Learning Hindi Online: Memrise, Mango and the Hindi Course of My Dreams

For my fortieth birthday, I decided to go to India. And since I hate being ignorant of the language anywhere that I’m traveling, I decided I would also try to learn at least a basic amount of Hindi.

Why not? For a trip to Turkey I learned some basic Turkish, primarily using Memrise. Eventually I even made a Memrise course in basic Turkish, being dissatisfied with the scattershot approach to vocabulary I found in other courses and desiring something more systematic.

Right away, however, I discovered that Hindi is a considerably harder nut to crack than Turkish. The primary barrier: Devanagari script, in which Hindi is written.

You see, once upon a time, Turkish used a variant of the Arabic script; however, with the creation of the modern state of Turkey, that script was abandoned in favor of a 29-character phonetic Roman script. This makes Turkish very easy for European language readers to learn, as you need only understand a few phonetic rules to be able to read it. This is also ideal for Memrise: since anyone can read Turkish with a few minutes’ introduction to the phonetics, you can immediately begin learning vocabulary and grammar, however unfamiliar the words themselves may be.

With Hindi, however, nearly all language-learning resources are in Devanagari, a script common to many languages in South Asia.

Devanagari itself is not overly difficult to learn. The characters are fairly simple, although with forty-seven basic characters and still more variations thereof (the characters often change in combination with each other) it is more challenging than the Roman alphabet.

The real difficulty is that the script presents a significant barrier to rapid memorization. Even once you learn the script, it takes months to really be able to to read it with ease. Until then, you are left trying to puzzle out individual characters, conjunct consonants and vowel-altering mātrā marks.

This makes Memrise far less practical. When you have to spend thirty seconds or a minute sounding out every word you see on screen, it slows things down painfully – and of course, without audio you still have only a vague notion of how the word is actually pronounced. It effectively nullifies the one area in which Memrise shines above other applications: the rapid memorization of vocabulary. Several Memrise courses I tried didn’t even work, since they required you to type some responses in English and others in Devanagari, necessitating an impossibly rapid transition between keyboards (and familiarity with how to type in Devanagari).

If that doesn’t make things difficult enough, there are also several systems of transliteration from Devanagari to Roman script. This means there are enormous discrepancies even between courses trying to teach you the basics of the script, much less complex words and phrases. Consider even a very simple word, like आप, meaning “you”: according to my Hindi textbook, it should be rendered “āp,” while Google Translate spells it “aap,” and elsewhere it might be “ahp” or even “op.”

So far as I can tell, my textbook uses the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration, while Google uses the Velthuis system. This is largely supposition, however, because without digging too deeply, I can’t even find much information on why Google chose this system over the preferred academic standard of IAST.

All of which begs the question: Why not just give in and learn Devanagari properly, then?

The answer, simply, is because it’s slow. By requiring learners to assimilate the script at the same time as the vocabulary, you’re essentially placing a double burden on them. Since they don’t know the vocab, they’re unable to quickly recognize words. Being unable to quickly recognize words, they’re unable to learn the vocab.

And I would argue that the vocabulary is far more valuable. If I know the vocabulary, after all, and just the basics of the script, I can puzzle out what a sign or menu is saying fairly easily. On the other hand, if I know the script but not the vocab, it’s nearly useless: I may be able to discern how a word sounds, but that sound holds no meaning for me.

It’s worth remembering that children, after all, do not learn to read at the same time as they learn to speak. They speak first, and only later match the characters of a script with the words and sounds they know.

And meanwhile, if I know the vocabulary, I can actually communicate. I can ask, Where is the bus station? and Do you have any toothpaste? and I would like one beer, please. 

This is all a roundabout way of saying that it would be great if someone would build a good Memrise course for Hindi using IAST transliteration to accompany the Devanagari. I would work on it myself, except for three problems: first, I’m leaving for India in about three weeks, and I think it would take longer than that; second, just typing in Devanagari is a serious pain; and third, without accompanying audio of often-tricky Hindi pronunciations, I fear it would be of limited use (an unfortunate limitation of many Memrise courses).

In the end, I discovered that the Denver Public Library actually offers free access to Mango Languages, which is generally very good. I might wish, again, for a more systematic approach to vocabulary, but Mango does include full audio of every word and phrase, which is obviously hugely advantageous. I might also wish for better aids for memorization, a la Memrise: suggestions for mnemonic devices, an algorithm to target words and phrases you’re struggling with, and a simple “I’ve got this” button to indicate that you have fully assimilated the phrase and don’t wish to be quizzed on it again.

Oh, and one other thing: a consistent system of transliteration. Can’t we all agree whether “thank you” is “dhanyavād,” “dhanyavaad,” or (God forbid) “dhunyuvahd”? धन्यवाद !

Memory Tip: Travel while you travel

Just a little tip: Road trips with another person are a great time to make memory palaces. If you’re driving the vehicle, especially, you really can’t do much of anything anyway. So have your companion help you construct memory palaces while you drive. The other week we drove to Santa Fe and memorized the Greek alphabet and the teams of the NFL and their divisions.  You can also use subsequent drives to review memory palaces you’ve already created.

5 Tips for Making the Most out of Memrise

Before discovering Memrise, I had made some half-hearted attempts to learn Turkish. I got some books from the library, printed out some phrases from the internet, and dutifully set about learning how to say “hello” and count to a hundred.

Problem was, sitting on the couch repeating words to myself was really, really boring. Also, I had no idea if I was pronouncing the words correctly, so even if I successfully memorized a few phrases, I might find when I got to Turkey that no one could understand me.

But surely I can haz Turkish via the Internet. I looked at Rosetta Stone and some other language-learning software, but I didn’t want to pay a large fee. I’m going on a three-week vacation, not trying to emigrate.

Enter Memrise. It’s free. It has multiple language courses, including Turkish. You can use it on your computer or portable device. It offers not only audio, but user-created “mems” (read: mnemonic devices) to aid in recall. Via a simple gardening metaphor, it encourages you to learn new items (“plant”) and review what you’ve already learned (“water”). The review process itself is structured as interval training, meaning that you review newer items first, older items later, with reducing frequency depending on how many times you’ve reviewed them and how often you’ve identified the word or phrase correctly.

This all amounts to a powerful, simple, and fun learning experience. Maybe the most brilliant aspect of Memrise is that it turns language learning into a simple but addictive game. Since you’re only learning five or so items at a time, no one section is ever that difficult, especially if you review frequently, but cumulatively you learn a lot, very quickly. Imagine where you’d be if you’d taken those 4,000 hours you spent playing World of Warcraft and used them to learn languages.

“Yeah, so I’m like, a level 60 French learner.”

However, it’s not perfect. Fundamentally, Memrise is not language-learning software. Rather, it’s multimedia flashcard software with a clever structure and review process. What this means is that it’s very effective for memorization, but naturally it lacks key features of the costlier software packages or actual classes, in particular extended composition and face-to-face conversation.

Even disregarding its inbuilt limitations, there’s clearly room for improvement. My greatest frustration is that Memrise courses never explain anything. It’s all pure memory. Of course, learn enough items, see enough examples, and eventually you’ll deduce or intuit the underlying structure – that is, after thousands of examples. This is how we all learn languages as children. Nobody explains how to form the past progressive tense to us; we just hear it ten thousand times and absorb it by osmosis.

As an adult learner, though, I want to understand the how and why of things. It’s far easier for me to learn the six common pronouns (I, you, he/she/it, we, y’all, them) as a group, and then be able to pick them out from a given phrase, then to try it the opposite way and pick out the totally unfamiliar pronoun from a series of foreign words. What part of “O kaç yaşında?” (“How old is he?”) is the pronoun? In the phrase “Doğum günümde seni görmek isterim” (“I want to see you at my birthday”), which word is the verb? What denotes the object? If “gün” is “day,” what’s “günümde”?

Doğum günü: Doggone birthday

Often, too, I’d find that I’d learn a complex phrase, only to see its individual words included in later vocab sections. This is doubly stupid. First of all, why am I learning phrases about time, say, when I haven’t yet learned the words for “day,” “week,” “minute,” etc.? Second, if I’ve already successfully learned the complex phrases, then I’ve quite likely already puzzled out their components and don’t need to be retested on them.

This is part of the problem with crowdsourcing. You get a lot of content very quickly and cheaply, but it’s rarely as well-organized as a professionally designed course.

Fortunately, after a while I developed some strategies for avoiding these problems, and I’ll share these tips with you here:

1. Preview the course before you start, and compare it with other courses. There are hundreds of courses on Memrise, including dozens for each language, and not all courses are equal. Memrise will present the most popular courses, but popularity isn’t necessarily the best criterion for judging a course. Some courses include audio, others do not; some focus more on vocabulary, others on structure or common phrases. Click on the individual sections to see what the course includes and how it progresses.

2. Don’t be afraid to jump around. If the courses were all well-structured, they would build naturally, and you would want to move from A to B in the order suggested. Since this is not always the case, however, feel free to pick and choose. Personally, I would suggest learning the alphabet first, then very common phrases (“Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Where is the bathroom?”), then numbers, and then a good deal of basic vocabulary. With that vocab under your belt, you’ll feel more confident navigating more complex phrases.

Where is the toilet: Tuvalet nerede? (toilet nerd)

3. Buy a textbook. I spend way more time using Memrise than reading the Turkish textbook I have, but that textbook has helped me a lot in understanding key rules and structures.

4. Use a real computer. Memrise is available as an app for your portable device, and that app is terrific and fun in its own right. However, I found that using Memrise on my desktop computer was considerably more demanding, and hence better for learning. Also, a number of features, such as the ability to make your own mems (see #5), are only available on the web platform.

5. Make your own mems. Memrise will automatically show user-created mems whenever they’re available. If one works for you, great. If not, look for your own associations and make your own mems. You’ll remember it better for having created it.

What should I memorize?

So you’ve learned some basic mnemonic techniques like the method of loci, the link system, and the wardrobe system. Having learned the how, though, you immediately encounter the question of what: What should you memorize?

Right away certain things come to mind, most of them mnemonic challenges we encountered in school: memorizing the U.S. presidents, memorizing the fifty U.S. states and their capitals, memorizing the countries of the world and their capitals. These challenges are perfectly suited to mnemonics, comprising simple lists of information that can be placed along a mnemonic journey or linked to a list of peg words.

And these, naturally, were the first things I memorized or am still memorizing. However, I also noticed that finding this information in a simple, printable format was surprisingly difficult. So I have set about correcting this deficit by creating exactly such lists in Google Docs. Here enjoy:

Countries and capitals of the world printable list

U.S. states and capitals printable list

U.S. presidents printable list


While I’m at it, I’ll also observe that all these lists have something in common, namely that they are around 50 items in length. There are 50 U.S. states; 44 presidents; 49 countries in Asia, 54 in Africa, 50 in Europe, and 50 in North America, South America, Australia and Oceania combined. There are also, as it happens, 47 Super Bowl winners (soon to be 48) and 53 players on a football team. Even more significantly, to my mind, the alphabet times two equals 52, and there are 52 playing cards in a deck.

What this suggests, to me, is that these lists can be linked in a wardrobe system. I’m still experimenting with the system myself, but basically I’m beginning by accumulating simple alphabetical lists to serve as peg words. These include the radio alphabet along with alphabets of animals, modes of transportation, musical instruments, mythical creatures, and common objects. For convenience I’ve organized them into a spreadsheet of useful alphabets.

Along these same lines, I noticed that there are also a number of items in lists of 12 that would be nice to memorize. All of us of course already know one list of twelve, namely the months of the year, so this can serve immediately as a list of peg words. Other groups of 12 include birthstones, Western and Chinese Zodiac signs, the twelve apostles, the twelve tribes of Israel, and the Labors of Hercules. I’ve placed all six of these lists in a single printable document:

Correspondences of 12 items for memorization

I’ve also been experimenting with the different mnemonic systems mentioned above, and I’ll make one last observation regarding this early stage of memory design. In switching between mnemonic systems, I thought it would be easier to take something I’ve already memorized – say, the countries and capitals of Europe, via a memory palace – and transfer it to a different system, i.e. the wardrobe system, by way of experiment. This, as it turns out, was a mistake. After all, if you’ve already memorized something, why re-memorize it, especially when forming new links could muddy up the images you already have? Use your time to learn something new, and your images will be fresh and crisp.

Think of another list of 12 or 50 items that would be good to memorize? Write it in the comments.

Making Memories: Memorizing Phone Numbers

Having created a Major PAO system, I naturally wanted to test it, and so I decided to memorize the phone numbers of the 17 people I work with. I printed out a copy of the contact sheet and set to work.

The first thing I needed was a memory palace. I settled on the Trader Joe’s where I shop for groceries. Having wheeled a cart around its aisles every week for about three years now, I’m intimately familiar with its layout, and already have an established journey through it. Perfect.
I began outside the store, where in real life a local newspaper vendor often hangs out. The first person was Jim Albright (not his real name). Right away I noticed a problem: phone numbers are ten digits long, while the POA system I’d devised was best suited for multiples of six. I would have to either lose one Person, Action, or Object, or use two single-digit images (which would make things a bit repetitive).
After some trial and error, I came up with the simpler solution of making the first Person in the sequence the actual person whose number I was trying to remember. So if Jim’s number was (216) 728-0158, the first image was not of a knight (21), but rather of Jim himself. The Action then was knitting (21), the Object a chick (67), followed by my nephew (28) sitting (01) on lava (58). In total, Jim knitting for a chick (I imagined a little chicken-shaped sweater), with my nephew sitting on lava, presumably very uncomfortably.
I ran into a second problem, which is that these really formed two loci rather than one. I tried in each case to connect them somehow – my nephew could be angry with Jim for making him wait while he finished his chick-sweater, say.
(Incidentally, I later took up memorizing pi to the hundredth decimal, with 10 decimals per line. Since I didn’t need to connect any actual people with the numbers, I altered the system to POA-PO. In this system the same number would be a knight [21] with a chick [67] knifing [28] Sid with lava [58]. I might for instance imagine a knight dressed in steel armor made to resemble a chicken, stabbing Sid Vicious with a knife made of lava. The advantage is that all the images combine to form a single connected locus.)
A third problem worth noting was that many of my coworkers had the same area code, Seattle’s 206, and frequently the same next digit as well, a 6. This meant that a lot of images began with “so-and-so nosing hashish,” which is fine once or twice, and not so great the fifth or sixth time. To resolve it I basically switched up the order of POA to PAO, or used alternate words. So “nosing hashish” became “in a noose with a judge.” Altering the order might matter in memorizing a deck of cards in two minutes, but it didn’t cause me any problems here.
Finally, one last hitch. Having memorized all seventeen numbers (170 digits, by the way – no great feat for a mnemonist, but remarkable to anyone else), I went to work and proudly proclaimed the fact. Naturally my co-workers asked my to recite their numbers for them, and so I did, until one person, Robert, stopped me halfway through his number, saying, “Nope. That’s not it.”

The funny thing was, I remembered the image clearly: Robert nailing up a map while Lisa juiced a ram. Puzzled, I went back to the list and realized that I had transposed the last four digits of his phone number with someone else’s. I’d remembered the image, but I’d made the incorrect image in the first place. Lesson is: it’s no good memorizing something if the information isn’t right in the first place.

Making Memories: Creating a Major PAO system

Since reading Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking With EinsteinI’ve become a little obsessed with memory systems. In particular, I’ve spent the last several weeks working on a 110-digit person-action-object system based on the Major phonetic memory system. You can find a description of the Major system here and the PAO system here.

It seems many mnemonists use a non-Major PAO system for memory work, associating the digits 00-99 with unconnected person-action-object combinations. Foer’s book title, for instance, is based on the image of Michael Jackson moonwalking with a white glove. Remember any part of the image, and you’ll remember the rest.

The great disadvantage of this system, however, is that you have to first associate each of these hundred images with the corresponding number. This presents a significant time investment and a barrier to easy use. The great advantage of a Major-based system, by contrast, is that all you need to know is its 10-digit phonetic basis, which anyone can learn in about five minutes. With that easy-to-acquire knowledge in hand, you can then use a printed table to create your images and retranslate those images into numbers, without even having to memorize all one hundred images.
Memory-Sports.com has a link to a Major PAO system here, which was basically my starting point. This system is really quite well constructed, but I had some problems with it. First, quite a few of the names and words used weren’t entirely phonetic. This is not a big deal, but in some instances I thought there were easily available phonetic alternatives. Second, some of the actions and objects just didn’t work for me in memorizing. They were too small, too indistinct, too forgettable.Third, some of the Persons just didn’t mean anything to me. This isn’t surprising, given the constraints of the system, but I realized it would be very helpful to provide alternatives so that you could more easily construct your own system. In finding those alternatives, the keyword search tool at http://www.phoneticmnemonic.com/ was very helpful.
You’ll also note that my system has 110 images. Why? Because you can’t always count on an even number of digits in the number you’re trying to memorize. So there’s one set of images for 0-9 and another for 00-09.
In any case, here’s the actual Major PAO system I ended with in a printable format. But to help you make your own system, I’m going also to go through it here, digit by digit, with alternative words and notes. The point, after all, isn’t to have a single uniform system for everyone, but a personalized system that works for you. It’s your memory, so you’ll have to find those images that stick in your mind.
0. Zoe sawing a house (Alternatives: Sue, see, sea, zoo)
Zoe’s include Zoey Deschanel, Zoe on the West Wing, or of course someone you know with that name. I envision a dollhouse for the house.
1. Di dying with a tie (Eddie, doe, dough, auto, die, hood, tea, tee, toe, weed, wood)
Princess Di, or if you prefer, Eddie Murphy, Eddie Vedder, Mr. Ed. Dying could be advanced age, having a heart attack, or a chemical dye.
(108 more after the jump…)

2. Neo kneeing wine (Anne, Han, annoy, gnaw, gnu, inn, Wayne, wean, wane)
Neo from The Matrix in trench coat and shades, smashing a bottle with his knee. If you want to pursue a Star Wars theme, use Han, but you might want to save him for Solo (05).
3. Moe mowing ammo (Amy, Emma, aim, ma, me, homo, hum, womb)
Moe from the Simpsons. Big bullets.
4. Uhura rowing with an arrow (air, Roe, Roo, ewer, hair, hare, hero, ore, war, whore, wire)
5. Leia oiling an owl (Lee, lie, lye, law, lei, howl, ale, wail, whale)
Princess Leia from Star wars. Bruce Lee lying in a leiwould also work well. Personally I remember an owl more readily than flowers, and I used lie low for 55.
6. Chewy chewing a shoe (Joe, Joey, Jew, ash, edge, jaw, jay)
Following the Star Wars theme. Also considered Joe Biden.
7. Ewok playing hockey with a cow (Kay, Guy, hawk, hike, hook, hug, oak, wake, walk, wig, wok, yoga, yoke)
Lots of action-object alternatives here. I get the easiest images from hockey.
8. Ivy weaving a wave (Ava, Heff, vow, heave, hive, hoof, wife)
I use Poison Ivy from Batman. Not many great choices for F or V names.
9. Pooh bowing to a bee (Abe, Abby, Bay, boy, buy, hippo, boa, bow, hoop, oboe, pea, pee, pie, pa, web, weep, whip).
Lots of choices. Settled on Winnie the Pooh as simple, memorable, and phonetic. You could extend the theme with Roo (4), Owl (5) and Tigger (17). I know it’s tempting to do Pooh pooing or Pooh peeing, but then what will you use for 61 (shit), 90 (piss), or 99 (poop)?
00. ZZ sizing a seesaw (Zeus, sis, seize, sass)
I picture one of the guys from ZZ Top, long beard and cowboy hat. Sis (as in sister) also works, if you have a sister and don’t mind imagining your family members doing some weird stuff. I picture “sizing” as measuring with a measuring tape.
01. Sid sitting on sod (Zed, Saudi, seed, soda, soot, suit, stew, sty, swat, sweat, swede)
Sid Vicious sitting on a roll of sod (grass).
02. Santa singing in the snow (son, Sonny, sun, swan, swine, swoon, sign)
I really don’t like this much because of the inexact phonetics, but the memorability of the image probably makes up for it. Actually, in my personal system I use “Xan signing in the snow,” but that only works if you know someone named Xan.
03. Sam swimming with a semi (sumo)
Uncle Sam, Sam Worthington, or someone you know. A sumo wrestler also works well. A semi is of course a large freight truck.
04. Zoro soaring in a Zero (sear, sari, Sawyer, sewer, sire, swear)
A Zero being a WWII-era Japanese plane. Soaring being flying in any form.
05. Seal swallowing a seal (Solo, Sulu, Sully, sail, slay, sleigh, soil, swell)
I know, I’m failing nerd-wise by not using Han Solo or Sulu. But Seal swallowing a seal is easier to remember.
06. Sacha sashaying in sewage (sash, siege, sage)
Not a ton of choices here, and very limited names for Persons. This is Sacha Baron Cohen, but if you know someone named Sasha, that might work better.
07. Zack sucking on a ski (Isaac, Zeke, sock, soak, sake, sag, sack, sick, swig)
Hopefully you know a Zack or an Isaac. Otherwise, maybe imagine a zombie named Zeke?
08. Sophia saving a safe (salve, salve, sofa)
I imagine Sophia Lauren, diving to catch a safe before it hits the ground.
09. Zap zapping a zep (seep, soap, sob, soup, spew, spy, sub, sweep, swipe, swoop)
Zap Brannigan from Futurama zapping a zeppelin with a raygun.
10. Taz tazing a daisy (Dizzy, dice, tease)
Not a ton of choices here, but the Looney Tunes character works fine.
11. Data tattooing a tit (Todd, dad, dude, edit, toad)
Data from Star Trek: TNG. A toad might actually be better than a “tit,” but give it a try and see which you prefer.
12. Dana tanning on tin (Dan, Diane, Diana, Dino, Dean, Dane, den, tuna, tune, twine)
Dana Scully from the X-Files, of course, tanning langorously on a tin roof.
13. Timmy timing a dummy (Tim, Tom, Tammy, Dom, dam, tame, tomb, tome)
Timmy from South Park in his wheelchair holding a stopwatch, with a crash-test dummy.
14. Tori drawing a tire (Dora, Hodor, Tara, dare, deer, diarrhea, diary, door, dry, hydra, otter, tar, tear)
Lots of choices here. Take your pick.
15. Dali dueling with a towel (Dolly, Doyle, Dale, deal, dial, idol, tail, tool, yodel)
It’s a surreal image. Get it? Get it?
16. Tasha dodging a dish (DJ, TJ, attach, teach, touch, twitch)
outlawyr’s system uses Tasha Yar, but to tell the truth I haven’t watched Star Trek: TNG in years, and I barely remember her. Also, I don’t really like loading up on Star Trek characters, because they all wear the same uniforms, which makes them visually similar. Definitely a point for Star Wars. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of choices for Persons here. Let me know if you think of something better.
17. The Duke decking a taco (dick, dock, dog, duck, tack, talk, tic, tuck, tug, twig)
John Wayne punching a taco that’s presumably been rude to a lady. Originally I had “dig” instead of “deck,” but then I realized that I also had “bury” for 94. Too similar.
18. Daffy diving with a dove (Dave, defy, tofu)
If you don’t like ducks, I guess you could use Dave Letterman, Dave Matthews… a lot of Daves.
19. Debby taping a tuba (Dobby, Dopey, tub, type)
If you know a Debby, great. If not, maybe Dobby from Harry Potter will work.
20. Nazi nosing a noose (niece)
Yeah, not many choices. I use Hitler for the Nazi, and picture “nosing” as poking something with his nose.
21. knight knitting a net (Andy, Anita, Hannity, Wendy, ant, gnat, knead, knot, nut, untie, wand, want, window, wound)
22. nun nannying an onion (neon)
Nun and onion work great, but nannying is admittedly a little hard to picture. Wagging a finger and wearing an apron should work.
23. Nemo giving an enema to a gnome (numb)
One sick fish. One sick gnome.
24. Nero honoring a wiener (Henry, Nora)
A Roman emperor saluting a wiener. Can obviously also refer to penis. If you know a Henry or a Nora, that would probably stick better than Nero.
25. Neil kneeling with a nail (anal, inhale, knoll)
Neil Patrick Harris, or Neil Armstrong in a space suit. “Anal” or “inhale” are both good alternative Actions here.
26. Nacho notching a nacho (Nash, gnash, nudge)
Jack Black as Nacho Libre cutting notches in the nachos.
27. Nick knocking on a nuke (hang, neck, nick)
Nick Cave, Nick Cage.

28. nephew knifing the navy (envy, nova)
I imagine my nephew stabbing a submarine. If you don’t have a nephew, outlawyr suggests “Nefertiti.”
29. Napoleon napping on a knob (honeybee, nip)
I actually have a friend named “Nebi,” which works great here, but since that’s not a common name I’ve included the “Napoleon” option. A cartoon honeybee, like from the breakfast cereal, might also work well.
30. Holmes macing a moose (messiah, mouse, maze)
Sherlock doing what he gotta do to that murdering moose. Note that it’s pronounced “Homes.” “Messiah” would work as well or better, but I use “Jesus” for 60.
31. Mitt muddying a mitt (Matt, maid, meat, meet, mite, moat, mutt)
Mitt Romney getting a perfectly good baseball mitt all dirty. How that would bother him. Lots of Matts around too, of course.
32. Minnie mooning the moon (Moon, Mooney, Mann, mine, ammonia, mane, money)
I originally had the Reverend Moon here, but he did nothing for me. Minnie I can remember, at least.
33. mom miming a mummy (maim)
The things mothers do to help you remember.
34. Mary marrying a mare (Marie, hammer, marrow, mayor, mire, mower)
The Virgin Mary, or any of the world’s hundred million other Mary’s.
35. Maul mailing a mole (Emily, mill)
More Star Wars with Darth Maul. You might imagine the mole with its head sticking out of an envelope.
36. MJ mashing a match (macho, mage, mesh, mojo, mush)
Mary Jane from Spider-man.
37. Mickey mugging a mug (Mike, Meg, McCoy, hammock, mock, mic)
Mickey Mouse, or any Mike you know.
38. Mephistopheles moving a humvee (Muffy, movie)
I struggled with this one. Originally I had “Muffy,” who is either a character from the cartoon Arthur, or a rapper. Neither one means anything to me, so I’ve switched to Mephistopheles, i.e. Satan. Switching to Satan is always the right answer.
39. Moby mopping a map (amp, hemp, imp, mob)
I’ve cleared his table a couple times. True story.
40. Rose racing a rose (Reese, Rice, Ross, arouse, raze, rice)
My friend Rose, Pete Rose, Reese Witherspoon, Condi Rice.

41. Rod riding a rat (art, award, heart, hoard, horde, radio, raid, reed, riot, write)

Rod Stewart riding a rat. Just seems right, right? If you don’t like Rod, though, you might try Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, with the stretchy arms and all that.
42. Ron running with a rhino (Aaron, iron, rain)
Ron Burgundy, maybe?
43. Rambo ramming a ram (army, harem, ram, ream, roam, worm)
No, Rambo is not phonetic, but trying finding another name that is. Rahm Emanuel? Ram Dass? I imagine “ramming” as head-butting.
44. warrior roaring at a rear (Rory, aurora, horror)
Again, very few options. I picture a Scottish warrior with a claymore, yelling at someone’s butt.
45. O’Reilly rolling a roll (oral, rail, reel, royal, rule, whirl)
Bill O’Reilly with a big dinner roll. Great for memory because every time I use him I feel a little angry. Tempting of course to use “oral,” but remember that “suck” is 07.
46. Reggie retching a roach (Archie, Irish, orgy, rage, reach, rouge)
Funny that both Archie and Reggie work here.
47. Rocky raking a rock (Eric, Rick, rack, rag, rig, rogue, rook, rug, wreck)
48. Rove raving on a roof (Raffi, Harvey, arrive, reef)
Karl Rove breaking it down with some glowsticks. Even evil needs to get loose sometimes.
49. Rabbi raping a rib (Rob, Arab, harp, rope, rub, wrap)
One messed-up rabbi. One messed-up rib.
50. Lisa lassoing lace (Lewis, Louise, Lucy, lice, lose)
I use Lisa Simpson.
51. Lloyd welding a light (Lady, Eliot, lad, lead, lute)
Christopher Lloyd, best known as Doc Brown from Back to the Future. outlawyr suggests Lady Gaga, but I have a hard time imagining her as “Lady” rather than “Gaga.”
52. Elaine leaning on a lion (Helen, Lynn, alien, loon)
Elaine from Seinfeld.
53. Liam looming with a lime (Alma, William, elm, lamb, limb, loom)
Liam Neeson leaning creepily over you.
54. Lara lowering a lyre (Laura, Larry, lawyer, lure)
I picture Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft. A lyre is a small harp.
55. LL (Cool J) lying low with a lolly (Lyle, Lola, Lily, loll, lull)
Maybe Evangeline Lily? I dunno, I gots big love for LL. I know “lie low” may seem weak, but lying on the ground is a simple, clear image. Maybe you could imagine “lulling” as cradling something and singing it a lullaby. A lolly is of course a lollipop.
56. Luigi leashing a leech (eyelash, lash, ledge, lodge)
57. Luke licking a log (elk, hulk, leak, leek, leg, lock, lug)
More Star Wars with Luke Skywalker.
58. elf laughing at lava (leaf, love, loaf, olive, wolf)
Maybe Will Ferrell in the movie, maybe Legolas, maybe some other elf.
59. Leprechaun leaping on a lip (Lobo, Lapp, elbow, help, lab, lap, lobby, lop)
I went through several options before settling on “leprechaun.” The first syllable at least is phonetic, and the image is very memorable. “Leper” could also work; outlawyr suggests “Liberace.”
60. Jesus chasing cheese (chess, choose, juice)
No, not precisely phonetic, but Jesus is too easy to remember. You could do (Chevy) Chase chasing cheese, which is also easy.
61. Judy doing judo on a jet (cheetah, chide, jade, shed, sheet, shit, shut)
Judy Garland in her Wizard of Oz getup. I also considered (Chester the) Cheetah or (Joan) Jett. Didn’t use “shit” because I like “poop” too much for 99.
62. John chaining a genie (Jane, Jean, Joan, June, Sean, gin, ocean, shine)
Tons of Persons to choose from, so take your pick. I think John Lennon immediately, personally. You could do John chaining a john, if you like.
63. Jimi jamming with jam (gem, gym, shame)
Jimi Hendrix or some other Jim.
64. Cher showering with a cherry (Jerry, char, cheer, shear, shore)
Or Jerry Seinfeld showering, but who wants to imagine that?
65. Joel jailing jello (Jill, Julie, cello, chili, gel, jelly, shell)
My name’s Joel, so you know, easy ’nuff.
66. Cheech judging hashish (Joshua)
Maybe the easiest mnemonic of all these.
67. Chuck choking a chick (Jack, Jake, chalk, cheek, chuck, chug, hedgehog, jock, jog, jug, shag, shake)
I have friend named Chuck, and I like the alliteration, but there’s about a thousand Jacks you could use. Jack Skellington would probably be my choice.
68. Chef shaving a chief (Jeff, Jehovah, shove)
Okay, Jehovah’s tempting, but I didn’t want to get confused with Jesus. I use Chef from South Park and imagine a wooden tobacco-store chief.
69. Jabba chopping a sheep (Job, chip, Jeep, ship, shop)
Jabba the Hutt getting ready to eat. If you used “lamb” for 53, you’ll want to use “Jeep” or “ship” instead of “sheep.”
70. Kiss kissing a goose (Casey, Cass, accuse, axe, ex, gaze, keys, ox)
One of the guys from the band Kiss in concert makeup.
71. Cat(woman) cutting a cat (God, Kate, Kit, act, coat, cod, goat, gut, kite)
Now, Catwoman’s not entirely phonetic, whereas God and Kate are. But if I imagine Michelle Pfeiffer in that vinyl outfit doing pretty much anything, well… rawr.
72. Ken canoeing with a gun (Cohen, Ken, Khan, acne, can, cane, coin, cone, queen)
Quite a few choices here for all three. Queen Elizabeth is easy and visual, but I also love Leonard Cohen, and Star Trek’s Khan is pretty vivid. Be sure to distinguish “canoe” from “row” (4).
73. Kim coming on a comb (coma, gum)
I imagine Kim Jong Il, but maybe there’s another Kim you prefer. outlawyr uses “combing gum,” but don’t tell me you’ll actually remember that better.
74. Cory crying on a car (Carrie, the Crow, Gary, Oscar, choir, crew, cure, curry, gore, guru, hacker, hooker, ogre)
Take your pick of Persons here.
75. Coolio cooling a koala (Kelly, Quayle, call, claw, clay, coal, coil, cola, collie, eagle, glow, glue, gull, igloo, quail, quill)
I originally had “killing” here, but in trying using the system I realized that it was too indefinite, considering all the other violent actions used for other numbers. I imagine Coolio dumping bags of ice on a feverish koala.
76. Cash catching cash (cage, coach, gash, gouge, gush, quiche)
Johnny Cash for an easy mnemonic. Nicolas Cage would also work. Man, that guy is everywhere.
77. Kirk kicking a cake (Cook, Gaga, cock, cocoa, coke, cook, cookie, gag, kayak, keg, quack)
Kirk isn’t entirely phonetic, but it’s close. Kayak is distinct, but too close to row (4) or canoe (72).
78. Goofy coughing with coffee (calf, give)
Probably from all the Pall-Malls he’s been smoking.

79. Cap cupping a cape (Kip, cop, cub, gape, hiccup)

Captain America, ironic since he doesn’t wear a cape. Kip is a character on Futurama.
80. Fozzie lighting a fuse on a vise (face, fuss, fuzz, phase, visa, voice)
Okay, I have to confess, I never watched the Muppets that much, so Fozzie’s actually kind of hard for me to remember. Any other suggestions?
81. Vader doing voodoo with a video (avoid, feed, fight, foot, photo, vet)
Darth Vader isn’t quite phonetic, but he’s easily the best choice for this number. Voodoo means he’s sticking pins into something. I imagine a VHS cassette for video, or something playing on a screen.
82. Vin fanning a phone (Finn, Vaughn, Vin, faun, fawn, fin, oven, vein, vine)
Vin Diesel. Vince Vaughn or Finn from Adventure Time are both fine alternatives. Maybe Finn fanning a fawn?
83. Fam(ily Guy) fumigating an ovum
After some struggle I’ve come to terms with this one. “Family Guy” is Peter Griffin, “fumigate” is walking around with a metal canister spraying stuff, and “ovum” is a big ostrich egg.
84. Pharaoh firing fire (Farrah, Fury, fairy, fear, ferry, fir, fry, fur, hover, ivory, pharaoh, veer)
A couple choices for Persons, but I think an Egyptian pharaoh is easiest to remember. “Firing” is using something as a gun, as distinct from fire as an object.
85. Fool falling on a flea (fail, feel, flee, foil, foul, fowl, fuel, veil, viola, waffle)
A costumed Fool doing a pratfall. If you imagine a flea, you’ll probably have to imagine a lot of them to make it stick. If you prefer, you could have Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) fleeing a flea.
86. Vishnu fishing for fudge (fetch, fuji, vouch, voyage)
I originally had the band Phish, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember it (not a fan). Vishnu is a multi-armed blue Indian deity.
87. Viggo fucking a fig (Vicky, fag, fake, fog, folk, vogue)
Viggo Mortensen.
88. Fifi high-fiving a fife (Viv)
I use Fifi La Fume from Tiny Toons. Vivien Leigh from Gone With the Wind is also viable.
89. Fabio with a phobia of a viper (Phoebe, fob, fop)
Fabio looking scared of a snake. Originally had “fob,” like a keychain, but it’s no good for memory.
90. Bozo pissing on a bus (the Boss, Buzz, abuse, booze, pass, pussy)
Bozo the Clown.
91. Buddha biting a bat (Pat, Pete, Buddy, abbot, beat, bed, beet, behead, bet, boat, body, butt, pout)
92. Ben playing piano with a bunny (Ben, Bono, Obi-Wan, Penny, bean, bone, bun, ebony, pen, pin, pine, pony)
Originally had “Obi-Wan,” which is a memorable image but not necessarily easy to connect with 92. 
93. Obama bombing a bum (balm, beam, boom, opium, palm, puma)
Why, Barack? Why?
94. Barry burying a bra (Barry, Perry, bar, bare, bear, beer, berry, boar, burrow, eyebrow, opera, pare, parry, pear, pour, prey, pry, purr)
Barry White stands out to me. Of course, you can use Barack (Barry) Obama, but “Obama bombing a bum” just seems too natural not to use. There’s also Perry Mason, Katy Perry, and Luke Perry, and a number of Bears that would do the job,
95. Bill bowling with a bell (Abel, Apollo, Paul, Paula, apple, ball, bell, belly, blow, bowel, bull, opal, pail, peel, pile, pill, pillow, plow, pole, pool)
Lots of choices here for all three words. Bill Murray’s the first Bill that comes to mind.
96. Bush butchering a peach (Apache, badge, bash, beach, bitch, bush, pitch, push)
97. (Miss) Piggy poking a bike (Polk, back, bag, bake, beak, beg, book, buck, bug, pack, peck, peek, pike, puck, puke)
98. Buffy buffing beef (beehive, buffet, pave)
I imagine a big side of beef.
99. Popeye pooping a pipe (Bob, Pope, baby, boob, papa, pop, poppy, pub, puppy)
Guess he just lost control and swallowed it one day.