Memory Strategies For Learning A New Language

Qhy does it seem that some people can just remember more than others?  It just doesn’t seem fair, does it?  Well, thankfully there are some strategies to help you improve your memory when it comes to learning a new language.

Most of the time people use simple repetition and rote memory in order to learn new words.   Sometimes this works, but other times it can be a bit difficult, especially if there is no correlation or similarities between the two languages.

Have you ever had the experience of trying to learn new language vocabulary words and feeling as though they are bouncing right off your brain and not sinking in at all?  This is simply because you aren’t engaging your brain enough in the process.  It’s too abstract, and doesn’t carry any sort of meaning, so remembering things this way is very difficult.

Thankfully, there are some other techniques that can help improve on this and make your task a bit easier.

The thing about memory is that you need to give yourself a good “mental hook” to engage your mind.  This will help prevent new vocabulary words from sliding off your brain like teflon.  You need to provide yourself some sort of mental engagement to really make things stick.


Mnemonics is a method of memorizing things by associating other things with it.  It helps to establish certain things from the abstract to the concrete.  One of the key ways of using Mnemonics is to link two words.  Other methods are rhymes, such as “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  There are so many Mnemonics out there, and you probably use some already that you weren’t even aware of!

For example,  in French class my friends and I made these up.  One example was for the French word “who” which was “qui” and pronounced key.  We said “Who has the key“?  I still remember it to this day.

Other examples are word associations.  The French femme means woman.  Woman -> Feminine -> Femme.  That one is pretty obvious, but it’s surprising how often you can do this.

The French maison means house.  Maison sounds similar to the English word mansion (a big house).

More abstract words require more creativity.  The French pain (pronounced “pan”) means bread.  Imagine a hard French roll, and hurting your teeth in “pain” as you bite into it.  Picture where you are, what the roll looks like, the crunching sound it makes when you bite it, and the face you make as you do it.  Pretty funny right?

What makes a good mnemonic?  Usually there will be some sort of story involved, even if it’s really short.  It also helps if the visual image or story is something unusual, crazy, grotesque, or humorous.  This makes it much easier to remember because sometimes you can’t get the image out of your head.  Another tip thing is that a good mnemonic involves as many senses as you can – sight, touch, smell, hearing, and taste.  Imagine all of these as much as you can when you create your mnemonic.

If you understand the way memory works, you will realize why this is important.  When you recall an event, you “refire” the neural pathways that were fired when the event first occurred – through all of the “sensory” areas of the brain.  If you can “create” a story that uses more senses, the more concrete this mnemonic device will be.

You’ll have to write down your mnemonics when you can, because they don’t always stick right away.  Go back and look at them frequently and they’ll stick like glue.


What memory tricks have you used successfully?  Write a comment below!