How To Memorize Foreign Sentences

You’re wondering how to memorize foreign sentences because you
(a) want to impress a foreign business colleague
(b) are preparing for a posting overseas
(c) are on vacation and need to make yourself understood in a language very different from your own.

The task doesn’t have to be daunting.  Try using the “turn it into a tune” technique described by Adam Wik on Road to Epic — and don’t be turned off by a memory technique that you initially see as childish or juvenile. Music is a great memory technique. Words just seem to tumble out of the mouth when they’re set to music.

How To Memorize Foreign Sentences

If you’ve ever noticed how quickly you can memorize lyrics to songs you like, or how sometimes an unwanted tune complete with lyrics can get lodged firmly in your brain without your consent – this technique works on the very same principle.

There’s something about our brains that makes us hardwired to latch onto tunes and hold onto them forever. While occasionally this can lead to frustration and self-induced head injuries (such as after accidentally hearing “Mmm Bop”) it can also be used to our advantage by hooking information we want to memorize onto those catchy tunes.

How to Memorize with Music

Try setting words to music when you need to learn how to memorize foreign sentences.

  1. Choose something to memorize – This technique works best for sentences, rather than individual words. This makes it really useful for people on the plane over who need to flash memorize important phrases. For our purposes we’ll choose “Where’s the bathroom?” in Japanese which is トイレはどこですか or “Toire wa doko desu ka”.
  2. Choose a tune that fits the sentence – Depending on the length of the sentence and the number of syllables, you’ll want to find a tune that has the right beat to it that is nice and catchy. Most kids tunes or nursery rhyme songs work wonderfully. The “desu” in “Toire wa doko desu ka” is pronounced more like “dess”, so a good fit given the number of syllables in this case would be the tune “Mary Had a Little Lamb“.
  3. Swap the lyrics for your sentence – Put your target language sentence that you want to memorize in wherever it fits in place of the original lyrics. In our case, we’re replacing the “Mary had a little lamb” part with our “Toire wa doko desu ka”. For the “Little lamb, little lamb” refrain part we’re putting in “Doko desu ka, doko desu ka”. We’ll get to why in a second.

Click here for the remaining steps.

Choose any tune you like — your favorite song on the radio, religious hymn, or tune you’ve written yourself. You’ll find this technique easy when you need to know how to memorize foreign sentences.

In the comment section, share your experiences with using music for learning foreign languages.


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