In this post, we’ll teach you how to learn Italian words with these 4 simple mnemonics:
- Unusual association,
- Emotional involvement
What are mnemonics?
A mnemonic device, or memory device, is any learning technique that aids information retention or retrieval (remembering) in human memory.
Mnemonics make use of elaborative encoding, retrieval cues, and imagery as specific tools to encode any given information in a way that allows for efficient storage and retrieval.
Mnemonics aid original information in becoming associated with something more accessible or meaningful—which, in turn, provides better retention of the information.
Simply put, a mnemonic is a tool that helps us remember certain facts or large amounts of information.
They can come in the form of a song, rhyme, acronym, image, phrase, or sentence. Mnemonics help us remember facts and are particularly useful when the order of things is important.
They can also help memorize vocabulary in a foreign language.
4 Mnemonics: and never shall we forget it!
The title of this tip is the translation of an acronym used by the Italian memory guru Gianni Golfera.
I don’t know him personally, but the acronym was indeed easy to remember, and I approve of all the suggestions it contains.
In order for new information to stick into your mind – in our case, basic Italian phrases, common Italian words, or Italian numbers – you need to associate it with mental imagery based on the principles of exaggeration, movement, unusual association, and emotional involvement.
Mnemonic 1: learn foreign words through exaggeration
The general rule of thumb when using mnemonics is that the more exaggerated and bizarre the visualization, the more likely it will stick with you.
This is why it helps to make things really large, add faces to inanimate objects, have your images doing really silly things, or make your images defy the laws of physics.
Anything that would make a lasting impression on your mind if you saw it in the real world is likely a good candidate for imprinting a visualization in your memory.
Imagine things on an abnormal scale. A person weighing 200kg or 3 meters tall catches attention.
Even swear words can help make a sentence memorable!
Mnemonic 2: learn foreign words through movement
Adding action or movement to your images helps to establish a flow between the things you are trying to remember.
Evolution made us more sensitive to moving objects, as it helps us perceive the danger around us. In a classroom of sitting students, the person standing up will catch everybody’s attention.
Try placing things on top of each other; crashing things together; merging images together; wrapping them around each other; rotating them around each other, or having them dance together.
Mnemonic 3: learn foreign words through the unusual association
An unusual or out-of-place item in your images enhances the recall.
Put together two things or situations that belong to different contexts. A man in the rain is holding a satellite dish as an umbrella. Your brain will be enthralled.
Right, now, take a moment and picture the shape of Egypt in your mind. Having trouble? How about Italy?
Chances are you probably did much better with Italy because, at some point in time, you learned that it was shaped like a boot. You had made an association with something you already knew.
Use all the senses to code information or dress up an image. Remember that your mnemonic can contain sounds, smells, tastes, touch, movements, and feelings, as well as pictures.
Mnemonic 4: learn foreign words through emotional involvement
Learning through emotional involvement is probably the most powerful method. When we hear the news that moves us, we remember that information for a long time, if not forever.
The death of a dear friend, the song of your first date, an earthquake.
It’s possible to reproduce this emotion in real life by using people, objects, and familiar situations in our mental images.
I learn words better from people I like or in exciting situations. I even remember who taught me those words, when, and where. Together with the main information, the brain stores everything that it perceives as relevant at that moment (the circumstances).
Association to mental images based on these principles helps the brain transfer information from short-term memory to long-term memory.
The association doesn’t need to be in your own native language. The more languages you speak, the more possibilities to associate words.
When I practice conversation or write compositions, I say and write memorable sentences following these principles. For example, one of my first sentences in Korean was: “Where is the dog? It’s in the washing machine.”
Turn false friends (words similar in spelling and pronunciation between two languages but with different meanings) into real friends: the Spanish word “burro” means “donkey”, while in Italian, ”burro” means ”butter”. Imagine a donkey carrying a huge loaf of butter.
Play with sounds and make absurd images. This works for words of your own native language too.
In Italian, “portamento” means ”carriage, bearing”. “Portare” means “to carry,” and ”mento” means ”chin” (this is not the etymology). Think of it as the way you carry your chin.
Rude or sexual rhymes are very difficult to forget, and it also works to learn foreign words that are not rude or sexual!
Find more tips like these in this guide on how to learn Italian effectively!
“Instead of just repeating the words, try writing sentences with them or using them in your next conversation or class”
Ask an expert
If you need guidance on the most effective techniques to improve your memory, why not ask an expert?
Memory expert Anthony Metivier is the author of the Magnetic Memory Method.
On his blog, he shares his strategies for remembering things, including:
- The Memory Palace Technique
- Associative Imagery, Linking, and Pegwords
- Story Method
- Major System and Dominic System
- Mind Maps
The trick to remembering names
The best way to learn words is in the context of sentences or stories, such as those offered by Ripeti Con Me and Leggi Con Me.
That being said, here are my thoughts about supplementing Ripeti Con Me with dictionaries and memory aids, given the fact that not every word we want to learn could have 30 Ripeti Con Me sentences to fully drill it into our brains (and if we want to finish the program within our lifetimes).
When I encounter a new word I want to learn, I try to see it in a few different contexts using Reverso.
Then I try to find a colorful, interesting way to sear it into my memory.
When I wanted to sear the word “ozioso” (idle) into my memory, I made a mental image of my zio (uncle) as a lazy, idle guy in a hammock. (It doesn’t matter that he’s far from idle; once I formed that image, the word ozioso was stuck in my mind).
Some of my mental images, I confess, are fairly ridiculous because it’s not always easy to think them up.
For sbirciare (to peek), I’m embarrassed that I ended up with an image of peeking around a bottle of beer at a charwoman.
Stupid and ridiculous, but hey, it worked, and that word is now seared in my mind.
I got this idea from a book about memory I once read that said that the trick to remembering names, languages, shopping lists, etc., is to form rather ridiculous mental images.
Once you truly “own” a word eventually the ridiculous mental image will fade away (probably).
If you have other tools to get vocabulary to stick, please comment below.
Repetition helps to memorize foreign words
To firmly place everything, you do want to remember in long-term memory where a little review is required. Try to go over the associations you formed for specific things at least once a day for the next few days.
Instead of just repeating the words, try writing sentences with them or using them in your next conversation or class. Eventually, you will just remember the information, and the images will be forgotten.
Are you wondering about all those crazy images floating around in your head and what the long-term effects on your sanity will be? Not to worry.
Psychologists and memory experts agree that there is no chance of your memory filling up.
Temporary things such as appointments and the associations and images you create for them will naturally be forgotten when the information is no longer needed.
Remember to take a night of sleep to fix this new information in your brain.
By the way, if you were thinking of flashcards to memorize the most common words, find out why I don’t use flashcards.
And, don’t just stuff words in your head without using them. It won’t help.
To learn more about mnemonics, I’ve asked memory experts to share their secrets. Check out our expert roundup!
Still translating in your head? Wanna speak Italian for real? Check out Stefano's courses to think directly in Italian and become fluent fast!