A Mind for Language

Apr 22, 2019

Koine Readers

For the last few weeks I've been working on Koine Greek readers illustrated with Legos. I suppose they are inspired by Lingua Latina per se illustrata. I'm making the source text and images available at https://github.com/fhardison/koine-greek-readers.

I'm not the best at accent rules yet so most of the words do not have accents. I hope to improve this as I go.

Please feel free to download and use them. They are released under the MIT License.

If you have feedback or want to collaborate please feel free to contact me at fletcher [at] amindforlanguage.com.

Dec 13, 2018

Greek vowel contraction rules (part 1)

Ancient and Koine Greek vowels contract in ways that are simply maddening. Sometimes you are looking at a word and wondering what on earth it means. Then it turns out that you know this word quite well, but couldn't tell what the root was because half of the letters were missing. They had contracted with various prefixes and suffixes leaving us scratching our heads.

Knowing the vowel contraction rules makes life much easier. This is the first post in a comic series to help make learning these rules easier and more fun.

When an ε gets added before an α they contract and form η. We can symbolize this as:

  • ε + a → η

But who wants to memorize boring rules! It's much better as a story! Since ε and η are considered each other's short and long variant, let's consider them to be brothers.

Once upon a time in Greekland

One day ε is playing on the playground and α comes up and starts teasing him. So ε calls his big brother.

Big brother η shows up and promptly pounds α while ε flees to safety leaving η to stand victoriously

The end.

Nov 09, 2018

What do you have? - an input task for introducing new vocab in Greek

One of the problems facing learners of Ancient is getting used to the cases of nouns. Below is a simple input task that can be used to introduce new vocabulary. Students are given an item and a card with the name of that item. They are then asked to find out what other students have and if the other students like that item.

This will allow students to expand their vocabulary as well as encounter that vocabulary in both nominative and accusative case. This should work for nouns, some participles, and adjectives if used in conjunction with a noun.


  • Find props, pictures, or other realia that represents the words to be learned.
  • Create a card that has the Greek word for that object. Make sure to include the article and/or genitive singular of the word so that students can correctly identify what gender it belongs to.
    • It may also be necessary to give the accusative case depending on students facility in conjugating the given declension.
    • If students are beginners, it may help to give them the sentences they will need to complete this activity (see "Language needed for this activity" below).


  • Divide students into groups if necessary. Ideally one or two vocabulary items per student.
  • Give students a prop and a card with the new vocabulary item.
  • Tell students that they need to learn the name of each object/picture/etc. in their group and whether the person likes it because they will be asked to tell the class this information.

Wrap up

After students have found the information, the teacher can pick students from the group to tell the class the objects and if the other student liked the item. This also provides a chance to the teacher to repeat the basic questions "τι έχει ...?" and "ᾶρα αυτῄῳ αρέσει ο/η/τό ___?".

Language needed for this activity

  • τι έχεις?
  • έχω (ένα/μίαν/έν) ___.
  • ᾶρα σοι αρέσει ο/η/τό ___
  • μοι (ου) αρέσει ο/η/τό __
  • έχει ο/η name-of-student ___.
  • αυτῳ/αυτῃ αρέσει ο/η/τό ___

Nov 08, 2018

Limiting vocabulary in highly inflected (and irregular) languages

Ancient/Koine Greek is nothing if not inflected. It is also quite irregular. This is a pain for students because of the many, many forms a given word can take.

One principle of modern language teaching is to "limit" or "shelter" vocabulary. In other words, don't use too many new words in the course of a lesson and don't teach too many words in the course. The corollary to this is usually not to limit grammar. Thus while students may only hear a small number of new words, they hear normal (complex) grammar.

The problem

In my Koine Greek class I have tried to limit the number of vocabulary items. I only add a few new words per lesson, but these words are drawn from each gender: masculine, feminine, and neuter. This gives students a chance to acquire the different declensions and the definite article that goes with them. The trouble is that some of these (quite common) words have stem changes and this adds to what my students have to deal with. Even though this kind of suppletion is common in Greek, I think it is overwhelming for my students.

The solution – maybe

I have been listening to Tea with BVP and their new podcast Talkin' L2 with BVP. Bill VanPatten (i.e. BVP) notes that paradigms aren't psychologically real. In other words, they don't exist in students' brains. Instead, each form is acquired as a separate word and only after a lot of acquisition has already happened are connections made between forms. BVP also notes that when students want to produce a new form, their brain strips the ending off a word in their mental lexicon and applies it to create the new form (again, no paradigms).

Thinking about this brought me to the realization that I need to consider each form a word to be a separate word for the purpose of limiting vocabulary.

What does this mean?

I don't think that this means that I should only introduce three to four forms if one word per lesson. I'd never get anywhere with my students. Rather, I should try to introduce words from the same declension so that students don't have to juggle too many new patterns per lesson. This will help expose them to the same kinds of words and hopefully provide the examples and repetition they need to learn the words and make connection between their various forms.

In upcoming lessons, I will focus introduce words from the same declension (as much as possible). If these words have a stem change, then I may lower the number of new vocabulary items for that lesson and focus on repetitions of the forms with the stem change.

My hope is that by considering different forms as separate words and by drawing new vocabulary from the same declension, I can reduce the cognitive overwhelm and increate the ease and speed with which my students acquire new vocabulary and grammar.

Oct 06, 2018

Recommended resources on Koine Greek

Below are some resources that I like, have used, or want to use as well as my thoughts on them. Hopefully, I'll update this page as I find more resources.

Basic Grammars

Mounce, William D. 2009. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar. 3rd Ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Mounce's book is what my first Greek class used. There may be other books out there that are better, but I'm fond of this one and would recommend it as an introduction.

Betts, Gavin. 2004. Teach Yourself Ancient Greek Complete Course. 2nd Ed. Blacklick: McGraw-Hill.

I've fiddled with this book. It's not too hard, but it dumps new vocabulary on you by the train car load and thus brings a huge memorization load. It does have lots of examples from a variety of sources, some of which are longer form content – which I like. it might be better to work through something else first through. I can't really say, though, because I had already used Mounce's book before I got this one. Hopefully, I'll work all the way through it one of these days.

Black, David Alan. 2009. Learn to Read New Testament Greek. 3rd ed. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

I have not used this book (available here), but Black is one of the pioneers in bringing the insights of modern linguistics to Koine Greek studies – at least from my perspective. I would like to look through it one day. And though I have not read it, I would recommend it based on the reputation of its author.

Greek readers

The Simonides Project has reformatted Greek and Latin readers that are out of print and no longer under copyright. They are free and look fantastic.

Reference Works

Runge, Steven E. 2010. Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis. Peabody: Hendrickson.

You need read this at some point.

This is my favorite Greek book because it explains how Koine Greek communicates. Unlike other grammars, it doesn't focus the nuts and bolts of verbs or the case system, rather this books explores how Greek forms larger unites of thought. As readers of Koine Greek, our ultimate goal is to understand what the author is trying to say, how it is being said, and what he/she is trying to emphasize. This book unlocks these aspect of the language.

I also love it because Runge's book sits at the crossroads of Koine Greek studies and discourse analysis. I think that it is one of many books that we are seeing and will see in the future that take insights from the field of linguistics and applies them to Koine Greek. Runge takes linguistic discourse analysis and applies it to Koine Greek in a way that is easy to understand – even if you aren't a linguist. He uses lots of examples and works through them so you can how the ideas he is talking about work out in practice.

Online Courses


  • Leonard Muellner and Belisi Gillespie present a video series on Ancient Greek and use Greek: An Intensive Course as their textbook. I have not watched this course in full or used this book, but I wanted to mention it as a resource if you are looking for an online course in Ancient Greek.

University of Texas at Arlington courses

The University of Texas at Arlington has online courses (or lessons) that introduce many ancient languages including Classical and Koine Greek. I have looked at them before, though I have never worked through them all the way. I am noting them here for reference. Both the Classical and Koine Greek course provide an overview of the language and some lessons based on Greek texts.

Where Are Your Keys (WAYK)

Where Are Your Keys is one of the main methods that I will be trying out in my Greek course in Fall 2018. Below are links that I have found related to WAYK and Greek.

  • Seumas McDonald has a number of interesting resources.
    • His current site The Patrologist has a lot of interesting thoughts on Greek and Latin.
    • He also has a few intro videos on Youtube demonstrating how to use WAYK with Koine Greek (see here and here).
    • His old blog has a page about WAYK and Greek
    • Finally he has worked out a curriculum for WAYK and Greek and posted it here along with an interesting lexicon of a variety of languages that is available here
    • He also has a podcast in Ancient Greek
  • Greek and Latin online chat via Google Hangouts. I personally have never participated, but it is something that is worth knowing about.
  • Greek-English phrasebook (pdf download) translated from the German Sprechen sie Atisch
posted at 00:00  ·   ·  greek  books

Oct 02, 2018

Grammar is a resource

After years of working with and learning languages, I realized something. It's nothing profound, but it's something to keep in mind when approaching a new language.

Put simply, each language provides resources of grammar and vocabulary to its speakers that they can use to communicate their intended meaning.

This is a shift in viewpoint about what grammar is and what is does for us. Rather than being a horrible obstacle in the road of language learning, it's another resource that we can use to help us communicate.


Some languages have complex grammar – verbs have many forms and tenses, nouns change form based on their function in the sentence, etc. Such a language allows speakers to rely on the grammar to communicate a lot of things for which English would use word order or intonation.

Some have huge vocabularies so speakers can choose between different words to communicate fine shades of meaning (e.g. English). Others don't so speakers need to use combinations of words to express these same meanings (i.e. very very large vs. colossal).

Some languages have a fine-grained tense system. Take the English sentence, "By October, it will have been going on for three months". This sentence describes a point in the future in which a certain state will have already existed for three months and is most likely ongoing at that future point. So this sentence describes a past that is yet future. Complex huh? The grammar of English allows us to convey a fairly complex idea with paucity of words.

In Indonesian, there is an adversative verb form that means that something undesirable has happened. For example, compare ter-tinggal, which means 'left behind', with ke-tinggal-an, which means 'left behind accidently'. By changing the beginning and ending of the verb, a precise shade of meaning can be communicated. The grammar of Indonesian offers this grammatical form as a communication resource to its speakers.

Malay languages don't often have gendered pronouns. This means that the word for he/she in these languages doesn't specify whether the person or thing referred to is male, female, or otherwise. This caused trouble for me when I was invited to a birthday party. I thought the child was a girl and couldn't tell from the child's name. It turned out he was a boy and the Barbie doll I brought was not the right present. Oops.

In sum

Grammar and vocabulary are resources that a language provides to it's speakers as a means to communicate. They provide the tools to make jokes, debate politics, create literature, and just shoot the breeze.

So next time you are facing a language with complex grammar, don't view it as a obstacle or drudgery, but as one of the resources that the language provides so you can convey your message. Sometimes the resources are quite subtle, but they can open up new ways to communicate that might not be possible in your native language.

Jul 13, 2018

What makes a good mnemonic image?

What if I told you that a simple, still image can be all you need to create a mnemonic with real sticking power?

You might think that's nuts. You've probably heard that mental images need to be bright, colorful, crazy, perhaps obscene, and fully of action. While I agree that this can work for some people, I don't believe that it is necessary – or even the most effective – for everyone.

I am a mnemonist for whom complicated, action filled images don't work. If you feel overwhelmed by having to invent action filled stories for each thing you want to memorize, let me propose an alternative for your consideration that I learned about through Swedish author, teacher, and Grand Master of Memory Mattias Ribbing.

I listened to everything of Ribbing's that I could find and finally decided to learn to read Swedish so I could read his books. This post is primarily based on his book The Way to a Master Memory.

Characteristic of a memory friendly image

The core of many memory techniques is converting information into an image. Ribbing has his own take on how to do this based on the Giordano Memory System.

He begins with the principle that we can't memorize things in isolation, rather they they need to be connected. So visualizing one image by itself is not helpful. We need to create couplings of images that touch, sit on, or even pierce each other in some way. If you are memorizing texts or foreign language vocabulary, then connecting images makes things easier anyway.

Ribbing says "To be able to quickly create good couplings [of images], we need to to visualize memory-friendly images" (clarification added). He sets forth the following criteria for what qualifies as a memory-friendly image:

This means images of physical objects that we can see in front of us in the room, big, in color, three-dimensional and detailed. The images must also have contours that clearly delimit them from the environment (Ribbing 2011, translation mine).

He also adds that we should use the first image that comes to mind that fulfills these criteria. Finally, that image should be still.

If this sounds like a lot, that's ok. It becomes nearly automatic with practice.

The principles

I have rephrased his criteria so that they can be remembered with the phrase "TeDDy'S CaFe." Imagine Winnie the Pooh having a coffee in Starbucks or your café of choice.

  • It's Three dimensional, not flat
  • It's Distinct and has clear contours (sharp angles are a bonus too)
  • It's Detailed
  • It's Still
  • it's in Color
  • It's the First image I think up that has the above characteristics

The image below is the size of an index card and can be printed and kept with you as a reminder of these principles (a PDF is available here)

Two final points from Ribbing and my own experience:

Try to imagine the image in front of you taking up space. This takes some practice but I think it pays off. I often look to where various parts of it would be if it were really in front of me. Ribbing has said in some of his talks that this helps (find out more here and here). I agree.

When you visualize an image, take a few seconds to really see it. Notice what details that your mind provides. Even if you just imagine a book, your brain is probably thinking of a specific book. So take the time to see what book you are seeing in your mind. Chronicles of Narnia? Lord of the Rings? Oxford English Dictionary?

For example, I wanted to use a knight to remember England (I was memorizing World Cup wins at the time). As I paid attention to the details, I realized that I was imagining a crusader knight with a red cross and white tunic over his armor. These details make the image "sticky" mentally.

Encoding techniques

Thinking up images can be challenging when we first begin. Ribbing describes three kinds of encoding strategies that we can use to convert information to images. I don't consciously think "Oh, I'm using a symbolic encoding right now," but knowing that these three techniques are solid strategies can give direction when you don't know how to encode something. They can also give you assurance that you are doing things the right way when you have doubts. Doubt is something I think we all experience when learning memory techinques.

They are as follows:

  1. Consonance encoding (A sounds like B)
  2. Symbolic encoding (A is closely associated with B)
  3. Experiential encoding (A relates to B in my personal experience)

Consonance encoding

With consonance encoding (think rhyming) we use a similar sounding word to encode the information we want to memorize. Ribbing notes that this is especially useful for learning foreign language vocabulary.

For example, to learn the Spanish word casa 'house', we might use the English word cash to help remember the pronunciation. So our mental image would be a house made out of cash.

Symbolic encoding

With this kind of encoding we use a symbol to encode the new information. For example, a heart is often used as a symbol for "love". A flag could be used in place of the country it represents. The idea is to use something closely associated with thing to be remembered as a replacement/stand in for it.

Experiential encoding

With experiential encoding we encode information using a personal connection. For example, I memorized the word Benjaminite by using an baby blue electric guitar because a good friend of mine whose middle name is Benjamin plays a baby blue Fender.

To use this technique find something from your experience that helps you remember the new information.

Regardless of the technique you choose, the image you create should follow the "TeDDy'S CaFe" principles.


Many memory technique teachers recommend using bright, action-filled stories to convert information into something that can stick in long-term memory. However, that's not the case for all memory teachers. I personally find creating such images difficult and that all the action makes them hard to visualize.

I prefer to use "TeDDy'S CaFe" style images. I find them less stressful to work with and more effective for me. When looking for images, we can encode information using one of three time tested teqniques: rhyming, symbolic association, or by using something from our own experience.

No matter where you come down on action filled or still images, the other principles of what makes a memory-friendly (mnemonic) image will help you strengthen your skills as a mnemonist, help you memorize things faster, and remember them for longer.

Happy memorizing!

Jun 06, 2018

How to Memorize Scripture and Have Fun Doing it

What if I told you it's possible to memorize Scripture without boring repetition? You might think I'm crazy.

It is possible, however. In fact, it becomes a creative, almost gamelike process.

The problem is that most of us approach memorization without a mnemonic method. What is a mnemonic method you say?

A mnemonic is simply a memory friendly device like a acronym or mental story that allows us to encode non-memorable information in a memory friendly way.

This course will give you the ability to memorize Scripture in less time and remember it longer. We will do this by learning to select keywords, encode Scripture into memory friendly mental images, link these images, and fix them in memory for long term retention.

How to memorize Scripture and make it stick: Overview

The method has four steps and we can remember them using the phrase "KEy LoaF" (It's the key to memorizing our daily-bread, thus "loaf"). Each step will be explained in the following sections:

Before diving into these steps, we're going to begin with some theory.

You don't need to memorize every word

I want to begin with a principle that you may not agree with, but hear me out.

You don't need to memorize every word perfectly. Unless your goal is a memory competition, forcing yourself to memorize every little "this" and "that" perfectly will only create fatigue and make you more likely to give up on Scripture memory – or at least stop enjoying the process.

If your goal is edification, then the content is more important than having every tiny detail perfect. As an aside, unless you're memorizing in Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, you're memorizing a translation anyway. Thus there are little details that translators need to add or skip over in order to translate well because no two languages are 100% alike. So some of those little details aren't in the original anyway.

That said, if you're like me, you want to be able to recall the verse with a high degree of accuracy. This desire helps us determine how many and what keywords need to be encoded – more on that in a minute.

There are also two other reasons that we don't need to stress about encoding every word.

We don't need to memorize each word perfectly because our knowledge of English grammar helps us fill in the details. For example, what word goes in the blank, "He looked ___ her". Your knowledge of English tells you that either "at" or "for" must go in the gap. The context of the verse will probably let you fill in this detail without having to figure out a way to memorize it.

You don't need to memorize every word because there are patterns in the text that can help us fill in details. For example, what goes in the following blanks?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
____ who mourn, ___ they shall be comforted
____ the peacemakers, ___ ...

If you guessed "Blessed are" and "for", you're right. The patterns in this text mean that we can fill in the gaps. This means that we may only need to fully encode the first line ("Blessed are the poor in spirit ...") and we'll get the rest for free.

Pick keywords

The first step in memorizing a verse of Scripture is to determine what words you need to encode (covert into images) in order to accurately recall the verse. We call these words "keywords". Don't worry about what "encoding" means just yet. We'll cover that in the next section.

We will apply the following principles to help determine what keywords we need to encode:

  1. Does my knowledge of English grammar help me fill in this word?
  2. Is there a pattern in the text so that I can remember this word/phrase without encoding it (every time)?
  3. Am I able to accurately recall the verse without encoding this word?

Principle 3 trumps the previous two. If you feel that you can accurately recall a verse without encoding a word, great. If you feel that you can't, then encode it anyway, even though you could probably fill it in from a pattern or from your knowledge of English.

Let's take I Cor 1:26 as an example (below). What words do you need to accurately recall from memory? The answer to this question will be different for each person. I've bolded the ones that I would probably pick.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. (ESV, Biblegateway.com)

So my keyword list is: consider, calling, brothers, not many, wise, worldly standards, powerful, noble birth. This means that I need to memorize 8 things to memorize this verse accurately.

Note that "keywords" can be phrases like "not many" or "worldly standards."

Homework: Pick a verse you want to memorize and identify the keywords you will need to accurately recall the verse.

Encode keywords as mental images

Now that we have our keywords, we need to encode them as memory friendly images. This is the fun and difficult part. It takes some practice and trial and error to learn how to do this, but it is worth it.

Different memory teachers teach encoding different ways. Some say that images should include action, emotion, and involve as many of the senses as possible. Others say that simpler, clear images are sufficient. I'm generally in the later camp. I find them easier to create and picture in detail.

A memory friendly image is one that has the following characteristics (from here), which we can remember with the phrase "TeDDy'S CaFe." Imagine a Winnie the Pooh having a coffee in Starbucks.

  • It's Three dimensional, not flat
  • It's Distinct and has clear contours (sharp angles are a bonus too)
  • It's Detailed
  • It's Still
  • it's in Color
  • It's the First image I think up that has the above characteristics

Some people like to make these images move and interact. I generally prefer still images.


Ok, enough theory! Let's encode some keywords.

When I think of "consider", an open book is the first thing that pops into my head. A book is 3D, it's distinct and has clear contours and sharp angles. I can imagine the size, red ribbon bookmark, the shape of the paragraphs on the page and the large drop capital letter at the start of the first paragraph. I can picture the page numbers and heading, the color of the paper and the ink. Thus it is detailed and in color.

For "calling", I imagine a black rotary dial telephone. You know, with the stainless steel rotary with the white ceramic name plate in the middle and the curly, black cord?

I'll probably combine these two images and imagine the phone sitting on top of the open book.

For "Brothers", you could imagine something reminds you of your own brother. I've read that people are not the best mental images because most people have the same basic shape and aren't very distinct. Instead, you could use something associated with that person. Since I don't have any siblings, I think of brown monk's habit like Friar Tuck wears in the animated Robin Hood movie. It's brown, has a hood, and is a bit dirty.

Repeat this process for each keyword and combine them into one image if you think it makes sense and will help you remember them. If not, you don't need to combine them. Combining images means that you have less separate images to link in the next step.

Another tip I've learned is notice what details you're imagining as you imagine an image. Even if you just think to imagine a book, your brain is probably thinking of a specific book. So take a minute and see what book you are seeing in your mind? Chronicles of Narnia? Lord of the Rings? Oxford English Dictionary? For another example, I wanted to use a knight to remember England (I was memorizing World Cup wins at the time). As I paid attention to the details, I realized that I was imagining a crusader knight with the red cross and white tunic over his armor. These details make the image "sticky" mentally.

Homework: Encode the keywords from your verse using the TeDDy'S CaFe principles. You might also want to write down what images you came up, but you don't have to.

Link images to a memorable location

The third step is to link the images to a memorable location. The goal is to provide structure and order to the images so that we have a way to mentally "look" for them. By linking our mental images to a physical location or object, we have a way to locate them when we need them. For example, if I know that John 1 is linked to places in my living room, then I can mentally look there when I want to recall John 1.

There are a few techniques to link images. I will talk about two.

The journey method

Also know as the method of loci or the memory palace technique, this method relies on using a physical space that is well known to store the images made during the encoding step.

To get a sense for the power of this method, stop and try to remember as many details about your bedroom as you can. Imagine yourself walking in the door; then move around the room clockwise. What do you see? Where is your dresser relative to your bed? What about the closet? My guess is that you can remember the furniture, windows, doors, artwork, and other details.

As humans, we remember physical spaces very easily and in great detail. By tying the information we want to remember to a physical space, it becomes much easier to remember it. Also, because we will mentally walk through the space in a set order, it becomes easier to recall things in a set order, which is what we want when memorizing Scripture.

To use this method:

  • Pick an indoor location that you know well.
    • Example: your house, job, parents' house, etc.
  • Identify a number of places that are distinct within this place. These are called stations.
    • Example: bed, side table, dresser, bathroom door, etc.
  • Pick an order that you will mentally visit these stations with the following characteristics:
    • You don't have to cross your path or double back
    • The order is obvious so you don't have to think about it. Deciding that you will go clockwise around the room works well.
    • Example: front door mat, kids bookcase, side table, recliner, lamp, chair, bookcase, kitchen door, etc.
  • Optional: draw a rough map and number the stations. Dr. Anthony Metivier views this as vital to making the palace "magnetic".
  • Begin imagining the images you created during the encoding step on the stations you picked out. One image per station and the images should touch the station in some way.
    • Example: I might imagine an open book with a phone sticking out from my bedroom door like a shelf.

You can place images on stations however you like as long as it's easy to remember. As a generally rule, take about two seconds to visualize the station, then take two seconds to visualize the images you want to store there, then take two seconds to visualize the image on/in/under the station (see here.

This probably seems complicated, but we can boil down: pick a place you know well, pick a few places in there, pick a route, and put the images on those places.

The supporting image method

This is basically the same as the journey method, but instead of picking a physical space, we pick an object that has enough distinct parts that we can use to store images. We call this object a "supporting images". For example, we might store images in/on a car, a refrigerator, a bookcase, a desk, or a lawnmower.

To use this method:

  • Pick an object that you can visualize clearly that has sufficient distinct parts. (You need to know how many keyword images you have.)
  • Decide what parts you are going to use as stations.
  • Pick an order that you will go through these stations. Left to right, top to bottom is a simply way to ensure consistency (from here).
  • Link the images form the encoding phase with the stations of your supporting image as you did in the journey method.

Once you are comfortable with the method you can combine the encoding and the linking phases and link a keyword to a station as soon as you encode it.

Now that you have your images linked to the stations of a journey or supporting image, you can mentally go over that journey or image and decode each image to recall the Scripture stored there. This will be slow at first, but decoding will become faster (almost automatic) as you go over the images.

Homework: decide which method you are going to use and create a journey or supporting image and link the keywords you encoded to that route.

Fixing images for long term retention

The final step of the method is to fix the images in long term memory.

Any memory will fade if it is not recalled frequently enough. This is especially true with something like Scripture. We overcome this by repeatedly going over the mental journey we created in the linking step and decoding the images stored there.

You need to review intensively for the first 4 days. After that, the verse should be pretty well "stuck" in your mind.

The basic review formula is: next review = last review * 2.

Thus, if my last review was after 2 days, then my next review will be after 4 days.

I suggest the follow review schedule:

  • 3 hours later
  • 6 hours later
  • The next morning
  • 2 days later
  • 4 days later

You can add more reviews if you like. Just use the review formula above to schedule them.

According to Rolph's summary of the Giordano Memory System, after the intensive review period, information needs to be reviewed every 6 weeks or it will begin to fade.

This schedule may seem a bit overwhelming, but we can simplify it by tying reviews to meal times. If you memorize in the morning, then your first review would be at lunchtime, your second after dinner/before bed, then the next morning, 2 days, 4 days, etc.

You can add reminders to your calendar so you won't forget the reviews. Another trick is to use a Leitner Box which you can read about here or watch a tutorial here.

Homework: Review the route you created and decode the images at least two times today and then tomorrow morning.


Congratulations, you've just learned a method to memorize Scripture faster and remember it longer (KEy LoaF). Instead of rote repetition, we identify keywords, encode them as memory friendly images (TeDDy'S CaFe), link them to a memorable location, and fix them in long term memory by recalling them on a specific schedule.

This method is not difficult, but does take some getting used to. For me the hardest part is thinking up images to encode keywords, but this gets easier with practice.

Happy memorizing!


I'm more than happy to teach this method in a workshop format to your group (large or small). Sometimes you just need someone to walk you through the process and answer questions. Email me at fletcher@amindforlanguage.com and we can figure out what's right for you and your group.

May 17, 2018

5 Tips on learning Indonesian

Indonesian or Bahasa Indonesia is a Malay language spoken in the Indonesian Archipelago. It's the national language of Indonesia and is thus the de facto lingua fraca for around 250 million people, though not all of them speak it well.

Bahasa Indonesia is very similar to Bahasa Malaysia (think Spanish and Portuguese, but even more closely related). This post will offer thoughts on how to learn it well, even if you don't live in Indonesia or Southeast Asia (SEA).

Don't get hung up on the grammar

Indonesian and Malay languages in general have maddeningly complex derivational morphology (i.e. how words are built). They have relative little inflectional morphology (i.e. how they change once they're in a sentence). So, don't try to figure it out, just learn the words and how to use them. You'll notice some general patterns along the way, just don't rely on them 100%.

Thus once you know kelupaan ('forgotten'), you don't need to know that the root is lupa and the ke- -an is a circumfix (think: suffix + affix). You can just learn it and use it. The reason to ignore this morphology is because it's not predictable. Kelupaan is a verb, but keadilan 'justice' (adil + ke- -an) is an abstract noun. Pengajaran 'teaching' (peng- + ajar + -an) is 'teaching', but pengadilan (peng- + adil + -an) is a 'court of law'.

Malay languages tend to mark the difference between active and passive verbs. Active verbs usually start with meN- (N changes depending on sound following it, mengajar 'to teach') and passive verbs start with di- (diajar 'to be taught'). This is basically the only time verbs change. They don't have to agree with subjects or objects (like in Spanish and English).

Bahasa Indonesia's word order is basically the same as in English: Subject + Verb + Object. But it's a lot more flexible. There are no articles(words like the or a/an) and auxiliary and modal verbs just stack in front of the main verb without words having to change form (usually).

Indonesian is primarily a vocabulary problem

Yea though the grammar is not that complicated, the vocabulary is almost totally foreigh, unless you speak Dutch, Arabic, or Sanskrit. There are some English loan words for things related to technology, but basically there aren't many cognates. This will be the primary challenge in Indonesian. How can you remember vocabulary that simply doesn't sound like things we are used to hearing?

I suggest memory techniques and a good SRS app (Anki, Flashcards Deluxe, etc). The mnemonics help make new words memorable and the SRS app helps you review so you don't forget them.

Find a speaking partner online

There really aren't that many Indonesians living in the USA and they tend to be in major cities. I lived in Chicago about 8 blocks from an Indonesian consulate, but there were still less than 2,000 in the whole Chicagoland area. So unless you are in a place like Washington DC, New York, or LA, then your best bet is to look on a language exchange website or app. Good places to start are:

Many Indonesians want to learn English so it's not too hard to find someone who is willing to have a language exchange or chat. Indonesians are also big users of Facebook, WhatsApp, and other social media platforms so you could look there also.

If you really want a face-to-face interaction, you might try looking for university students. Many Indonesians come to the United States to study, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. If you live near a university, you might ask the international affairs or students affairs office and see if they can help you. Students are away from home and honestly most Americans aren't very welcoming to foreign students. They would probably love to build a friendship and help you with your Indonesian.

Finding interesting content to read

I used to read Wikipedia articles in Bahasa Indonesia when I first started learning it. I'd look up a topic that I was interested in (like coffee) and then read the Indonesian version. There are also a lot of blogs and plenty of news websites like the following:

  • Tempo is one of the best Indonesian news magazines.
  • Tribune News is also available.

Many Indonesian cities have their own newspapers (called koran). if you search "koran " + the name of your city or region of interest, you will probably find some local newspapers. The image below shows the Google search results for "koran jawa timur" (East Java).

You can also find ebooks on the following sites (I've never used them):

Dictionary apps

The following are a few dictionary apps that I've used. I should also add Google Translate. It's pretty good for single words. I'd still probably prefer one of the following:

I hope to update this page as I hear of new tools or tips so check back periodically for more tips.


Hero Photo by Deddy Yoga Pratama on Unsplash

May 17, 2018

What is a language really?

Language. What is it? We know we use to communicate and that it has words/signs, grammar, sounds, etc. But what is it?

It is a means of communication and thus implies a message and a means. In linguistics, this pairing of message and means is often called a construction or sign (to use the venerable term coined by De Saussure). Communication is also social; it implies a speaker/writer and a listener/reader.

So here's the point of this post. Language is a network of associations: in the brain and between people.

I have never read it put exactly this way in linguistics per se. But I think it's is a good summary of a 2009 paper by the "Five Graces Group" [1] that called language a "Complex Adaptive System" (CAS). This means that language exists as a group of interacting agents (people/neurons) interacting and it changes and adapts as a result of this interaction. It is complex because there are a lot of agents and it adapts in ways we may not expect. FYI, they Wikipedia page [2] on CASs list the brain as an example of a CAS.

A social network

When people interact they form a network or system. As they do this, they change and grow. The ways they communicate change and grow too.

Think about the impact of social media and text messages have had on language. We interact in type a lot more now. This has spawned new abbreviations and acronyms. Some of which have found their way into spoken language [3].

But our speech individual speech changes as we interact with others. We start to talk like our friends or co-workers. You may start saying new words or changing the way you pronounce them because of a new acquaintance. Language exists as a network of people interacting who affect each other and each other's language.

A neural network

The brain is also a CAS that stores and controls our ability to use language. The Graces' paper adopts the view of grammar "in which the cognitive organization of language is based directly on experience with language" (p.5). The way our brain stores and organizes language is based on our experience, not what we have read in grammar textbook.

The Graces further state that our brains store language by grouping chunks of language into clusters of related chunks based on their form, meaning, and "the context in which they have been experienced..." (p.7). Instead of having a bunch of rules in our heads, we have a catalogue of chunks.

This explains why we perceive links between sentences like "I have been doing something" and "I had been doing something". They have almost identical form and only slightly different meaning (their tense/aspect). But we may not frequently see the link between "merry" and "happy". Even though they have similar meanings, they are not used in the same context ("Happy birthday", and "Merry Christmas" (if you're American), but not "Merry Birthday").

What is a chunk

So what are these chunks? According to the Graces's paper, these chunks are direct form-meaning pairs known as "constructions". They can be things like idioms, the shape of passive sentence, or something small like a the English past tense suffix -ed (p. 5). An individual word is a construction. So is a phrase or idiom. So are things that we would normally think of as "grammar" like the pattern of an active or passive sentence.

Essentially constructions can be any meaningful chunk of language. The brain perceives them and then groups them with other similar constructions based on form, meaning, and context. The more chunks that we experience, the more the brain has to work with. It categories them and our grammar, even of our own languages, changes based on our experience using the language and interacting with people.

The Graces' paper says that when we learn a new language our brains store new constructions and refines its groupings and understanding of these constructions over time. Our understanding of a construction in our new language is "sensitive" to how often we are exposed to it, how recently we were exposed to it, and context (presumably the one in which we encounter it).


So what does this mean for us as language learners? Here are a few thoughts:

Learn in chunks and add them to your network

The Grace's paper did not said that we have to understand every detail of a construction or chunk to begin using it. Learning new chunks is an iterative process as our brains group and regroup the chunks it encounters. If you don't understand the detail of a chunk, just learn it as a unit and start using it. IT becomes part of your mental network and your brain will sort out the details as you go along.

By learning the chunk as a unit first, you can keep making progress in the language.

That said, the Graces' paper also notes that explicit instruction can help if the thing being taught helps us understand what the chunk means. So if we're having trouble with some new chunk, explicit study of grammar may help if it helps us understand the meaning. The meaning is the important part, nor the form.

We need people too

Language is a network that exists between you and other speakers/users of the language. Interacting with and hearing others speak is how we learned our first language. Don't forget to interact with others. Relationships are what make life rich and these interactions can really help your language skills develop quickly. Speaking with others trains your speaking and listening skills all at the same time. And it's fun!

We need input and repeated exposure to stuff we understand

Our brains form their network of chunks based on experience. So we need a lot of exposure to our new language so that our brains can grow their network. The more chunks we are exposed to the more our brain has to work with. Recall that a construction or chunk is a form-meaning pair. If we don't understand, then we only the the form, but not the meaning. Thus the chunk is defective and probably won't help us. It may cause stress and confusion when we come to speak.

Comprehensible input is generally defined as input that is 92-95% comprehensible. When we don't understand something, it creates stress and can quickly become noise that our brain filters out. This means we need to (try to) pick things that are comprehensible. If we don't have comprehensible material available, then we need to try to make it that way. More on that later.

Chunks can be anything

Chunks exist on many levels of a language: sentence structure, verb forms, idioms, phrases, etc. So if we find something that we think will be useful, we should play with it, add it to your flashcards, and practice it. There is no reason to say that we have to learn single words or that everything has to be in a sentence or phrase.

We should practice and play with chunks repeatedly

Repetition is key to telling our brains that something is important. So say the memory experts. By practicing and playing with a chunk, we giving our brain new chances to categorize it and making it easier to recall when we need it.

By playing, I mean swapping bits of the chunk for other words or chunks. Making "He was seen by me" into "She was seen by me" and then "She was hit by the car" etc. This playing reinforces connections between the construction and other constructions in our brains.

We also need to see the chunk again after a period of time so add it to your SRS app or other review system.

We should capitalize on associations.

The Graces' paper said that our brain categorizes things based on form, meaning, and context. We can focus on finding associations for three things when we want to learn a new chunk by asking the following questions:

  • What does the form of the chunk remind us of?
  • Is the order of this new chunk like the order of one we already know?
  • It is different, if so how?
  • What does the meaning remind us of?
  • When you think about this idea/concept, what is the first thing that pops into your mind?
  • Can you associate it with a movie/TV show? or something that is scary, shocking, funny, or unusual?
  • How about the context in which we learned it or heard it most recently? Can we associate it with that context somehow? If we read the word in a Sherlock Holmes book can we imagine it wearing a hat and trench coat and smoking a pipe or saying "Elementary my dear Watson"?

Positive language transfer

Now for a departure from the Graces' paper. We learn by association, and memories are stronger the more associations they have. Because our native language is in our brain, we may as well connect new chunk to it as well.

For example, if we are learning Dutch and know that the Dutch way to say "I like it" is "Ik vind het leuk" (literally "I find it nice"), then why not make this association too. Once we become comfortable using the Dutch phrase, then the association with our native language can fall away. But in the mean time, it provides another link to the Dutch phrase and another way to remember it.

It's all a network, working on one part helps keeps the whole thing healthy

Research shows us that we don't learn one piece of language perfectly and then move onto the next part. We learn lots of parts at the same time. No point in beating yourself up if you make a mistake. Move on to other topics and keep trying. Given time and exposure, you'll get better at the thing that is driving you up a wall right now.


Research based on cognitive science and what we know about the brain tells us that language works like a network that adapts and grows as it is used. Not only is it a network between speakers of the language, but it's also stored as a network in our own brains. We can leverage this to learn new languages more efficient and enjoyable ways.


1: The Five Graces Group. 2008. “Language Is a Complex Adaptive System.” SFI Working Paper, no. 47 (December). Accessed Feb 2018. http://cnl.psych.cornell.edu/pubs/2009-LACAS-pos-LL.pdf.

2: Wikipedia: Complex adaptief systeem

3: In Bahasa Indonesia people say that someone [o te we] "OTW". They use the English text abbreviation for "On the way" and just pronounce the letter names as they would normally do for Bahasa Indonesia.


Hero photo by Jingyi Wang on Unsplash

Brain photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Puzzle piece photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Take away photo cropped from photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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