The Association Method for Foreign Language Learners

Mastering any foreign language inevitably requires to memorize a great number of new words and one of the main problems that each student have to solve is how to keep in mind all these unfamiliar words and their meanings. There are many memorizing techniques that can be applied to facilitate this task and one of them is the method of phonetic (sound) associations. This method is based on the idea that there are words (or parts of words) in all languages of the world that sound similar even if they have different meanings. These phonetic analogies exist in any languages whether it English, Chinese, Russian or Arabic. For example, Italian word “sei” (six) sounds like English “say”.

The method of phonetic associations was developed by a professor of psychology Richard Chatham Atkinson at Stanford University in the early 1970s. Atkinson is widely recognized for his scientific and academic achievements. He conducted research on mathematical models of human memory and cognition and he is co-author of the theory of multi-store model of human memory. Atkinson and his colleagues carried out experiments on applying associations to the process of learning language. During this research one group of students was memorizing Russian words using the keyword method while the test group was learning the same words using conventional learning techniques. The “key words” in these experiments were the phonetic associations to the target words and the research revealed the efficiency of this method.

At present the method of learning foreign languages using phonetic associations is applied all over the world. Let’s look through the main principles of this technique. The gist of the method is that it is necessary to find a consonant word to each foreign term, e.g. a word in your native language that sounds similar to the foreign term. The complete coincidence between consonant and foreign word is not needed, it is enough if just a part of the word sounds identically. After that it is necessary to think up a short semantic expression with this consonant word and the translation. This can be  any expression with this word that comes to your mind.

Let us take a Russian word “????” (fish). In English word “rib” sounds similar to “????”. Now we need to think out an expression with the word “rib” and the translation “fish”. Let it be “All cats like fish ribs”. Another example, an Italian word “ragazzo” (boy). The first part of this word sounds like “rug” and the first expression that comes to my mind is “Poor boy slept on a rug”. That is all! You do not need to cram the exact translation, only your own short sentence that contains similar sounding word in English and the translation.

It is recommended to keep some simple rules using this method. It is important to choose the matching words on the basis of pronunciation but not a correct spelling. Besides, do not compose long and complicated sentences, the first association that comes to your mind is the best one, even if it is silly or funny. The associations related to you personally are the most efficient. So always try to connect your associations with some events from your life.

There are defenders and opponents of this method and there are many other useful memorising technics. Each person may choose the method which is the most efficient for his mind. But it is undoubtedly that properly used association method can be successfully applied not only for learning the foreign words but also in many others study tasks. It allows to simplify and speed up the process of learning which is vitally important in our rapidly changing world. That is why this memorizing method is widely used by university tutors and private teachers. The method of phonetic associations allows to enrich the student’s vocabulary and it also stimulates the development of memory and imagination. offers a wide choice of qualified and enthusiastic private tutors who would love to help students with studying any language: ESL, German, French, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Hindi, Turkish, Portuguese, Polish, Korean, Greek, etc.

Dariya Lopukhina

About Dariya Lopukhina

Dariya Lopukhina is former Marketing Director at She is trying her hand in writing articles. Besides Dariya is an experienced dog-owner and she is very keen on pets, cooking and sports.
This entry was posted in Tutoring.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *