Written by:
Feb 28, 2019

Using Mnemonics and Other Techniques to Memorize New Words

When learning a new language, there’s one thing you need to know a lot of--words. Mastering new vocabulary can seem like a mountainous task, but with a little creativity, it can be a fun process.

Two-time Memory Champion, Nelson Dellis, is currently learning Dutch with Drops as a part of the Drops 2K Challenge and #90DayswithDrops. He’s aiming to learn all 2,000+ words currently in Drops, and has come up with a few engaging ways to hang on to all the new vocabulary he’s learning.

Here are just a few of Nelson’s favorite words and the techniques he’s using to remember them:

Spin - “Spider”

From Nelson: To learn “spider”, I used a simple mnemonic*. A spider spins a web.

* Wondering what a mnemonic is? A mnemonic is an association you create in order to help you remember something. They come in many different forms, for example:

* Acronyms: You can break down material into an acronym like ROY G. BIV (the colors of the rainbow) to remember information.
* Music: Songs can help you remember information. The ABC song is an example of this (it’s actually a piece composed by Mozart based on a French folk song).
* Image: When you attach an image to the word to help you remember it. In the above example, you could attach an image of a spider spinning a web.
* Connection: This is the type of mnemonic used by Nelson--he connected knowledge (that a spider spins a web) to remember the word.

Tandvlees - “Gums” (literally: tooth meat)

From Nelson: Such a funny literal translation. I know tand (“tooth”), and I know vlees (“meat”). Literally “tooth meat”, yep, which is “gum.” I liked this word just because toothmeat is such a funny description of a gum.

Vleermuis - “Bat”

From Nelson: This is another one of those words that has a funny literal translation, making it that much more memorable. It translates to “flatter mouse”, which is an odd description for a bat (I would have thought “flying mouse” or something), but a funny visual.

Pumpkin in Dutch and other Dutch words

Pompoen - “Pumpkin”

From Nelson: This is so close to the English word itself but sounds infinitely more fun. POM-POON!

Paddenstoel - “Mushroom”

From Nelson: This is already a weird and fun word to say (“padden-stool”), it translates literally to “toads chair”, which is right on the nose. Memorable image!

Sinaasappelsap - “Orange juice”

From Nelson: I don’t know the history of how this word came to be because the color orange in dutch is oranje (why isn’t it oranjesap?? ….sap means “juice”, by the way). Appel is in the word (which means “apple”), but I have no clue what sinaas is. At some point, someone described an orange as a __insert_adjective_here__ - apple. I find it funny that it’s such a big word for something so simple. My mnemonic? Picturing an apple being sneezed out of someone’s sinus as a sappy substance into a glass that turns into orange juice: sinus-apple-sap = orange juice.

Matchstick in Dutch and other Dutch words

Lucifers - “Matchstick”

From Nelson: Makes sense to name a device that creates fire after Lucifer himself, right?

Paardenbloem - “Dandelion”

From Nelson: This translation is memorable because it literally means “horses-flower”. Huh? What about the lions?

Vergeet me nietje - “Forget me nots”

From Nelson: I had to include this on my list because of the irony. FORGET ME NOT. It’s also pretty fun to say (and almost sounds like a Germanic version of the English). Ver-ch-ate MUH NEE-tchuh.

Snor - “Mustache”

From Nelson: I created an awesome mnemonic visual of a dude with a mustache snoring and seeing the hairs fluttering in the air.

Fiets - “Bicycle”

From Nelson: Fiets is pronounced like “feets”, which makes it easy to remember because what do we use to work a bicycle? Our feets. Ha!

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Kurkentrekker - “Corkscrew”

From Nelson: Just a fun-to-say word and memorable for how long it is. I picture Captain Kirk (Kurk) as a trekker, trekking through the hills and then tumbling down the side of a mountain doing corkscrews. Kirk-trekker = corkscrew.

Ik betaal - “I pay”

From Nelson: This just made sense to me. When someone pays, it’s like they’re throwing down some money and BETting it ALL. Bet-aal = pay.

Roltrap - “Escalator”

From Nelson: I like this word because an escalator rolls (the steps roll up and down) and someone might get trapped on an escalator if they’re afraid of escalators (think of Will Ferrell in Elf!). Rol-trap = escalator.

Hoesten - “Cough”

From Nelson: Easy and fun mnemonic: I imagine someone having a fit of coughing and on overhead speaker blasting “Houston, we have a problem.”

What about you? What are some of your favorite words in Drops and what images or associations do you create to remember them?

Are you learning Dutch? You can check out our favorite Dutch language resources.

Learn more about Nelson's Dutch project here.

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