Nelson Dellis is a memory athlete, 4-time U.S. Memory Champion, a Grandmaster of Memory, a high-altitude mountaineer, author, speaker, and all-around cool dude. He is now on a mission to reach conversational fluency in Dutch in just one year, applying all the memory techniques, mnemonics, and visualization strategies he used to train for memory championships.

“Memory should be joyful—not just because you can recall what you need to when you need to, but because the act of storing it is an adventure in and of itself.”

Topics Discussed

In our conversation, we discuss:

  • Why Nelson decided to learn Dutch.
  • The power of specific timeframes and short deadlines.
  • The importance of having a powerful WHY when setting out to learn a language.
  • How the loss of Nelson’s paternal grandmother helped inspire his path to becoming a memory champion.
  • How Nelson is applying his memory techniques and apps like Drops to master Dutch vocabulary more quickly.
  • Why language learning is not only about memorizing vocabulary, but why you might as well do so as efficiently as possible.
  • The importance of having a balanced “language diet” between exposure, practice, and conscious study.
  • Why consistency (“the habit of the habit”) and identity are so crucial in language learning.
  • Nelson’s daily language learning routines and and “non-negotiable” habits.
  • Why fun is so important in language learning (“Fun gets done!”), but why you also can’t skip “the suck.”
  • Why no amount of study can replace speaking practice.
  • How our muscle memory in a language can fade even if we still remember what to say.
  • How Nelson uses mnemonics and mental images to more easily remember words, numbers, etc.
  • Why you should make your mental images as vivid, varied, and sensory-rich as possible.
  • Why making and recalling mental images is faster and more efficient than you might think.
  • The difference between “declarative” and “procedural” memory, and how Nelson tackles both.
  • Why memory hacks are helpful augments to―not replacement for―exposure and practice.
  • Why you can learn any language anywhere.
  • The power of changing the display language on your devices to your target language.
  • Nelson’s top tips for optimizing your memory and making memorizing fun.

Concepts, People & Resources Mentioned

If you enjoy this interview, also check out my conversation with Mattias Ribbing, a Swedish author, lecturer, and Grandmaster of Memory.

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