Memorizing Toki Pona - several questions about practical language memorizing!

I’ve recently discovered the artificial language “Toki Pona” and I think it’s a great way to practice using memory techniques for a language. I’ve dabbled with the memory town system in the past for simple vocabulary in other languages, but I tried making a more formal and complete memory palace for Toki Pona since it has such a small vocabulary vocabulary. I ran into several problems:

  1. How to memorize words with multiple meanings?
    Since TP has such a small vocabulary, most words have multiple meanings. For example “ilo” can mean “tool”, “machine”, “device”, or even “computer” in different contexts. I was able to remember this through repeated practice, but if I was having trouble how could I do this?

The above words are all semantically similar, but in other languages there are completely unrelated homonyms and homophones. In English “park” can mean a big grassy field (noun) or something you do with a car (verb). “Band” is a group that makes music or a loop of cloth. How do we deal with homonyms and homophones in memory palaces?

  1. How to memorize prepositions and other very abstract words?
    If you search for “abstract” in the forums you find some mention of this, but usually with simpler abstract concepts like “fragile” or “cold”. I don’t have problems making up images for those. But what about these word meanings?
    kepeken = “with”
    sama = “as”
    tan = “by” / “from” / “because”
    tawa = “for” / “to”

Other very abstract meanings that are hard to come up with images for:
seme = “what”
ni = “this”/“that”
anu = “or”

I think meanings like this would be difficult to create images for in any language. How do you create imagery for your memory palace with the words in quotes above?

  1. How do you create links to short words in the foreign language?
    Suppose I was making my memory palace alphabetically. The first word in Toki Pona is “a”, which is an emotional word applying emphasis. My mental image for this is an exclamation mark. But how do I make an image for “a” to tie to this to in a memory location?

Here’s another example - further in the memory palace I will have the foreign word “ko”. I guess I could imagine a “koala bear” or a “coke”, but “koala” sounds like it could be Toki Pona word so I worry that such a thing might confuse me.

  1. With a memory town, how to deal with words that have multiple parts of speech?
    In a memory town, the idea is to put words in different areas (or different memory palaces) based on their part of speech. The examples given are usually masculine/feminine, but I think some use this for nouns/adverbs/adjectives also. In Toki Pona, many words are nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Would they get re-used in different parts of the town? Example:
    “lawa” as noun means “head” or “mind”.
    As a verb it means “to control/direct/guide/lead”

“Lawa” reminds me of “lawyer”. In an alphabetical palace, I am back to question #1 (how to deal with homonyms?). If I use a memory town, I could have a lawyer with a giant head in my “noun district” and a lawyer leading a tour group in my “verb district”. Is this common?

Thanks for bearing with me! To be honest, the vocabulary was so simple that I was able to memorize it using a very haphazard memory palace and random linking, but that’s because I’ve been obsessing over it for a few days. I think if I wanted to retain this over long periods with a more structured memory palace I would want to re-organize it, which lead me to the questions above. Thanks for any thoughts you have!


Not sure if this will help as I’ve never heard of Toki Pona.

I’d add the first letter of each meaning to the last letter on “ilo”

ilo | ilot (tool) | ilom (machine) | ilod (device) | iloc | (computer)

Use the usual substitute method;

With Cape&Can
sama = Same | Same As

tan = Than
By Than | From Than | Because Than

tawa = ToWard & ForWard

anu = OrAnge

See the Tie morphed as exclamation. The shape of Tie looks very similar. The neck of a Tie is round, so that’s the Dot part, the body of the tie is the line. Simply hang it onto the location in your palace.

Once you decide what that word will represent as an image, practice a few times, it won’t confuse you. Trust your memory.

Put them into 3 different rooms.

Good luck :slight_smile:

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I wrote this here as part of something else, but it gives a general idea

I was more interested in trying out the idea than I was in learning a new language and Toki Pona fit that bill nicely. It’s a constructed language with a vocabulary of only 120 root words. I grouped the words by their initial letter, picked a few landmarks in town, and went for a walk. The idea with this method is to create memorable images and place them along a route that can later be retrace. All the words starting with “j” for example could be found at Burger King. There was the “jaki” (disgusting, dirty) touchscreen to place an order and the “jelo” (yellow) Fanta that I got instead of my regular Coke.

In fact, memory palaces work quite nicely if you want to quickly learn new vocabulary and you can review anywhere without the need for a book. It’s a great way to get started. Possibly even more so with the help of a frequency dictionary, but ultimately, it’s just a list of words and as far a learning a language merely a first step.

Toki Pona is amazing. The most efficient language in the world AFAIK.

Just to let you know: There are other people’s mnemonics on the Memrise Toki Pona course. Some are OK. Many aren’t well explained. But you’ll get some ideas from there.

I think I used:
anu = Anus > ass > donkey > ‘ee-or’

seme = say me?

ni = “Have you ever seen a zebra go this way or that way?” song > change zebra to the knights who say Ni! from monty python

sama = sama sama from indonesian

kepeken - I think I did something with a woodpecker?

To be honest my skills were really poor when I was trying to learn Toki Pona and it seems I’ve forgotton it all. I hope I’ll revisit one day. it’s good for testing things out

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I have problems memorizing connectors like pronouns, conjunctions, and prepositions. I suggest that you should either see them in context and never see them in an isolate form to avoid confusion or to use more than one spatial location for them, like using multiple memory palaces for single conjunctions. You are not alone. I guess this person commented that special extra memory palaces should be dedicated to connectors in that post: Many(and I mean it) useful tips you need to learn massive vocabulary with Mnemonics. However I am not sure I am right. I won’t read the post again to check it.

Could you please explain what Toki Pona is and how it can help with language learning? I saw the link you sent, but how can I help with language at ALL?

Toki Pona is a “conlang” like Esperanto - an artificial language created with certain constraints. It was intentionally designed to be “minimalist”, with a very small vocabulary and simple set of grammatical rules. What I find interesting from a mnemotechnics viewpoint is that it provides an opportunity to model how to memorize a language. It is possible to completely memorize Toki Pona. This is a pretty simple task for most memory practitioners since it is just a list of 120 concepts. However if you use it as an analogy for learning more complex languages, it presents interesting challenges.

All languages have particles. Toki pona has “li”, “la”, “e”, etc. These don’t map to any specific word in English. The best definition of “li” is “a word that introduces the predicate of a sentence”. In classic memory palace techniques we would say something like:

  1. Create an image for “li”. I think of a friend I have named “Lee”.
  2. Create an image for the meaning. This is really difficult for me. What is an image for “introduces the predicate??” Perhaps “introducing a predator” is enough of a clue.
  3. Link the images together. Lee is introducing a snarling wolf to a sentence. I see Lee gesturing to a group of generic words floating in the air with a welcoming gesture towards a wolf.
  4. Stick that image in a palace location.

I think Toki Pona is very interesting because it provides an opportunity to do this formally for every single word in the language. In practice I think many memory practitioners probably skip over words similar to “li”, “la”, etc in other real languages, and just remember them through everyday use of the language. When I tried to follow the “textbook” method for Toki Pona, I found it was very challenging to come up with some images. “pi” is a very tricky word that it is hard to make images for. It is often mistranslated as “of”, but this is not a good translation and leads to common mistakes for newcomers to the language when they attempt to translate english to Toki Pona. “Pi” has no direct translation. It is another particle that is used to group words together in different ways. The classic example is:

tomo = “room”
telo = “water”
nasa = “crazy”

tomo telo -> water-like room -> “bathroom”
telo nasa -> crazy water -> “alcohol”
tomo telo nasa -> crazy bathroom
tomo pi telo nasa -> alcohol-like room -> “bar”

It is easy to translate this last one as “room of alcohol”, but “pi” doesn’t always work that way, so “of” is not a good translation. So, if we follow the textbook technique:

  1. Create an image for “pi”. That’s easy, I think of urine (“pee”).
  2. Create an image for the meaning. Wow, what do we do now?? The concept is “group words together that describe another word. The grouped words (on the right of ‘pi’) must contain a noun and an adjective and the described word (on the left of ‘pi’) must be a noun”. We could use the example above to come up with an image instead of trying to use the abstract concept.
  3. Link the images together. There is a small room (maybe a dollhouse), a bottle of water, and a crazy man lined up left-to-right. The three images animate to morph together into a crazy bathroom (maybe multicolored or surreal architecture). Now they morph back into three objects. Someone comes and “pees” between the house and the water, separating them into two groups. The water and man morph together into a bottle of alcohol. The bottle of alcohol and the dollhouse then morph together into a bar counter.

This is quite a complex and crazy image. Will it capture all the uses of “pi”? I’m not sure. How else could we remember such a weird word?


Could you please be clear and categorical on how it can help in memorizing a language?

Why not “waterfall”…?

Turk, The language only has 120 words so you can go straight to learning grammar very quickly

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So what is the point of learning the grammar of a language that is not real? Is it to be familiar with the grammar of one more language in order to have more experience with grammar in such way to be better in the grammar of languages that exist in real life? In case yes, is there any other benefit of learning that fictional language? In case no, what is the benefit of studying it for learning languages?

Yes that’s right Turk.

Kids who learnt Esperanto learnt other romance languages more quickly. This isn’t a romance language but in theory it should be a quicker route to many languages this way.

Kids who learnt IPA learnt spelling rules more quickly.

As a rule of thumb though I guesstimate that it’s only worthwhile if you’re learning more than 2 languages.

That’s a guess though as all this hasn’t been studied in detail AFAIK.

I use some of the principles in this when I teach but I haven’t been bold enough to fully commit to the theory because education is quite serious where I am so experiments aren’t exactly welcome.

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That’s quite a leap from toki pona to Esperanto…

Toki pona is more of a philosophical conlang. It also depends a lot on cultural context how you come up with words for things… obviously the 120 are just base words. Also, kinda hard to count in it.

Okay. I will learn it.

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Learning the etymology might help. “ilo” is a suffix that means “tool” in Esperanto. Komputilo is computer (computing tool). Kalkulilo is calculator (calculating tool). If you have to say “tool”, “machine”, “device”, or “computer” in Toki Pona, there is probably only one possible word out of the 123 that would fit. :slight_smile:

If you needed a quick mnemonic image for “ilo”, “eel” might work. All nouns in Esperanto end with the letter o, so “eel” has to be followed by the letter o, because all tools are nouns.

Some ideas:

word image English word image
seme semi (truck) what Thai temple (wat) or light bulb (watt)
ni knee this/that point to knee and say “this”
anu a gnu or oar

Memory palace placement (or just associations without locations):

  1. a semi (seme) crashes into a giant lightbulb (what)
  2. point to knee (ni) and say “this” (this/that)
  3. a gnu (anu) is swinging an oar (or)

It’s a real language, but it’s just constructed for a specific purpose. There are many active conlangs like Toki Pona, Esperanto, Interlingua, and Lojban. You can meet people by speaking them.

For example, people can learn Esperanto in as little as a few weeks to a few months. If you don’t have a common language with someone, you could both quickly learn Esperanto and communicate easily without spending years learning each other’s native language.

Interlingua is another conlang that was created so that people who were familiar with a Romance language could easily communicate with each other. Here’s an example of Interlingua that might be understandable if you’re familiar with a Romance language:

I learned the vocabulary of Toki Pona but never used it and don’t remember it. I haven’t been able to convince anyone else that I know to learn it, so there weren’t many opportunities to practice. :slight_smile:

Related threads:

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There is a lot of content about conlangs on the Internet. Here’s one video video of Toki Pona – the first 50 seconds are in Esperanto with Toki Pona subtitles. You can turn on Esperanto subtitles for the Toki Pona part. I think he mentions that there is a Telegram group for people to chat in Toki Pona.

(I’m not sure if that is sign-language, but it might be.)

Here’s a subreddit for people who create their own languages:

Edit: also Toki Pona

Thanks for sharing the InterLingua video. I feel like I understand nearly all of it and I only know English and a bit of Spanish!

Esperanto is probably might be more useful because (apparently) it has simplifications that support learning romance languages. Also, if you can speak it, you can stay for free with speakers all around the world in a language exchange program. Sans virus, of course.

But Toki Pona is amazing in it’s own way because of all the things you can do with a language, minimalism is probably the most meta.

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In a way that is true… just like how knowing Latin would do the same thing. BUT once you know one Romance language, it’s really not hard to pick up another one… French, Italian, Romanian, Spanish, and Portuguese are all very similar.

Ahem… could you count to 10 for me please in toki pona? …or name the ‘days of the week’?

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Toki pona was created as a philosophical experiment. I’m not saying that I agree with it at all, but a toki pona fanatic would probably tell you that the answer is context-dependent. They would ask why you want to say the days of the week. Do you want to talk about Monday because it is the beginning of the work week? In that case Monday is something like “tenpo suno pali nanpa wan” (first work sun time = first work day). If you dread Mondays, it could be “tenpo suno ike” (bad day). Friday could be “tenpo pali pini” (end of work time) or even just “pali pini la” (‘in the context of work ending’) or “tenpo musi kama ni” (now the fun time comes). Wednesday could be the boring “tenpo suna tu tu” (fourth day) or “tenpo pi insa pali” (work’s inside time). The whole point of toki pona is to make you think about context when translating. I will say it’s sort of delightful as a reader when you read the same word 3 times in a paragraph and realize that it means a different thing every time. It’s a little bit like word play in english with homophones and homonyms - if the writer guides you to the correct interpretation, you get a nice surprise.

Interlingua fascinates me.

I can read it with better than 85% comprehension without ever having actually studied it. Of course, that is exactly what is role is. As you said, Josh, anybody familiar with a Romance language should find it fairly easy to assimilate. And, I bet somebody who is good at English and has an analytical mind would figure out at least 35%.

It would be cool to hear from others what they think of Interlingua.

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