Tip 6: More on Memory Triggers

A276 – Learning Latin – Targeting Vocabulary – Tip 6



If you draw a shield shape and add legs and pincers, you get a crab!


So what (you’re very probably asking – and rightly so! [Apologies for the cack-handed ‘artwork’ by the way])? Well…


A crab has a hard shell that protects it – like a shield. A crab also scuttles when it moves. A crab is also shield-shaped (well… it is [sort of anyway!] if you ignore its legs and pincers. And the Latin word for shield is scutum. So you can manage to combine some static imagery (as above) with some dynamic imagery (imagine seeing it scuttling along) with the sound of a word (the ‘scut’ in scuttle) which is spelled as it is pronounced so that you get the Latin spelling too (‘scut-‘) for the stem of the word (the start; the beginning bit; the letters that come first); the part that gives you its meaning – and that meaning is triggered by the shape of a crab i.e. shield. Ta da!


As I said last time, this sort of things can all seem to involve some rather forced, tortuous lines to be thinking along. But it’s all about the brain making connections (there’s the whole learning associated ‘cognitive processing’ sciencey thingy I could be boring you with for this bit but I’ll spare you that!). The brain just loves getting hooked into this sort of convoluted puzzling-it-out gear or problem-solving mode. That’s exactly how it learns best.


It’s just a shame (because I especially like this simple but devastatingly effective example) that ‘scutum’ isn’t in the Consolidated Learning Vocabulary List at the back of the Language Reference Book! But I bet you remember it anyway now you’ve seen it presented like this. And you’ll forget others in the list that you do have to know, of course. Unless, that is, you can do something similar with them.


This pictorial approach certainly won’t work for all words; not even for the majority. But if you can pick out the ones which you can drum up something ‘arty’ for it will help enormously. Pop them on a flash card or an index card as they occur to you. Perhaps swap them for an improved or different (better) idea that occurs to you. Carry them around. Test yourself. Stick them on post-it notes… anything that makes you involve them purposefully in cracking on with your vocabulary: learning it by heart, little by little, day by day, in all those odd few moments of spare time, here and there, however short, which you can turn into productive study slots.


Steven Havelin (03.12.17)