’ (not quite intendbut…)A bit childish but it gives me a chance. (how on earth would I look for a root with this word As I have only recently started the Goldlist method (upto 2100 words, target 4000)

Your Google method

intend wollen, beabsichtigen, vorhaben, bestimmen, vorsehen, meinen
mean bedeuten, meinen, heißen, sagen, bezeichnen, beabsichtigen

propose vorschlagen, beantragen, beabsichtigen, gedenken, einbringen, anregen
purpose beabsichtigen

set out aufbrechen, aufstellen, ausziehen, ausführen, ausrücken, beabsichtigen

destine bestimmen, vorsehen, beabsichtigen.

Interesting, but I don’t see how how some of the words link int 'intend.

Many thanks however both of you for your help.

You have a German teacher. While grammar is important, just try to speak as much German as possible.
For now forget the cases and genders. In the beginning they will slow you down to a speed where you cannot create sentences anymore.

So if you want to say ‘Ich spreche die deutsche Sprache’ and you forgot whether it is ‘die sprache’ or ‘der sprache’, just say Ich spreche d… deutsche Sprache’.
Why is this important?
First it will tell your mind that it is ok to make mistakes.
Second it will let you focus on speaking and recalling words fast enough to create sentences.
In other words, focus on speaking and keeping a level of flow of words.

If you are going to Germany/Austria, make friends. Get them to meet on Skype you after the trip.
In other words create more time with German speakers (without breaking the bank).

If you have a level of proficiency speaking it is a lot easier to buy German books and listening to the language.
Then, by reading and listening to native speakers you will correct your grammar mistakes.

As with your example of ‘beabsichtigen’, the root in that word is absicht, which means purpose or intend.
Ask your German teacher to create a special lesson for creating verbs out of nouns.
This will help a lot with words like beabsichtigen.

Long story short, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and you will speed up learning a lot!

BTW I just want to say that I think that it is great that you at 77 ares till learning.
I think a lot of people can take example from you!

I came across this Ted-talk about leaning languages, which has great tips:

I am not expert … I speak only three languages.

I am sorry I came a little late into this thread, but I just discovered it yesterday. The last post came a little over 100 days ago. I read all the 28 comments.

I am surprised that speaking about language acquisition, nobody spoke about fluency.

We all know that four-year-young children all over the world are fluent with a small vocabulary, no matter which is the language they speak.

I believe that getting fluent … able to speak a language, is the most important part … and we can get that with a small vocabulary … if we can learn the most common words in the language we are studying. Later there is time to improve that vocabulary by using mnemonics, or simple using the language … same as we did with our first (native) language.

I can only provide sites for two of my languages:

The more difficult language I learned is English, my third language. The Voice of America has “Special English” at


or search for “Special English”.

They use a 1500-word vocabulary, an improvement over the 850 words from the original “Basic English” (Charles K. Ogden 1930), read by people with very good pronunciation at 80% of regular speed. Try to immitate the sound and the intonation of those speakers.

VOA Special English Word Book, 1,510 Words

My second language is the easiest of them all: Esperanto. Learning the easiest language first is the more efficient way to learn other languages. Learning Esperanto you will learn grammar without effort, knowledge that you can apply to other languages, including your native language.

An Esperanto basic course … less than 20 hours to learn most of the grammar and about 500 words:


The list of the 1000 more used Esperanto words (word-roots):


Clicking any word will give its meaning … in Esperanto, with a translation (tradukoj) to other languages at the end of the page. The English translation is the first, under “anglaj”.

The magazine “Kontakto” is written using only those words. You can find some issues at:


Why Esperanto ? 20 Reasons to learn and use Esperanto


Watch an animation-video to learn Esperanto:


You can search for word lists of the language you are studying.
Try to start with sentences instead of words.

My first language is Spanish.