Memory Hacks for the Frustrated Linguist

Lockdown restrictions have eased and we’re ready for the new academic year to start. We can’t wait for our children to be back in school! So what is the best way to support their transition back to school? How can you make this year better than the last? How to keep them motivated to learn best?


It seems my parents were mistaken at school, telling me that I had my “head in the clouds” and asking, “do you ever remember what I ask you to do?”. Twelve years later, I’m the proud holder of a double languages degree! So, let’s examine how it became the case.

Firstly, what is memory?


Memory is the capacity to store and retrieve information. The mind is not static. The brain, and the memory it uses, is a work in progress; we are not now who we were then.

Humans remember what they experience personally and what they say or do, according to Edgar Dale, an American educator who developed leading theories about learning and memory. As evidenced above, memory works best when ‘saying and doing’ things. So, here are some straightforward memory hacks below to help our children’s brains get back into a learning mindset. Lockdown has not been conducive to learning so let’s help them to succeed again!


Choosing a memory system


First we need to choose a memory system. Let’s examine a simple one. It’s one we can all relate to, a system for remembering names and faces. Our ability to remember acquaintances’ names (correctly!) and to avoid the classic faux pas of using the wrong name (cringe!), is an awareness of these steps and how to practice them. The following five steps are used by most people who have an exceptional ability in remembering people’s names:


  1. Make sure you get the name

  2. Make the name meaningful

  3. Focus on a distinctive feature of the person’s appearance

  4. Associate the name with the distinctive feature

  5. Review the association. What do you notice? We are saying and doing by association!

  6. But how do we relate such a simple memory hack to learning a language, or historical figure, or biological system?


Practice by saying and doing


So, having decided on a memory system, formulate the practice. In this case, perform ‘saying and doing’ activities. Lead topical discussions with your child by asking he/she pre-prepared questions in English and they would respond in the foreign language, for example, what is good about TV? Why are video games actually good for you? How much sleep do you need and why? Why should every child own a bike? Why should exercise be banned?

Other techniques involve; engaging in role plays, singing songs, playing Cluedo or cards, naming 20 items in your living room, getting dressed and cooking your favourite tagine in the foreign language. Try writing which of the 7 ways above you’ve actually tried and tested? Less than half? You know there is room to try harder! In practice, ‘speaking and doing’ a language translates into making it enjoyable and authentic. With 12 years of language learning behind me, I should be nailing it!


Perfecting by teaching


A second technique is the famous Protégé effect, developed by Roman philosopher, Seneca. Benefits of this practice are shown in 2007 in such journals as Science and Intelligence. The studies summarise that first-born children are more intelligent than their later-born brothers and sisters and suggest that their higher IQs result from the time they spend showing their younger siblings how to do things. Whether you have one child or many, your child can teach someone else their skills (siblings, school-friends, even you!) and magically reinforce their own learning!


The practice could be implemented as follows; buy a miniature whiteboard and colourful markers from Amazon and choose a topic your child is already comfortable with discussing (e.g. how to discuss clothes and shopping in French). Sitting in the living room, ask your child to prop up the whiteboard as if they are the teacher and you will ask pre-prepared questions for example, what do you wear on the weekends? What does your best friend wear? What do you buy at the supermarket? Your child should draw the items and walk you through the full sentences to describe the clothes he/she wears. If a word is forgotten, ask them to find it in the dictionary straight away and add it to the whiteboard. He/she should point at the words saying each one aloud, asking you to repeat it with them in the role of the student and they should say the English meaning too. Take a photo of the whiteboard at the end for revision purposes.


Each Saturday in September, challenge your child to choose a new topic and repeat the steps above, especially topics they are uncomfortable with! Keep each session to 40 minutes in order to maximise concentration! A trial-and-error approach is recommendable until you decide on the system(s) that work. Spending Saturdays in September perfecting a memory hack could serve you well throughout the academic year – so it’s time well spent! Once decided on a memory system(s), practise, practise, practise every week until your child creates the routine of learning.


Keep their brains nourished


Above all, it is imperative to keep your child’s brain (and body!) well nourished with a balanced diet filled with wholegrains, oily fish, fruit and vegetables. A trip to the local chemist to invest in fish oil supplements for your child (and yourself!) is also time well spent. Researchers at the University of Illinois have shown that LPC-EPA fish oils can increase levels of fatty acid in your brain many times over. These fatty acids are hugely important for brain health and mood! Give your child’s brain the support it deserves. It can only be beneficial!


We Make Academics can help


In summary, maximise ‘saying and doing’ memory activities with your child using the 7 (authentic!) activities above. If you are in need of some help in deciding upon and implementing a memory system, the tutors at We Make Academics are experienced and educated in helping your child find the tools and methods that work best for them. Our tutors can even support you as a parent, by providing you with the activities and memory hacks that you can do with your child in between lessons, to review the associations made during class.


Whether verbatim learning bores your child silly or he/she is on the path to a glorious career as a UN Interpreter or accomplished scientist, start making their learning meaningful with associations. Kandel, a Nobel prize winning psychiatrist and neuroscientist, wrote, “we are who we are in great measure because of what we learn, and what we remember.” Let’s maximise it.


Author: This was written by Sarah Taylor, a We Make Academics Tutor.


Studies referenced from:


Chandra, P, Yalagala, R, Sugasini, D, Dasarathi, S, Pahan, K, Subbaiah, P (2018) Dietary lysophosphatidylcholine-EPA enriches both EPA and DHA in the brain: Potential treatment for depression, Available at: https://www.jlr.org/content/early/2018/12/10/jlr.M090464.abstract [Accessed on 30/08/2020]


Dale, E (1946). The cone of Learning. http://www.brainfriendlytrainer.com/theory/dalecone-of-learning-figures-debunked [Accessed on 20 May 2014]

Higbee, K (1996), 2nd ed [ebook], New York: Marlow and Company, Your Memory : How It Works and How to Improve It (Available at : https://archive.org/stream/yourmemoryhowitwor00higb/yourmemoryhowitwor00higb_djvu.txt) and [accessed 27/08/2020].


Kandel, E. R. (2007). In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind. New York, NY: WW Norton & Company.

Kristensen, P., & Bjerkedal, T. (2007). Explaining the relation between birth order and intelligence (Available at: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2007-09994-006) and accessed [30/08/2020].


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