JLPT BC 49 | Japanese Mnemonics

Cheap Japanese Mnemonic

I personally find this one pretty funny and memorable.

I have almost completed the 試験に出る読解 that I’ve been talking about over the last couple of weeks. It only took me about 3 or 4 weeks to complete and it has been a really tough book. There is a lot of vocabulary that can’t be found on any N2 vocabulary list that I’ve seen, which makes it more difficult than the So-matome Reading Comprehension book.

Overall, it is a good buy for someone that is studying for the N2 and will eventually study for the N1. I’m still not entirely sure why they have material for both tests in one book, but, oh well.

I’ve also being reading a reader’s digest type magazine called PHP, that you can find in almost any bookstore in Japan. It is full of essays similar to the type that you might see on the test. Some of the essays are incredibly well-written and so are rather difficult to read. Some of the essays are written in simpler language and so are right at the correct level for someone studying for N2.

PHP,  which stands for Peace and Happiness through Prosperity, is a bit a of touchy-feely kind of company, so a lot of the essays are inspirational in nature.  Some of their Japanese publications are sometimes featured in reading comprehension practice books for the N2 and N1.  Some of the essays are thought-provoking opinion pieces which are like what you see on the test from time to time.  They also usually have furigana for anything that is above N2 level.

It can be a bit de-motivating to read it because my progress with it is a lot slower than with my movie novelizations. However, reading native material more difficult than the actual test is really good prep for the test in my opinion.

Mnemonics – Stuff to Keep Words Glued in your Head

The basic definition of mnemonics is anything that helps you remember something. They can be stories, phrases, or images. Anything that will keep that information stuck there in your head.

I personally used to think that using mnemonics was a bunch of hog wash and not worth my time. I guess part of me was lazy and the other part of me just wanted to learn and use the language not make up stories about it.

It took a lot of time for me to come up with a story when I first started studying Japanese and so I abandoned using mnemonics pretty early on. I thought that it would just be easier to shove the words into my head via brute force, or just acquire the words naturally.

But, mnemonics do have their uses, if you use them properly.

To Make a Mnemonic or to not Make a Mnemonic that is the Question

There are more than a few people out there that probably share my old opinion of mnemonics and also think they are a waste of time. And they would probably be right if you look at it on the surface.

It typically takes about 5 to 10 minutes to make up a crazy story to help you remember a word, and then even after all that work it might still fall out of your head anyway. So, why even bother with all that story telling?

Well, with practice, the process of making these mnemonics up gets easier and easier. I started gradually using them about 6 months ago and I’ve increased my use of them over the last couple of months. I use them now to help me remember those long complicated words that I have been picking up out of my native reading materials.

And, I haven’t been making up a mnemonic for every new word I encountered either. What I usually do is try to pick it up first through regular memorization. Then, if on a subsequent review my mind goes blank for the word’s meaning, I’ll make up a mnemonic then.

At an intermediate to advanced level, a lot of the time, you simply need to be exposed to word in order to learn it because, for example, you already know the kanji that make up the word, so you can guess at the meaning. Or the sentence is so clear that you see it in, you can easily remember the meaning. But more abstract words, or words that are one word in English and several words in Japanese and vice versa can get a bit troublesome. That’s where using a mnemonic can really help out.

Take Action

How about you? Do you use mnemonics? What are some funny ones that you’ve heard of recently?

P.S. Are you a memory master? Then, you should join my newsletter!

P.S.S. Did this podcast improve your memory? Then, you should leave me a comment on iTunes and leave me a review.  If you have comments or suggestions for the podcast, by all means let me know in the comments below or contact me and let me know what I can do to improve the show.  Thanks!

P.S.S.S. I just got a new Facebook Page. Join me there to hear about all the latest news and join in on some conversations about the test.

Music by Kevin MacLeod

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Amy V October 12, 2011, 6:58 pm

    I’ve been relying on mnemonics quite a bit. My favorite silly one of late that I’ve seen is for writing 兄 – My older brother is a walking big mouth.

    • Mac October 14, 2011, 3:01 pm

      Haha, nice! My brother definitely likes to talk up a storm.

  • Arno October 17, 2011, 3:35 pm

    I am a big fan of Heisig’s RTK. Personally, I can’t see another way to remember that many kanji. Though now, after three years, I am starting to forget more and more stories. I think back then, I rushed trough the book too quickly and remembered some kanjis and their stories by drill rather then by its funny content. 🙁

    I’m thinking of working my self trough it one more time. Perhaps after Dec. 4th 🙂

  • dann March 19, 2019, 5:08 am

    “So, why even bother with all that story telling?”
    Because when you come back to a character, months or years later, the story is more likely to stick than something that is simply remembered in abstract, in nothingness. You need a hook. It may not be the whole story that is retained, but fragments of it that give you clues, and those may lead you down the path of remembering the character.
    For beginners, learning one kanji character at a time, completely out of context, mnemonics are invaluable.
    They are a known aid to memory, used for many more things than learning a language. Those freakish humans who take part in memory contests use such stories; learning hooks similar to mnemonics are used in music; medical students use mnemonics to learn fiendish anatomy terms and much more throughout their course; actors use them to learn lines.
    They work.
    Please, don’t anyone be deterred from using such a useful memory aid.

Leave a Comment

JLPT Boot Camp - The Ultimate Study Guide to passing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test