What is a Mnemonic?
“Mnemonics” comes from the Greek word meaning “of the memory”. There are numerous forms of mnemonics, usually involving some form of link or loci system but they all have one thing in common. They dramatically improve recall. They are very powerful and can sometimes be retained in the memory for a lifetime. Lists of words which would normally be very difficult to retain in the memory because they have no inherent organisation can be converted to a mnemonic and be instantly fixed for recall. Visualisation is the key to success with mnemonics and this helps to explain its popularity among dyslexics, who tend on average to be visual thinkers.
Since dyslexia is a condition in which the “short term memory” is impaired, any methods which will boost this are going to be preferred. The process of spelling requires an image of a word to be retained in the linguistic centre of the left hemisphere of the brain. A retained image then allows the correct sequence of letters to be remembered so that the word can subsequently be written down. When images of words cannot be retained in the memory, as occurs with dyslexia, then spelling becomes impossible.
Initial Word Mnemonics
Mnemonics are immensely useful here. For decades children have been given the sentence style mnemonics to remember irregular words like “because”.
“Big elephants can always understand small elephants.” is a typical example. By taking the first letter of each of the words in the chant in exactly that order, it produces the correct spelling of “because”. Although this method is successful for spelling occasional words, as a system for remembering lots of words it has some weaknesses. Since this style of chant has no reference to the word in it, immediately this reduces its effectiveness. Compare this to Initial Word Mnemonics. If you BEGIN the chant with the word that is to be learned, it becomes an entirely different system.
“because elephants can add up sums easily”
Immediately this chant relates to the word “because” and that has numerous advantages. Hearing the word will act as a trigger to then recall the chant more easily. Since there is no guessing involved in relating the chant to the word, hundreds can be learned and retained in the memory. Any word can ultimately be made into a mnemonic chant, provided that it is not too long. It is a system that is particularly effective however for teaching the spellings of high frequency words which generally contain words of 2 to 7 letters.
Initial Word Mnemonics and Homophones
Initial word mnemonic chants are also very effective for Homophones. They capture both the spelling and the meaning at the same time. To give an example:
“bread rolls eaten at dinner” spells the bread that we eat but “bred really exotic dogs” is the past tense of the verb to breed. Both the spelling and the meaning are learned at the same time. This is particularly effective in overcoming the confusion associated with homophones.
Multi sensory aspects of Mnemonics
Apart from the advantages that have been previously outlined, initial word mnemonics are totally multi sensory. Each chant is a story that has meaning to the brain and which stimulates the imagination. It is then illustrated and this consequently activates the visual cortex. When chanted out loud numerous times, a connection is made to the auditory cortex. All of these factors work together to produce a really fast, effective and fun method which takes the stress out of spelling. Initial word mnemonics have given confidence back to struggling dyslexic and helped them attain levels and grades they never thought possible.