Creating a Memory Palace for German Vocabulary and Grammar

After 12 hours of German classes* and a few 10-mile walks around Vienna, I think I have come up with a mnemonic system for remembering both the gender and pluralization of German nouns.

I spent a week in my German class before attempting to create a memory town. I wanted to understand the structure of the language a little before starting to memorize things.

For example, one of the difficulties of learning German is that nouns have three genders and about 12 ways to pluralize the nouns. All of that has to be memorized for each word.

I didn’t know if it was more important to separate the nouns into three sections of a memory town based on genders (as in the method described by Dominic O’Brien), or if it would be better to organize nouns by the way they are pluralized, or even both, which would require about 36 (3*12) areas in the memory town just for nouns.

If I had a lot of free time, that method might be nice, but to be realistic, I would probably never finish that task.

A Simpler Memory Town

After thinking about it for a long time, I realized that I could separate the nouns into three sections of the town by gender, and then use image modifiers for the 12 types of pluralization.

I think that the advantage of this way over doing it the opposite way, with 12 sections of a memory town (pluralization) and three image modifiers (genders), is that it should give me fewer repeating images due to the smaller number of image modifiers.

The Memory Town Layout

The sections of my memory town for German nouns are the following districts of Vienna:

  • 1st district: feminine nouns.
  • 7th district: neutral nouns
  • 15th district: masculine nouns
Photo of Vienna

Vienna 1st District

Examples of Plural Image Modifiers

At the moment, some of my image modifiers for plurals are:

-s, -e, -n

I have a mnemonic image for every letter of the English alphabet. “S” is a saw blade. “E” is a canyon wren. “N” is an image of cranberries.

Photo of Cranberries

Cranberries

Example:
The mnemonic image for the word Schule is in the old city (1st district) so I know that it’s a feminine noun–die Schule–and the cranberries tell me that the plural is die Schulen.

-en

Sometimes I drop the first letter from a word to create a mnemonic image, so in this case, I added one: “en” becomes “hen”.

-er

Er means “he” in German. The first thing that came to mind is the He-Man cartoon and his distinctive sword.

Example:
In the 7th district, a child (Kind) is sword fighting with a picture (Bild) on the side of a building. The 7th District tells me that they are neutral nouns, and the sword tells me that the words are pluralized with -er.

I already know many of the nouns from their similarity with English or Esperanto, so I don’t need to attach these particular images to their German sounds.

ä/ö/ü-er (Stem Change)

My image for this plurization is Zephyrus, the west wind. For some reason, that was the first thing that came to mind, probably because the beginning of the Canterbury Tales is often stuck in my head, triggered by overhearing German words like Sonne, auch, and Holz:

Whan Zephyrus eek [auch] with his sweete breethe
Inspired hath in every holt [Holz] and heethe
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronn

Also, “y” in German and Old English is pronouned ü, so “Zephyrus” isn’t a giant mnemonic leap from “ü-er”.

ä/ö/ü-e (Stem Change)

This sounded like ʻoe to me which means “you” in Hawaiian. So this image is a palm tree.

Hawaii sunset

Hawaii sunset

No Change

The image for nouns that don’t change when they become plural is a black hole.

In the 7th district, a girl is leaning out of a window and being swept into a black hole. They are in the neutral part of town, so it it’s das Mädchen and das Fenster, and the black hole tells me that the spellings remain the same when being pluralized: die Mädchen and die Fenster.

Fenster sounds like fenestro in Esperanto, and Mädchen is maiden in English, so the words themselves are often easy to remember. It’s just the grammar that is complex.

(To see the method I used to memorize the 12 definite articles of German during a break in class, see my previous post.)

Photo of Westbahnhof, Vienna

Westbahnhof in the 15th District of Vienna

Does my explanation make sense? If not, please leave a comment below and I’ll explain further. As usual, this is an experiment that is in progress. I may learn something else about German grammar that requires me to do things a different way. I hope to have more to report soon.

P.S., my vocabulary lists are here (in progress).

*This post was written a few days ago, but edited and published today.

Photo of cranberries © Muffet under the CC BY 2.0 License.

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5 comments

  • Nice. It’s a nice way to remember our journey through life.

  • I am using the same method of yours to memorise german vocabulary. But i was wondering a different possibility. Wouldnt be more efficient to use 3 memory towns for gender, but like 100 base images for all syllables of the german language? It would take some time at the beggining, I agree. But if the objective is to study a lot, like in my case, this preliminar study may be a great deal, because after that, i would not nedd much other new images to relate do german words, but would always relate the syllables direcly with the object. I m not sure if my english can be comprehended, but if it does, i would like to hear your opinion about this alternative method. Thank you.

  • Actually to memorize genders I use taste/smell and colours. I assign a colour to three genders blue for masculine, red for feminine and grey for neutral.
    Also I’ve chosen a taste for each gender. It’s more primitive but interesting. Taste/smell comes to your memory very quickly. Has anyone tried that?

  • theTenthMuse

    Why would you use memory palaces to remember vocab? I have found that mere mnemonic key and anki helps me memorize tons of vocab with >200% ease. I use male characters for der-class nouns, female characters for die-class nouns and monsters, ghosts, ghouls for das-class nouns.(Secretly terrifying but extremely memorable!). As for grammar I use colors for the different cases. Nom is white Acc is black, Dat is blue or hellblau, and Gen is bright green.

  • Fascinating – I have learnt 5 languages since school and never thought of such associations! Now I am trying to help my daughter who is not so keen so any new method greatly appreciated. Thank you – ps, I used to make sung cantations to remember German definitive articles but nothing so innovative as you describe!

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