Learning at First Encounter

How long does it take you to study 10 new words in a foreign language? About 20 minutes? And often do you have to review the words to know them all in a test? At least a couple of times, right? 


The bad news is that you have been wasting a lot of time and effort studying. The good news is that you can increase your memory ability more than tenfold [6]! What would mean studying 100 words in 20 minutes - without the hassle of reviewing. 

Sounds too good to be true? No, it has been scientifically proven: With mnemonic techniques, you can learn a lot of new information at first encounter - for example, 154 historical facts and dates in just 5 minutes. No innate prerequisites are necessary for such incredible memory feats as those shown by memory athletes at the World Memory Championships. They are solely due to training in mnemonic techniques [13, 17, 14, 16, 18].

These memory techniques are based on the fact that our brain stores new knowledge reliably when new knowledge is linked with old knowledge. If this happens in a clear sequence, a lot of new information can be read or heard the first time, stored and remembered later in the same sequence. A mnemonic scaffold serves as a basis for new information while providing old knowledge as anchor points for new knowledge in a clear sequence. 

There are different types of memory scaffolds. The best known of these is a path through a familiar environment, on which places or objects serve as connecting points for new knowledge. This mnemonic scaffold is also called the Method of Loci, Route Method, or Memory Palace. But there are other memory structures as well. 

At MnemoLab, we investigate which mnemonic scaffolds work best and how they can best be used for learning at first encounter. So far we have been able to show that one's own body functions, as well as a mnemonic scaffold as the Method of Loci, and that stories from one's own life are also suitable [20]. In one of our ongoing studies, we are investigating whether stories from your own life work as well as fictional stories to learn new information.  

What do you think is a scene from Harry Potter or your last birthday party a better mnemonic scaffold? 

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For reference to cited literature, see: Bibliography

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