Have you ever wondered why it’s virtually impossible to forget how to ride a bike? How one can choose not to ride a bike for many years, and then get it back within minutes, if the skill was ever even lost at all? The reason is because of your associative memory. In this article, I’ll be sharing an algorithmic method that I’ve invented, spawned from the necessity of needing to remember long reams of Chinese poetry, and then convert it into the method can be used to remember any quote or proverb of any language on demand.
What Is The Associative Memory?
PsychologyDictionary.org defines associative memory as:
- A memory of a past event or place that may occur by recalling something associated with it.
- Retrieval of a memory of a stimulus or behavior in relation to the presentation of an associated stimulus or response.
It’s so difficult to forget how to ride a bike because of how many of your senses go into the act. Think of how many muscles are involved in riding a bike, the feeling of lactic acid that builds up in your muscles as you pedal, the vestibular glands in your ears that affect your balance, the slight sound of wind resistance against your earlobes, the breeze against your face as you move, the endorphins that are released from the pleasurable experience, etc.
All of these things happening in unison act as a unique mental password that engages the active patterns of electrical signals from the brain to moving parts of the body. When in combination together, they could only ever amount to one specific memory: riding a bike. Because the experience is so unique to us when compared to your average physical experience of movement, that so much of our neurology and physiology are involved in the process that it’s typically known to be impossible to forget how to ride a bike, once first learned and mastered.
But what if you could take advantage of that by taking control of exactly what makes an experience unique to you, and to do it at will for virtually anything that you want to learn or remember? It seems as if there is no one truly efficient algebraic algorithm for remembering everything, but there are individual ones for optimizing what we remember based upon our individual preferred senses (touch, taste, sight, etc.).
How A Norton Mnemonic Works
Not that unlike the Dominic System, a “Norton Mnemonic” works by utilizing a key for mental images; however, while the Dominic System is used for remembering numbers, a Norton mnemonic is used for remembering passages or excerpts of text, verbiage, or prose of any language in the world, on demand. This is accomplished by mentally stimulating as many senses as possible in the process of memorizing whatever the target material may be. With enough training, one can theoretically learn to recite an entire college textbook, word for word, even if the language that the textbook was printed in isn’t the student’s native.
The reason why I call my method “a” Norton Mnemonic, or add an “s” to the end of “Mnemonic” to pluralize it, is because even though the algorithm for developing the “associative key” may be the same for any language (depending upon the use of consonants and vowels), individual keys should be created using the algorithm for each individual language to remember things properly in the exact way that they’re meant to be pronounced.
So it’s not the algorithm that changes, but the associative key that’s developed from the algorithm that’s unique to each individual user of the method. For example, if a person speaks four languages, they’ll have four different keys to train and remember, produced by the same algebraic formula. However, a weakness of it is that it relies solely upon the Romanization of sounds into phonetic letters; it’s not used for remembering pictorial languages like the actual Chinese or Japanese writing system. In other words, by using this method, you’ll be able to speak the language, but you won’t be able to read the language. However, someday, I may invent a method for doing that as well.
This method works for several reasons:
- It utilizes the sense of hearing by encoding vowel sounds and consonants
- It utilizes the sense of sight by stimulating the associative memory to associate each sound with a mental picture unique to the user
- It utilizes the hippocampus of the brain by storing the mental picture in a memory palace (click here to view my article about that)
What Is An Associative Key?
An associative key is a writable innovation of mine for encoding or translating consonants and vowel sounds. For what I’ve done in creating one for Chinese is take the Chinese alphabet and integrate it into the grammatical or structural pattern of a present-perfect English sentence.
Here is a video describing what the Chinese alphabet is:
Even though using this method is guaranteed to significantly boost most people’s memory, there is no substitute for hard work. Therefore…
Practice! Practice! Practice!
It’s going to require practice and dedicated time to remember each associative key for the phonetics of each language. How long a passage a person can remember also depends upon practice; it’s a perishable skill like any other.
Here is a picture of my associative key for Chinese:
Norton Mnemonic Associative Key for Mandarin Chinese
Notice that all of the initials (or consonant sounds) are nouns, and all of the finals are verbs. Why will be explained later in this article. In order for the algorithm to work, you need to make sure that all consonant sounds for every language are always associated to tangible nouns, and vowels are associated to intangible verbs. If one chooses an intangible noun for a consonant sound, then one should at least have a tangible association to the noun. For example, in the picture, you can see that I associate “t” with “time”, but the word “time” is a vague, abstract, intangible noun that I use to associate
For example, in the picture, you can see that I associate “t” with “time”, but the word “time” is a vague, abstract, intangible noun that I use to associate to “t” sounds (you can’t hold or touch time); however, whenever I think of the word “time” I think of an analog round-face ticking clock that I can picture as a physical object that I can actually touch if I were to want to pick it up and hold it (while free-roaming the depths of my memory palace).
This is absolutely vital, because what’s going to happen is that the algorithm will churn out present-simple grammatical sentences that form mental pictures. These mental pictures are then saved into one’s memory palace. If the consonant sounds are given any other associations besides tangible nouns, either the sentence won’t make grammatical sense, or the picture will be abstract (which makes it more difficult to solidify in the imaginary world of the memory palace).
If you need help with selecting nouns, I recommend this website: Noun1.com
Use of this method does require a limited understanding of algebra, but more importantly: imagination.
When I was younger, I was ridiculed greatly because of the way I would talk to imaginary friends; when I was an adult, I was ostracized even harder, and understandably so; I’m no victim. Of course, it must be wierd for the average person to see some dude mumbling to himself in different pitches in often inaudible ways. It’s perfectly audible to me, but not to them, and because they can’t see what’s going on from the inside, of course it would seem strange to them.
At first, it was a coping mechanism for dealing with psychological pain, but after intense therapy, it’s no longer a coping mechanism more than it is a useful memorization technique that’s just a natural part of my memory palace, that actually gives me a great advantage in my working and long-term memory.
Yes, I’m aware that I still come off as eccentric, but if our willpower holds true, refusing to allow chastisement, lack of a social group’s approval, or the process of growing up to bury or destroy our inner children, we can wield the power of the imagination to do great things, and overcome great psychological hurdles.
For me, it was not allowing the world to convince me that my imaginary friend Nova, that I carried on into adulthood, was a bad thing to be ashamed of. But lo’ and behold: this method only works by utilizing the imagination in the same way that I use it to speak to Nova (or other imaginary beings that I’ve created in my head), greatly aiding in my (and hopefully yours, if this inspires you to do the same) ability to learn any language at will.
And remember, though I use Chinese as my example in this article, this method can be used for remembering or aiding in learning any language in the world, in record time.
The Quirks Of The Chinese Consonants
Consonants (primarily known as “initials”, in the Chinese associative key presented above) like “q” are not associated with nouns like “queen” (the first word that comes to mind when I think of the letter “q”). That is because, in Chinese, “q” is usually pronounced in a way that is closer to a “ch” sound in English.
Remember, it’s the sense of hearing that I’m engaging, before the importance of the spelling itself. So originally, it was associated with the noun “champ” with which I associated an image of Rocky Balboa.
Instead, however, what is closer to my heart is a picture of Emperor Qin (pronounced “chin”) who was one of the main characters in the movie Hero, starring Jet Li, which was a highly influential movie that influenced my personal philosophy by utilitarianism.
If I were to associate “q” with a noun like “queen” then I’ll likely remember that the Chinese word I want to recite begins with a “q”, but that doesn’t mean that I’d pronounce it correctly when speaking. I’d have to add an extra step to remember that a written “q” in Chinese pinyin yields the “ch” sound, when I could just skip that encumbering, redundant, and unnecessary mental step altogether by just associating a “ch” noun to the “q” in the associative key.
Likewise for the letter “x”, which, in Chinese, is pronounced with a “sh” sound in English. I chose the word “Sherlock” which makes me envision the Robert Downey Jr. version of Sherlock Holmes.
“Zh” is pronounced closer to a “j” sound, so I associated it with the mental image of a horned “j”ack rabbit.
For “Ch” I thought of Winston “Ch”urchill.
The Quirks Of The Chinese Vowels
The problem with Chinese vowels (primarily known as “finals”), is that they are virtually completely unlike English if pronounced correctly. So, I found that the extra step of word association that I excluded with consonants was indeed needed with the vowels.
All of the finals are associated with verbs.
For the more difficult final sounds (like “ai”, and “ou”) I had no choice but to use associative verbs that didn’t begin with those letters; however, with diligent practice with the Leitner System for memory, I was able to overcome that hurdle.
The Four Tones Of Mandarin
Unlike English, spoken Mandarin Chinese uses four tones to differentiate word meanings: high rise (first), rising (second), falling rising (third) and falling (fourth); therefore, four words may be spelled the same way in pinyin, the Romanization of the Chinese characters, but mean completely different things depending upon which tone is used to pronounce them. By using the wrong tone you may be saying something completely different.
I associate the four tones with different predicate variable situations. If the tone of the word is the first, then there is no predicate added. If the tone of the word is the second one, then I imagine the scene of the present-simple sentence with the add-on of: while climbing a mountain.
- Bruce Lee attacks = bā → 八 → eight
- Bruce Lee attacks while climbing a mountain = bá → 拔 → discharge
- Bruce Lee attacks while skateboarding off a ramp = bǎ → 把 → to hold grasp, or control
- Bruce Lee attacks while falling off a building = bà → 爸 → father
How I personally save these images in my head is in a personal library underneath of the keep in Himnariki, my personal memory palace. They’re saved as imaginary polaroid photographs that are indexed in drawers in imaginary little rooms that are maintained by Minni, an imaginary maternal character that I created that you’ll understand if you click on the link.
In order to facilitate memorizing and locating the memory, I use the following formula:
If e = excerpt, s = syllables, c = consonant, v = vowel, t = tone, m = memory palace location, p = predicate
e ≈ ∑ (m_1[c + v]+pt) ∝ s
i = 1
The index being 1, while the stopping point is a variable (let’s say, “x”) that’s relevant to the text or data in question, that one’s trying to remember.
In simple English, the excerpt you want to remember is approximately equal to the summation of the syllables being proportional to the variables of each consonant and vowel being combined together within the matrix of where ever it may be within the memory palace’s location (where you are in the map of your mind) as relevant to the predicative tone.
If the exponent t equals 1, meaning that there is only one tone, then the summation is unaffected. However, in the case of Mandarin Chinese (having four tones), “t” would equal whatever number of the tone it would be (1 being neutral, which leaves the meaning unaffected, the rest changing the meaning of the word accordingly).
I figured the mathematical application of the term “matrix” was relevant here, because what is a memory palace if not a contained matrix of reality in one’s own mind? 🙂
Putting It To The Test
This is an ancient and very famous poem written by Li Bai, who was basically the Chinese equivalent to Shakespeare; it’s about missing home. It’s called: 静夜思 “A Quiet Night Thought”.
In front of my bed, there is bright moonlight.
It appears to be frost on the ground.
I lift my head and gaze at the August Moon,
I lower my head and think of my hometown.
I won’t encode the entire poem in this article, just the first line:
Which is saved in my memory palace as a Polaroid picture of:
Winston Churchill attacks with soldiers while climbing up a mountain against Emperor Qin while he illustrates himself in a painting climbing up a mountain with a monster who is illustrating a yogi eating a girl alive who is attacking him.
But the wackier the picture the better, because abnormal things are easier to remember. See how that works? I don’t expect that mneumonic to mean much of anything to you, or perhaps you may think that it’s highly difficult to understand; however, it’s incredibly easy for me because I used all imagery that’s already floating around in my subconscious mind because of what I like to read, watch, etc. The statement is coded in a signature way that is personal to me.
Written out, the sentences are actually longer than the text that you’re trying to remember; however, it’s not about writing out the text, it’s about saving a single picture or image in your mind, at which it only takes a single glance at to remember what it is that you’re trying to remember.
In order to prevent this method from being any harder than it has to be, when you’re making your associative key, just do the same thing: use subconscious images that come first to mind whenever you see a letter and use that as your association. Using the algorithm will deliberately create crazy sounding sentences, but those sentences will generate images personal to you that’s virtually impossible for you to forget.
Using this method, all I have to do is take a few moments, close my eyes, travel back into my memory palace, find the picture, hold the picture, look at the picture, then read off what I see to myself, producing the Chinese syllables that are necessary to recite the entire passage. How you do this is, again, entirely unique to you, because it’s your mind, your imagination.
I cannot stress enough that this method will not work unless you commit your custom associative key to memory. That shouldn’t take too long if you’re using imagery that’s personal to you; however, it still takes practice.
Memory is a skill.
Naturally, it will always make the experience easier, regardless of whether you’re using the mnemonic for Chinese to English, Italian to English, Russian to English, French to English, Japanese to English, or even English to English, etc. if you actually practice the language itself and know how to properly pronounce the words, and know their meaning to the best of your ability. Again, this is definitely not a panacea, a quick-fix for everyone’s linguistic dreams…it’s merely an aid that can be used for the demographic of people willing to use it.
Mike Norton is an American award-winning Internet marketing strategist with a BA in Internet marketing from Full Sail University.
He’s also a writer, entrepreneur, and a quantum physicist studying part-time at the University of York. He is the bestselling independent author of Fighting for Redemption, and a veteran of the United States military who is a 7-time winner of the USS Dwight Eisenhower award for essays of world peace and respect.
As a mostly self-educated vagabond, he gains inspiration from a myriad of experiences wrought from the adventures of his nomadic lifestyle. He prolifically writes and journals where ever he goes in the world, from one country to the next.