Learn Russian like a Memory Master
12 July, 2017
With six cases, two verb aspects and very few vocabulary cognates, learning Russian involves an intimidating amount to memorise. Here are some hacks to help you manage.
It struck me mid-way through one of my lessons last week; we were learning four Russian verbs equivalent to the English ‘to dress/undress’, (одевать, надевать, раздевать, снимать). Once you took into account conjugations, prefixes, tenses, aspects and reflexives – there were 228 different Russian words equivalent to 8 English ones!
Given that the whole language presents a similar ratio – I began to wonder how it was physically possible to recall as much linguistic data as one needs to speak Russian. Impossible though it seems – demonstrably many people manage it. The good news is that your memory is capable of storing vast amounts of foreign vocabulary, but needless to say, blindly drilling countless contextless words won’t get you too far too quickly. This is where mnemonic tips and tricks come in handy. As any memory champion will tell you – you need to get creative, using visual cues and verbal links – with an organised system, you can remember a huge amount with relative ease. Building on our previous two blogs about tips for learning vocabulary and language apps, here are some mnemonic tips and tools to help you progress in Russian:
1) Learn in Your Sleep
I know, it sounds too good to be true! But studies have shown that just the time of day you use to review and practice your vocabulary can have a huge influence on how much you remember. The optimal time to learn words is right before you go to sleep, then review them first thing in the morning. This is because the sleeping brain subconsciously absorbs work – boosting memory and aiding consolidation. According to psychologist Jessica Payne, nodding off after learning something new is like ‘telling’ the sleeping brain what to retain as at night your subconsciousness deals with the final experience of the day. Thus, overnight the new knowledge will be consolidated
Get in the habit of spending a mere 10 mins going over your new vocab before sleep and after waking and you’ll find yourself with a vastly expanded vocabulary!
2) Use Visualisation Techniques
Ever since the Ancient Greeks, it’s been acknowledged that using visual cues in structured memory systems is one of the best ways to recall huge amounts of information. Context is everything – to learn new words it’s essential to link them within ones which is already stored in your memory. The ‘Town Language Memory Technique’ was developed by Dominic O’Brien, it builds on the popular ‘memory palace’ principle – using spatial visualisation and mnemonic images to improve your ability to store and retrieve foreign words.
The technique works like this; you chose a town familiar to you and use it as a setting throughout which to strategically ‘peg’ mental images which are associated with foreign words.
First you have to divide the town into sections based on grammatical functions. So for instance – nouns, verbs and adjectives. Nouns can be ‘placed’ in the town itself, verbs in a sports stadium and adjectives in the park. When you want to learn a new work, you should assign it to a location in the ‘town’ wherein you might find it – for instance, vocab relating to education can be ‘pegged’ in the library, and words for groceries within the supermarket. For adjectives – populate the town park with people who display the different characteristics you’re trying to learn – different hair colours and personality types for instance.
You can also adapt this technique to accommodate complex grammatical forms. For instance, Russia’s three genders for words – feminine, masculine and neutral can be assigned a specific orientation, feminine on your left, masculine on your right and neutral in front. Similarly, perfective and imperfective verbs can be grouped in pairs and assigned a specific side. Whatever you do, it’s important to always associate vivid, sensory images with each word – the more bizarre the better! Your brain is well adapted to remembering images with these qualities, and you will have an excellent method for recalling definitions. Although you may be unable to immediately call to mind the appropriate image for the word, knowing that it is stored in a specific place in your ‘town’ means you can go back and find it.
Do these memory tips work for you? Do you have any other mnemonic hacks which you find handy? Drop us a line and let us know!
This blog was brought to you by Kamila, currently studying Russian at Liden and Denz