IWTYAL 111: How to learn hiragana with memory techniques

In this episode I welcome Anthony Metivier from Magnetic Memory Method. We talk how to use special memory techniques to learn the Japanese hiragana alphabet in less than 3 hours.

In this episode:

  • What are memory palaces?
  • How can you use them to memorise a foreign alphabet
  • Examples of memorising hiragana

Resources mentioned in today’s episode:

  • Check out Anthony’s guest post here which goes into more detail on using memory palaces to learn hiragana

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This article was written by Olly Richards.

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  • Kevin Richardson

    Thank you soooo much Olly and Anthony. I’m now excited about using this technique with kanji. I’m about a month away from learning the joyo kanji with Heisig’s RTK method. From 0 to 500, using mnemonic stories I had about 95% retention. Between 500 and 1,000, I started using Memrise every day and would say, maybe 75% retention (but that could be 90% due to the fact SRS’s only test me on the ones I frequently forget right). Today I’ve got to 1,680 of the 2,136 I’m learning. I also started using Wanikani to learn the on and kun readings a month ago … so about 300 or so readings seem to have stuck.

    Now, what’s really been powerful to me is simply having a daily routine. I’ll wake up and write out the next twenty kanji characters and make stories in my head as I write them out a few times. I’ll use Memrise during the day and review about a hundred or so during my downtime. I’ve been thinking that my goal is to get to the end of the 2,136 this way because it’s just become my routine. That’s what I do.

    Going forward, I want to use memory palaces to make journey’s in my mind of the kanji that haven’t stuck … I want to use memory palaces to incorporate the readings. That’s why I’m excited … I thought it would take me about two years to learn those readings. But, if I adopt this technique, it’s going to be a much better, much more enjoyable way of ensuring everything sticks.

    My plan was to start reading “The Empire Strikes Back” in Japanese after I finish my current mission. It has furigana by the kanji … so what will be cool, is if I read a paragraph of the book and make a memory palace journey through my apartment or workplace etc for that paragraph each day. I can see how it’s going to really accelerate my memorization … and be a blast too.

    • It’s great to read about your results, Kevin!

      Having a daily routine is key and I’m glad you pointed that out. For me, the most powerful routine is to get my language learning in before the computer goes on. I’m now studying Chinese and I love staying in bed with my notebook, my character book and my imagination to memorize at least three words and then supplement each with phrases.

      During these sessions I also diligently go through the review schedule. Unlike an SRS program, there’s no filing away things you’ve reported as being familiar enough to see less of. You cross by it no matter what, which means seeing its potential for use in even more kinds of sentences.

      What I’m not so strong on is getting in enough speaking practice, but I do have regular sessions on Skype with people and speak with people on the street often. Just today a young woman I was talking to asked me why on earth I wanted to learn Chinese and it was an absolute pleasure to speak and be understood.

      I hope to hear from you soon about your experience with reading “The Empire Strikes Back.” That will be exciting. Are there any original language Japanese books you’d like to learn? I think it would be great fun to read 世界の終りとハードボイルド・ワンダーランド by 村上 春樹.

      I recently read it in English translation. Although it doesn’t really have any Memory Palaces in it, there’s a lot of meditation on the nature of memory and on creating maps. Highly recommended in any language. 🙂

      • Kevin Richardson

        Thanks for such a enlightening reply Anthony.

        Yes, I think I’d love to unshackle myself from a dependency on computers and SRS systems at some point in the future.
        Definitely having managed to maintain a daily routine has been the biggest breakthrough for me this year. I reward myself at each 500 kanji milestone by buying myself samurai Star Wars figures (see pic). Darth Vader is going to be my reward for getting to the 2,136 🙂

        I live just outside of Tokyo in Chiba city and next month I’ve been invited to make a samurai movie with a company that offers to give you half a day’s training in swordsmanship and then you shoot a movie with them. So, I thought I’ll make myself a mini mission to try out your magnetic memory technique to learn some phrases from Star Wars.

        I’m going to finish my current kanji learning mission in a couple of weeks and then set forth on the next phrase. I’m thinking that, seeing as there’s on and kun readings … and there’s good and evil characters from Star Wars that I’ll use as my bridging figures … maybe I’ll picture the imperial characters with on yomi and the rebel characters with kun yomi. As this is my first steps into a larger world (oh excuse the Star Wars quote!!!) … I might place my Star Wars figures around my apartment and take pictures of them posed at their stations with props to tell the story on my journey from bed to front door. Sure enough, I get that I’ll want to internalize my memory palaces in my mind … but kind of like putting training wheels on a bike … making a map with pictures seems would be fun for my first steps.

        I’m also helping a group of language learners start learning hiragana and kanji next month. I’ll definitely add a link to this podcast in my handouts. I think if people start out by using magnetic memory from the beginning, it will be more effective in the long run. With kanji, I tried to learn the characters, their meaning and the readings all together a couple of years back. It was too much for me … so I’m now thinking that it’s a bit like plastering a wall … learning the characters and a rough meaning is a bit like preparing the surface – roughing it up, so the plaster (readings) stick. That said, once I get the hang of your technique – being able to bind everything together would be absolutely awesome 🙂

        Anyway, I’ll update you when I’ve made my first memory palace.

        PS: I’ll add 世界の終りとハードボイルド・ワンダーランド by 村上 春樹. to my book list.

        • All this sounds great!

          Photographing your figures is a good idea too and you can use a power point software to order them along a journey and impose other images onto them if you like.

          Keep in mind, however, that high-level memory techniques are done unassisted. There’s nothing wrong with adding photos and all manner of tricks, but sometimes people wind up using these as evasive maneuvers that don’t lead to getting the information into long term memory so it can be used.

          You don’t seem to be in danger of that whatsoever, but I pop the word of caution in here anyhow for those who find the discussion.

          In the meantime, I can’t wait to hear more about your journey with memory and news of the movie you’ll be in! 🙂