Mnemonics in Second Language Acquisition

Word Ways, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Mnemonics in Second Language Acquisition


When my son Giulio Xingtian Yehuda Zuckermann, a.k.a. Giulio XYZ, was 2 years old he already knew the Israeli word for 'fish': DAG. Due to the general tendency towards final devoicing (see, for example, German Kind, pronounced kint, of a German immigrant to Israel pronouncing Negev as negef), Giulio often pronounced DAG as DAK. One day, when I picked him up from the Montessori childcare in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Giulio was watching a fish in the aquarium and told everybody 'DAK, DAK, DAK!'. An older Aussie girl rebuked him: 'It's not a DUCK, it's a FISH!'

That was a moment of EUREKA!--or Havraka (Israeli for 'brilliance' or 'flash'. I thought to myself that I should try to demonstrate that Israelis already sort-of-know English and that English-speakers already sort-of-know Israeli. The sentences below would thus be of interest to pupils and teachers alike, not only because its specific mnemonics could be used in language classes, but also--more generally--because (1) the bilingual homophonous mnemonic technique can be used to create new mnemonics either by pupils or by teachers, and also (2) the sentences champion the use of unconventional methods in teaching a foreign language, be it recreational linguistics, be it music....

Here is my list, consisting of 120 mnemonics.

1. Oh hell, the TENT is leaking again!

(The Israeli word meaning TENT is [MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], pronounced just like Oh, hell)

2. There's a FORK in Ma's leg.

(The Israeli word meaning FORK is [MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], pronounced just like Ma's leg.)

3. QUICKLY, my hair is burning!

4. She has said ENOUGH and must speak no more; if she doesn't STOP, I'll die!

5. This HOUSE is beautiful; I think I'll buy it.

6. He gave her a kiss BECAUSE she put her key in his POCKET.

7. As she entered the filthy MARKET, she shook her head in disgust.

8. An OX is walking along the shore.

9. You must sue Sam over the HORSE!

10. Turn off the microwave, the CHICKEN is ready.

11. This BOOK is safer.

12. You must use a PITCHFORK in order to Kill Sean.

13. Every time I step out of a MOSQUE, I miss God.

14. Don't play the ROLE of the tough kid too much, it will exhaust you.

15. SEPARATE the apples by their colour: half red, half green.

16. Give all the flower, not just the STEM.

17. Amazingly, she dug out a FISH in her garden.

18. He didn't consider the crowd's boos to be CONTEMPT.

19. You ought to learn this LETTER!

20. A bull stepped on my STAMP collection.

21. Why pardon? asked the BULL.

22. "With this UNDERSHIRT I look guffy, ya?" said the German.

23. I DID a CT examination.

24. You POOR child', said Miss Kenn.

25. Till the ROCKET takes off.

26. Get into the car, it's COLD outside.

27. Let's GIVE him something, said Knee Ten to Knee Five.

28. "Par-pardon," said the stammering BUTTERFLY.

29. The tip she gave me was STUPID.

30. It's not a he, it's a SHE!

31. Laugh, laugh; he is a NERD!

32. Intriguingly, they found a key in his VOMIT.

33. In the living room you can meet Beethoven, but come in to my KITCHEN and meet Bach.

34. You should not be HIDING a must-tear, it's a very sad STORY that ends with Moyshele falling into the sea; poor child!

35. His lectures are one big dim yawn, beyond IMAGINATION.

36. She is WORRIED about the financial mood, egg at 10 dollar?

37. X is a must tool if you are ON SOMETHING.

38. It's a DECEIT: instead of tobacco, they put in my cigarette tar meat!

39. Site taught me sexual METHODS.

40. You must tick the right box, so I'll give you a CHEWING GUM.

41. Do you ALSO like to chew gum?

42. Harry saw Tina in the RUINS.

43. I have to send you off, Noa. …

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