More on Recoding: Learning Foreign and Strange Vocabulary Words

  As we learned in the blog “How to Memorize Abstract Information” the key is to recode abstract information into something concrete so that an image can be formed as your aid to memorization. Learning a foreign language can be quite useful. In any case, it is a great way to exercise the brain and memory. Learning a new language develops new neural pathways, makes new connections, and builds mental flexibility.

 Memory techniques make the nonsensical meaningful or imaginable. The keyword technique is used primarily for the learning of foreign vocabulary, but it can be used to learn the meaning of any difficult new or unfamiliar term. Basically, the technique involves the development of a keyword as bridge between the meaning and the new or foreign word.

Suppose you were learning German, and you wanted to learn the word for sick.  The word for sick is krank (kraank). A keyword is used a bridge between the sound of the foreign word and its English translation. A possible keyword here is cranky. You could form an image of a cranky sick person. That would serve as the bridge to the meaning “sick.” When you hear the word krank that would remind you of the image of the cranky sick person. Similarly, when you try to think of the German word for “sick” the image of the cranky sick person would remind you of the word krank. The term keyword might be somewhat misleading. Often more than a single word is involved, and it is quite common to generate images to capture the keyword(s) and their link to foreign vocabulary word.

Suppose you were learning German and had the following vocabulary words to learn:

kaufen  (cow’ fin)                                 buy

bitte     (bit’ah)                                    please

fahren  (fah’ren)                                  drive

gefallen (ge fal’len)                             to please

arm      (arm)                                       poor

regnen (reg’ nen)                                rain

traurig (trau’rig)                                 sad

zwishcen (zwi’ schen)                          between

vergessen (fer ges’sen)                        forget

weil (vile)                                             because

This is how you could apply the keyword technique

kaufen  (cow fin)          buy

Form an image of a cow with a fin buying something.

bitte     (bit’ah)                        please

Picture someone who has eaten something bitter and is asking, please, for something to wash away the taste.

fahren  (fah’ren)                      drive

Picture driving a car from far away using a reign to control the steering wheel

gefallen  (ge fal’len)                to please

Picture a clown dresses a a key falling to please the crowd.

arm      (arm)                           poor

Picture a poor beggar holding out his arm asking for alms for the poor.

regnen (reg’ nen)                    rain

Picture a nun raking in the rain.

traurig (trau’rig)                     sad

Picture an oil rig worker who has ripped his trousers on the oil rig and is very sad.

zwishcen (zwi’ schen)              between

Picture an electric current switching between two relays.

weil (veil)                     because

picture a bee wearing a veil causing mischief at a picnic

vergessen (fer ges’sen)            forget

Picture a lady in furs forgetting the answers on a quiz show.

Now try remembering the German for the English word.






to please





Now try the reverse

weil (veil)

kaufen (cow’ fin)

gefallen (ge fal’ len)

regnen (reg’ nen)

traurig (trau’ rig)

vergissen (fer ges’ sen)

bitte (bit’ ah)

fahren (fah’ ren)

arm (arm)

traurig (trau’ rig)

zwischen zwi’ schen)

An important point is that this keyword technique can be used to learn the meaning of unfamiliar words or terms in any language, including English. Consider the English word peduncle.  Unless you are into flowers and botany, it is unlikely that you would know the word. It means flower stalk. Keywords here might involve your paying an old debt to your uncle using flower stalks. Unless you are a student of anatomy you are unlikely to know what an omphalos is. It is the navel (belly button). An image here could be some fellow humming um into his belly button. What about the word factotum? Might that be somewhat who totes facts? Almost, but not quite. A factotum is a handyman. You could conjure up an image of a handyman toting packs from a truck to a garage. To be remembered, something needs to be meaningful. Keywords can provide this meaning when none is initially found. Thus, this technique should have practical value for you. Using this technique also exercises your imagination, creativity, recoding, decoding, and retrieval skills.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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