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Monthly Advice : Method of Loci

【明報專訊】Method of Loci has been under discussion for more than 2000 years; there have been other names like: memory palace, mind palace etc. Basically, it is learning and remembering details by association: to prepare a skeleton of a series of unrelated details. The terms are constantly referred to in crime fiction featuring Holmes, Hannibal, and Patrick Jane (Mentalist series). In the past decade, Timothy Doner and Anthony Metivier mentioned its use in language learning for ESL/EFL students; they suggested that the method is particularly useful in learning the German language.

We can apply such a method to Hong Kong English learning in class, too. First, we can learn vocabularies and phrases or idioms by categories, for example, body parts, colours, Chinese surnames (Chow, Lee, Mau, Pang, Pun, Sham, Wat) and the like. Next, we can group those with strong cultural influences to make language learning more personalised and interesting. For example, if you have a class of Cantonese speakers, you might consider the following items vulgar in Cantonese, but they are quite proper English items: ride on coattails, get wind of, pigs will fly, chicken feed, sick as a dog, foam at the mouth, etc. The very similar semantics between Chinese and English make learning and remembering these items almost instantaneous. There is also the body part category, for example: all ears, play by ear, see eye to eye, cost an arm and a leg, get cold feet, face the music, flesh and blood, head over heels, lips are sealed, old hand, etc.

While native speakers of English are not big on rules of their language, we cannot expect the same from ESL / EFL learners for we do not have the native speakers' upbringing, background knowledge, culture, or language environment. Therefore, sometimes rules are needed for learners to govern and manage learning, while we know these so-called rules cannot be 100% correct all the time. My favourite question to new English teachers is: why do we say "in" a car but "on" a plane, when they are both vehicles, why the use of different prepositions. It is fun to see how interviewees struggle with their version of answers. I think teachers need to be creative and "invent" some rules, because these rules will help students remember what it is they have to remember, to build their own mind palace.

■Editor's Notes

ride on coattails

「掹衫尾」;靠他人之力成功

get wind of

收到風聲

pigs will fly

「豬都曉飛」;無稽之談

chicken feed

「雞碎咁多」

sick as a dog

吐得一塌糊塗

foam at the mouth

怒不可遏

all ears

洗耳恭聽

play by ear

見機行事

see eye to eye

意見一致

cost an arm and a leg

昂貴得要命

get cold feet

臨陣退縮

face the music

接受批評

flesh and blood

血肉之軀

head over heels

神魂顛倒

lips are sealed

守口如瓶

old hand

老手;有經驗的人

■By Dr Anson Yang, Principal of King Ling College

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