Best tips for difficult words when you can't think of a good mem

:tulip: Hi fellow Memrise learners,

Let’s say you have a very complicated word to learn.

You try, and you try, and you try, but you cannot think of a good mnemonic for it.

How do you then force this difficult word(s) into your memory?

Try to find something to associate it with.

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The way I see it, there are two parts to remembering a word (and, similarly, to learning grammar concepts too): learning how it’s formed and when to use it. The first part is the spelling/sounds of the word, the second one is the meaning. Which part are you struggling with?

If it’s the first part, you probably just need to repeat it a lot. Write it down somewhere you might see it quite often and reread it to yourself several times a day. It’ll find its way into your memory eventually.

If you already know the word (so that once you think of it, you know immediately how it’s spelled/pronounced) but struggle to remember the meaning, try to find a helpful association. Make a sentence with it that makes the meaning quite clear, and try to remember the sentence. Or something like that.


@widle: Thanks for the thought out answer. I am referring to remembering the meaning of a difficult word.

For example, I cannot come up with an association/mnemonic for りょうがえ (ryogae) which means money exchange. No matter how hard I try, I cannot think of an association. And this is not the only difficult word, there are many.

So I’m hoping to hear people’s tips for learning a word without the use of a mnemonic. For example, using a notecard and looking at it every day or something like that. A tip that they have been able to use successfully.

What about that storytelling method? For example: the first symbol associates me with a swam, the second to a man in a wheelchair, the third to a man that is reaching for a hug, the fourth to a yoga pose, the fifth to a bride in a gown.
A man in a wheelchair is heading an a date to a park with a swam lake. The woman is welcoming him with a hug. They are surrounded with people doing yoga and couples making their wedding pictures. And then you add something like they have met while exchanging money, or there is a moneychanger shop or something like that…


And eventually it just snaps: swam, wheelchair, hug, yoga, bride, money exchange…

the RYūgaku·sei/exchange student GOE-s to change ROE for money??? just a silly idea

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@iamwillow ~ this might not be the way others learn, or even the best way, but here is how I do it (since I never use mems, or visual aids). What I do is just write out the character(s) with the fingers of my right hand into the palm of my left hand (since I am right handed). I do this over and over again until I think I can do it from memory. I also repeat the meaning and the sound of the word(s) verbally at the same time (thereby associating visual/auditory simultaneously). I also walk around the house, neighborhood, wherever repeating the sound and meaning of the word(s), either silently or out loud, depending on the situation around me (after all I don’t want to appear odd to the local community if I am seen mumbling to myself).

This works for me. It may not work for everyone. I figure if I can reproduce a character(s) by visually writing them in the air (or in the palm of my hand) then I think it resides in my memory and I am content. And I always verbally speaking the sound and meaning of the word(s) as I write them. Rarely do I do one without the other.

In my case, I am learning Mandarin Chinese (Traditional Characters), so some of the characters are pretty complex in terms of the number of strokes. They really put my memory to the test, but so far, I seem to be making progress with the system that I use.

I wish you luck in whatever you try to do. Learning is the key to so many wonderful things in this world. How you learn is individual in nature - just find what works, and go for it !


Usually I try creating a sentence that “kind of” sounds like the word I’m trying to remember or would “kind of” be written in the same way (for the romanized version), especially if it’s the meaning that is difficult. Like “Ryu gave her dollars in exchange for euros, that’s a money exchange”, or something like that.

When I really cannot find anything in either english or in french (my native language), I look up the word on Wiktionnary to see if the etymology can help me remember it somehow or connect it to something. Otherwise, the very last method would simply be to write it down tens of times with the meaning, and to put some papers with the word on it in places where you’re sure to see them several time a day. Also, if you do that, you might want to print the papers using a font that is not easy to decipher for the meaning, or to ask someone with a bad hand-writing to write it down for you. This apparently helps your brain to remember because it has to struggle to decipher the words, so you actually focus more on the reading and remember better.


With Japanese, I try to fill in the blanks on what the full form of the word must be. For example:

quartz: 水晶 water sparkle —> 水(色)晶(石) water-(coloured) sparkling (rock). “Water-colored” of course being a euphemism for “semi-transparent”.

geode: 晶洞 sparkle cave —> 晶洞(内石) sparkling cave (inside a rock)

amythest: 紫水晶 purple water sparkle —> 紫水(色)晶(石) purple-water-(colored) sparkling (rock)

myopia: 近視 (near vision) or 近眼 (near eyeball) —> 近眼視 near-eyeball vision

So in your example we have りょうがえ 両替 “both-replace”. But, in this case it means exchange coins to bills, or one currency to another. If I wanted to make up a mem on the spot without bothering to figure out if 両替 is a shortened word like those examples above, I would probably do: 両人替金 “both people replace money”. You give them money and they give you money but you each have new money (not the same type as what you had before) afterwards.

The pronunciation also matches other words. りょう from “料 cost, price” and かえる from 換える “exchange” (かえ just changes to がえ, and the る falls off, as what often happens when a ru-verb changes to a noun).


@risgrynsgrot: I have never heard of that method for remembering the kanji of Japanese words. It’s brilliant! Thanks for sharing.

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What works for me is using dictionary. has a nice one, showing you the suggestions etc.
So, for ryogae you could break the word into two: ryo and gae. Ryo sounds similar to Ro (a greek letter, symbol used a lot in physics) and gae sounds similar to Gaea (Greeks’ goddess of the earth and mother of Cronus). Imagine How Cronus pays for his life and Gaea gives him exchange of Rho. (But wait, that sounds totally illogical. Yes! And that’s how you would remember it :wink: )
Other words, less associated with Greek mythology would be reggae - pronunciation is just a little off the Japanese one, but it would make you remember the word.
Break the word into ry (rye) and ogae (yoga).

It might be that neither of my suggestions helped you, but you need to find the one that suits you the best yourself :wink: Just use dictionary to help you! :slight_smile:


@iamwillow Yes, you can use this same technique for other languages too! For example, “fireman ----> fire-fighting human”

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What I have found helpful when come across a word that just won’t stick is to fit the word into a compound noun.

Since I study Finnish that’s the example I’ll use:

‘vanhemmat’ = parents
’iso’ = big / great

On their own I don’t find any of those words very memorable. But when they are combined into ‘isovanhemmat’ which means grandparents they just become more colorful and packs more information
about the language, at least to me. Once learned this I soon recognise other similar constructions in Finnish that uses iso or vanhemmat in some way.

I don’t know anything about Japanese word-building so I am not sure if my advice applies at all. But what I would suggest is that you look for all kinds of different vocabulary that uses ‘money’ and ‘exchange’ in some way that you can latch on to. What about ‘money-lender’, or ‘language-exchange’?


Though my Kanji is not as advanced as yours I do this too, for example using the official Japanese 1 Course:
⺮ = bamboo,
者 = person
⺮ (bamboo) + 者 (person) = 箸 = chopsticks, because what do people use that’s made out of bamboo? Chopsticks.

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I usually find one way or another to remember a word, though it sometimes takes me a while to consistently remember it when I want to remember it. But when all else fails, I write it (with it’s meaning) on an index card. Every night, right before bed, no matter how tired I am, I go through my index cards, and write the words with their meanings in a notebook. After a few days I’m usually reciting them in my sleep, at which point I start only reviewing them once a week. After a few weeks, I cross out the words I’ve written and reuse the cards for different words. It’s not especially hard, and it doesn’t take long each day, but it’s generally pretty effective.


I isolate the word by making an course with only this word until I memorize it.

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If you put on a headset you appear like you are having a conversation with someone, which is a lot better, no-one suspects you to be the crazy person who is speaking to themselves :slight_smile:


Although it ran out of comments in 2016 there are great suggestions here.

Also see this course