Mnemonic Image System for Letters and Sounds

I’m getting closer to finishing a mnemonic systems for sounds.

For now, I only need images for sounds that are in languages that I at familiar with or am learning.

I realized that I don’t need images for everything. In Portuguese some words end with -ão which becomes -ões when pluralized.  I don’t need a special image for -ões, because I think I will only need to remember that -ão becomes -ões when pluralized.

By expanding  my table of letter images, I can create something like a person-action system for sounds.  First the expanded table:

(I’m still missing 16 images, but will add them soon.)

Letter Word Image
A Alpha ox
B bravo Pavarotti
C Charlie Charlie Brown
D Delta shark fin
E echo Canyon wren
F foxtrot ballroom dancers
G golf golf club
H Hotel specific hotel in Greece
I India Taj Mahal
J Juliet Juliet
K kilo kilo of drugs
L Lima lima beans
M Mike microphone
N November cranberries
O Oscar Oscar the grouch
P Papa papadum
Q Québec Canadian flag
R Romeo Romeo
S Sierra saw blade
T tango Bandoneón
U uniform black and white striped engineers cap
V Victor Victor Borge
W whiskey bottle of whiskey
X x-ray x-ray
Y Yankee feather in cap
Z Zulu Zulu
aa 3
ih 6
uh 9
ai 5
ei 8
ya
yi
yu
ye
yo
ão
Δ δέλτα door triangle (instrument)
Θ θήτα wheel
Ψ ψι trident
ח thread
צ papyrus plant
yaa
yih
yuh
yai
yei

UPDATE: see also this post on Greek letters.

By creating a table using the images for both rows and columns, it’s possible to have an image for every sound needed. It might be ideal to do it like a person-action system. So if the letter/sound a (as in father) is an ox pulling a cart, and the letter/sound b is Pavarotti singing, “ab” would be an ox singing.

Person-action system for sounds

Mnemonic system for sounds

Some of the combinations that are created don’t make sense in English, but they might appear in other languages like כמו (“cmo“)  in Hebrew or φθάνω (“fthano“)  in Greek. For double sounds or double images of any kind, I add a mirror to the image.  I have a few images, like the mirror, that I think of as image modifiers that can be added to existing images to change their meaning. If I were learning a tonal language like Chinese or Thai I would experiment with making an image modifier for each tone.

Example: an image of a woman mashing lima beans on a mirror (double “L”) should remind me that someone’s name is Marielle and not Mariel.

The purpose of the system isn’t to memorize every detail, but is intended to jog the memory in difficult sections when memorizing words in any language.

9 comments

  • This is an intriguing idea. But it seems to me that perhaps you might be breaking things down a little too much. I also think of mnemonics for sounds as approximations to jog memory when necessary (like you said), so I don’t see the need for such exact sound-by-sound groups of images. If I want to remember someone’s name is Marielle, I may imagine her handing my friend Mary an L (or maybe 2 L’s to recall the spelling) without the need for any sort of formal system for each and every sound.

    If I were to use a phonetic system, I think it would also make sense to create single images for large recurring sound patterns in a particular language (like “-ada” “-mente” or “-amos”). Sort of like an “image modifier” tacked onto the base of a word.

    I’m curious how this level of detail would really be implemented, perhaps you could give some other examples of what you have in mind?

  • Sorry, for some reason your post wasn’t showing before– I just published it now. I added your blog to the blogroll too.

    I might use images for some endings, but things like words ending in -mente I would put it the adverb section of my imaginary town (described here).

    Memorizing directions is one practical thing I’ve been using the letter images for so far:

    • Take exit 22B (Pavarotti eating a raw onion).
    • Apartment #8F (Snowman ballroom dancing)

    I don’t spend a lot of time on them — it’s just an extra set of images available to use.

  • Thanks for adding me to the Blogroll, I added this site to mine.

    With things like -mente the rules are pretty straight-forward, so you probably don’t need much help to recall the ending. Adding an image would just be extra effort.

    I didn’t really consider how helpful it could be for alphanumeric sequences like highways or apartment #s. Although I could incorporate some letters in the Dominic System (the letters that are already used), I wouldn’t be able to accurately revert back from images to letters and numbers because all information in that system gets converted to letters (name initials). If I remembered Ben Stiller (B.S.) in a long alphanumerical sequence, I still might not know how I got to that image (was it 26?, B6?, 2S?, BS?)

  • Are you based in China? Any mnemonic tips for learning some Mandarin? That is next on my list…

  • I live in Shanghai, but I’m no expert on Mandarin and am really nowhere near fluent. Mostly I just haven’t dedicated enough time to the language.

    Mnemonics for individual words are tricky because Mandarin is full of similar (or even identical) sounding words. I’ve found that mnemonics can be useful for memorizing characters and also for remembering tone markings. For instance, I can remember that the “ma” for horse is third tone because I picture the U-shaped marker for third tone as a saddle. This helps initially, but obviously fluency is going to require lots and lots of listening and practice. You can’t be pausing to recall an image for the tone for each syllable as you speak. You just have to get a feel for phrases and words and the tones will (hopefully) start coming out right.

    I picked up the Heisig “Remembering the Hanzi” book a while back, which is full of mnemonics for learning characters, but I never made it all the way through because it got too boring. Now I just focus on reading real content to learn characters, occasionally creating my own mnemonics along the way.

  • When I was in Taiwan, a local told me to forget trying to say the tones. I wonder what kinds of pronunciation disasters might potentially be caused that way though… 🙂

  • I just wanted to thank you for your engaging set of articles regarding the use of mnemonic techniques for language learning. I am currently working on learning German and have become fascinated with the possibility of using such techniques to maximize my efficiency. I’m very new to the world of mnemonics so the task is a bit daunting. I especially like the idea of developing an phonetic image set because I have a hard time linking long foreign words reliably to familiar images. Your blog helps, keep up the good work.

  • Thanks, I’m glad the info is useful…

  • I have lived in shanghai for about 1 1/2 years and i have a couple of tricks for learning spoken chinese.

    Each tone has a color/emotion/ associated with it. For me

    1-yellow, or a yellow bird
    2- green and rising,
    3- blue, deep blue ocean
    4-red, explosion,

    also every pinyin sound has an image attached to it. Therefore you can then take the pinyin sound which you already have an image for. Then pain that image a certain color which is your tone.

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