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The heart of the Major system - and the key to convert numbers to images and vice-versa - is a 10-item mnemonic table. The table shows how to transform the digits 0-9 into corresponding sounds; which we'll eventually use to form words. The mnemonics are easy to learn (it shouldn't take more than 20 minutes to fully master them) and, once learned, they can be used for life. Here they are:

0     s, z, soft c     z is the first letter of zero. The others have a similar sound.

1     d, t, th     d and t have one downstroke and sound similar (notice the tip of your tongue as you say them).

2     n     n has two downstrokes.

3     m     m has three downstrokes, also m looks like a 3 lying on its side.

4     r     the last letter of four, also 4 and R are almost mirror images of each other.

5     l     L is the Roman numeral for 50.

6     j, sh, soft ch, dg, zh, soft g     a script j has a lower loop like 6. These letters also have a 'whistle-like' sound, and 6 looks like a whistle.

7     k, hard c, hard g, q, qu     capital K contains two 7s (on their sides, back to back).

8     v, f     think of v as in a V8 motor. f sounds similar (notice how your teeth touch your lips for both).

9     b, p     
p is a mirror-image 9. b sounds similar and resembles a 9 rolled around (also notice how your lip movement is the same when pronouncing these letters.)

-     vowel sounds, w, h, y     These sounds can be used anywhere without changing a word's number value.

As an example, let's take the (in)famous number 42.

According to the mnemonic table, the digits in the number 42 translate to r and n respectively. Now we need to form a word with r and n. We should fill the gaps between the letters using the 'neutral' elements (from the last row of the table: vowel sounds, w, h or y). The word rain comes naturally to me.

42 gets encoded as rain, then.

Decoding from word to number is even more straightforward. 'Mouse', for instance, becomes 30 (3 for m and 0 for s; vowel sounds are ignored).

The conversion process may seem a little slow and cumbersome at first, but with just a little bit of practice it becomes second-nature.

There are just a couple more notes to bear in mind:

The conversions are strictly phonetic, that is, based on how the words sound - not how they're spelled. If a word has double letters that account for just one sound, you count only one sound (ex: the r sound in cherry counts as only one number). By the same token, mute letters (such as the b in debt) should be ignored.

When coming up with words, choose those that are easy to visualize. Concrete nouns - such as objects or animals - always work better than abstract nouns, adjectives or verbs.

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