How Pearl Jam & Costco Teach Language

Pearl Jam: Ten

Warning: This image may recall smells

It was Spring of my 8th grade year, 1992. I was walking out the heavy, grey northeast doors of the school gym after lunch.

The gym floor was a yellow rubber. The place smelled of an indescribable funk. Not intolerable, but not pleasant by any means.

My friend Peter had just purchased Pearl Jam’s first album, Ten. He was raving about how incredible it was.

Who?” I thought. “Pro Jam?

I mentally scrolled through my mental archive of music, sub-folder “new bands” looking inaccurately for Pro Jam.

Nope. Nothing.

Taking the cassette in my hand, I looked at the cover.

“Aha – P-e-a-r-l Jam….”

And then…. Bam.


That album cover was permanently etched on my cerebral cortex. And with this single image comes a host of other memories – yellow gym floors, funky smells, schoolmates I haven’t seen in nearly two decades.

Why can images be so powerful?

Can images help us learn other things?

What about language?

While language acquisition is a left-brain function, the right-brain can help create immediate memory links to new words…. if the images are powerful enough.

That’s a big IF.

I mean, how will we know which images are powerful enough to create lasting memories?

We see lots of images everyday, certainly the vast majority are not memorable.

Well, what the heck, let’s try one:

Look at the image below.

Costco = Hardhat

Costco = Hardhat

Who isn’t a fan of Costco?

Honey – where is the grocery list?” Oh, here it is.

  • Milk: 2 gallons
  • Green canvas tent: 500 square foot preferred
  • LCD TV: 72″ or bigger (your squinting has worsened…)
  • Vinyl siding for the house: Dutch-lap, insulated
  • New pair of chinos: 42″ waist, expandable, navy
  • New set of snow tires for the Miata
  • Lobster for dinner: the real kind, living, with eyes still on
At any rate – I always think of HARDHAT when I visit COSTCO.

The Spanish word for HARDHAT is Casco (KAHS-koh), phonetically very close to the warehouse retail behemoth COSTCO.

For the next 20 seconds, practice making a new mental connection between this image and the word CASCO: HARDHAT.

Say it aloud. (KAHS-koh).

Picture yourself walking into a COSTCO wearing a HARDHAT.

Maybe this will help: “The prices are falling so fast at CASCO, you’ll need a HARDHAT.”

(Or not.)

Over the coming days, keep me posted on how well you memorized HARDHAT // CASCO // COSTCO.

What other images do you have – musically or otherwise – that successfully locked in a host of memories?

Bradley Hartmann is founder and el presidente at Red Angle (, a Spanish language training firm focused on the construction industry. He likes Pearl Jam, Costco, and lobster.

Categories: Jobsite Leadership

2 replies

  1. Very cool concept! When did you start your business? Who can forget the smell of the rubber floor at St. Thomas More. Takes you back indeed to some fond memories.


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