Memorization as a Foreign Language Learning Technique
After reading the title of this article, you are probably thinking that this is something obvious. After all, doesn’t every student have to memorize foreign language vocabulary, grammatical rules, and the like?
What I would like to discuss here, however, is a somewhat underused – or more often, even neglected – way of incorporating memorization into your daily foreign language learning routine.
Instead of learning an entire vocabulary list by heart, why not consider memorizing complete texts? No, I don’t mean entire books, for the enormity of such a task would doubtlessly scare most learners away even before they began the first page.
What I do mean is the committing to memory of shorter foreign language texts. These could be as short as single sentences that you have selected in order to assimilate the information contained within them. By “information”, I am not referring merely to the words, grammar, and syntax. A sentence contains more than the sum of its parts: it makes a statement about something, and at times, its content can be well worth remembering.
Take sayings, for instance. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. A learner of English as a foreign language can learn several things from this sentence: how to use “to be worth” properly; the word “bush” (which, until now, the learner may have only associated with a rather unpopular former U.S. president). More importantly, this statement conveys a bit of folk wisdom that can be practically applied in the appropriate situation.
For example: you are a Spanish college girl who is studying for a semester in England. You go out to a pub with a new-found English friend. She is also a student, and brings along a guy she knows who is interested in her, although she is not be too enthusiastic about him. During the course of the evening, while her friend is chatting with some of his buddies, you see her flirting with another guy, who then suddenly walks away to re-join his girlfriend, who is sitting at a table toward the back of the pub. Your friend is disappointed upon seeing that the guy is already taken.
Here’s your chance to shine with your English! You point to the guy she came to the pub with, and say to her: “Hey, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!” Your friend will get the comfort of a good laugh, and for more reasons than one, considering the added (sexual) dimension of this saying within that particular situation.
Famous quotations are another gold mine of material for the language learning enthusiast. Quotations such as the following offer the learner of English as a foreign language the opportunity to learn so much more than the elements of speech.
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” (John F. Kennedy)
“A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.” (Winston Churchill)
“Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first. “ (Mark Twain)
“Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love. How on earth can you explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love? Put your hand on a stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with that special girl for an hour and it seems like a minute. That's relativity.” (Albert Einstein)
Of course, if you are already a native speaker of English, and are engaged in learning another foreign language, you will want to look for quotes in that tongue. I assure you that a bit of surfing on the Internet will be very rewarding in this regard.
Memorize sayings such as these, and you will both improve your language skills, and also gradually build up an arsenal of meaningful sentences with which you will be able to greatly impress the people you meet.
Let me end with another quotation by Winston Churchill, one that could well be applied to language learning:
“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.”
How true this is when learning a foreign language!
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