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Loci method and Chinese language


fabiothebest
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Has anyone here successfully used loci method (or memory palace) for learning Chinese words?

Recently I'm studying memory techniques and they can be useful for my university study as well. They could be used for learning Chinese as well I guess, but I'm not sure I found an efficient system that is worth the effort.

I think that learning new words should be based primarily on understanding, components break down etc., so a purely mnemonic system may not be ideal, memory palace is a very powerful tool though. There aren't many resources available online about memory palace and Chinese learning, anyway for example there is a World memory champion that also studied Chinese among the other things and used a particular technique. I would like to share some resource here so that maybe we can brainstorm how to use memory techniques for learning Chinese. I'd like to hear your ideas.

 

https://mullenmemory.com/memory-palace/chinese-system-part-1

https://mullenmemory.com/memory-palace/chinese-system-part-2

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qGjfSrQH4Y

https://countryoftheblind.blogspot.com/2012/01/mnemonics-for-pronouncing-chinese.html

 

For those who aren't aware of memory palace, well it's a way of memorising things by encoding information in the form of images and imagining them interacting with each other in your mind while following the path of a place that you already know, so that you can attach a new info to the solid memory of objects location that already belongs to your long term memory and you are able to recall with no effort. It helps transferring new information from short term to long term memory. This also allows to memorise information in a particular order.

Hmm this method could be used for writing and reading or just for speaking. Let's focus for a moment on the speaking part, because they require a different approach and being able to speak may be more practical. What you need to memorise is the word in your language and the word in Chinese (that could be divided in multiple chunks rather than being memorised as a single unit). About the Chinese word we should be able to recall meaning and pronunciation. Hmm we could associate an image representing a word in our language (let's say English as an example) to a few images representing words or sounds similar to the Chinese pronunciation. If Chinese was a simpler language it wouldn't be too difficult, but Chinese has tones, so there should be a way of encoding tones as well. Tones could be numbers, so we could encode them by using images representing those numbers eventually. If we use pinyin there are many combinations of sounds that could be learnt and used to make this system. We could encode all the pinyin sounds separately or we could encode all the finite set of initials and finals and associate them with tones. I think this thing is possible, but relies a lot on memory and not on comprehension, so it has some downsides. Besides, while doable, how long would it take to do all this? And what would be recall speed be?

I probably won't end up trying this, but what do you think? Do you have some suggestions for improving this system? How would you split and encode the information for representing new words to learn? Has anyone tried it before? I think this method was never discussed on this forum, it may spark some interest even in case we decide it isn't worth the effort.

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Yes yes, not enough, it could help memorisation, but vocabulary acquisition isn't only about memorisation. This is true for any language and I feel it's even truer for Chinese. Often even a dictionary isn't enough for a beginner or intermediate Chinese learner to grasp the correct word usage or differentiate between 2 or more similar words. Even if I knew all the words I may not to be able to speak, but memorising new words does help, it is necessary. I usually try to look at characters and their pronunciation, try to find components that could help me guess meaning or pronunciation based on something I already know, I try to make associations whenever possible, then I try to use words and if possible have native speakers correct me. I also employ spaced repetition, but I never tried memory palace for that :) .

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I was going to recommend the Matteo Ricci book too. He tried to pitch memory palace techniques to young gentry who had to memorize long texts for the 科举. His party trick at banquets would be to memorize a long text of random characters, then recite it forwards and backwards.

 

I'm a bit dubious that any mnemonic system would be fast enough for oral vocabulary. If mnemonics has any utility in learning Chinese, it would definitely be in learning to write the characters. I cooked up my own version of the Heisig system that uses Wubi character roots as mnemonic elements, and have used it for about a year and a half to slowly memorize ~1000 characters I previously wasn't able to write from memory. Unlike previous attempts with rote memorization where I had a big problem with leeches, my Anki cards are lapsing a lot less: fewer than 1% have more than 6 lapses.

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From that Spence book, I think, I read that Jesuits got huge huge kudos in Europe for their ability to recall massive amounts of information. I guess for them the memory palace was a way to dredge up huge quantities of information that you would rarely need to access. Obviously for studying a language, the ultimate aim is to be able to freely and naturally use the words or characters you've studied, which is a bit different I think.

 

For non-rare characters and non-rare vocabulary I guess the best use of the memory palace is, like SRS, as a crutch to help you remember something enough times in 'real life' so that you end up 'really' remembering it long-term, with the goal being that in the medium term you no longer need to use your memory palace ever again.

 

Alternatively, if you occasionally needed to dip into an entire body of especially rare words (or even characters) then maybe the memory palace system would work for that too.

 

Although I'm sure our brains are super different to computers, the most obvious analogy is between having something easily accesible on your desktop, versus using a memory palace as an external hard drive.

 

Many, many, too many years ago I thought a memory palace might be the answer to learning characters. I was dissuaded of that by people here and by my own laziness.

 

But one guy did it successfully: I emailed him to ask about it and he said he'd forgotten the details because it was a few years ago and he'd already used the memory palace method to internalise all the characters he needed, so he never used the 'system' any more, it had been so successful for him (desktop versus hard drive).

 

However you can see his method (from 20+ years ago) here:

 

http://web.archive.org/web/20001204191300/http://www.haoyao.com:80/#body

 

(you have to click on the links on the left, starting with "Introduction")

 

Excerpt:
 

Quote

 I recently spent time at Feng Chia university in Taiwan intensively studying Mandarin and Cantonese. During this period of full on study I developed my own memory systems for memorizing Chinese characters, Chinese words and Cantonese tones. These would be of benefit to anybody seriously wanting to take on Mandarin and or Cantonese who also has the motivation and time to do the job properly. It is my experience that all learners of Chinese have great difficultly covering all the aspects that need covering. The systems introduced in this site will allow the user to memorize the four essentials of Chinese characters, and show how to memorize Cantonese words' tone and meaning with only a little mental effort. The tone combination charts, with tranference to other words, give you the chance to learn to speak Chinese like the Chinese . This information is quite revolutionary and will give the serious Chinese student a real shot at complete mastery of the most difficult areas of Mandarin and Cantonese in a short space of time. Without these systems or similar systems with the same effect this would be almost impossible.

 

 

 

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On 9/11/2022 at 7:56 PM, realmayo said:

But one guy did it successfully: I emailed him to ask about it and he said he'd forgotten the details because it was a few years ago and he'd already used the memory palace method to internalise all the characters he needed, so he never used the 'system' any more, it had been so successful for him (desktop versus hard drive).

 

However you can see his method (from 20+ years ago) here:

 

http://web.archive.org/web/20001204191300/http://www.haoyao.com:80/#body

 

(you have to click on the links on the left, starting with "Introduction")

Very interesting, I was looking for exactly something like this. Images aren't displayed unfortunately, but I can read the text. Thanks for bringing this back up, even with Wayback Machine.

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On 9/11/2022 at 5:47 PM, 大块头 said:

I cooked up my own version of the Heisig system that uses Wubi character roots as mnemonic elements

Thanks for your answer. I never used Wubi, I always use pinyin. I still don't know exactly what it is, but it seems interesting. Does it have to do with components? Do you type letters or numbers in place of those components? And I see you used the PAO system.

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On 9/11/2022 at 3:47 PM, fabiothebest said:

Does it have to do with components? Do you type letters or numbers in place of those components?

 

No numbers are used. Each letter represents different character roots 字根, which overlap a lot with dictionary radicals. Each character boils down to a three- or four-letter sequence of letters. This guide is a good place to learn more.

 

Learning to type wubi was just an added bonus. I figured that if I'm going to spend the time creating mnemonic elements for all of these character components I might as well use a system that has already encoded all possible characters, instead of following Heisig's somewhat arbitrary encoding.

 

On 9/11/2022 at 3:47 PM, fabiothebest said:

And I see you used the PAO system.

 

I'll do a more thorough write-up once I learn a few hundred more characters, but employing the PAO system has been really effective for me. I don't mix up 陪 and 部 anymore because their stories are completely different (Mr. Bean swinging a pie and Ultraman getting hit in the face with a bumper-car). It also means I'm less likely to miss components: if I remember person-action-object-action I know I'm not recalling the character completely.

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