Memory training

2 Feb

The art of remembering – ars memorativa –has a long history, dating back, at least, to the classical Greek period, but now largely forgotten, except by magicians, card sharks and participants in the World Memory Championships. Essentially, memorization techniques revolve around mnemonic devices, such as the loci method. Should we train our students in such techniques? Arguably, yes … and especially for exam preparation … but it is beyond the scope of this handout to deal with the subject in any depth. Joshua Foer’s very entertaining book, Moonwalking with Einstein, provides a good account, and Tony Buzan’s books give extensive practical advice. There’s huge amount of material on the subject online: just google ‘memory training’ to get 92 million hits!


4 Responses to “Memory training”

  1. philipjkerr February 11, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    George Johnson (1991, p.xiii) offers a brief description of the loci method:
    ‘In his book ‘The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci’, Jonathan Spence writes about a sixteenth-century Jesuit who brought to the people of China a wonderful system that had been used in the West since the days of ancient Greece. To improve their powers of retention, people would build memory palaces, huge imaginary buildings they kept inside their heads. After years of practice, the images would become so vivid that a person could close his eyes and picture his palace as though it were real. Eventually, these mental architectures would become impossible to erase. If an orator wanted to memorize a speech or a tax collector wanted to remember a list of names, he would mentally place each item inside a room in his own personal memory palace. When he wanted to recall the information, he would enter the front door and wander from room to room, retrieving the images. The palace was a structure for arranging knowledge.’

  2. philipjkerr February 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    Another well-known memorization device is the ‘Key Word’ technique. Using this technique, learners associate an L2 word with one in the L1. For example, an English learner of German might associate ‘Vater’ (father) with ‘farter’! and visualize a farting father! Does this sound silly? Perhaps, but Hulstijn (1997, ‘Mnemonic methods in foreign language vocabulary learning: Theoretical considerations and pedagogical implications’ in J. Coady, & T. Huckin, Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition (pp. 203-224). Cambridge: CUP) claims that the use of such strategies can bring significant results.
    Hulstijn (pp.216 ff) provides an outline for a lesson plan to introduce this technique to a class, along with suggestions for procedures during the course.

    • philipjkerr February 25, 2012 at 2:04 am #

      There’s an increasing amount of research (e.g. Lindstromberg and Boers 2005 ‘From movement to metaphor with manner-of-movement verbs’ Applied Linguistics 29 (2) pp.241-261; Cook, Mitchell and Goldin-Meadow 2008 ‘Gesturing makes learning last’ Cognition 106 pp.1047-1058 ) that suggests that movement and gesture, even watching someone else’s movement or gesture, can facilitate retention of L2 vocabulary. In many cases, teachers can help their students by incorporating movement or gesture into their presentation of new lexical items or chunks. Learners can help themselves by using movement or gestures as they try to memorise items from lexical lists. Perhaps we should point this out to our students? If you want to find out more, you could check out Scott Thornbury’s bibliography on the subject
      or look up ‘Embodied cognition’ at Wikipedia.

  3. Zarina March 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    Here’s a good read – Helga and Tony Noice’s article about their research into actors’ memory. It appears that engaging not only mental, but also emotional and physical channels to communicate the meaning of a text to another person can lead to memory enhancement.

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