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How To Steal A Pen From A French Horse
Memory Techniques For Learning Languages

Like many students, at school I was taught a foreign language, in my case how to speak French. But it was only after 3 years of long and arduous study that I found out quite how badly. Indeed I was shocked to discover upon my first visit to France that my continental cousins couldn't comprehend a word of my fabulous French - and I hadn't got a clue what they were on about either.

Turns out that French people have accents.

Sacré bleu!

French people speak French with a French accent, not a Birmingham one… or at least I think that's where my French teacher came from.

Despite this early setback, I persevered and did eventually learn how to speak French properly - funny accent and all - and even went on to study at a French business school. (Ok... 'attend' may be a more accurate description as I don't recall much studying taking place, other than cheap French wine).

Yet sadly in my quest to learn a foreign tongue at no point did anyone ever mention to us poor, suffering students that we could use some simple memory techniques to quickly and effectively learn that all-important foreign vocabulary. Which is a real shame, because trying to memorise foreign vocabulary can be the most time-consuming part of learning a new language. And for many students, especially those subjected to good old-fashioned rote learning, not a particularly engaging or enjoyable one.

Fortunately there is another way.

It's quite straightforward, and dare I say it, even fun.

Here's how it works in a nutshell...

You simply use your imagination to link the sound of the word to its meaning. That's right, you just make a mental picture linking the word with its meaning.

For example, a few French nouns...

The French for HORSE is CHEVAL.

Picture a HORSE digging with a SHOVEL (you just need to focus on the sound of the foreign word).

The French for PEN is STYLO.

Imagine STEALING a very expensive PEN.

So you look for an imaginative way of linking the two words together. That's it. A couple of verbs...

The French TO BUY is ACHETER.

Just imagine going into a shop TO BUY a huge ASHTRAY.


Perhaps picture a CONvict jumping into and DRIVING away with your car.

And no party would be complete without the odd adjective or two, so…

The French for CRAZY is FOU.

Imagine a CRAZY person doing Kung FU.

The French for DELIGHTED is RAVI.

Imagine being thoroughly DELIGHTED with the RAVIoli you just cooked. Or DELIGHTED with the new Toyota RAV4 you just won in a competition. Or anything you like as long as it makes sense to you.

Does this method of connecting words together through visual images really work?

Do horses dig holes?

Probably not, but if they did I'm sure you'd know what they'd use.

And wasn't there something you had to go and buy from the shop?

And I'm certain in real life you'd never ever dream of stealing anything would you? Me neither... except for pens.

There are 2 simple reasons why this technique works. Firstly, you are actively creating memorable visual reminders which link the word and its foreign equivalent. And secondly, in the process of doing this you are really forcing yourself to actively focus on the information, to think about it, to register it and lock it in by engaging the power of your imagination.

It sure beats repetition, repetition, repetition and more repetition.

In fact, if you review the images that you create just once or twice you'll probably find them hard to forget, such is the natural power of your brain to link and connect information visually.

Now perhaps you have no desire to be fantastic at French, great at German at super at Spanish, but perhaps you know someone else who does. And even if you don't, it's actually the general principle that's important rather than this specific application to learning foreign languages.

Because the technique can also be applied to many other things, particularly in business.

For example, did you know that it's claimed that there is only one factor found to consistently correlate with income levels? And that the technique just described in this article can help boost yours? If you'd like to know more then read...

Does Size Really Matter?

And remember, never ever try to steal pens from horses carrying shovels, especially in France. It just doesn't make any sense.

The Final Word: Let your imagination run crazy when tackling foreign tongues. Create simple, memorable images that connect words with their foreign counterparts. You'll pick up a new language faster than you can imagine.

P.S. The only real downside to this method is that some people can find it time-consuming to come up with visual reminders which incorporate the word and its meaning.

The good news is that Dr. Michael Gruneberg has systematically applied this memory technique to come up with memorable images for the main vocabulary for a whole host of languages. If it's of interest then you can find out more information here...


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