Mnemonics Course (Part 4) – Word Substitution Technique

In the last three days, we’ve learned how to create images and to place them in distinct locations.
It’s time to step it up!

Today we’ll cover (arguably) the best technique for vocabulary acquisition.



The main problem which we all face when we want to learn a new language is that the vocabulary looks strange.
You KNOW that these words convey meaning but one glance at them and you start feeling discouraged.

But it doesn’t have to be hard.
As I’ve written before, the best way to learn new things is to use your current existing knowledge as foundations.

We all have our own, internal database: names, nicknames, names of actors, vocabulary from our native language.
it means that we never start from scratch!

How does it work?

Every time when you stumble across a new word spend some time to “deconstruct” it.
I bet that when you pay enough attention you’ll notice familiar sounds or even words inside the words.

Let’s use the Swedish word “deppa” as an example.
It means “to feel depressed”.

Can you see it?
Exactly! There is “depp” in it.
And everybody knows how Johny Depp looks like!

When we deconstruct a word we need to create two groups of images.
One will remind us of the meaning of the given word.

The second one will contain familiar words or associations from a deconstructed word.
Once we have these two groups, we mix them together to get the final image (or scene) representing a given word.

In our case, it looks like this:
1st group (meaning) – being depressed can be pictured as having a sad facial expression or maybe sobbing.
2nd group (our associations) – this time we need only one image – Johny Depp

Final result: place an image of veeeeery sad Johny Depp in one of your locations and start deconstructing another word!

This method works great because it makes us pay attention and look for associations.
What’s more, it engages your vision as well as other senses!



I’ve prepared a list of 15 words from three different languages to show you this process once again.

die Frau (wife, woman) – she is always FRAUning
der Mann (man, husband) – where are my MANNers?!
das Kind (child) – Kind der garten (garden of children)
die Eltern (parents) – like Elders
die Erde (earth) – die AIR DEr is good

el ajeno (alien)- I have no ears , i HEAH NO sounds
andar (walk) – AN DAR you are – walking again!
callarse (shut up) – if you CALL sb ARSE – you want them to shut up
charlar (chat) – CHARLAtan talks a lot
decir (say) – say it in DIS EAR

comer (eat) COMEr to eat
saber (know) – I know how to fight with SABER
ler (read) – if read you will LER(n)
trabalhar (work) – don’t TRABAL HAR when she works!
sair (leave) – SIGH – R u leaving?

It’s not necessary for associations to include all the letters of the given word.
It’s enough to remember the beginning of words. Usually, your brain will fill in the rest.

You probably have experienced it yourself when you couldn’t recall something but your friend started saying the beginning of it and it came back to you!

Once you deconstruct a certain number of words, link them together using techniques I’ve described earlier and enjoy your improved recall!

That’s it for today.
In 2 days we will get to know how to memorize abstract words and how to use a mnemonic link system.

Bartosz Czekala


  • I’ve learned a lot of vocabulary with this! Ty πŸ™‚
    I just wanted to know something, there are times that I can’t simply find a word similar either of sound or written alike, may I add some letters for mnemonics?

    • Bartosz Czekala

      Great to hear it, Jose! πŸ™‚ Absolutely! What I liked to do is to add a fixed mnemonic (i.e. picture) for specific prefixes in my target language. This way, I could always create my stories quickly and effectively πŸ™‚

  • I was getting the mails twice (separated by a day i think, so I unsubscribe from one the second occurrences, I hope I’m still subbed, yes the mails it’s the same)

    • Bartosz Czekala

      Hi Victor It might happen when you subscribe to more than 1 list. If you unsubscribe just one then you will still get emails from the second list πŸ™‚

  • I am learning Greek. I need a kickstart with using mnemonics. Can someone give me an idea how you would remember the Greek word for Desk which is grafeio. Thanks.

    • Hi! Maybe try to remember it as screaming “GRAPH, YO!” after noticing that somebody is scribbling it on your desk:)

  • I already have read some stuff like that, but this is the first article that made me understant this concept, i will use this. Thanks bartosz.

    Barto sz
    A italian bard who knows italian and loves memory
    Bard(o) S2

    (Polish names are really hard to recall)

    • Bartosz Czekala

      No problem. Glad you like it πŸ™‚ That’s a cool association! I know that Polish names can be difficult πŸ™‚

  • “Ajeno” is a perfectly good Spanish word for the English word “alien,” but not in the sense of a being from another planet, which would be the denotation of the equivalents that Miguel gave. Here’s an example from an online bilingual dictionary:

    El estilo de vida de un agricultor es completamente ajeno a un habitante de la ciudad.

    A farmer’s lifestyle is completely alien to a city dweller.

  • This looks really interesting. Does this work with every language? I’m trying to apply it to my French and I haven’t had much success.

    • Yep, it is pretty much universal. Don’t worry, it’s far from the best ways to learn a language so if it doesn’t worry for you read some articles of mine.
      I am sure you will find there something to your liking! πŸ™‚

  • My friend, the following word is not correct:
    el ajeno (alien)- i have no ears , i HEAH NO sounds
    You can say in spanish alienigena ,extraterrestre or even alien for alien.

    I dont know if in an specific place they use that word, but at least is not used and incorrect in the spanish of spain.
    Here you have the link from the official diccionary

  • Thank you very much, you’re a genius! Could you give me some tips for my russian? I’m trying to learn it but it’s being hard. Rgds

  • How soon do you think it’s wise to implement this technique? Would you advise doing this from day 1, or do you think a student should only do this after having acquired some level of grammar, pronunciation and listening skills?

    • Bartosz Czekala

      I would suggest to start using it right away. The sooner it happens, the more time student will have to get used to using this technique. Although, I would make sure that they know pronunciation of the words they are trying to learn!

  • Eli Ben-Joseph

    I had to be quite silly and inventive with this technique, but it completely words.

  • I’ll tell you in a week if I remember it.

  • Learning to embrace the technique!

  • Ahmad.Alzghoul49


  • I like this technique,it’s so interesting.
    Thanks a lot.

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