Chinese Mnemonics: Brain Hacks Proven To Improve Memory And Study Efficiency

Chinese Mnemonics: Brain Hacks Proven To Improve Memory And Study Efficiency

How can our brains retain and memorize such an enormity of information? 

Mnemonics may be the answer. A mnemonic is an instructional strategy designed to help learners improve their ability to recall important information. It connects new learning to prior knowledge through visual and acoustic cues.

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about mnemonic memory techniques and how to apply them to master one of the world’s most challenging yet amazing languages—Chinese.

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What are mnemonics? 

A mnemonic, aka mnemonic device or memory device, is a learning strategy that assists people of all ages in memorizing or retrieving knowledge. In other words, mnemonic techniques boost your memory and help you recall information more effectively.

The term “mnemonic” comes from the Ancient Greek word μνημονικός (mnēmonikos), which means “of memory” or “connected to memory.” It also is related to the name of the goddess of memory in Greek mythology. Mnemonics in antiquity were commonly regarded in what is today known as the art of memory.

The ancient Greeks and Romans recognized two kinds of memory: “natural” memory and “artificial” memory. The former is innate, and everyone has it naturally. On the other hand, the latter must be trained and developed by studying and practicing various mnemonic techniques.

Mnemonics may come in many forms, such as a song, rhyme, acronym, keyword, phrase, or sentence. They’re particularly effective for learning the new vocabulary of a foreign language.

How do mnemonic techniques work? 

Our brains are better at remembering images, rhythms, sentences, and other patterns than individually recalling each detail or new information. So many mnemonic techniques have you assign an image, rhythm, or sentence to new information you are trying to learn.

A classic example is “I before E, except after C.” It is a mnemonic rule of thumb for English spelling, meaning the correct order is ‘ie’ unless the preceding letter is ‘c,’ in which case it is ‘ei.’

If you’re still in doubt about whether mnemonics really work, check out this study by top psychologists at Carnegie Mellon University to prove that it works!

The researchers invited average undergraduates to sessions where they would be shown sequences of digits that they would then have to remember. During the first few weeks, the students did not get far past seven digits (the number considered human short-term memory capacity). They were then trained to use mnemonic devices. Soon enough, they began recalling more and more digits steadily. After a hundred hours of training, they could remember 82 random numbers in the correct order after only seeing them once, according to Chase and Ericsson (1981).

As you can see, mnemonics improve our memory by creating a strong mental connection between the one-to-be-remembered and the easily memorable ones. 

All 9 types of mnemonics to improve your memory (with examples)

Though there are many different types of mnemonics, we’ll list the nine most widely used mnemonics below. Read on to find out which style would work best for you!

1. Musical mnemonics

Songs and jingles can be used as a mnemonic. So, you can encode anything you want to learn into a melody or song; a typical example is how children remember the alphabet by singing the ABC song.

If you are a musical person, definitely make a song for yourself. But for those who are not musically inclined, there are plenty of songs on YouTube to help you memorize what you need. 

Here is a Chinese tones song as a Chinese mnemonic for you to listen to

Chinese Tones in Song | Little Fox Chinese - Stories & Songs for Learners

2. Acronym mnemonics 

Acronyms are one of the most common types of mnemonics. The method is easy: take the first letter from each word that you want to remember and form a new word from all those letters. 

Check out these examples of acronym mnemonics:

  • ROY-G-BIV for the rainbow colors: red, orange, green, blue, indigo, violet.

  • HOMES for the names of the Great Lakes: Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Superior.

  • FANBOYS for punctuation rules: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.

3. Expression mnemonics

With expression mnemonics, the first letter of each word is combined to form a phrase or sentence.

Here are some examples: 

  • Remember the order of operations for math: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, and Subtract; we have the sentence ‘Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.’

  • Remember the order of the planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune: ‘My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles.’

  • Remember the order of 4 directions clockwise: North, East, South, West; ‘Never Eat Soggy Waffles.’

4. Model mnemonics

Models such as diagrams, flowcharts, cycles, and graphs can also be used as mnemonics. 

These are visual representations that aid in the learning and retention of a topic.

For instance, try a pyramid model if you’re attempting to recall information ranked in order. Write each keyword moving up the pyramid until you reach the most important thing. This model can help you place the precise sequence in which a process must be carried out or the steps that must be completed to proceed to the next phase.

A really famous model of Chinese mnemonics is to showcase how the Chinese tones sound. Take a look:

4 Chinese tones

Chinese tones | FAQ

5. Chunking/organizing mnemonics 

This mnemonic means grouping or breaking down information into smaller parts. Doing so simplifies the complexity of new information, making it easier for your brain to ‘digest.’ 

This mnemonic is widely used with phone or bank card numbers. For example, instead of remembering a long series of numbers 238023740239, divide it into four groups 238 023 740 239. 

6. Ode mnemonics

An Ode or Rhyme mnemonic puts information in a poem or doggerel format. 

The most famous rhyme mnemonic is, “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492,” but there’s also “Cyanate, I ate” and “Cyanide, I died.” to distinguish the difference between cyanate and cyanide.

7. Visual mnemonics 

The information in an image mnemonic is built as a picture, which enhances the recall of information when needed.

The more unique and vivid the image is to you, the better you will recall the information. There’s no limit to the imagination.  

For example, digits can be memorized by their shapes with the visual mnemonic: 

  • 0 – an egg or a ball 

  • 1 – a stick or a pencil

  • 2 – a duck or a swan 

  • 3 – an ear; a pair of lips 

  • 4 – a sail, a yacht

  • 5 – a hook or a pregnant woman 

  • 6 – a comet 

  • 7 – a knee 

  • 8 – a snowman or a pair of glasses 

  • 9 – an apostrophe or comma.

Another common example of image mnemonics is used in zoology:

elephant mnemonics

African elephants vs Indian elephants | Creative Commons 

8. Note organization mnemonics

The way you take notes can be used as a memorization technique. Right below are two commonly used methods of note organization mnemonics.


Flashcards are one of the most efficient ways to learn and remember things, especially in building vocabulary. This method is used by putting a question or word on one side of a paper/card and the answer or definition on the other side.


With this method, outlines can be presented in various forms depending on your preference and the amount of knowledge.

If you need to remember not much information, use arrows to list it in a specific order: Introduction → Body → Conclusion. But if the information is more extensive, you can list it down like an essay outline or a table of contents:


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9. Spelling mnemonics 

Mnemonics offer special strategies for remembering hard-to-spell words. When you try to write down new words correctly, making the word’s spelling more meaningful and relevant to yourself would be more effective.

Mnemonic spelling techniques can do just that. They make words more meaningful by connecting a difficult spelling term with a portion of the word in a phrase, a witty statement, or a rhyme. One mnemonic employs a smaller word to direct the speller’s attention to the problematic section of the word. 

The following are some examples:

  • “Memory Needs Every Method Of Nurturing Its Capacity” is a mnemonic for spelling mnemonic.

  • You gain when you bargain.

  • Ask someone to feed the cat before you leave for vacation.

  • You would rather double your dessert than die in the hot desert.

  • The word believe has a lie in it.

Which mnemonics is the best for learning Chinese?

Since the ancient Greek era, human beings have utilized mnemonics to retain new knowledge. A popular study 1967 by Gerald R. Miller confirmed that mnemonics increased recall. Students who regularly used mnemonics techniques had their test scores rocketed up to 77%. That explains why these mental devices have been applied in many study fields, from science to sociology, to improve academic performance. 

Learning Chinese is no exception. You can use the nine mnemonic methods above to study Chinese more quickly.

Some popular Chinese mnemonics include breaking down Chinese words into their characters and radicals. 

Chinese word breakdown into 4 components

4 levels of Chinese words complexity | Research Gate

Chunking/Organizing mnemonics: Start learning the most basic component first: radicals. It allows you to understand how a character is formed and makes learning Chinese characters/words easier as you go forward. 

Visual mnemonics: They are also widely employed to help learners remember the Chinese radicals or characters effectively. Here is a visual and fun way to remember Chinese words for ‘tree’ and ‘forest.’ 

Chinese tree visual mnemonics

Visual Chinese mnemonics examples| pickchur

How can I memorize Chinese easily?

You can memorize Chinese easily by using mnemonics. Chinese mnemonics can be hard to come up with on your own, which is why Pandanese is here to help!

Pandanese has all the Chinese mnemonics already created for you to use. Combining the mnemonics with the Spaced Repetition System (SRS) allows you to memorize Chinese characters and learn Chinese vocabulary easily. 

Frequently asked questions

How do you make mnemonics when learning Chinese?

When making Chinese mnemonics, it's important to understand what you are trying to memorize. Is it the definition? Or the character’s components? Then, depending on the end goal, you can create a Chinese mnemonic that works for you. For example, you can memorize 水 (water) by imagining it looks like a water drop.

What are the three fundamental principles of mnemonics?

The 3 fundamental principles of mnemonics are association, visualization, and imagination. Using these principles together will help you remember and recall information more effectively.

What is the Marilyn method of Chinese characters?

The Marilyn Method uses storytelling and your imagination to make Chinese characters less abstract and more memorable. For example, to remember "tree" (木), you can break it into its strokes and imagine a tree growing as you draw the character. This method can be quite effective for visual learners.

In closing

Chinese mnemonics is a powerful and useful tool to memorize Chinese characters and increase your vocabulary more effectively and easily. So whether you are a newcomer or a long-time studier, using Chinese mnemoics will help you go further in your Chinese language journey. 

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