Friday, June 12, 2015

French is un pain in the pan

That's "pain" as in pain (pronounced roughly "pah"). In a previous post I started a discussion (okay a monologue) on using a memory technique known as the memory palace to remember French vocabulary. (Go ahead, read it now, we'll all wait....)

Frankly, I couldn't see how it was going to help me learn French, so I abandoned it, but not long afterwards, I came across another "trick" that has been around for at least 30 years called the keyword method. The way this one works is that you associate the foreign word with a common English word, and visualize that English word. So, for example, to remember that pain is "bread" you  visualize a pan. Now picture that pan coming out of the oven filled with bread, and concentrate on that image for a few seconds. Bake it into your brain. Now, the next time you see the French word pain, you should be able to conjure up this picture, and say, “aha, bread!” As with the memory palace, the advantage of this method is that it uses imagery, and the human brain is far better are retaining images than at retaining words

Does it work? I tried it with a children's French/English dictionary I'd been trying unsuccessfully to memorize  For se plaindre (to complain), I pictured a bunch of talking plantains complaining about me every time I walk by. Funny. One word that had evaded me for weeks was autoriser, a verb meaning “to give permission.” I closed my eyes and pictured myself in my mechanic’s garage asking him for permission to put my car on his lift — his auto riser. Bingo. Ten minutes later, I tested myself with a handful of new words, and passed. But as I added words, I started forgetting earlier words. So I dismissed the technique aside as yet another gimmick.

So, neither the memory palace nor the mnemonic keyword technique seemed to work for me.  But stay tuned: next week I'll tell you how 1+1=5, or what happened when I combined the techniques...and the email I received from a proponent of one of them. Très intéressant!

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