The research which takes a great deal of my time, and providing a great deal of pleasure, is looking at the way memory systems can be used in learning foreign languages. I am comparing techniques for French compared with Chinese as an English speaker with no heritage in either.
I was delighted to receive a request from a Chinese publisher to publish The Memory Code in Simplified Chinese (as used in China and around the world). It is already in Traditional Chinese (as used in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau). I am so excited by this because the memory experiment which is obsessing me most at the moment is learning Chinese – speaking in Mandarin and writing in Simplified Chinese characters. That’s ‘simplified’, not ‘simple’!
Of all the topics readers of The Memory Code and Memory Craft write to me about wanting to memorise, learning foreign languages tops the list. I used to think that was a bummer because the subjects I failed every year at school were languages. I tried Latin and German, then struggled for five years with French – encouraged by a mother who adored learning languages. I failed every time. Now I love them!
As a result of reader nagging, I returned to French and discovered that with the aid of memory tools, I was able to learn and thoroughly enjoy it. So I became ridiculously ambitious and took on Chinese (Mandarin). It is a fascinating experiment because these two languages are so different that I have had to approach them very differently. I will be writing in detail about the methods and implementation in the near future. I just want to finalise refining my systems and gain enough information from others to list the best resources. I don’t trust online reviews which can be so easily manipulated, so I am asking you!
The memory methods used for the two languages are similar but the way I implement them is very different. I have some clues about French as an English speaker. I have none at all about Chinese. Nothing. Not a scrap.
The techniques I will write about include Memory Palaces (of course!). I am surprised how much I reply on Bestiaries for both languages. These are based on the Bestiary I use for names and words in English, but implemented very differently. I had no idea I would use bestiaries for languages when I wrote Memory Craft. Now I couldn’t do without them.
News in Slow French was recommended to me when I first embarked on French. It is my main guide now, but I also use a lot of other resources, including a conversation class.
For Chinese, again I use a range of resources, but mostly YoYo Chinese. For Chinese, I am addicted to watching the characters formed in the MGDB dictionary. I haven’t worked out what ‘MGDB’ stands for, in English or Pinyin or anything else. The MGDB dictionary also gives me the radicals. I have based my memory palace on the radicals, and found knowing them a massive advantage in using paper and online dictionaries. I was hugely influenced in that decision by this article: Radicals Reveal the Order of Chinese Characters.
I have also completed two semesters through the Confucius Institute at LaTrobe University. LaTrobe provided the places in the classes for me as a staff member.
None of these resources are perfect, but I am happy with what I am learning. I am particularly keen to hear opinions from other people using the same resources – and from people using different resources.
I have looked at a range of SRS (Spaced Repetition System) apps as well as lots of books. I love buying books – happy to buy more! I am asking for help from people using other resources so I can list them with a brief comment on their efficacy from someone who has tried them. Although I have tried quite a few, I don’t feel that I have tried them enough to give a properly researched opinion.
For Chinese, I am particularly keen to hear from anyone who has implemented the Marilyn Method and/or the variation by Alex Mullen. I am also very keen to hear from anyone who has implemented the story method for characters from Remembering Simplified Hanzi by Heisig and Richardson. I have tried both these methods, but am not implementing them as described although they have certainly influenced my systems. Mullen and Heisig & Richardson are the basis of the memory methods used for Mandarin Blueprint, the only course I could find that specifies that they use memory methods. I am corresponding with one reader of Memory Craft who is doing Mandarin Blueprint and is very happy with it. I’d like to hear from others who might have tried it or any other online courses.
There is a lot of research going on about learning foreign languages for English speakers with no background in the language. Some of this research focusses on the way that native speakers teach the language the way they were taught – but they already had hooks from their background. Does that introduce uneccessary hurdles for people coming from very different backgrounds – especially for English speakers learning languages which are not based on a Roman script nor an alphabet? I am keen to investigate all these ideas over time.
So this post is a call for opinions from anyone who has experience related to learning foreign languages, especially as an independent learner.