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Use This Memory Hack to Learn a Language

by Josh Aharonoff

I hear the same story all the time: “I want to learn a new language, but my memory is too poor.” Many people have this notion that one's level of memory is predetermined at birth: some people are born with a strong memory, others can barely remember why they opened the refrigerator door. Today I'm here to here to dispel that myth, and show you that you too can learn a foreign language by applying this simple memory hack.

First, let me throw you a quick hypothetical. Say I gave you 2 filing cabinets, and a bunch of index cards, each index card having a name written on it. In one of the filing cabinets is 100 index cards, in the other, 1000 index cards. If I told you to find me an index card that contains a certain name that was included in both filing cabinets - which cabinet would be easier to retrieve the name? At first thought, the cabinet with only 100 index cards sound easier - right? Now what if I told you that the filing cabinet with 1000 index cards was organized alphabetically, while the filing cabinet with 100 index cards was organized in no particular order? Without a doubt, the cabinet with 10 times the amount of data would take you 10 times less the amount of time it would take to retrieve the card from the first filing cabinet.

The same applies to your memory. How you organize the data in your brain is the first and most important step to retrieving the information later on. Let's see how this can applied to learning a new language.

In order to remember something, your mind needs to attach significance to it. One way we can attach significance to something is if it is unique. It's the same way that 2 weeks later you wouldn't remember a black honda driving next to you, but would remember a pink polkadotted hummer. The way we can do this when it comes to language learning is by altering the way the foreign word sounds so that it sounds like something similar in your native language (or whatever other language you are fluent in).

Let's take Hebrew as an example. The words for “thank you” in Hebrew are “תודה רבה” (read from right to left), which is pronounced “toh-dah rah-bah”. How can we alter the way this sounds to words that we are familiar with in English? To me, “toh-dah” sounds quite similar to “towed a”, and “rah-bah” sounds like Rabbi. With that being said, I can imagine a Rabbi being attached to a tow, and being pulled away. While he is being pulled away, I can imagine a big smile on his face yelling out thank you, as if the tow truck driver is doing him a favor (maybe he was too lazy to walk?). Sounds pretty ridiculous right? The more ridiculous it sounds, the more likely you are to remember the word / phrase! Now, each time you hear someone say תודה רבה, you'll picture this image, and remember the Rabbi screaming thank you.

Eventually, once you have spent enough time organizing this information in your short term memory, it will transfer over to your long term memory, and you won't even have to remember the Rabbi being towed. How cool is that?

Now it's your turn! Here are some more Hebrew words / phrases, see if you can remember them easily:

English Hebrew Transliteration
Hello שלום Shalom
What's up מה קורה Mah koh-reh
All is good הכל טוב Ha-kol tov
I am from... אני מ... Ani meh

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