This post explains the method by which I’ve exponentially increased my Arrernte vocabulary in a matter of weeks rather than months or years.
The method I’m about to describe allowed me to go from understanding only half of what I was hearing, to knowing 70% of what was being said in very short time.
As part of my long term strategy to create real resources for Aboriginal language learners, I’ve also included some PDF files which may serve as models for other language learners.
As you might have gleaned from my first post, Arrernte is very different from English and other European languages. If you were to apply the method I’ve used to learning ‘world languages’ i.e. German, French, Spanish, you’d experience the same, if not even better, results due to many words having some similarity between European languages.
The Magnetic Memory Method
Whilst looking for other courses, I stumbled across an online course on the website, Udemy, called ‘How to Learn and Memorize the Vocabulary of Any Language’. The course shows you how to use the Magnetic Memory Method system, which is based on the ‘Method of Loci’. There’s a quote on the Wikipedia page which explains this technique eloquently:
“’The method of loci’, an imaginal technique known to the ancient Greeks and Romans and described by Yates (1966) in her book The Art of Memory as well as by Luria (1969). In this technique the subject memorizes the layout of some building, or the arrangement of shops on a street, or any geographical entity which is composed of a number of discrete loci. When desiring to remember a set of items the subject literally ‘walks’ through these loci and commits an item to each one by forming an image between the item and any distinguishing feature of that locus. Retrieval of items is achieved by ‘walking’ through the loci, allowing the latter to activate the desired items. The efficacy of this technique has been well established (Ross and Lawrence 1968, Crovitz 1969, 1971, Briggs, Hawkins and Crovitz 1970, Lea 1975), as is the minimal interference seen with its use.”
This technique has been expanded and enriched by Canadian academic, Anthony Metivier, who used it to improve his German vocabulary.
Anthony has gone on to create the course on Udemy I’ve linked to above, as well as a number of books on specific languages. He has branded his version of the system the ‘Magnetic Memory Method’.
As I was taking the course, I also read his How to Learn and Memorize German Vocabulary
book. Reading and thinking about the method actually helped me more than the online course, which I used for revision. Others may find watching the lectures helps them more than reading.
I should state here that this technique is not for lazy people or those who want a ‘quick fix’.
The Magnetic Memory Method system involves creating complex mental imagery and undertaking a series of higher-level cognitive processes to get the words and meanings to ‘stick’ in your head, which is in fact why you’re able to recall the words and their meanings as you walk through your mental journey.
The system can be summarised in these steps:
- Identify a place that starts with a letter of the alphabet in the language you’re learning (places like shopping centres, streets and highways worked best for me) – this is the ‘palace’
- Identify 10 (or however many) words starting with this letter that you wish to remember
- Within your palace identify 10 ‘stations’ or locations along the way – take great care NOT to get into a dead end, though. Backing yourself into a dead end means that you won’t be able to add additional words/locations to your palace, and you’ll need to come up with another location to add more vocabulary
- Create mnemonic images (the more outrageous the better) to help you recall your words. For example, to remember the word for Victoria Wattle in Arrernte –arlepe (pronounced ‘a leper’) I imagined lots of lepers running naked through this prickly wattle! For the word ‘arrakerte’ (which is ‘mouth’ in Arrernte, pronounced ‘aRR-ar-kurt-uh’), I imagined a big mouth holding a tennis racket.
- Place one image at each location within the palace
- Then take the trip from beginning to end through your imaginary palace, visiting each of the stations
- Rinse and repeat for each letter of the alphabet in your target language.
There is a fair bit of work involved at the outset of this method: you need to identify a place for each letter, create stations and images; however, I found that once I’d done this several times, I could memorise a list of 10 items in about 10-15 minutes.
If you’d like to learn more about this system, I recommend that you start with Anthony Metivier’s website: http://www.magneticmemorymethod.com/
Applying the Method to Arrernte
I was able to grasp the nuts and bolts of the method quickly though watching the lectures and reading the book.
However, when I sat down to create stations for the Arrernte alphabet, I was immediately confronted with a problem: about two-thirds of the words in Arrernte start with the letter ‘A’.
This might not seem like much of a problem until you think about the implication for creating memory palaces: I would need an absolutely GINORMOUS palace for the letter ‘A’!
My immediate fix for this problem was to then use the second letter (or letters) of the Arrernte alphabet and simply create more palaces.
I ended up having something like 39 palaces, 25 of which were ‘A’. After writing to Anthony Metivier and then thinking this over, I looked at how Arrernte alphabet was organised.
The sounds of the Arrernte alphabet:
a, e, h, i, k ,kng, l, lh, m, n, ng, nh, ny, p, pm, r, rl, rn, rr, rt, rtn, t, th ,thn, tn, tny, ty, u, w, y = 31 potential palaces!
A look at the main Arrernte Dictionary didn’t really help, as two thirds of its content are in the letter ‘A’.
However, the Eastern and Central Arrernte Picture Dictionary was organised in a much more ‘memory palace’ adaptable way, and I was able to instantly adapt it, solving both the problem of the letter ‘A’ and the 31 sounds:
Ah, Ak, Al, Am, An, Ap, Ar, At, Aw, Ay, I, K, L, M, N, P, R, T, U, V, W, Y = 22 memory palaces.
Whilst Metivier recommends that you use a place starting with the same letter as the words within the palace, I had to be a little more flexible when it came to all the A’s in the Arrernte language.
For example, I used ‘Alice Hills’ for Ah (a journey along the ranges and gaps of Alice Springs), Alice Mall (Todd Mall) for ‘Am’, Alice River (the bike path alongside the Todd River), etc for to deal with the large amount of ‘A’s’.
To assist you to in learning how to do this, you can download the PDF file or the editable Word doc I created for Arrernte:
The actual creation of stations within each palace I found pretty easy. There were times when I adjusted the station, because when I tried to remember the journey before adding the words, I found that some places wouldn’t stick.
Generally, however, I found stations easy to create. I have to say that I much preferred trips along roads and streets than trips though houses I’d lived in or shopping malls.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the method for me, and the one which takes the longest, is the creation of mnemonic images.
When you’re learning a European language like German or even Indonesian, it’s fairly easy to find words that correspond to English words, (even if they have a different meaning) and sounds that are like words in English.
However in Arrernte, apart from the ever-increasing array of English loan words, there are words that sound NOTHING like any English word at all and you really have to stretch your imagination.
For example, the word ‘utnenge’ (oot-NUNG-uh) means ‘a person’s spirit’ in Arrernte. When I came to create an image for this word, I really, really had to stretch the sounds and meaning. In the end, I came up with a ghost wearing a plaster cast and the sound ‘foot numb’ to recall the Arrernte pronunciation.
Yeah, silly image, I know, but it works for me!
I will forever recall an archetypal ghost with a plaster cast on its foot when I drive across the Hugh River crossing just before the Old Owen Springs Homestead! (The Arrernte name for the range which runs through Owen Springs Reserve is ‘Urenhe’ –thus it’s the U memory palace).
So that you can see exactly how this works, I’ve attached the Urenhe/U memory palace spreadsheet .xls file.
From time to time, however, I have struggled with finding a mnemonic and this part of implementing the system has taken me much longer than I imagined it would.
The Results and Some Reflections
You can probably guess that I’ve been very happy with using this method to increase my vocab. In only ten days, I was able to add 200 new words – which is a phenomenal result!
Have I been able to recall them?
By and large, yes, I have.
You do have to take the journeys through your palace a few times, and to help me remember, I also learn the journey, then go do something else, and come back and test myself by writing down the Arrernte words and their meanings.
Once you’ve sorted the mnemonics, it’s really only a few minutes a day to walk through your memory palaces to keep them fresh. You can schedule this maintenance for each letter on one day of the month (1st = A, 2nd =B, 3rd= C).
When I haven’t remembered images/words, it’s usually because the image isn’t distinctive enough. Metivier recommends making the images as graphic (yes, in every sense of the term) as you can.
I’ve never forgotten a location, however.
When I’ve decided to add new words, I’ve simply added more stations on the end. So far, I haven’t ran out of stations, however, it is quite logical that you would run out of stations, so you would need to create a second memory palace for that letter.
My success with this method probably comes from following Metivier’s instructions exactly and using his sample docs/spreadsheets to organize myself.
However, if you’re impatient or you’re not prepared to do the preparation, then I wouldn’t recommend this method of vocab memorization.
Again, this is a long post, but one I hope you’ve found it interesting and useful. If you’ve got any experience using this method, or you’ve got your own methods for vocabulary memorization, please share in the comments below.
The next post will be about my aims and strategies for Arrernte over the next few months using language hacking and uncommon language acquisition methods.