Verbal mnemonics helps you remember information by encoding it using words. These techniques generally add more information but add it in a way that makes the information easier to commit to memory. In general it is more effective to memorize information as images (see the section on visual mnemonics) but in some situations verbal mnemonics can be easier and more effective for remembering information.
An excellent collection of verbal mnemonics can be found in Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge: The Book of Mnemonic Devices which contains verbal mnemonics to help you remember everything from astronomy to zoology.
Effective verbal mnemonics
Creating effective verbal mnemonics use the same rules as creating effective visual imagery such as using language that is vivid, bizarre, and full of emotion. Unlike visual mnemonics, verbal mnemonics tend to be specific techniques rather than actual systems. These techniques generally use acronyms, acrostics, or rhymes to make information more meaningful and hence easier to remember.
Acronyms and acrostics work using the principle of cued recall. The acronym or acrostic generally provides the first letter of a word which will cue the rest of the word.
Acronyms use a form of chunking by allowing you to remember a smaller piece of information that can be used to recall a larger amount of information. An acronym is a word (not necessarily a real word) that is formed from the first letter or letters of each word in a longer phrase. A well known acronym for memorizing the colors of the rainbow is ROY-G-BIV. This acronym is taken from the colors:
An acrostic is a phrase in which the first (or sometimes last) letter in each word of the phrase represents the first letter of the words you want to remember. This is generally used because the acrostic phrase is easier to remember than the initial information.
A common acrostic for remembering the planets in order is: My very energetic mother just served us nine pizzas. The first letter of each word can be used to cue your memory of each of the planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. Keep in mind that this acrostic is from before 2006 when Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet.
Making a verbal mnemonic from a rhyme generally involves arranging the information you have to remember in a way that forms a rhyme. Rhymes allow us to remember information easier as well as provide cues to help us remember all the words. Some common mnemonic rhymes are:
- In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue
- ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’
For a practical guide to improving your memory, please take a look at my review of Ron White’s Memory in a Month course
Related PagesVisual Mnemonics
Limitations of Mnemonics
Applications of Mnemonic Systems