I started a new job a few months ago, and a good part of it involves taking customers’ orders and retrieving their prints when they come to pick them up. A lot of our customers print with us all the time and are in the shop often to pick things up. When I was new, there was a lot of information to digest about all the processes of the shop, along with all the customer and company names. As with learning anything new, it took time for me to get on top of things and to start to recognize customers.
I definitely still don’t always remember every customer’s name, but I’ve gotten a lot better. Most people are very understanding when I have to ask them what company they’re with and what their name is for the 37th time. I’ve gotten comfortable enough to joke around with some customers, and I think that sense of familiarity and ease has helped me learn. Now and then, there will be someone who gets miffed that I don’t remember their name or company or the project they’re working on. As a habitual perfectionist and people pleaser, I hate those moments and am bothered by them. In reality, I think I sometimes have a harder time remembering the names of the people I have a negative interaction with because those negative feelings make my brain kind of shut down and become less receptive to new information.
One trick that I’ve found to be effective in retaining new information is making associations between a customer and what they’re wearing (color, style, whatever), or between them and something unique about their project (such as printing the plans for a cool new restaurant in town). Anything else that involves thinking about them more than once and/or from a different angle (like a random word association or someone they remind me of) tends to work as well. These associations help my mind store away the knowledge and bolster an individual piece of information. I’ve learned the personality of the different companies, and the different people who work for each one, which helps their names on paper come alive, becoming more than just random symbols on a page. These associations combined with repeated interactions with the customers help me remember them.
These same techniques can be utilized in acquiring a new language. When you learn a new word or phrase or even a grammatical concept, make connections to other things you already know. Notice and observe things about the language: the way it sounds, the way it feels to pronounce it, people or places or experiences it reminds you of. All language is arbitrary: spoken language is just different combinations of sounds, written language is just different combinations of lines and shapes, all of which we have agreed to connect to something in or about our environment and our experience of it. One of the best language learning approaches is to help your brain make those new connections and reinforce them through repetition and followup.
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