The power of mnemonics (memory rules)

Yesterday and today I spent a few hours studying Japanese. I’ve been slacking off on my Wanikani.com kanji deck and came across a counter I had forgotten. Japanese has different counters for numbers, days of the month, items, people etc. which can be daunting to learn. Wanikani has built in mnemonics but sometimes I like to make my own, especially for “list” type items such as weekdays and counters. I spent about 15 to 20 minutes creating a mnemonic for day of the month counters, another 20 minutes revising it, voilà. I can now recall each counter from 1 to 10 and 20 (note: the counters are regular excluding the ones I just told you about).

Here’s how I create and study mnemonics for Japanese:

  1. I glance over the list of words I need to learn and try to match them with Finnish or/and English words I already know. Sometimes I link subsequent words together with stories, or create a story with a beginning and an ending where each item forms a “chapter”.
  2. I type or draw out the mnemonic on paper or on my iPad
  3. I start revising the mnemonic until it’s fully etched in my head.
  4. I keep going back to the mnemonic until I no longer need it

Here’s an example where I use Finnish and Japanese to create a mnemonic for the word “Thursday”:

  • The word for Thursday in Japanese is “mokuyoobi”. The Finnish word is “torstai” which is abbreviated into “to”.  Combine the two and you get “tomokuyoobi”. “Tomo” mean’s “friend” in Japanese. So Thursday translates to “friend day”, which is easy to remember. I have similar memory rules for each weekday, starting with the Finnish abbreviation which is then combined to the Japanese word.

Using mnemonics is like having a map of each crevice to place your hand in when climbing the face of a mountain. You still have to do the work to pull yourself up, but you no longer have to figure out each time which ledge to pull on. Once you’ve gone through the motions often enough, you no longer need the map, you can just climb.