Remember Better with Toons and Tunes Posted by on Jan 26, 2015 in Archived Posts

Itchy Feet Asian Languages Comic by Malachi Ray Rempen

The comic above was a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. When I drew it, I thought I’d just get a laugh out of imagining what different Asian scripts might look like. Since then, though, it’s actually helped me out quite a bit identifying which written language I’m looking at. For instance, thanks to this comic, I can now look at a photo of any random Asian city street and have a good chance of guessing which country it’s in just from the writing on the storefronts and street ads. What started as a silly joke actually became a useful reference tool.

In college I took a German class to fulfill my language credit. I’d no idea I was going to move to Germany, nor had I any desire to learn it fluently. That was almost seven years ago, and I remember nothing that the professor taught me except for two incredibly annoying songs to help us remember prepositions and cases. Aus, außer, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu are the dative ones, and durch, für, gegen, ohne, um are the accusative ones. Believe it or not, I didn’t even have to look that up, because she made us sing the former to the melody of “the Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss, and the latter to that military “I don’t know but I’ve been told…” cadence call (“durch für gegen ohne um, Deutsch zu lernen ist nicht dumm!”, or in English, “through for against without around, learning German isn’t stupid!” . . . it rhymes in German).

I remember these things because annoying, funny, or stupid tricks actually embed themselves deeper into your brain than just rote memorization. You may have noticed that some airline safety videos are getting funnier these days – it’s been proven that humor helps you remember information better, and songs as well. The Germans took this idea to its wicked, German extreme in this absolutely insane forklift safety video (not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned!).

What about you? What silly songs or rhymes or games have you learned to remember otherwise boring grammar tables or vocabulary?

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About the Author: Malachi Rempen

Malachi Rempen is an American filmmaker, author, photographer, and cartoonist. Born in Switzerland, raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he fled Los Angeles after film school and expatted it in France, Morocco, Italy, and now Berlin, Germany, where he lives with his Italian wife and German cat. "Itchy Feet" is his weekly cartoon chronicle of travel, language learning, and life as an expat.


  1. Heather:

    The German versions of Disney songs! I already know what they’re about, so it makes it easier to figure out the translation. It’s helped me so much with vocabulary that sometimes when I need to remember a word I have to quickly sing part of its song in my head to remember it (like you need to sing the ABC’s to get through the alphabet). I love it when I can surprise the people in my German class by knowing some obscure word that I got from “God Help The Outcasts” or whatever. 🙂

    • Malachi Rempen:

      @Heather This is genius, pure and simple.

    • Heather:

      @Heather So, I’m another Heather. Anyhow, I’ve been doing this for years, and anytime I try to explain it to English speakers (whose only language learning experiences were in high school), they’re like “huh? what?” but people who learned English as a foreign or second language understand. “God Help the Outcasts” is a very good song for obscure words in any language. 😀

      • Heather:

        @Heather “Original” Heather here. 🙂

        @Malachi – Thanks! Love your comics btw!

        @Heather – I love that there is another Heather out there doing the same thing. It makes me happy. 🙂

  2. kanza:

    This is so hilariously observed well ^^

    • Jordan:

      @kanza One correction, the dativ preposition isn’t “seid”, it’s “seit”, which are two differnt things. But I had to learn that song also.

  3. Lissie:

    Ahhh…sorry but, Mongolian is written in the same alphabet as Russian do, what is this you draw? Ancient style?

    • Malachi Rempen:

      @Lissie Yes, I believe this is the really old way of writing in Mongolian. I just thought it looked really cool.

      • Eugene:

        @Malachi Rempen This written system should still be used somewhere in the Internal Mongolia province of China. I have a coin with this solely with this alphabet from some pre-revolutional time, thank you for reminding me 🙂 It’s odd how the history turns its way: long time ago Mongolia was controlling Russian principats inclulding Moscovia. And centuries later they’ve adopted the cyrillic alphabet due to great political influence of USSR… I am wondering how world will look like thousand years from now.

  4. Genevieve:

    (To the tune of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”)

    Над, Под, Перед, За, Между, these are the prepositions of the Instrumental Case—BA-DUM!

    Hooray for Russian!

  5. Zoi:

    I had german lessons for 6 months.. the ‘zuzamen’word was my favourite.
    I need something like this to assist my french lessons.
    What helped me with english once were all the tongue twisters, the “You still have that banana in your ear!” jokes, the drunken sailor song, popey (a way to make children eat all their spinach), the row row row your boat, the b/w charly chaplin etc films that had the message in english coming out every 5 minutes, the tremendous old mc donald ‘ei-ei-o’ and the fraggle rock song “We’re Gobo Mokey Wembley Boober Red…”, it’s raining its pouring the old man is snoring… (present continuous) and more.
    unforunatelly my drawings are not good to discribe the funny pictures of them all.
    I tried to draw japaneese kanji for 10 months online.. I can’t remember a thing now.

    • Malachi Rempen:

      @Zoi Hah! Those are all great.

    • tyem alshara:

      @Zoi One correction.. Your favourite word that you mantioned it isn’t “zuzamen” it’s “zusammen” 🙂

  6. Daeil Jang:

    (ㅇㅗㅇ) (ㅇㅁㅇ) (ㅇㅅㅇ) (ㅇㅂㅇ) (ㅠㅅㅠ)(ㅇㅡㅇ)(ㅇㅠㅇ)
    옷 man
    홋 with hat

    Yes that’s true. Korean letters making fun of us.
    If you have some knowledge about Japanese Kanji, you might be more easier to learn Korean language… since we have lots of same-pronunciation-vocabulary, almost similar grammar and both languages are based on Chinese letter.

    무리(muri) 無理(muri) impossible
    사기(sagi) 詐欺(sagi) treating

    한국어와 일본어는 공통점이 많다.
    韓国語と 日本語は 共通点が 多い。

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