Why Memorize? My theory of "hook phrases"


I want to expand a little more on why I think memorization is so important for lanuage learning.

What is memorization exactly? It's different from simply "remembering" something. When you "memorize" information, you focus on it and repeat it over and over. That's how kids learn to say the alphabet and multiply numbers. By focusing on & repeatedly exposing yourself to a specific bit of information, you are able to learn it much more quickly than if you were to wait to be exposed to that information naturally.

I don't know any German. If I sit and watch TV in German for a week straight, I probably won't be able to understand or use much German at the end of the week. (Ill leave the debate on whether doing the same for several years is an effective learning method for another time.)

On the other hand, if I take one 15-minute video clip and watch it over and over for a whole week, there's a good chance I'll remember a lot of what was said. I might not know exactly what it means. But I will remember the sound of the words. If I find myself in a similar situation to the one shown in the video, I'll have some idea of what to say.

So one principle of memory is that repeated exposure to the same thing speeds up learning of that one thing. The flip side of this, of course, is that you're exposing yourself to less information.

But here's another fact about memory: people remember things more easily when there's a connection to what they already know. Once you've learned something well, it's a lot easier to process any new information you get about it.

I like to think of the phrases I introduce on this site as "hooks" for you to hang information on. There's no way that I can explain everything you need to know about a phrase. And even if I could explain it all, you wouldn't be able to remember everything at first anyway. But if you memorize each phrase really well, and then spend some time reading, writing, speaking, and listening to natural English, you will come across similar phrases again. And when you come across them, you'll have a "hook" to attach new information to.

Each time you encounter a phrase that you know, you grow your knowledge of it. You might learn a new situation where you can use it (context). You might learn a new word that can be added to it (vocabulary). Or you might hear how the phrase changes it changes when you make it negative (grammar). But you can only learn these things easily if you already know some version of the phrase. This is very similar to the process that I described in one of my earlier entries on the language snowball.

So if I had to break my method down into 3 steps, I'd describe it as follows:

1. Memorize useful "hook phrases" to get your mind ready to absorb language information.

2. Go out and experience the language as much as possible in order to fill in the knowledge gaps between the phrases you know.

3. Repeat.

My goal is just to make sure that the phrases that you start off learning are as useful, as realistic, and as clear as possible. Because if you spend a lot of time memorizing language that's not often used, it's a waste of time. And if you're memorizing something that's incorrect, it could take years to un-learn it. I want to provide the best possible foundation for being able to go out there and use real English.

Does my theory of learning make sense to you? Let me know what you think in the comments.


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