Mnemonics and English: how to turn mistakes into victories

Scientists have calculated that the memory of the most ordinary person is approximately 2.5 petabytes of information. More than 2.5 million gigabytes equals approximately 35.5 years of continuous Full HD video recording.

But oddly enough, with such a powerful supercomputer in our head, we often cannot remember basic things. Take English for example.

“Affect” or “effect”? “Complement” or “compliment”? When should you use “than” and when should you use “then”? How to spell the word correctly: “neccessary”, “neccesary” or “necessary”? And there are hundreds of such examples.

Trying to memorize the correct version does not work – the brain bugs and continues to get lost even after the twentieth repetition. But once you remember it incorrectly, it will be much more difficult to retrain.

Mnemonics come to the rescue. A fairly simple technique that uses the property of the brain to create associative connections and, with their help, memorize information. In this article, we will show you how to get rid of mistakes when learning English using mnemonics.

How memory works and why mnemonics are effective

Memory is a complex mechanism, the features of which have not yet been thoroughly studied. But her patterns are still known.

The process of memorizing information consists of three parts:

Sensory memory… Duration: 0.5 to 2 seconds. She reacts to the images she has just seen or heard.

You can experiment right now. Look at any object in the room (like the cover of an art book) for 3-5 seconds. Then close your eyes. For about a second you will clearly and in detail “see” the image of the object, and then the details will simply be erased.

Sensory memory also influences the first impression of information. After all, if some new knowledge was obtained in an unusual or non-standard way, then the brain more actively creates neural connections and stores it in memory.

For example, if a clown similar to Einstein with a sign E = mc2 rides past you on a unicycle, the brain will actively react, activating the memorization process. Actually, this is one of the reasons why we love everything new and unusual – because the brain loves it.

Short term memory… Its duration is from several minutes. This contains information that the brain has already processed and interpreted.

On average, a person’s operative memory can memorize 7 ± 2 units. That is, from a random set of words, an ordinary person will remember from 5 to 9. Short-term memory can be trained – in general, a person can hold up to 15 units of data, but more will not work without special techniques. Short term memory is limited.

If information does not create associative links with data that is already in the brain, then it is quickly erased from short-term memory, without getting into long-term memory.

This is how cramming works. By memorizing information, we overload our short-term memory. But the brain considers scattered data without any system to be garbage, so in a day or two this information is erased. Actually, this is why students, after passing the exam, forget almost everything that they learned the day before.

But if the brain actively creates associative connections with incoming information, then it goes into long-term memory.

Long term memory… From several days to tens of years. This includes information that has already created strong associative connections in the brain.

The brain tries to classify information and organize it. In most cases, spontaneous associative links are created.

For example, you are meeting a new person. And he suddenly looks like the soloist of “Hands Up” Sergei Zhukov, and even his name is Sergei. And that’s all – there is an association. The next time you think of it, your brain will say, “This is the one from Hands Up.”

In the same way, just interesting information that evokes emotions is remembered. The words of your favorite song are memorized as if by themselves – you don’t have to put in any effort at all.

Mnemonics help a person to neatly bypass short-term memory and immediately put information into long-term memory. In essence, you are helping your brain to create stable and non-trivial associative connections.

A legal hack of the brain, so to speak.

Moreover, this is almost the only adequate way to retrain incorrect information.

Mnemonic corrects mistakes of the past

With the theory sorted out, now to practice. With the help of mnemonics, you can memorize difficult moments when learning foreign languages ​​and even correct mistakes.

It happens to all students that they have learned the spelling of a word or its use incorrectly. And if you don’t fix it right away, then the wrong version is put into long-term memory.

In this case, it is extremely difficult to retrain, because the brain continues to refer to the wrong information, taking it for the truth. As a result, there are two conflicting versions in long-term memory, which is why the brain often catches a bug.

Let’s say a student misread the spelling of the word “necessary”. And he writes in it a double “s”, not “s”. Even if he later learns correctly, then every time he needs to write this word, the brain will catch a mistake. After all, for him, both spellings are true.

Mnemonic allows you to painlessly solve this contradiction. And for this you need to remember a regular T-shirt.

Don’t be surprised that the weirder and more unusual the association, the better it will be remembered. A T-shirt usually has one collar and two sleeves. That is, one C and two S.

Now when a student needs to write the word “necessary”, he will remember the T-shirt and choose the correct spelling without any problems.

As a mechanism for correcting mistakes in language learning, mnemonics works flawlessly. But with its help, you can also learn difficult points.

Let’s take an example straight away. Let’s say a student cannot remember the use of the words “than” and “then”. This is a very common problem. The words are similar, so it is very easy to confuse.

Mnemonics comes to the rescue.

ThAn – compArison (comparison)
ThEn – timE (time)

And that’s all. The letters A are in the than-comparison pair, and the e is in the then-time pair. That is, “than” is used when comparing, and “then” is used when indicating time. One little trick – and the student will never be wrong in using these words again.

In simple terms, you are helping the brain to create an associative connection. Strong and, more importantly, not accidental.

And then this association will work as a tooltip every time you need to remember how to use a phrase or word correctly.

But there is one caveat. As an English language school, we recommend not going overboard with mnemonics. And to study with its help only difficult moments of the language and correct mistakes with already memorized words or phrases.

Yes, we know that some people successfully learn the vocabulary and grammar of a foreign language using mnemonics. But this requires much more effort to organize the educational process than using the tools that EdTech offers. Engagement, gamification, and personalization work great, and mnemonics can help correct mis-learned rules and words.

Bonus. 7 examples of mnemonics to help you memorize difficult English grammar rules

‘I’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ – but only when it sounds like ‘bee’!

Writing words with the letters “i” and “e” in a row is a known pain. You can’t learn all the words, but this simple rule will help you avoid mistakes.

“I” before “e”, except after “c”, but only if sounds like “bee”.

It sounds nicer in English, so it will be easier to learn. If a word contains a combination of letters “ie” and it sounds like the word “bee”, then it should be written exactly as “ie”. For example, “achieve”, “believe”, “piece”, “fierce”.

After the letter “c” is written “ei”. “Ceiling”, “receipt”, “conceive”.

And if there is no sound “her”, then the opposite is true. After “c” – “ie”, and after other letters – “ei”: “science”, “efficient”, “foreign”, “beige”.

Affect is action, effect is result

These two words are confused no less than than-then. But absolutely the same mnemonics will help to understand.

Affect – Action
Effect – rEsult

The “affect-action” pair contains the letter A, and the “effect-result” pair contains the letter E.

There is another interesting way to remember. With the word “RAVEN”. In the letters of this word (except for the first one) the message is encoded: “Affect – verb, effect – noun” (Affect – a verb, effect – a noun). Indeed, “affect” is “influence” and “effect” is “result”.

It’s truly hot in July

Often students try to spell the word “truly” with “e” for “truely”. But at the same time, everyone remembers without any problems how to spell “July” – “July”.

This simple sentence allows you to associate one word with another and remember that “truly” does not have the letter “e”, even if “true” does.

Mr Lee lost an e in an argument

Same situation with “argument”. Many people remember that the word “argue” contains the letter “e”, so they try to shove it.

And this simple phrase helps to remember that there is no letter “e” in “argument”.

Lose lost an O

A very common mistake. Many people hear the sound in the word “lose” [u:] and by analogy with “book” they write it with a double “o” – “loose”.

The phrase “Lose” has lost the letter O “, although it is not rhymed, it still helps to remember the correct spelling. Because “Lose” is “to lose”.

Ice is cold

A simple suggestion to deal with words that end with “-ice” and “-ise”. For example, “practice” and “practice”, “advice” and “advise”.

“Ice” here is a noun, “is” is a verb.

Therefore, in nouns you need to write at the end “-ice”, and in verbs – “-ise”. If “advice”, then “advice”, and if “advise” – then “advise”.

Gray vs. Gray

As you probably know, some words are spelled differently in British and American English. For example, the word “gray”. In Britain it is “gray” and in the US it is “gray”.

It is very easy to remember which one is:

GrAy – America
GrEy – England

2 seconds and you can’t go wrong again.

There are a huge number of similar examples of mnemonics. And if you cannot learn something in a standard way, you can always use ready-made options or come up with your own.

This way you can correct any mistakes in learning English and simplify difficult points. Do you use mnemonics to learn something? Especially foreign languages. Write your mnemonic rules in the comments, we are very interested.

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