When you decide to really buckle down and learn a foreign language, it becomes obvious that in order to really get the hang of things, you’re going to have to memorize a lot of vocabulary, grammar, and new concepts.
It’s fairly easy to just sit down and tell yourself you’re going to memorize that book of Korean vocabulary or write down 30 Chinese characters a day until you dream of them and their meanings.
But, for some of us, including me, it’s kind of…hard to actually memorize things effectively.
Maybe the technique we’re using just isn’t working or maybe we just suck at memorization in general.
That’s perfectly OK and totally relatable.
So, what I’m going to do is outline a few of the most common memorization techniques that you should try out when you get ready to learn a foreign language and relate it to how it can really boost the efficacy of your language learning efforts.
And then I will show you my own personal method to memorize Korean words easily, as well as grammar and other things that fall into that category.
Let’s get started, shall we?
1. Rote Learning
The focus is not on learning meaning or understanding the way something is presented as it is, but only on memorizing the information.
While this is good for things like numbers, the alphabet, and cramming for a test, this isn’t the best for building a strong foundation, especially in a language.
This method can often lead to knowing words and phrases to use in a situation, but not actually understanding the meaning behind it which can be very important in truly building a strong foundation in a language.
I recommend this memorization technique for the simple things that you can’t really attach to a me
- Can recall simple facts at any given time.
- Useful for building a basic foundation.
- Often comes with very little understanding of the meaning behind the information
- Super repetitive
- Easy to lose focus
- Can lead to misunderstanding information or misusing it
- Doesn’t allow the learner to build upon previously learned information
2. Meaningful Learning
A learning technique that engages in socializing, consuming information through activities, building on previously gained knowledge, and basically understanding how everything falls together as one.
This is quite the opposite of rote learning because it requires you to be fully aware of what you’re learning on several different levels.
This is great for language learning because languages are not only a form of communication, but they are also growing and evolving with humans.
Think about English, we have slang and new words popping up every day. Although they’re a trend most of the time, these words and phrases shape the way the younger generation thinks and uses the language, resulting in the language changing over time.
Culture also plays a huge role in shaping a language, so being able to not just memorize a phrase, but also understand why it is used, what it means, and maybe even the story behind it is so much more effective than just learning to say, “Hello” and go.
- Gain a deeper understanding of the language and its surrounding culture
- Use multiple different activities to acquire the language
- Doesn’t rely on memorization, but learning as you go
- Focuses on the outcome rather than the small information being gained right now
- Builds on information learned before, therefor building a stronger foundation
- More time consuming
- Different for everyone
Mnemonics is a learning technique in which you visualize crazy or interesting pictures in your head and associate it with the new information you’re learning. The golden rule for this is: the crazier, the better and more likely that you will remember it later.
This is actually a great way to learn Chinese characters.
Because Chinese characters are made up of smaller radicals that have their own meanings, it’s interesting to see what kind of crazy scenario you can come up with in your head based on those meanings.
Also, you can further use it to memorize Korean words easily based on their Hanja, which is the Korean spelling of some Chinese characters, because once you memorize the Hanja, figuring out the meaning behind the word becomes easy and fun, too.
If you have a vivid imagination, this might be the way to go. But personally, I can never purposely make a mnemonic, it just comes to me randomly either as a pun or as an image that flashes in my head shortly.
I’m sure there are different types of mnemonics, but we’ll have to save that for another post and another day.
- Fun and sometimes funny
- Requires less effort to memorize
- Really forces you to flesh out the meanings
- Great if you’re a creative visual learner
- Can be mentally draining
- Can only be used selectively, unless you’ve got an extremely creative mind
- Time consuming
- You may run out of ideas
4. Spaced Repetition
This method is implemented by introducing information at spaced intervals, usually focusing on repeating the newest information the most and leaving the older, previously memorized information for other times.
If you have used apps like Memrise and Anki, you should have a basic idea of what this method looks like in action.
This is a great alternative to rote learning because it makes sure that you’re filtering out the things you have the hang of and focusing more on the things that you don’t know yet.
This method is also used by polyglots all around the world, so I’m quite positive it’s a good method.
- Focuses on learning new information and solidifying the older information as well
- Works well for developing a long-term memory
- You can choose to slip in newer things every time you master something and remove it
- People often say that it improves your overall memory
- Can be boring and repetitive
- Like rote memorization, doesn’t focus on building on previous knowledge but building a basic foundation of facts
Okay, this method is an interesting one because I actually came about it in a funny way.
First off, this is a method where you learn information, re-visit it ten minutes later, 24 hours later, and then seven days later.
This method may or may not be too common because while doing research, I didn’t find too much about it except that teachers would use it to teach math. So that’s that.
The way I found this was through a dream I had a couple days ago. In it there was this calling app by the name “Top Ten 24/7” and for some reason I couldn’t get the name out of my head when I woke up, so I looked it up and somehow came across this memorization method.
I haven’t tried it myself or really looked deep into it enough to know the ins and outs, but it seems like an interesting method.
- Allows you to have extra time for learning new things in between reviews
- Works more on long-term memory
- A great method for reviewing
- You can use whatever method mentioned up there to review in these time frames
- Takes a longer time to master the information
6. Memorization Through Application
This is my own personal method that I’ve used to memorize thousands of words without actually memorizing.
It’s similar to the meaningful learning method in that it doesn’t focus so much on retaining the information as is but understanding the meaning behind it and how everything fits together in the bigger picture.
Based on what type of learning style fits you the best, you can use this method when reading, watching, or listening to something in your target language.
Basically, you rely on exposure to the language as your repetition, the context of speech for the meaning, and the way they say the word as your speech guide.
I posted a Korean learning hack that included this method a couple of days ago in more detail, but I will definitely cover the actual method in more depth, breaking down every step that goes into it in a later post. If I tried to do that here, we would be here all day!
- Really builds a natural understanding of the language
- Keeps all skills up and well-rounded
- Fun and interactive, basically painless
- Can lead to some interesting discoveries
- Takes a lot of time
- Depends on what you expose yourself to
- Requires a LOT of patience
So, you’re probably wondering, which memorization technique is the best?
The answer: There really isn’t one.
You see, we all learn differently and at our own paces, no matter how fast or slow we go. It’s important that we choose a learning method, or methods, based on how we would normally acquire new information.
If you’re a more visual and creative person who gets bored easily, a combination of mnemonics and meaningful learning might be the way to go.
Both methods are super engaging and fun, so it’s hard to really get bored.
And if you’re a curious cat, like myself, you will most definitely love the meaningful learning method.
Whether you study with it alone or alongside rote learning or spaced repetition, it’s always nice to learn about the reason a certain phrase is used or the history behind a word. Languages change all the time, so learning about their culture and history is always so interesting.
But, if you aren’t really into the rabbit hole aspect of learning a foreign language and just want to make that list of vocabulary stick, try out rote learning and spaced repetition.
I recommend doing this combination for tests, hard concepts that just make zero sense in your head, but you know you need to learn, and overall, if you aren’t into learning the history of things so much.
Which is sad because the history and culture aspects of learning a language is so beautiful in my opinion.
But, that’s just my opinion. *sips tea*
And now, if you’re looking for a good method for reviewing, I recommend you try out the 10/24/7 method. As I previously mentioned, I haven’t tried this out myself, but based on the articles I have read about it gave me a more review feeling, I guess?
It just seems more logical to use this for reviewing concepts rather than learning them. Personally. No hate. It’s probably a great method but I wouldn’t know.
And lastly, if you just suck at memorization, you should try my method.
I honestly suck so bad at memorization to the point that I still have to use a calculator to remember certain multiples of five.
It’s that bad.
But, I’ve managed to cram a whole language, multiple aspects of different languages, and other information into my brain and keep it there until now, so I guess I’m doing something right.
My method goes a little something like this:
- Learn a concept
- Write it down with the intention to review it later
- Forget it exists
- Re-visit the concept every time I forget it
- Use it a lot to minimize my forgetfulness
Each one of these “steps” have steps within them, so I will roughly break them down now.
I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information (as if I haven’t already), so I will probably do a more in-depth article later on explaining this in proper detail.
But, here goes:
– Learn the concept thoroughly –
Read, watch, or listen to the lesson in its entirety without doing any of the activities or writing anything down.
I’m the type of person that will read a guide, watch a tutorial, or listen to a podcast from start to finish before acting on the information.
Why? Because that’s just how I learn best.
It’s easier for me to move onto the second part of this method by just getting a feel of the information provided and it helps me really solidify everything in the end.
One listen or run-through doesn’t usually stick with me.
Go through the lesson again and act on it.
This is when I actually learn the stuff.
I follow the guide or video step-by-step to produce the exact same results. Throwing out all creativity, I will literally sit down and, let’s say I’m learning to code, I will code the exact same thing to a T.
This really helps me understand the concept in a hands-on kind of way.
Then, I move onto the last part of the first step.
Throw my own twist on it.
We’re not quite onto the second step yet because this is usually where I get silly with it.
If it’s a word, I’ll say it out loud and use random ideas that pop into my head. I like to use the phrase “Duolingo-fy it” but I don’t know if I should…I may be walking on thin ice here.
But basically, whatever it is, I try to do it without so much help and only use the guide as a light reference.
– Write it down with the intention to review it later –
First off, I would like to say that I never review anything.
For some reason, it’s just not hardwired into my brain to go back and review things, and when I do go back and try, it bores me to death.
I usually fix this by just learning the same concept over again through another resources.
But, for some odd reason I am so good at convincing myself that I will review this later. And I don’t know why, but this intention actually keeps the concept or word or whatever it is on my mind for a while.
Because I keep thinking, “I need too review this. I need to review this.” it’s there at the top of my mind for who knows how long, depending on the type of information it is.
Other than that, ya girl doesn’t review anything.
It’s a bad habit, I know. But it’s something I’ve done my whole life.
– Forget it exists –
This is probably a direct result of not reviewing anything but oh well.
For some things, this step doesn’t even happen because it just makes so much sense that it sticks forever.
Like “~고 싶다 “ (I want to do~). For some odd reason, it just made so much sense in my head that it stuck with minimum effort and I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten this grammar particle since I learned it back in early 2016.
But, for other things like “~ㅆ을걸 그랬다” (I should have~), that has like…four ways to say it – two for talking about someone else and two for talking about yourself – it doesn’t make sense in my head, so I don’t use it often which ultimately leads to me forgetting it exists until one day it just pops into my head like, “Ayo, miss me?” and I try to use it – and fail – so I have to look it up again to make sure I’m using it properly.
(I hope I got that right oh my god even now I feel like I’m messing it up.)
This step seamlessly bleeds into step 4.
– Re-visit the concept every time I forget it –
Because who needs rote memorization when you’re as forgetful as me? I know, genius.
Basically, this is where I end up looking up a word or phrase or grammar particle very often as I go about my Korean learning journey.
Whether I’m talking to friends, reading a webtoon, or watching a drama, I often find myself looking up something that I learned previously.
The reason I find this less painful than rote memorization or spaced repetition is because ultimately, I’m learning the same thing over and over again in different contexts.
To me, it’s more worth it, because I’m not practicing what was given to me on paper in a textbook, but rather hearing the natural use of this concept and learning when it’s used, when it’s not used, how to use it, the different ways to use it and more.
I just find it more natural and believe it or not, it doesn’t take as much time as it would for me to memorize something via rote memorization or spaced repetition.
– Use it a lot to minimize my forgetfulness –
If you haven’t noticed already, I’m super forgetful. If I don’t write something down, I will most likely forget I even had to do it or had that idea.
It’s bad. But it usually happens more severely with things I don’t deem important for me to remember.
Like multiplication tables. That, to a millennial who always has access to a working calculator in her back pocket or purse, does not strike me as important enough to remember.
So how do I combat this?
Well, I just use it.
Say I’m learning the phrase, “___은/는 기가 막힌다” (Basically: To be great at doing___.) I will first learn it, then to keep it fresh in my head at all times, I’ll use it.
It may make me sound conceited, but hey, it works.
Usually, I will write it down with a few other words and variations and then test the waters with a friend. If they think it sounds weird, I’ll ask why, then take mental notes (because that’s smart Hedaya, oh forgetful one) and then keep approaching it in different manners until I really get the hang of it.
I actually learned this phrase from the drama Mad Dog and I just had to figure it out because the original phrase was, “국하는 기가 막힌다.” Which is basically like, “My soup-making skills are so amazing, it would leave you speechless.” But it was translated as, “I’m great at making soup.” And me being me, I just couldn’t leave it alone because I knew the Korean has more of a punch.
The phrase “기가 막힌다” literally means “to be speechless” but the word “기” means like, “spirit” or “energy” and the word “막히다” literally means to be “clogged” or “blocked” like if you’re in a traffic jam, you would say, “길이 막힌다” which literally means, “The road is blocked/clogged.”
Because of that word choice, not only was I able to remember it, I learned two phrases, because “기가 막힌다” can be used alone and it was super fun to break down and remember.
(Welcome to the mind of Hedaya. This is literally how I process languages.)
And yeah…that’s it.
A quick recap:
There are four common memorization, or learning methods: Rote learning, spaced repetition, meaningful learning, and mnemonics.
There is one method that doesn’t seem to be too popular but looks like it would be good for reviewing, which is the 10/24/7 method.
Then, there is my method, the memorization through application method that basically deals with me being a stubborn geek who refuses to be bored and repetitive.
And yeah, that’s about it!
Did you find this helpful?
Let me know in the comments if you would like a more in-depth version of my method, because I would definitely love to write that. I didn’t cover it in as much depth as I wish I could because otherwise this post would be even longer, and ain’t nobody got time for that.
If you truly found this helpful, please share it with someone who would find this helpful and even if you aren’t down for an in-depth post, feel free to comment what you liked or disliked about this one.
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As always, be happy, stay healthy, and keep learning.
Until next time, my fellow Lingo-geek!