You if you are like me, you are learning more than one language. Perhaps one, two or even three languages. Good for you! You make up the small percentage of people who hate themselves enough to take up multiple languages! Welcome to the club! All jokes aside, learning multiple languages is both the best thing in the world and the most frustrating thing in the world. One of the most frustrating parts of learning multiple languages (besides learning multiple languages) is getting them mixed up.
Don’t even lie! No matter how much you’ve tried to block it out of your mind, you can’t forget about all the times you wanted to say a word in Spanish but could only produce Italian! Or when you mix up grammatical rules or conjugations with other languages that are similar (I’m looking at you Spanish, French and Italian). It happens to everyone, but it doesn’t happen to me! I have NEVER mixed up any of my languages before and I have no trouble distinguishing the languages in my study so I don’t confuse them. How do I do this? Glad you asked!
How To Use Synesthesia to Never Mix Up Languages Again
You probably read that word and said, “Pardon?”. Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon where people automatically associate words and numbers with colors. Some people see certain letters as colors, certain words as colors and numbers as colors. I have had this for as long as I can remember, but you don’t need Synethesia to take advantage of it’s benefits.
So you know those multi-colored notes that you have in your notebook to make it cute and eye catching. Yah, stop doing that. It only confuses you. If you aren’t using any colors, then good! Here’s the trick: for every language pick a color to represent the entirety of the language. My colors are green for Korean, red for Chinese, blue for Japanese, purple for French, and yellow for Hindi. You can choose any color you like to represent your languages. Just as long as you have a good reason for the colors you chose. Let me explain.
How To Choose a Color
When choosing a color, it is important that you don’t choose some arbitrary color. You must choose a color that evokes some memory or feeling, because you want to create a strong connection between you and the language and your color will be the glue to help accomplish this. It helps to think of some memory of you interacting with the language though. If you went to Japan, watched a Japanese movie or played a Japanese game, what color is pervasive in your mind? What color stands out in your memory? Choose that color.
Once you have chosen a color, do everything in THAT language in THAT color. If you chose Blue for Korean, buy a blue Korean notebook, type all your language notes in blue, get blue flashcards, and a blue highlighter if you would prefer to highlight Korean words instead of write them mall in blue. If you must put decorations in your notebook, make sure they are all blue. Got it?
Why Do Colors Work?
So why does color association work? There are countless studies about how colors help us increase our memory retention rate. Here is a snippet from the introduction of a study about colors and memory retention:
Colour is believed to be the most important visual experience to human beings (2). It functions as a powerful information channel to the human cognitive system and has been found to play a significant role in enhancing memory performance (3). Colour can be very effective in learning and educational setting, marketing, communication, or even sport. For instance, a marketing study has found that colour can increase brand recognition by up to 80% (4). Most advertisements use colour as one of the important element in influencing people’s attention, attitude towards the product, and pressuring decision making (5). According to White (6), coloured advertisements can attract people to read the advertisement up to 42% more often than the non-coloured advertisement. This shows the importance of colour in making the information or message more attractive to the public. (source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3743993/)
Another quick tip that helps me quite a lot when I study is to not only use the color I choose to learn my language, but to try to associate everything I learn back to the culture of the language or the country where it’s spoken. What I mean is when I learn a new vocabulary word in Korean like soldier for example, I write the word in green and make sure that when I make online flashcards I have a picture of a KOREAN soldier. So if you have the word ‘restaurant’ in French, write the word for restaurant in whatever color you chose and then find a picture of or think of a restaurant IN FRANCE. It’s important to associate every word back to the country or the culture so that you don’t get anything mixed up.
Further, if you are doing Spanish conjugations, for example, write them all in color you chose and try to picture a Spanish or Hispanic person speaking these conjugations maybe on the streets of Spain or Mexico as you learn them. Why? Because image association is a miracle worker for memory retention!