Technical mnemonics are not spontaneously used by people. They require some training and practice. But they can be very effective. They are great for information you want to remember for a long time. Most the “memory classes” you take and books you buy will present one version or another of a technical mnemonic system.
Method of Loci
This is the oldest mnemonic system, used by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Some trace it back to Simonides of Ceos. In 477 BC, as the story goes, Simonides, a famous poet, was an honored guest at a banquet. At one point in the festivities, he stepped out to talk to someone, which saved his life. The whole building collapsed killing everyone inside. Simonides could identify everyone by visualizing where they sat.
This technique combines two elements: images and places. Both are equally important. The places (loci) provide the pegs or anchors to store the images imagined. Together you can remember any image when cued by a location.
A modern version would be for you to picture your house from the outside. The front door is the “opening” of your speech. Place an image of your opening comment or joke on the doorknob. Opening the door, opens the rest of the speech.
The first room you enter is your first topic. Place an image on each object in the room, one for each a point on that topic. For the next topic, move to the next room. The images tied to objects will be your memory aids. As you move from room to room, you can deliver your whole speech based on these images.
The method of loci is also called the journey method because you journey through your house. It can be your current house, an imaginary house, or an architectural wonder. Many memory game players use their childhood home.
You can also journey across campus, across the country or around the world. All that is important is that you have specific objects at each place which can store an image.
The Romans loved this system, making portable rooms or tabernacles filled with information or cues. Some were actual structures set up for the express purpose of learning associations. In literature, Sherlock Holmes had his “mind palace” or “memory palace.” You can do the same thing.
The system does a good job of learning things in order (serially) and being able to select a specific item (cued recall). You can memorize the order of a deck of cards if you had 52 locations on your journey. Or you can memorize the bones of the body while you walk around the neighborhood, recalling an item at each loci along the way. The key is to assign images to specific visualized locations which never change.
Like the method of loci, a peg mnemonic system takes some time to set up. Once it is established, the system is quite versatile. Pegs are like the pegs you hung your coat on at kindergarten. The pegs are permanent but anything can be hung from the peg.
In a number-rhyme system, pegs are visual anchors that rhyme with numbers. To create the pegs, say the first word or picture that comes to your mind when I say “one.” Whatever you said is the one to use. It is best to adapt the system to the connections you already have.
If one is sun or gun or bun, then what is two? Many people say “shoe.”
- Three is tree?
- Is four door or floor?
- Five is hive or dive.
- Six is sticks or tricks (magic).
Let’s try it with this list of words:
Associate a word from the list to each peg. Make an interactive image of the peg and the target word. If we take them in order, one is the sun playing a piano. Then we have an elephant in shoes. A truck is hanging from a tree. A door is in the shape of a bottle and a hive of bees are playing basketball. The final item is a chair being pulled out of a magician’s hat.
Once the pairs have been matched, you can remember the items in order or select them at random. The fifth item was a hive of bees playing basketball. What was number four (the door)?
The advantages are that you can recall items in any order, and the pegs are reusable. The pegs remain the same (sun, shoe, tree) but the associated items can be replaced by other images.
Another peg system is the number-shape system, also call the egg and spear technique. Instead of rhyming pegs they are assigned by shape. One is represented by a candle, pencil, spear or anything with a simple vertical line. Two is a swan (curved neck) or whatever a 2 looks like to you. Three can be an M&M (just one), the top of a love heart, a bosom or any related shape. Four might be a sail (4 sheets to the wind). If you are more visual than auditory, give this technique a try.
Alphabet-rhyme pegs are useful for spelling words. The pegs are word-images that rhyme with letters. A is hay, b is bee, c is see, etc.. Some are going to be much easier to rhyme with than others.
As an alternative, try the alphabet-concrete image pegs. A is ape, b is boy, c is cat, d is dog, etc. Whatever images you come up with will work fine.
Another technical mnemonic is aimed directly at remembering numbers. This number-letter mnemonic translates numbers into words. Digits (0 to 9) are converted into consonants.
This is an adaptation of the number-shape peg system. 1 is represented by a t or d (single vertical stroke). 2 is an n (two lines) and 3 is an m (3 lines). Since vowels don’t count, letters can be combined into words with any vowel that seems to fit. To encode the number 13, the t (1) and m (3) can become tim or tom or team.
Link & Story Systems
A fourth technical mnemonic is called link and story. Links are visual images connected together. One image leads to the next in a chain of associations. Links are helpful for modeling processes and cycles.
Stories are links which use sentences instead of images. If you have several errands to run, you could summarize them in a sentence: The car drives to the post office and cruises by the bakery before stopping to get its tire pressure checked.