Sometimes coming up with visualizations is easy, and sometimes it is very hard. When we deal with abstract and professional terms, names and languages the visualization process suddenly become complex. There is only so much time we can allocate to visualize and remember everything while reading. How do we deal with such situations?
The easiest way to deal with complex visualizations is by preparing a dictionary of visualizations and reusing a specific visualization each time we need it. This process sounds really simple, yet its implementation is far from straightforward.
Preparing terms for visualization
We do the complex term visualization as a separate process so that we are not distracted while reading. Ideally, we could prepare all the relevant visualizations in a separate learning session, however practically this is rarely possible. We cannot possibly anticipate every situation and term we will encounter, and we will probably waste some time visualizing stuff we will never see and dealing with hypothetical situations. In real life, we see new terms when prereading. How does this work? When prereading we look for something that stands out: rare word combinations, terms that appear out of context, words we do not know. Once we find abstract, complex or unknown words during prereading, we write these words down (or remember them – whatever works best for you). Then we research these terms, and then we preread the text again. It is OK to preread the text more than once if you find some complex ideas. If you find more than 8 new terms, repeat the process each time till all missing terms are understood. This will simplify the actual reading in the next stage. Occasionally we miss the terms during prereading. In this case, we memorize and research it after we finish reading. We can even reread the text focusing on problematic places as many times as we need to understand and remember it.
Once we find and memorize all the words we do not know, or enough words to justify research, we need to understand the terms. There are several levels of understanding involved:
- Understanding the simple meaning of the word. Typically it is enough to search the word in google using the phrase “meaning of” and the word. Wikipedia is also a great source of information. It is best to keep the original word and its meaning in the same language. Do not use dictionary for translation between languages.
- Finding the context of the word. Quite often we need the history of the word. So we can use the phrase “etymology” or “history of” or “origins of” with the word. We also look for some common texts using this words and read it as a part of paragraphs. We need to encounter the term approximately in six different places to feel more familiar with it. So we look for it until it becomes familiar.
- Visualizing the word. Typically we continue with the search, but this time, we focus on image search. We look for logos and imagery using the term. Quite often we visualize something that sounds similar or has a similar meaning to the word we need. Some visualizations are made of two parts: a generic visualization and a specific detail that differentiates this term from similar terms.
Personalizing the visualization
The visualization is memorable if we invest time working with it. So we try to make the specific visualization personal: think how we can use it in a sentence, try to understand where the term applies to our own life, try to integrate the visualization within some situations. In different parts of our life we may use different visualizations. Sometimes the visualization will look outdated and we may want to upgrade it, we may want to add or modify details, or we may even generate additional visualizations for the same term in different contexts.
Maintaining dictionary of visualizations
If we do not use a visualization often enough, we may be unable to remember it in the context of the text. So we record our visualization in a dictionaryu or on a flashcard: on paper, in Anki, placed in some memory palace etc. Then we review the flashcard from time to time just to make sure we do not forget it.
Reusing visualizations in texts
We may want to reuse the visualization each time we encounter it, however, we may also want to adapt it to the particular text we read. Typically we add details, but we may also alter details. Animations include movement, mindmaps include icon-like imagery and mental palaces include 3D version of the same visualization. So try to come up with visualizations that can be easily used in all three scenarios. It will be hard at the beginning, but with time the process will come naturally.
Visualization of some terms is complex, comprehension and correct usage in proper context are even more complex. The more visualizations you have in your dictionary, the better you become using them. So you may either spend a lot of time on few terms if you do not need this often or spend very little time on many terms if this is a part of your daily routine. Training makes perfect….