How can I memorise sign language?

by Graham S.

I was really pleased to find your website. I am learning British sign language and was wondering if you could tell me which of the memory improvement techniques would be the best for me to use to help me remember the vocabulary, etc.

Will any of them work for a visual language do you think? Any help and advice you can give me will be very much appreciated.

Best regards.


Doug's Reply: To memorize British (or American) sign language vocabulary, I would use a variation of the Keyword Method. For example:

According to, the sign for *boots* is "Both hands held as fists make pulling gesture from waist upwards."

To memorize that sign, I need to visualize a silly image that links the keyword ("boots") to the action for the sign. That is the trick to to remembering the sign easily and placing it in long-term memory.

The mental image must be bizarre or unusual. Normal images are forgettable but an unusual image sticks in the brain.

So I first imagine a gigantic pair of boots. These boots are as big as a mountain. They are just sitting in a field somewhere, with nothing else around.

When I look into one of the boots, I see it is filled with thousands of human fists. No arms or bodies, just clenched fists. Not in a gruesome way, necessarily, just in a very odd and memorable way.

To memorize sign language using mental images, you must visualize the image as clearly and in as much detail as you can. Thinking of an unusual image is only the first step.

So examine the texture of the boots. Are they made of rough leather, perhaps? Are they scuffed or smooth? What color, any decorative features? Visualize the fists in similar detail.

Next you need to connect the action for the sign (pulling your two fists
upward from the waist) with the unusual mental image we created.

Imagine yourself as a giant, reaching down into the two boots and grabbing a handful of fists in your right and left hand. They are kind of squishy like a handful of marshmallows. Next, you stand up and decide to place the fists under your armpits holding them there for safe-keeping.

So you pull your hands (full of the "fists") up past your waist and toward your armpits.

Review this boots/fists image and action several times until you can picture it easily and clearly. If you are planning to memorize a lot of signs, write down each sign and a hint on a cue card. We call these "index cards" in the U.S., often 3" x 5" in size.

Once you've memorized several signs, flip through your cards to test yourself. The cards will also help you remember the images you created in case you forget some of them.

Now consider a situation where you need to use the sign. First you will think of the term "boots" since that is the word you want to sign. The crazy image of the giant boots should just pop into your mind if you have practiced it enough. Once you think of the giant boots (filled with the giant fists), the action for the sign should immediately come to mind.

Easy, right? Even though it took me several sentences to explain how to memorize the sign for "boots", with practice you will be able to create silly image and action combinations very quickly. It took me about 30 seconds to think of the way to memorize the sign for boots I described above.

Best regards,
This is information only. It is not medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Comments for How can I memorise sign language?

Average Rating starstarstarstarstar

Click here to add your own comments

Dec 17, 2012
Thank You!!!
by: Anonymous

Thank you so much for this mental image!!! This is a great idea to help memorize sign language!! It has helped me a lot and make things so much easier to remember!!! Now every time i hear the word boots i think of this. Thanks again!!!!!

Dec 12, 2012
by: Anonymous

Thanks so much for this mental image it really helped now when i see boots i think of putting my hands in the boots and pulling out a bunch of fists it helps me remember the sign for it!!!!!! Thanks again!

Oct 14, 2012
Boots sign picture
by: Anonymous

Hey thank you very much! When I think of that sign, I think of Santa Claus pulling on a huge pair of worn leather work boots.

Apr 05, 2010
Great Idea
by: Graham S.

Hi Douglas,

What a great idea!! I am sure there are lots of people who will benefit from using your techniques to memorise sign language. I have started already and it seems to be working for me.

I am going to pass on the URL of your website to others in my class. Thanks again for your help and advice.

Best regards, Graham

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! Return to Ask a Memory Improvement Question

Featured Post

Copyright ©  All Rights Reserved.  Reproduction without permission is prohibited.

Protected by Copyscape

This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. More information participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may receive commissions on editorially chosen products purchased through our links. Rest assured we only recommend products we genuinely like. Purchases made through our links support our mission and the free content we provide here on this website.



Copyright ©
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction without permission is prohibited