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Monday, March 19, 2012

Learn a Foreign Language - Method of Loci

So for the readers that have learned about the Method of Loci and are working to improve your memory, you might be asking yourself what would be a good thing to practice committing to memory?  It turns out that the Method of Loci and other mnemonic techniques are very good for learning vocabulary in a foreign language.  I personally already have a functional understanding of Brazilian Portuguese, due to being married to a wonderful Brazilian woman.  I have decided that I wanted to improve my Portuguese vocabulary and wanted to share some resources that I have developed, and techniques I am using to help me memorize more vocabulary.

Even though I already have knowledge of a foreign language these resources and techniques are quite useful for even the beginner.  Learning common words is very important to get a feel for a language.  I have found that learning words that occur very frequently, you can quickly gain some proficiency with a language.

I have a Google spreadsheet that contains Portuguese word frequency lists that I am working on.  This spreadsheet is built from information available online in the Corpus Do Portuguese, an online repository of 45 million words from various Portuguese texts, Google translate, and a few other sources.  I have included as well a tab in this spreadsheet of 100 common conversation words, it might be a good idea to start with them if you are a complete beginner.  It is quite easy to remember these 100 words, but they will greatly help your ability to converse.

Try to learn around 10 - 50 words a day.  There are a little more then four thousand words in the spreadsheet currently.  If you learn them at a rate of 50 a day, you will take around 80 days to gain a working vocubulary in Portuguese.  I would suggest that you try to come up with images related to these words that are unique and are a little absurd.  One method that seems to work for me for doing this is the break the word into its syllables, then you have some small sounds you can try and find english equivalents.  Cabe├ža is a good example, you can break down this into three parts by sound: 'Cab' 'Bees' 'Ha'.  Armed with the sounds you can imagine a person with a giant head sticking out of a moon roof of a New York cab, filled with a bee hive, while he is laughing ceaselessly.  You can further imagine that he has one of those cartoon bubbles filled with "Ha Ha Ha!!!".  Images constructed in this way should be easy for you to remember using the Method of Loci.

I will report to everyone how I progress, for those wanting to join me learning Portuguese I wish you good luck.  This spreadsheet will be evolving over time as I work through it.  I plan on a few follow up posts describing more mnemonic techniques for foreign language.

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