My Journey: Steps in Memorizing Arabic
By: Menal Elmaliki / Arab America Contributing Writer
I was recently invited to a family member’s Melwee, which is a traditional party a Yemeni bride has before her wedding. I walked into the large gathering, and was greeted with a sea of Yemeni women dressed in traditional attire. We sip tea, converse, as well as dance.
I made my way to the food table, where the desserts sit there luringly. I am greeted with a random auntie. She wants to know everything about me, our conversation a slew of back-and-forth questions and answers, and a sprinkle of gossip. She told me something I couldn’t quite understand. She used an Arabic word I haven’t heard before. The conversation ends, and before long so did the party. I made my way home when I realized I need to learn more of my native language. As I get older, I realized that my memory isn’t quite the same. I must work harder to remember new words. I also have some difficulty remembering the names of people I have just met. Though the situation doesn’t seem like such a big deal, it is a recurring problem for poor me. I’ll take you on my journey of how I came to improve my memory and learn new Arabic terms in a short duration.
Memory is strange. How can one forget something they just learned, and how can one spontaneously remember something they did in the 3rd grade? In improving my memory towards language learning I decided to try some memory tips and tricks. Ever heard the phrase, work smarter, not harder; this applies to your memory. Memory is like a muscle; it must be worked every day and in new ways. Language is a culmination of physical and mental methods. You can spend long hours writing 100 words on 100 index cards but there is the chance of you forgetting what you learned in maybe a few days, perhaps within a few hours. “Method is the mother of learning,” and the “mother” of memorizing is a method.(1) If our memory is bad, we can improve it. It is amazing that there is no limit to our long-term memory, it’s like a limitless black hole so why not take advantage of it and see where you can go.
STEP 1: MINDSET
The first step towards memorization is a mindset. You must have the INTENTION of memorizing and you must be CONFIDENT in your memory. Scientifically, one tends to remember what they focus on more, so having the intention to remember as confidence is key in learning anything in life. You must also be willing to trust your memory and not be afraid of making mistakes.
STEP 2: OBSERVATION
The second step is observation. Once you observe something you tend to memorize, it’s time for step three, associating.
STEP 3: ASSOCIATION
The process of association makes memorizing easier. For me to remember a particular word, I must associate it with something that already exists in my mind palace; something I already remember. It’s easier to learn something new when it is connected to something you already know. (2)
Now in terms of learning new Arabic vocabulary, I use the method that I have mentioned above, the “conscious association”.(3) This method works for non-native speakers and native speakers wanting to expand on their vocab. Alongside my normal practice of writing a new word repetitively and making flashcards, I would also try this tip in learning words quicker.
Remember it’s easy to manipulate your mind into doing things. At first, learning a new language or expanding on your native tongue can be at times overwhelming. Especially since Arabic is a rather multifaceted language, containing over 100 forms for the word camel. When something looks overwhelming you simply break it down. So instead of me learning a LONG list of Arabic words, I would cut the list to about 10 words per day.
So today I have a new list of a few Arabic words. If you will allow me to show you how I memorize these words following the above steps/ tips.
فطرة (fit-ra) = Mushroom
تصميم (Tasmeen) = Design
تاريخ (taa-rikh)= History
أصفر (aSfar)= Yellow
For the first word, I associate فطرة with fat. I imagine a fat mushroom. A mushroom has a fat top and a skinny bottom. For the word تصميم (tasmeen)my association is Tesla. So, whenever I would try and remember تصميم I imagine a Tesla.
For history, تاريخ (taa-rikh) I associate it with another Arabic word instead of an English one. تاريخ with طريق, (dareeq) طريق means road. History is the road to wisdom after all. You can imagine a historical figure that you admire, with him/her walking down the road. Or a simpler way would be to, associate تاريخ with the word terrible and imagine dictators, wars, or famine.
As for the word صفر (aSfar), yellow, you can try it on your own.
At times imagining and associating is not enough, so the next class of action is to imagine an unlikely, illogical or ridiculous imagine in your head. With the word, فطرة, mushroom, you can associate an image of a mushroom dancing on top of the Empire State building.
STEP 4: REPETITION & ASSIMILATION
After association, the key to further success is a habit. You must make it a habit to memorize and repeat every day. Medieval Arabs would have applied the rote method in their public education system. The rote method is basically learning or memorizing by repeating. Make it a habit to repeat the word several times per day. A tip that I use is that I place Arabic words on every object I don’t know all over my homely adobe.
The final step is assimilation. I try and drown myself in Arabic by watching Arab films and television shows. I also read the newspaper is Arabic. This will allow my brain as well as my tongue to get used to new words. Whatever language you decide to learn, whether its Arabic, Mandarin, or Bangla, one must use it in everyday conversation to arrive from novice to expert.
Lorayne, H. (2002). The Complete Guide to Memory Mastery: Develop a super memory and discover the secrets of Mind Power. MJF Books.
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