July 24, 2024

Keyword Mnemonics to Improve Ability to Memorize Facts

A keyword mnemonic is an elaborative rehearsal strategy used to help encode information more effectively so that you can easily memorize and recall it. This approach has often been researched and has been shown to be an effective way to teach foreign language vocabulary as well as many other subjects and types of information.

A keyword mnemonic involves two steps.

  • First, a keyword that sounds somewhat similar is chosen.
  • Second, the learner forms a mental image of that keyword being connected to the new word or piece of information.
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An Example

In order to learn the Spanish word for grass, which is pasto, first think of the word pasta (the keyword I’ve chosen) and then imagine pasta noodles growing up out of the grass. When you are asked what the Spanish word for grass is, that should trigger the image of pasta growing up out of the grass and then help you recall the word pasto.

How Effective Are Keyword Mnemonics?

Foreign Language Acquisition

Several studies have been conducted on the use of keyword mnemonics in foreign language acquisition. The learning and recollection of foreign language vocabulary have been repeatedly demonstrated to be superior with the use of the keyword mnemonics method as compared to other methods of study.

Science and History

An interesting study focused on using keyword mnemonics to teach science and history to eighth-grade students. The students were randomly assigned to one of four groups where they practiced one of the following strategies- free study, pegword, a method of loci and keyword. Their task in these groups was to learn specific uses for different types of metal alloys. After testing, the students in the keyword method group performed significantly better than the students in each of the other three groups.

The researchers also wanted to test if the students were able to effectively apply the mnemonic strategy to a different area of information. The students were given Revolutionary War facts to learn, and once again, those in the keyword strategy group significantly outperformed the other students in their ability to recall the information. 

Keyword Mnemonics With Mild Cognitive Impairment or Early Dementia

Minimal research, if any, has been conducted on using the keyword mnemonic method to improve recall in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or early-stage dementia.

There have, however, been studies conducted on the use of mnemonic strategies in general for those with mild cognitive impairment. These studies have shown that mnemonic methods can improve the ability to learn and recall information, as well as the activity levels in the hippocampus, of people with MCI.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Anari FK, Sajjadi M, Sadighi F. The magic of mnemonics for vocabulary learning of a second language. Int J Lang Linguist. 2015; 3(1-1): 1-6. doi:10.11648/j.ijll.s.2015030101.11

  2. Richmond AS, Cummings R, Klapp M. Transfer of the method of loci, pegword, and keyword mnemonics in the eighth-grade classroom. Researcher. 2008;21(3).

  3. Hampstead BM, Stringer AY, Stilla RF, Sathian K. Mnemonic strategy training increases neocortical activation in healthy older adults and patients with mild cognitive impairment. Int J Psychophysiol. 2020;154:27-36. doi:10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2019.04.011

Additional Reading

By Esther Heerema, MSW

Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia.

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