is copyright Michael Curtis 2010-2022. All Rights Reserved.

Foreign Language


The best way to learn a language is to be a young child and just absorb it.

There are memory techniques for learning languages but, really, if you lack a child's memory ability, then I do not see how you can learn a language rapidly without...

Already knowing a similar language. Romance languages seem to be fast-to-learn for people already fluent in a Romance language. Or reading Japanese characters might come quicker to a Chinese student than to a Western student.

This is a really frustrating conclusion. When I was younger, I believed the foreign language learning lessons of the many memory books I was reading; but, having spent a lot of time just trying to learn the basics of some European languages, I see those techniques as being helpful on occasion but of limited application. It's best to be a young child; otherwise, you have a lot of work to do.

I think that, if a vocabulary word is resisting your attempt to memorise it then a memory technique is good. But language communication takes place at such speed that there is no substitute for rote learning language.

I do like the idea of gently learning the first 100 words of a language by playful memory techniques. If you think the Mandarin word for China sounds a bit like John Wayne, and that helps you to remember it then great!

I also think that, if you are given time to pause, and you have a memory technique for recalling a word which you want to employ, then a memory technique would be good then too. Especially since you might know a word when someone speaks to you but struggle to think of the word to make your own sentences (passive vocabulary).

One of the systems of images of this course is 1000 items which represent shorthand words; and another 1000 items system for another 1000 words. I made those items be useful vocabulary. It would be a good test to see if you know comon vocabulary if you run through the list and test if you know a foreign word for that vocabulary term.

But English words often have more than one meaning. Eg. 'Right' can mean 'correct' or a 'rightward direction'. When I developed the approximate 2 lists of 1000 words, I tried to display the most common different meanings next to them. I can provide a link to that more detailed work:

Word Atomic Meanings - A to E.

Word Atomic Meanings - F to J.

Word Atomic Meanings - K to O.

Word Atomic Meanings - P to T.

Word Atomic Meanings - U to Z.

(and I think these words will largely be the basis for the Scripted Sentences system outlined in another article.)

So I am sketching out the idea of using background image places to distinguish different meanings of English words. A person [from one of the '1000 word' lists] represents the English word, the action the person does represents the first two letters of the foreign word spelling; and the object receiving the action represents either 2 or 3 letters; thus giving a 5 letter prompt of the foreign word.

The colour of the object used in the action could indicate if the meaning of the word is column 1 / column 2 / column 3 / column 4 of the "Word Atomic Meanings" chart; and the action colour could also indicate if the action represents a 3 letter spelling or a 2 letter spelling.

It can be more nuanced than that. Maybe blue background places would be for French vocabulary; but Yellow background places would be for Spanish vocabulary [if I trial that idea, I would use colour 10 upwards since colours 0 to 9 can be action colours]. The background place can also be indicative of whether the word is intended as a verb or as a noun. Eg. 'New' [a verb] is different to a 'novelty' [a thing] but they could both use the 'New' person in an action story to prompt the spelling; by having a background that is used for verbs nouns or instead a background used for verbs.

Beyond that, some backgrounds could indicate a prefix. In German, 'auf' prefixes a lot of words. Maybe a place that means "prefix is 'auf' could be used to avoid wasting memorising 'auf' within the action or within the recipient of an action.

An additional visual clue could imply that the reverse of a word is the meaning to learn. Eg. Unlock rather than Lock.

I also have a plan to expand the vocabulary items into short sentences where frequent use vocabulary items are expressed in a rote learned big list of practise sentences.

My word prompts for foreign language used to be only 2 letters long (ie. the AA-ZZ system of an earlier lesson). I did wish I had a system for common 3 letter syllables too. Eg. I'd rather associate 'con' with a word which begins with 'con' than to merely associate 'CO'. (and an aspect of the Male 1000 system and Women 1000 system is that common 3 letter spellings are expressed also by the people.). See the Taxi Driver article (and other articles) for more on that.

5000 People

The 100 syllables I use in a lot of my work was partly inspired by looking at Chinese and Japanese and the syllables they use (when Romanised). I used to think that I could build a 10,000 image system where each image would represent two of those syllables together.

Then I compromised and thought that a 5000 image system would be good.

So I could, in theory, imagine a shorthand word's image (see the shorthand articles) in a scene involving the two syllable oriental word (or prefix): the 5000 system image implies how the 1000 system vocabulary word is spelled.

But the 'Scripted Sentences' article [maybe re-read this article once you have read the Scripted Sentences article] makes me realise that images in the 5000 image system can have a unique meaning; and each scripted sentence would use the word that is special to that image; then, to learn vocabulary, one would associate items with the 5000 image item; and not use either 1000 word system as the first step in learning a foreign word.

That last paragraph is probably hard to read. Basically, a common language word would have a standard person rote learned as being the visual way to express that popular word; then an imagined scene involving that image would be how the spelling of the first few letters of the foreign word are spelled; maybe a person from a 1000 system would be pictured in that scene to represent 3 letters; or the action being done could represent 2 letters, etc..

The names of the 5000 people involve a one of a hundered syllables followed by one of a hundred syllables. So person BABU would relate to a number made of the two digits of BA and the two digits of BU (see the various artices in this course where there are 100 syllables with matching 2 digit numbers. eg. 'People from 00 to 99'). In a story, if you imagine the person facing to the right then the person represents BABU but if the person faces to the left in the imagined story then maybe the person represents BA + 50 followed by BU. BA is 02. BU is 04; but adding 50 (and looking at person 52) would be using the syllable 'NA' rather than 'BA'; and that would be the spelling 'NABU'.

So the 5000 person system could express 10,000 four letter words - depending on whether the people face right or left in the story which they are in.

Another idea is that a language with accents can have the accents expressed by colour: the colour of the action. Maybe 2 accents in a word could be expressed by one colour in an action also. Howebver, I would prefer to represent accents by imagining an extra item in the scene - probably hovering above the main story that is going on at the scene.


There is an opportunity to store gender against the vocabulary people of a 1000 person system. There could be a list of personal items where only one of those item sshould be imagined as a posession of any one vocabulary person. Each item represents the gender. If you were only interested in learning a language that has Male/Female then there might be a choice of two items: the noun word is either male or female in nature.

However, if you have a rule that German genders (male/female/neuter) occur but also French (male/female) and also Spanish (male/female) then 3 x 2 x 2 = 12 personal items could be the choices to imagine in the posession of a 1000 list person. Since an English word like 'right' has more than one meaning, it may be necessary to assume that the gender clue applies to the foreign word that matches with the first main meaning (use the first meaning of the relevant Word Atomic Meanings table. (above)). And if an English word has many common ways of saying it in the foreign language then you would probably dedicate the mnemonic action story to spelling a prompt for just one of those words.

Another way to express gender is to have a specific colour chosen as the background colour of imagined action stories of one particular language. Eg. A blue colour for Polish. A huge blue item could be imagined above the action story; if it is icon 1 then it implies Male gender and if it is icon 2 then it implies the Female gender; a different language could use a different set of icons and a different colour for the big icons floating above the action story. I also think that a hovering icon would be a good way to represent note accents or tones of a word. I would consider using the 50 road icons from an earlier lesson or to use the Town 100 icons from an earlier lesson.

Spelling Order

If an imagined story consists of a person [the word meaning] doing an action [a 3 letter prompt or 2 letter prompt] on a person [a 3 letter prompt or 2 letter 'AA-ZZ' system prompt] then does there need to be a strict rule about which order the spellings combine into being the foreign word prompt? Why not have a flexible rule of interpretation? Eg. 'PEN' + 'GU' could imply either PENGU or GUPEN. This would work if you have a rough rote memory of the foreign spelling; and just need a prompt to make it flash into your mind: PENGU or GUPEN might feel right and trigger recall of a word that begins: Pengu.... or Gupen....

Words not in the male and woman 1000 lists

If a word is not in the 1000 lists then how can you visualise it in a mnemonic story? Assuming the foreign word is capable of being drawn, you could just imagine a spelling prompt beside the object or, better still, interacting with the object. Eg. An image of a person who represents BA could be imagined beside an image of a foreign word that is spelled BA [prefix] and then the rest of the word's spelling will hopefully be recalled by you via regular rote memory..

Some words are not easy to visualise and I do not have advice about those words; that type of word was a motivation for making the male 1000 and woman 1000 word lists, in fact. (My intention is that the 5000 image system can, in part, represent even more standard vocabulary.)

In French, 'chien' means dog. The CH and the IEN might be imagined in a story involving a dog and a person and an action. So, from the AA-ZZ Letter Pairs article, you could have a person who always represents CH; and then action 'IE' of the 1000 Actions system could be imagined being sone by that person to the dog. Effectively, CH and IE are memorised; and just the N if 'IEN' needs rote recall.

If I had to sit a written exam in French then I could, at a speed slower than conversational French, recall the dog story and recall the spelling of 'chien'. More generally, 'mentally visiting these revision visual stories' is a way to make my memory have repeated encounters with the information which, ideally, I want to know rote and use fast in conversation.

Action Participant Order

An action in the 000-999 woman system can mean a 3 letter spelling but I picked out 676 of the actions to also represent two letter pairs: AA, AB, AC... ZX, ZY, ZZ.

I have been thinking about how I would know that an action is intended to mean a 2 letter pair rather than a 3 letter meaning. I thought of an answer that uses different colours for the actions - depending on how the action and the recipient of the action are meant to b interpreted. I write more about it in a later article. I think the overall scene would be very visually noisy if there were backdrop colours as well as action colours. So I think I will drop the idea that coloured backdrops can imply which language is being memorised.

Suggested German Prefix Imagery

Please see the Town 100 article to see the image that one would imagine hovering above the action scene. The colour of the icon may indicate gender; the backdrop colour of the overall scene might indicate the language.

Note: I wanted to match a town 100 icon to a similar looking German prefix. Often, I can not do that. Eg. AB is matched to the reverse of those letters: BA.

Prefix Town 100 Similar Letters Town 100 Theme No Easy Match
ab- BA Banking

BO -Bourse or Stock exchange
auf- FA Factory
aus- SA Sandwich shop
bei- BE Bed shop
dar- DA Dairy

DI – Digger engineers

BI – Biscuits

BE – Bed shop
ge- GE Geography Surveyor
hin- HI party Hire business
her- HE Health food shop
nach- NA National train station
nieder- NI Nineteenth century gardens
über- BU Butchers
um- MU Musical instrument store
unter- UN Neurologist
ver- VE Venetian canal
vor- VO Prison
weg- WE Wetlands area
wider- WI Wine bar
zer- ZE Kebab shop
zu- ZU Universal hairdresser

Cartoon people can be memorised speaking

If you are just learning one language's vocabulary then you can visualise a person saying a foreign word. In the Women 1000 system, person 72 represents 'sun'. The French for 'sun' is soleil. So you can imagine the person saying, "Soleil". And, since the sun is something that can be imagined easily, you can imagine the woman pointing at the sun while saying, "Sun".