Using mnemonics as a memory tool is an ancient tradition. A mnemonic is by definition a memory aid. There are many different types, all derived from principles and techniques used to organize impressions in order to improve recall.
Making associations or connections is how we remember things. All learning requires associations and connections – even rote memorization may involve making an association. It could be remembering the picture of a word or the shape of a number on a flash card. Using mnemonics is an effective way of creating new connections in the brain.
Using Mnemonics to Create A List
One common mnemonic type is using the first letter of a list of items to create an acronym that is easy to remember. An example you might be familiar with is Roy G. Biv. The acronym is used to remember the colors of a rainbow or those created by a prism, as well as the order in which they appear. R is for red, O for orange, Y for yellow, G for green, B for blue, I for indigo and V for violet.
You might have a question about why using mnemonics as a memory tool works. Why is it easier to remember the name Roy G Biv than it is to remember the list of seven colors?
Using Mnemonics To Improve Working Memory
The easiest way to explain it is that the brain can only hold so many items in working memory. By creating two names and a single letter initial out of seven colors, you have reduced the number of items that the brain must hold in working memory from seven to three. You have actually reduced the number of things that the brain needs to remember. Using mnemonics allows more information to be stored in a smaller space.
Using Mnemonics to Create A Sentence
Instead of an acronym, a sentence may be created using the first letters of a list of related items. It is also easier to remember a sentence composed of words that are connected than it is to remember a list of items that are seemingly unconnected.
For example, in computer networking, a trouble shooting model called the OSI model is used. There are seven layers of the model. Some teachers have used mnemonics as a memory tool for remembering the seven layers and their order from top to bottom with the sentence, “Please do not throw sausage pizza away.”
That simple sentence is much easier for students to remember than the list physical, data link, network, transport, session, presentation and application. It is also easier to remember that sentence than to memorize just the first letters of the 7 layers. Mistakes would likely occur, especially in the arrangement of the letters, were it not for the mnemonic sentence to use as a guide.
First letter acronyms and sentences derived from the first letters are what commonly come to mind when we think about using mnemonics as a memory tool. But, what would you do if you were trying to remember a sequence of numbers, rather than a list of words? One idea is to turn the numbers into words.
Using Mnemonics to Remember Numbers
Look at this sentence. “How I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics.”
That is actually an example of how people use mnemonics for memory to remember the first 15 digits of pi 3.14159265358979. If you count the number of letters in each word of the sentence, you will see that the numbers correspond to the digits of pi.
Using Mnemonics Through Songs or Poems
For some reason, we really don’t know why, most people have an easy time remembering short poems and songs. For example, most people remember the poem, “Thirty days hath September, April, June and November. All the rest have 31, excepting February alone, which has 28 days clear and 29 each leap year.”
That poem is an example of how teachers use mnemonics as a memory tool for children who are learning the number of days in each month of the year. Another mnemonic used for the same purpose has to do with the knuckles of the hands and the spaces between the knuckles. That one may be easier for people who benefit from visual aids.
Using Mnemonics to Learn a Foreign Language
Using mnemonics can be used to help English-speaking people translate foreign words. There are many examples. If you can remember the phrase “to be a star”, it should be easy for you to remember that “to be” in Spanish is “estar”.
Many linguists recommend using mnemonics for memory because they used the tools when they were learning the languages. Michael Gruneberg, a notable linguist, calls his system for remembering foreign language words, the “linkword” system.
In order to use linkwords, one creates an easily visualized scene that will link together the sounds of a foreign language word to the English translation. For example, the sentence “I ran my car over a cow” is actually a mnemonic for remembering that the pronunciation of cow in Russian roughly corresponds to car over or “karova”.
Using mnemonics as a memory tool for learning a new language is recommended because you focus on the sounds of the words rather than the spelling, which is sometimes confusing. For example, khao is the Thai word for rice. It is pronounced much like the English word cow. So teachers recommend imagining a cow eating rice to remember the translation of the word and also how it is pronounced.
One study indicates that once you start using mnemonics as a memory tool, you will continue to use similar devices and you will be more successful at remembering things. Teachers can help students by suggesting a mnemonic and by explaining to the student how to devise a mnemonic of their own. According to the study, leaving the students to “whatever works best for you” is likely to sabotage student success.
Using Mnemonics With Pictures: It’s Worth 1000 Words!
In addition to words, phrases, sentences, poems and songs, pictures or graphics can also be used. In fact, out earliest ancestors were using mnemonics in their carvings and paintings.
When using mnemonics as a memory tool, you need not limit yourself to the ones mentioned here. Use anything that you can to make a connection or an association in your brain. That’s how you remember things – build strong connections using mnemonics.
For additional information on using mnemonics.
Additional Articles on this site: Using Mnemonics