I just finished reading Moonwalking with Einstein, a journalistic piece on the World Memory Championships. The book explicates the various techniques used by participants to memorize different types of contest materials-- for example, there are techniques for memorizing large lists of numbers, foreign language vocabulary, packs of cards, and poetry.

The Dominic System, for example, is often used for memorizing numbers, the PAO system is often used for memorizing for packs of cards, etc.

However, a lot of these techniques have not been rigorously tested in a scientific setting to determine which forms of techniques are empirically optimal. Often, they're just circulated in underground communities, without any objective way to adjudicate between the merits of competing systems.

I was wondering what the research on memory suggests is the best way to memorize the above types of content. I suppose you need a metric to qualify "the best way", so let's say that preference is given to speed over duration of memory. I'm in the process of learning a new language, so I'm also particularly interested in foreign language techniques.

  • $\begingroup$ This question is not formulated in such a way that it can be answered by the literature. "How to learn words in a new language" and "How to quickly memorize arbitrary items from an arbitrary set" are essentially two different questions. Please specify which it is. $\endgroup$ Mar 30, 2013 at 9:15

1 Answer 1


The first and most obvious answer would be that repetition cements new information into memory. The second technique is that an event that involves a strong emotion will be more easily remembered then an event where little or no emotion is felt. If you are learning foreign languages, you could practice sentences or paragraphs in a dramatic way, like learning the lines of a play. This could be done verbally or non-verbally, but verbally would be preferred for the auditory feedback. Flashcards, mind maps, and similar tools would help with visual feedback, helpful as this article suggests. Handwriting and typing would help with tactile feedback.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to cogsci.SE! While this has makings of a decent answer, it unfortunately does not meet our quality standards as is. Answers on this site are expected to provide scientific evidence, which means providing citations to back up your claims. Ideally, this means citing primary sources that corroborate your answer, though Wikipedia links will sometimes suffice. If you find relevant citations, you can edit your post to include this information. $\endgroup$
    – Jeff
    Mar 19, 2013 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ If I remember from the literature, spatial (rather than procedural or sequential) learning strategies are actually more robust in the long term. One technique that's often cited (and goes back the Greeks) is the memory palace, where you imagine the concepts you're learning as objects in rooms of a building you're familiar with. $\endgroup$ Mar 20, 2013 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ Xurtio, I've never heard of spatial learning before. Do you know what literature this comes from? Procedural or sequential strategies may be beneficial if you are using auditory, visual, and tactile learning methods. One person may learn differently from another, but by covering these three senses, one has a better chance of learning the subject. $\endgroup$ Mar 30, 2013 at 4:02
  • $\begingroup$ In the WM literature, what Xurtio calls spatial learning strategies is usually referred to as imagery. $\endgroup$ Mar 30, 2013 at 9:09

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