Forum New Memory Research shows drawing pictures doubles recall performance for memorizing words.

New Memory Research shows drawing pictures doubles recall performance for memorizing words.

David K

David K

I've been fascinated by techniques for enhancing memory in language learning and thought this latest research, just published in the latest issue of The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, might be interesting to students here - especially the Chinese languages students.  Here are links to both a short topical report in the Huffington Post, as well as link to the original publication.

Then, all students were made to perform a “filler task” to distract them from the previous exercise. Afterwards, they were asked without warning to recall as many of the 40 words as possible. Those who drew them remembered over twice as many as those who wrote them.

To hammer the results home, Wammes conducted a series of secondary experiments, inviting students to partake in similar memory-related tasks ― like looking at pictures of objects, creating mental images of objects, listing physical characteristics of objects, writing words with visual details. Those who drew pictures of the words still remembered more than those who participated in the secondary strategies.

The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Volume 69, 2016 - Issue 9


In 7 free-recall experiments, the benefit of creating drawings of to-be-remembered information relative to writing was examined as a mnemonic strategy. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants were presented with a list of words and were asked to either draw or write out each. Drawn words were better recalled than written. Experiments 3–5 showed that the memory boost provided by drawing could not be explained by elaborative encoding (deep level of processing, LoP), visual imagery, or picture superiority, respectively. In Experiment 6, we explored potential limitations of the drawing effect, by reducing encoding time and increasing list length. Drawing, relative to writing, still benefited memory despite these constraints. In Experiment 7, the drawing effect was significant even when encoding trial types were compared in pure lists between participants, inconsistent with a distinctiveness account. Together these experiments indicate that drawing enhances memory relative to writing, across settings, instructions, and alternate encoding strategies, both within- and between-participants, and that a deep LoP, visual imagery, or picture superiority, alone or collectively, are not sufficient to explain the observed effect. We propose that drawing improves memory by encouraging a seamless integration of semantic, visual, and motor aspects of a memory trace.

Modern Chinese characters have evolved through many stages, but if one goes back to "oracle bone" inscriptions circa 1400 BCE many of the original "logograms" were pictures.

This research is consistent with many of the memory techniques I've been practicing and reading about.  I just bought a book called "Chineasy" by Shaolan in which she offers pictures to help remember 400 basic characters, about 140 of which are component building blocks used to compose more complicated characters.

I was having a difficult time remembering the genders of the German nouns used to determine the definite and indefinite articles.  A fellow named Anthony Metiveir  has written several papers and offers workshop on memory methods for learning languages suggested using colorful and wild images for remembering vocabulary and including in the image a boxer or masculine symbol in the image for masculine nouns, a ballerina for feminine, etc.  So I tried out using Mohamed Ali, a Ballerina, and an image Farinelli, the famous castrati for neuter.   I was astonished at how well that works.  

Does anyone else have memory enhancing techniques they use to accelerate learning?



This is very similar to the advice in the book that I have been following, "Fluent Forever." In it, the author's strategy for learning new words or phrases is to associate them with a picture (not drawn but downloaded from the internet) that has a personal connection to the learner. These word/picture associations are kept in Anki flashcards created by the learner, which contain no English (or whatever native language). I have been using this system for a couple of months now and I believe it is a superior way to increase memorization.

As an example, to teach myself the phrase in Spanish that means, "if all goes well," I use the sentence, "Si toda resulta bien, seremos en Habana esta noche...if all goes well we will be in Havana tonight," accompanied by a picture of Havana that I made on my last visit. Cuba is a very personal connection for me, so it is easily associated.
David K

David K

Thanks for sharing this interesting tip Dan.  I downloaded Anki yesterday based on your recommendation in a different post. I haven't had a chance to use it yet.

I am about half way through the Level 2 German course, and a almost a month into the Level 1 Chinese course.  My rate of  progress is slowing down.

The German sentences are getting really long and more complicated so it is taking a lot longer to memorize them.  Although, Ive noticed the Module tests usually do not include the longest sentences.

I've never been to Cuba.  Have they opened up travel there yet, or are the plans still under discussion? 

Do you have family connections there?


David: I traveled to Cuba with other photographers, led by a very experienced photographer and Cuba traveler, so we went legally and our logistics went as smoothly as they can go in Cuba. I was there 3 times, once before the change in relations, once when the normalization was announced (way cool), and once more last winter after a year of the normalized relations.

The travel restrictions to Cuba have not changed, it is just that the administration is being less stringent on enforcing the rules. You still have to go under 1 of the 12 or 13 exceptions, but pretty much anyone can sign up for a trip under the "cultural exchange" exemption and no one bothers to check if there really was any kind of cultural exchange. These days everyone is leading groups to Cuba, regardless of whether they know anything about the place or not. It is still pretty difficult, I think, to go legally without being part of an organized group.

Cuba has always been a popular destination for Europeans, Canadians, and lately Asians. When they all heard the Americans would be invading again they all flocked there to get their last vacations in before we ruined the place. And we Americans have been inundating the island for the past year. However, the Cubans have done little to ramp up for the increased tourists, so long delays in and out of the country at the airport, food shortages in restaurants, and overbooked hotels are becoming the norm. 

I have no family connections in Cuba, but I have made many good friends there during my travels. I would like to go back and see them, but until the tourism issues are straightened out, I'm staying away. If I want to be in the middle of a throng of tourists I'll just go to Disney World!


There is definitely truth to this.

Memorizing the japanese alphabet (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) was a bit of a pain until I realized that they were essentially nothing more then pictures (particularly the kanji).  Once that revelation hit, I had no problem trying to remember them.

For example...


The kanji for tree (ki, moku) literally looks like a drawing of a tree.  Meanwhile, the forest (mori), is a bunch of trees, which is what a forest is comprised of.  When I look at the kanji for Japanese, I ask myself, what does it look like to me? That helps a lot in memorization.  Here are some more.


Pretty simple, isn't it?  Now granted, not all the kanji are going to look like their meanings, but for some, if I can get one part of the "drawing" and figure out what it looks like to me, then I remember it no problems.  A couple more...

土-ground, earth, soil

The kanji for car (kuruma, sha), literally looks like a racecar.  The kanji for earth though (tsuchi) is the interesting one.  It looks like a gravestone.  And where are gravestones buried?

Finally, the kanji for ten (juu), looks like the letter t that forms the word "t"en.  This kanji also looks a lot like the katakana na (which is this ナ), but  the way I tell them apart is that just like the letter t, the kanji for ten is straight ahead like an intersection, while the katakana character for na has a bit of a slur.



"before we ruined the place" is rather insulting... Acting like Americans are only ones who act  rude in foreign countries. Everyone does. And the communists did a fine job of ruining the place before we started going back.


When I was teaching myself hiragana and katakana, I used a book that came with a CD full of printable flashcards. The flashcards had pictures on the back, which really helped me learn hiragana and katakana quickly.
David K

David K

Hi trutenor,   

Your first ten Japanese characters have the same meaning in Mandarin.  Wow,  I knew there character shapes were often the same, but to see this many with the same meanings is amazing.  I think Chinese had significant ancient influence on the Korean and Vietnemese character shapes as well, although modern Korean looks very different to me.  

Do you know what fraction of Japanese and Korean characters have the same meanings?  My understanding is that the sounds are very different.


Oh, I know that we Americans are not the only ones who act rudely in foreign countries. I have seen citizens of another country that shall go unnamed acting more rudely in Cuba than any American. And have heard of people from another part of the world who misbehave in another of my favorite islands, Iceland. 

But I stand by my statement. People from other countries have been visiting there for many years and have not substantially changed the place. But it has been easier for Americans to travel there for less than 2 years, and it is already losing some of its wonderful charm.  I've seen it for myself.



Part of the reason for the Japanese kanji having the same meanings as the Chinese characters is that Japan literally "borrowed" the kanji system from China and tried to emulate the meanings.  I don't know to what extent though, as there are over 2,000 kanji characters (and I am nowhere close yet to knowing them all).  Perhaps once I get a bit more mastery on them, I'll have a better answer.


Hi David,

Korean does look a bit like kanji but it is unique. The pictograms are each made up of 2 or 3 characters, each a syllable in a word. There are only about 40 characters from memory, and you can comfortably learn them in the plane on the way there, sufficiently so to read English words in Korean script, as I did.  A very cool alphabet!

David K

David K

Thanks, Drew and trutenor, these additional comments have really piqued my interest.  I'm now looking for some additional articles about these topics.

Long, long ago, I was fortunate to take a course in linguistics from Calvert Wakins one of the folks that contributed to the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European, aka PIE which is considered to be the mother language from which just about all of the western languages, other than Finnish, are descended from.  Chinese is from a completely different language tree which also includes Finnish, Eskimo, and Native American languages. I've never seen a diagram of the latter language family tree. I'm looking for it.

Now I'm also curious about how the evolution and differentiations of the major language families may have been related to, or perhaps even caused by or co-evolved with the migration of the original humans out of African, through the middle east, India, China, and then back through Europe.  I've taken lots of courses in anthropology, but long before the addition of modern DNA mapping techniques which has added a lot of new info. 

There must now be a tremendous amount of new data and theories about how these histories are related.



I'm similarly fascinated by language trees. My own background is Estonian, of which I have a vocab of a single word: Tere. :( Estonian and Finnish are closely related but the only other proven relative is Hungarian. Go figure.

About 10 years ago there was a school of thought that those three were also related to Korean but that theory has largely been discounted. Unfortunate, as that would have been truly fascinating! 

Korean script (Hangul), I have read, is the world's only commissioned written script. There was a king about 500 years ago who wanted his own language, and he wanted it to look a bit like Chinese. I'm paraphrasing, but that's more-or-less the gist of it.
David K

David K

Tere, kuidas sul täna , Drewster ?

Ma olen hästi ja hindame oma kommentaar .

Tänu google translate lubage mul teile pakkuda , et parandada oma eesti sõnavara 3000 % .

Hoolitse , ja ma ootan räägi sinuga enam .

Bye .


Hello, how are you today, Drewster?

I am well and appreciate your comment.  

With the help of google translate let me offer to improve your Estonian vocabulary by 3000%.

Take care, and I look forward to talking with you more.




Ask a question or post a response

If you want to ask a question or post a response you need to be a member.

If you are already a member login here.
If you are not a member you can become one by taking the free Rocket Spanish trial here.