Learning to memorize a shuffled deck of playing cards within 5 mins and mastering French basics
Aug 2, 2019
Takes about 5 minutes to read ⏱
“A man’s real possession is his memory. In nothing else is he rich, in nothing else is he poor.” –Alexander Smith
I have been recently reading few interesting books, articles and watching videos on memory and happened to know about something known as a Memory Championship where memory athletes compete to solve various memory challenges. I took up the popular book ‘Moonwalking with Einstein’ by Joshua Foer where he writes about journey from being a journalist to becoming a memory athlete and ultimately winning the US National Memory competition within a span of 1 year. It was a fascinating read and shows how a normal, ‘not so gifted’ person with sufficient practice can learn how to store tons of information in memory without forgetting.
Check out this beautiful TED talk by Joshua.
For this month’s challenge I’ve decided to test my abilities to acquire two skills that will test my memory and help me understand my limits and try pushing it further. Whether or not I’ll be able to achieve my goals is uncertain, but I am certain, the my journey towards achieving these micro goals will make me do some real memory weightlifting.
Skill 1 - Memorize a shuffled deck of cards
What is the goal?
I need to be able to memorize a deck of playing cards(52 cards) and tell the name of the cards as per their order. The goal is to be able to memorize the deck within 5 mins.
Isn’t this crazy?
Initially when I came to know that someone can memorize an entire deck of 52 cards, I just thought its not memorized but it it’s some of a magic trick. Scientific studies suggests our Working Memory (Known as short term memory) can store in between 7-10 items at a time. So for instance if a stranger tells you his/her phone number only once, usually you would be able to recollect it partially or the entire number(if you are gifted). But with practice it is possible to memorize as well as recollect lots of data directly to the long term memory. In memory competitions for instance, memorizing a deck of cards is one of the challenges. Do you know the world record time for memorizing a deck of 52 shuffled cards? 12.74 seconds, held by Shijir-Erdene Bat-Enkh of Mongolia. The current Indian record is 24.2 seconds held by Prateek Yadav.
Now in front of these mind boggling records, my 5 minute goal is paltry but for me memorizing 52 cards is itself a big milestone. Memory athletes practice for just like other athletes to achieve such feats but it is quite possible to step into their shoes and know the memory tricks in a comparatively shorter span of time.
How is this done?
Their are lot of memorizing techniques. It is fascinating to know that there is nothing modern or rocket science about these techniques. These tricks and techniques have been practiced almost 2000 years ago when there were no books or digital records to store information. Although the authenticity of the source is skeptical, there is a famous story of Simonides, the Greek philosopher who happened to invent this kind of technique. The technique is known as a Memory Palace. Our brains understands images better that words or text. The memory palace is an imaginary world created inside the mind and information is stored in that palace in separate locations which can be easily traced easier. Greeks, Romans and even Swami Vivekananda, Tagore used their highly creative and imaginative minds to store information accurately and recall them back whenever needed.
Memory palaces are quite fun and a great exercise for the brain is something that should be taught in school instead of the conventional rote memorization where we tend to forget everything just after the exams are over rendering the education often inadequate.
Skill 2 - Mastering French basics
What is the goal?
To learn the basics of French (A1 level French). The target is to be able to introduce and speak about myself and my surrounding environment in French. At the end of the month I shall test my abilities to attempt DELF A1 sample papers and free online A1 level test to evaluate progress.
Why learn French
To be frank, I am not aiming for any kind of career oriented goals to learn French. It is more of an fun challenge to test my abilities in learning a foreign language. In the past, I have been tempted to learn German, Spanish while seeing other friends learning them and making a career out of it. Each time I used to initiate and forget about learning further within a couple of days, ultimately knowing nothing. While taking the course on Learning to Learn by Barbara Oakley on Coursera, I came across one of the interviews where she spoke to Scott Young who has this rare ability to pick up foreign languages and be fluent within few months. He also wrote an interesting article on how to rapidly learn a language.
I am also reading a book by Benny Lewis which I think might provide good insights to learning a foreign language.
Although I am not very highly inclined in learning French as I neither have any plans to tour France or any French speaking nation in near future nor I am aiming to take up a job that requires my french proficiency, but it just an inner spark to try learning the basics of a popular foreign language using the 20 hour rule which I recently became a fan of.
I would love to extend my knowledge to proficiency if I am able to grasp the basics within my alloted time-frame. And who knows someday, somewhere these small chunks of skills or rather the effort taken in attaining the skills might open up new doors in distant future.
I would be sharing my approaches towards these individual skills as well my progress report at the end of this month. Hope to have an interesting month of learning ahead!