Why Mnemonic Examples Rarely Work

mnemonicPeople around the world desperately want a magic bullet that will fulfill their dreams of speaking a foreign language fluently. But as the founder of the Magnetic Memory Method for learning foreign language vocabulary and creator of Udemy’s How to Learn and Memorize the Vocabulary of Any Language, I have to be honest with you …

There actually is a magic bullet.

It’s in your head and it relies upon your creativity and willingness to experiment.

There are all kinds of mnemonic devices and memory tricks that will help people learn how to memorize quickly, and I teach them all.

But the fact of the matter is that mnemonics are like a bicycle.

What I mean is that all memorization strategies operate based on universal principles. Just as two wheels, a correctly proportioned frame, a set of gears and two pedals will carry just about any body across any reasonably flat surface, mnemonic devices are mental frames that anyone can insert into their minds and use within seconds of learning them.

But just like any new bike, each person using memory “tricks” needs to adjust the frame to suit the body of their mind. Metaphorically speaking, you might need to lower the handle bars, raise the seat or even replace one of the tires in order to get just the right grip on the ground as you modify the bike and create the best possible user experience for you as a unique individual.

It’s for this reason that I am hesitant about giving people mnemonic examples.

Of course, I do give examples of various images that have worked for me. Lots of ’em.

And they’re top notch examples too. Almost all of the images that I place in my Memory Palaces to memorize foreign language vocabulary work gangbusters. (I say “almost” because I sometimes give examples of what hasn’t worked and offer solutions in order to help my course participants troubleshoot their own images).

Take for example the German word “allmählich.” This word means “gradually” or “step by step” and is stored in my Memory Palace for the letter ‘A.’ Using the principles of “word division,” “compounding” and the “bridging figure” technique taught in How to Learn and Memorize the Vocabulary of Any Language, I see Weird Al Yankovic “gradually” mailing a dog leash made of licorice. He’s using the dryer in my mom’s laundry room as the mailbox, and the dryer is the station for that word in my ‘A’ Memory Palace for German vocabulary. Of course, I make this image of Weird Al’s activity large, vibrant, colorful and filled with over-exaggerated action because these are key principles of the Magnetic Memory Method and of mnemonics in general.

This image for “allmählich” is a fantastic example and demonstrates the Magnetic Memory Method in action.

But will this particular image work for you?

Not likely, and even if it did make “allmählich” stick in your mind, it probably wouldn’t last forever.


First off, you probably don’t have the same personal association with Weird Al Yankovic that I do. In fact, you might not even know who he is at all, and I doubt that you have spent the same hundreds of hours I did memorizing and singing along to Weird Al’s crazy renditions of famous pop songs.

You might also not like licorice, not find “leash” an acceptable trigger for the “lich” sound in German, nor think of “mail” as the act of submitting post to a postal box. Your mind might bring you the character from Paul Simons’s “You Can Call Me Al,” chain mail and a man (i.e. a male) “gradually” doing something strange with lice to help you recall the sound and the meaning of “allmählich.”

And that’s the beauty of the magic bullet in your head.

You have endless reams of creativity based on your personal experiences, individual likes and history of knowledge that you can mentally play with in order to create vibrant and effective visual associations that will help you memorize foreign language vocabulary in a way that is quick, easy and fun.

That’s the secret behind how to memorize quickly, be it foreign language vocabulary, poetry, recipes, specialized terminology or advanced mathematical formulas. You need to create a location system using Memory Palaces and create vibrant images that trigger the information you want to recall.

But again, just as you would make alterations to a new bike, once you’ve understood the frames of the memory tricks and mnemonics I teach in How to Learn and Memorize the Vocabulary of Any Language, you need to adjust some of the parts to fit your personal learning style. The good news is that this process is fun, elegant and super easy to do.

The best part is that when you learn how to use Memory Palaces to improve your memory and easily retain foreign language vocabulary, you won’t need mnemonic examples. You’ll be able to generate them all on your own.

If you’re worried that you’re not creative enough or that you’re not particularly imaginative, rest assured that with a bit of relaxation and a touch of practice, you’ll be riding your very own, razzmatazz mnemonic bike. And before you know it you’ll riding circles around your friends who simply won’t believe the miracles you can perform.

Let’s get started!


About the Author:

metivier_photo_color_smallAnthony Metivier is the founder and editor of the Magnetic Memory Series and creator of the Magnetic Memory Method. His Udemy video course teaches you how to learn foreign language vocabulary and memorize it in a completely new way using Memory Palaces. He holds a BA and MA in English Literature (York), an MA in Media & Communications (European Graduate School) and a PhD in Humanities (York). He is also a hard-to-hire story consultant and the author of Disaster Genre Secrets for Screenwriters.