Memorizing Short Texts To Learn Your Foreign Language Faster

book in a foreign language feature imageWe know that memorizing dialogues is a great way to learn a language faster.

But is that our only option?

Far from it.

You can also memorize passages from novels or scripture. Or you can work on memorizing a sequence of numbers, like pi.

On this page, I’ll discuss a number of alternatives, all of which will help you memorize every day.

Is It Bad To Focus On Memorizing Vocabulary Only?

Lately I’ve been reading Peter Oakfield’s How to Learn Any Language Successfully.

It’s inexpensive using Kindle, so on that basis, let me tell you that this gem is a real steal. I can’t believe Oakfield isn’t charging $99 for this book.

Here’s why you should check it out:

One of the ideas Oakfield discusses is memorizing narratives.

Why You Should Memorize Narrative Passages

It’s not wrong to memorize vocabulary. Sure, many language learning gurus insist that you should always learn vocabulary in context.

Frankly, I’ve learned several languages and this suggestion has never made sense to me.

For one thing, you often have to memorizing individual words in order to make progress towards fluency. I’m talking about language elements such as:

  • Colors
  • Numbers
  • Days of the week
  • Directions

… and there are a whole host of words where it only makes sense to memorize them one at a time. In fact, the more of a language you know, the more you will be building your vocabulary one word at a time. This is now how I develop my mother tongue and work on my medical terminology project. As you can witness yourself on the new Magnetic Medical Mnemonics Show, I’ve made a lot of progress taking the language of anatomy one word at a time.

Finally, I would point out how mnemonists like Anastasia Woolmer go out of their way to memorize dictionaries.

In Defense of Memorizing In Context

All that said, Oakfield does make one solid point. When you’re new to a language, memorizing individual words and phrases can lead to a lot of disconnected parts. This consideration is especially true if you haven’t got dedicated Memory Palace journeys based on alphabetical groupings.

By memorizing longer sentences, we are in effective memorizing individual words and at least one context in which they can be used. Having a sample context in mind for different words proves rather enabling.

Plus, narrative is part of our larger set of what Tony Buzan calls our “multiple intelligences.” Story is also a powerful memory method.

I’ve memorized the lyrics to lots of songs and some poetry, but never thought trying an actual narrative before now.

So to experiment, I’m going to work on Kafka’s Kleine Fabel.

Using the Memory Palace Technique to Memorize Long Passages

The Memory Palace I’ve decided upon is Karen’s house.

Following the Magnetic Memory Method Principles, I’m going to start in the upstairs bedroom. I’ll spare you the intricacies of the images and actions I’ll be using, but I have three sentences I need for this passage memorization.

To give you a quick example of how association works, the passage starts with, “Ach,” so I think instantly of Kathy Acker. I place her in a Memory Palace and then move on to the next word, “sagte.” For this word, I’ll use the associative-image of Stephen Seagal with “saggy” eyelids.

How Many Words Per Station?

In some cases, I can memorize between 11-17 words per Magnetic Station. I did this, for example, when I memorized my TEDx Talk.

However, when dealing in a foreign language, I can usually memorize much less. Typically, I can deal with between 5-7 words per station.

Word counts aside, the first sentence and the second sentence need only one station each, but it’s difficult to predetermine how many that long second sentence is going to need.

Nonetheless, I’ll budget out ten stations in this “K” palace and add more if I need them (following the principle of moving ever outwards so that I can add new station if and when needed).

(If you’re interested, here’s where to discover more about memorizing German phrases from the perspective of a successful MMM student.)

What About Memorizing Philosophical Passages For Understanding Concepts?

Absolutely, yes. And even better if you’re studying the philosophy itself in another language, as I’ve done with Advaita Vedanta.

To date, I have memorized over 100 lines of Sanskrit as part of this project. Here’s a demonstration of one piece containing 32 verbatim verses:

In order to accomplish this goal, I followed these steps:

  • Started with the Memory Palace Network created in advance
  • Sharpened up by completing the exercises in the Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass
  • Used Recall Rehearsal to get the sounds and meanings into long term memory quickly

Although ancient Sanskrit is sung, it’s still a philosophy.

Frankly, I doubt I ever would have understood what this philosophy is all about if I hadn’t memorized these passages. I also doubt I would have developed a feel for Sanskrit either.

To sum up, if you’re serious about achieving fluency, or at least becoming bilingual, memorizing anything verbatim will be very helpful for the reasons Oakfield mentions. And as you’ve seen, there are several options you can pursue, from songs to short stories and philosophical works.

So let me know…

What passages are you going to memorize to help you experience a boost along your language learning journey?

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Anthony Metivier is the founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a systematic, 21st century approach to memorizing foreign language vocabulary, names, music, poetry and more in ways that are easy, elegant, effective and fun.

Dr. Metivier holds a Ph.D. in Humanities from York University and has been featured in Forbes, Viva Magazine, Fluent in 3 Months, Daily Stoic, Learning How to Learn and he has delivered one of the most popular TEDx Talks on memory improvement.

His most popular books include, The Victorious Mind and… Read More

Anthony Metivier taught as a professor at:

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