I started Spanish a few months ago and like magic (or possible word similarity, who knows) my Spanish vocabulary grew pretty rapidly. The whole Latin script crossover helps greatly too, I’m not gonna lie! Yet while most words I could learn the meaning and context and they moved in to my brain, there were some words that just would not stick just from learning the meaning. For those harder to remember words I started to use “mnemonics” (techniques a person can use to help them improve their ability to remember something – PsychCentral)
A great example of this is the word “pequeño” which means small and is pronounced “peh-kay-nyoh”. To remember this I used the phrase “when you are small people pick on you (pequeño)“. After some time of thinking of the phrase to remind me of the word, the word takes up permanent residence in my brain and the phrase is no longer needed.
In Russian I am finding this method far more valuable, especially with the addition of a completely different script to learn too – Cyrillic. There are also very few similarities so far in usable words – there are a lot of cognates (words in two languages that share a similar meaning, spelling, and pronunciation – ColorInColorado) in Russian it seems but they tend to be nouns which doesn’t really help me to learn beginner phrases and conversations.
When I started to learn Russian I thought I could use the same methods I used for Spanish and all would be fine, but I found 9 out of 10 words were forgotten before the lesson even ended. Those words that I used a mnemonic for however, stuck! So I changed tactic and started creating stories, acronyms, phrases for almost every new word – and the more I do this, the more words I am remembering. Check out where it all started, with numbers 1 to 9!
Counting To 9 (and working on 10!)
My girlfriend’s speaks Russian and English (amongst others but let’s not inflate the ego too much here!) and I am fascinated that no matter where we are or who she is talking to, if she has to count – she counts in Russian. This meant I’ve been hearing numbers over and over and over (with no spelling or written form to compare it to) and eventually memorised these “sounds” too.
I started coming up with my own version of their names – What they sounded like to me. While this started as somewhat of a joke they are still the first words that have stayed in my brain without any real effort to learn them, mostly because of the silly names I gave them.
One – (один – odin) “A gin, my favourite drink.”
Two – (два – dva) “two far!”
Three – (три – tree)
Four – (четыре – che-tih-rye)
Five – (пять – pyat)
Three, four and five became a phrase – “a tree of stringy peaches” (there’s a slight puff of air after the T in five that sounds almost like an S)
Six – (шесть -shest) “chest/boobs)”
Seven – (семь – sem) “this one’s the same”
Eight – (восемь – vosem) “also the same”
Nine – (девять – dye-vyat) “David!”
Seeing how well this worked for numbers that I didn’t even try to learn, coupled with how hard I was finding memorising new words I have decided to try and use mnemonics more and more and so far it’s working. Here’s a few examples of new words I actually wanted to learn!
Пойдём (pahy-dyom) “let’s go!” – it always reminds me of “by gum!” An English phrase of surprise. So I remember it as “by gum look at that, let’s go!”
Молодец (maladyet) “well done” – It sounds a little like Rolodex. A Rolodex full of compliments on how well I’ve done.
Спокойной ночи (spok-oi-noi nochee) “goodnight” – Spock from Star Trek and his Koi fish ‘Noi’ are having a good night (ночи is very similar to Spanish noche)
My next task is to go back over all the words my apps thought I had learned and relearn them the mnemonic way!