How to Remember Numbers

by thememorypage

1.3 • Technique for Memorizing Numbers

We live in a society filled with numbers: social security numbers, dates, license plate numbers, prices, zip codes, etc. Yet without a special technique, numbers are very difficult to memorize because they are so hard to associate. Our brains think with pictures, not with numbers.

It’s easier for us to visualize an elephant eating a ham sandwich than to picture the string of numbers $2,347.91. But what if we could mentally convert a number into a word, a word that represents a mental picture? It turns out that we can.

Suppose we assigned each of the digits 0 through 9 to a consonant. Then, when we want to remember a number, we convert the number into consonants, insert vowels, and form a word. This word can then be used to form an association much more readily, rather than trying to use the number itself.


Suppose we want to remember that the Old Testament has 39 books, and suppose 3 and 9 translated into M and P, respectively. We could then insert the vowel A between the consonants to come up with the word “map”.

We would then visualize a huge map in front of us, with the Mediterranean Sea, Israel, Egypt, Mt. Sinai, etc.: a nice map of the Old Testament. Two weeks later we want to remember how many books were in the Old Testament.

We recall that huge map with all the places on it. MAP… consonants are M and P… that’s 3 and 9. 39! We did it! That’s sort of a roundabout way of doing it, but it works, because of the associations.

So, you ask, how do I know that M is 3 and P is 9? The answer is that you must first memorize the following table of consonants and digits. Oh dear, you say. But wait… once this chart is memorized, it can be used for life! And second, there’s even a scheme to associate the numbers with the letters!

Consonants and Digits.
Number Letter/sound Memory Aid
1 t, d t has one downstroke
2 n n has two downstrokes
3 m m has three downstrokes
4 r four ends with R
5 L Latin 50 = L
6 j, sh, ch J reversed looks like 6
7 k, g (hard) Visualize a K drawn with two 7s
8 f, v Cursive f has two loops like an 8
9 p, b P reversed looks like 9
0 z, s zero starts with Z

This is the standardized mnemonic system used by memory experts. It has been optimized in order to make it easy to learn and use. Note that pairs of letters have been grouped together because of their phonetic similarity, such as t and d or p and b. If you are not familiar with phonetics, whisper the word “dog.” Notice that it sounds like “tok”. This is how you can tell which sounds are phonetically similar.

Here are some rules about using the number alphabet:

  • The alphabet is strictly phonetic. For example, the word “cough” should be thought of as KoF and translated into 78; “gem” is pronounced JeM and is thus 63.
  • Double letters are not counted. For example, “Butter” translates into B, T and R (only one T).
  • Three consonant sounds do not appear in the chart: W, H and Y. Why, you ask? Good question! Good answer!
  • Vowels are always ignored, as well as W, H and Y mentioned above. The long word “hollow,” for example, contains just one useful letter: L.
  • When creating words from consonants, vivid nouns usually work the best, rather than adjectives, verbs or other related words.

Before reading further, take a few minutes to memorize the number alphabet. Thanks to the memory aids, it shouldn’t take long. Cover all but the “number” column and try to name the letter or letters. Then write the groups of letters in random order on a piece of paper, look at the letter groups, and try to come up with the number.

You are now ready to memorize most any kind of number! Suppose you need to remember that a bowling tournament is being held on the 25th of this month. 25 translates into NL which might stand for “nail.” Now picture yourself bowling, but when the ball hits the pins, the ball surprisingly bounces back! That’s because someone nailed the pins to the floor. Bowling, nail, NL, 25, 25th. It works!

What about the periodic number for Potassium (19)? Perhaps you will think of bananas, which have lots of potassium, sitting on a table. Table = TBL = 195. But note that the number for potassium only has two digits, so we can throw out the extra 5. We get 19! How about silver (47)? Perhaps a RAKE made of pure silver? How about gold (79)? Perhaps you might think of a mysterious person in town who has gold in his cupboard? Pronounce it “kubbard,” throw out the extra numbers, and you get KB = 79.

What about much longer numbers, like an employee ID number of 857502? It would be almost impossible for you to come up with a word that fits “FLKLSN,” and it would also be hard to come up with a series of words that don’t have any extra, unwanted letters in them. Let’s break it down into three parts: 85-75-02. Now, let’s come up with a word for each part. Perhaps file, coal and sniff. Sniff represents 028, but since we are memorizing only pairs, any extra numbers are ignored. Imagine you come into your office, and go to your FILE cabinet. Opening it, you see that someone has dumped coal into it! And then when you sniff the drawer, it smells awful! The next time you fill out some form at the office, all you have to do is remember that story, and then write down 857502 instinctively.

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