Thursday, July 9, 2015

Jumping rope in the rain in my liviing room

To summarize the last two posts on learning French vocabulary (my, where has the time gone!), I had only a little success with both the mnemonic keyword technique, where you associate a French word with an English image that will remind you of the word, and the memory palace method, which seemed more suited to remembering a shopping list than learning vocabulary.

Neither worked.

Until, in a moment of uncharacteristic brilliance, I combined them. I took my vivid images of complaining plantains and the like and assembled them into themed rooms. Thus to learn French clothing words, I put a British chap wearing a chapeau and a coat (manteau) up on the fireplace mantle in my living room. 

Any well-dressed British chap up on a mantel needs an umbrella, that wonderful French word parapluie, which can double as a parachute if he needs to jump off. His wife, an unfortunate, homeless bag lady, wears a diamond bague on her finger. This couple’s daughter is jumping rope in her skirt (jupe), impermeable to the rain that’s falling onto her yellow impermeable.

But what is this strange crew doing in my living room? Sadly, it’s a wake for the son, a ten-year-old kid, laid out in a casket wearing a baseball cap (casquette), and sneakers (baskets) under a basketball hoop. I run through the scene with this odd family, whom I’m starting to enjoy, a few times in my head, jot down some notes, and test myself an hour later. Still there. The next day, the next week, still there. Thus it seems that while the keyword method itself doesn’t work and the memory palace doesn’t even really apply (it’s usually employed to memorize mere lists of items), combining the two methods — assigning a keyword and placing that object in a palace — clicks!

Try it yourself! And, of course read the full story in my New York Times bestseller, Flirting with French.  In the next post I'll tell you about my experiences with a software product that uses one of these techniques.

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