Doodle-log: A Fun Way to Memorise a Text
Memorising: An Ancient Method with a Modern Twist
None of us are new to memorisation, especially in foreign language learning. The ability to store thousands of new words and sentence patterns in our brain seems to be the most essential skill involved. Unfortunately, it is a skill that has somewhat disappeared. No longer do we need to memorise reams and reams of texts like the rhapsodes of Ancient Greece or the Mandarins of Ming Dynasty China (although Chinese children still recite ancient texts every morning); our ability to access information at breakneck speed is unprecedented. This is the information age and no longer the purview of the dusty school master slapping our children on the hand with a copy of ancient poetry.
But! Does not memorising a foreign language text help us retrieve it easily and effectively when we are trying to speak a foreign language? I think it does, and this text will explore why we should consider memorising, what kind of materials work, and how we can do this in a fun way (yes, fun!) Finally, I’ll point out some of the pros and cons to this particular method.
We all know what memorising is- it’s the ability to recall information, and many of us have been asked to memorise texts in our first language (Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day anyone?). This tutorial is not about memorising highbrow literature, or even lowbrow literature for that matter. It’s about memorising dialogues and extremely prosaic selections from textbooks that would otherwise be easy to read.
Oh, and doodling them!
I’m a huge fan of the iceberg analogy in learning a foreign language and really don’t want to force myself to produce linguistic output until I feel ready. What I suggest by memorising texts is to punch way below your weight; to convert your passive knowledge into active knowledge. For example, imagine you have a B1 reading level in French and an A1 spoken level (hey, that’s me!). What I suggest we do is to memorise simple A1 French dialogues so we can essentially convert what we already know into spoken ability. It’s a form of CI Speaking, if you will. So, in the context that I’m using it, the goal is:
To memorise simple, prosaic texts that we have no or little trouble understanding textually, and convert our passive knowledge into active, spoken ability in a foreign language.
And so once again I avoid talking to real people…..
First of all, let us debunk the myth that memorising vocabulary lists is a good way of learning a foreign language. Yuck! They’re horrible, and extremely ineffective. During my time as a teacher trainer, our instructor cited that in order to acquire lexis (the umbrella term that refers to meaningful units beyond the morphological level such as vocabulary, proverbs, idioms, etc), we need to be exposed to the target lexis in no fewer than seven different linguistic environments. I’ve since read similar studies that suggest as many as 50 environments! Nevertheless, the take home message is that we need context and lots of it to fully grasp a word. Learning that like = piacere; gustar; 喜欢, aimer, etc is not enough; we need exposure to a great many different contexts to get a feel for the word.
But why should we bother memorising a text? I can think of at least three reasons:
The ability to transfer passive knowledge to productive knowledge;
As a good review tool for work accomplished in a previous stage of language learning;
1) Transfer passive to active knowledge: Many of us have made the mistake of believing that one or two readings of a textbook constitutes completion. I personally spent years learning Chinese by just reading the textbook once, or at the most, twice (if I had known then what I know now jajajaja). This was a mistake. There are thousands of words and patterns in any textbook that should be mastered while acquiring a second language, and the kind of competence required for fluency simply doesn’t just come with one or two cursory readings of a text. The words won’t stick! Introductory textbooks are chocabloc with extremely useful language that is essential for beginner and intermediate students that we must know: Ordering food, going shopping, asking for directions, navigating a city or office, etc. This kind of target language must be converted from passive to productive as soon as possible (but not too soon- see below). The Song Dynasty Renaissance man, Su Dongpo, advocated the idea of disciplined spontaneity, which enabled the scholar to be able to write extremely elegant classical prose only after having memorised a huge amount of exemplary material in classical Chinese. European scholasticism experienced a similar trend with the emulation of Ciceronian classical Latin. We don’t need to concern ourselves with such lofty goals, but by memorising a passage, we will have a much better handle on the functional aspects of language (shopping, apologising, demanding, etc) that are crucial for navigating our new culture.
2) Reviewing a previous stage of language learning: The second reason is that, if done correctly, memorising a text is a great review of a text hitherto thoroughly learned. The method can be neatly tucked away along with our assortment of other methods (see our Featured method section). Like the proverbial master carpenter Banyan of ancient China, our pursuit of mastering a foreign lanaguage with panache and finesse becomes increasingly reminiscent of art. The right tool for the job.
3) Fluency: The last reason that comes to mind (please, feel free to add more), is much more mystical, but nonetheless no less important. In German, it’s called Sprachgefühl; in Chinese, it’s called 语感, in English, the nearest anyone’s ever got is Mental Representation, a psycholinguistic idea that posits we possess a hypothetical faculty that somehow stores linguistic data. It’s problematic and not nearly as neat and tidy as the nuances that the German or Chinese convey (something like intuitive grasp of language and language 'gut' feeling). In short, memorising a text gives us a piece of linguistic real estate that helps us understand the subtle cadences, the phonology, the phraseology and a million other things that make up the language. Let’s just call it fluency.
I, like many other polyglots far more qualified than myself, believe that speaking shouldn’t be the first priority in our quest to learn a language. As memorising is primarily a method to aid speaking, it shouldn’t be used from day one.
What I do suggest is approaching the method at about stage 3 (or well enough into stage two to feel comfortable with the written language):
0-10,000 sentences = stage 1;
10,000-100,000 sentences = stage 2;
100,000-200,000 sentences = stage 3.
Once you have reached one of the later stages using intelligent methods such as the ones I’ve written about here, now it’s time to start memorising easy texts.
Materials: I find that the best texts to memorise are dialogues. They are easy, logical, and extremely useful for what we are trying to achieve- spoken fluency. What’s interesting is that some of the more famous publications, such as Teach Yourself and Colloquial, while not performing so well for methods like Shadowing and Pacing, tend to be excellent for memorising. Pimsleur is another method that has wonderful dialogues which are usually much shorter than Teach yourself and Colloquial. The three methods are excellent for functional language.
So, under the assumption that the learner has already studied the information in the book at one stage or another, let’s start to commit the material to memory. The basic steps are:
Familiarise yourself with the dialogue;
Reread it several times;
Familiarise yourself with dialogue: We must now go all the way back to lesson one in our language! We thought we had it mastered, yet here we are again. Fortunately, the first lessons (dialogues) in these books tend to be very short and perfect for getting used to memorising. Now, it’s time to go through the text again with a fine tooth comb, ensuring that every word is understood and can be pronounces as accurately as possible. If audio is available (and it should be if you choose the three programmes that I recommend), go through it again a few times.
Reread: Reread the text a few more times, resolving any problems that are met. Make sure you pay close attention to phonology, for example intonation, connected speech (e.g. two words running into each other like I am = I_yam), and imitate the pronunciation as closely as you can. Can you read along with the native speaker in real time? If you can, then to our third stage!
Plan and doodle!: Now for the fun part, the doodling! This is a method that I have created using ideas from my familiarity with the Chinese script, as well as from my days of elaborate mind-mapping. If you have your own preferred method of memorising, feel free to share!
This is how I do it:
A) First, we have our target dialogue:
Customer: I would like a bottle of wine and the £20 menu, please.
B) Take some paper and begin doodling the ideas linearly, replacing words with pictograms:
I would like =
a bottle of wine =
and the £20 menu, please.
Putting them together, we have:
C) Continue on to the next line:
Waiter: I’m sorry, we don’t have that today.
I’m sorry =
We don’t have that =
Together, this looks like this:
D) With practice, start to develop your style and your own code. Here are some tags I’ve developed after doing this for some time (far too long):
Fillers (well, er, ok, etc) =
I make my doodle inside the explosion:
Er, I’m afraid we don’t have that =
Sometimes, I forget the tense of a verb, so I might give hints, for example I have tasted contains the verb have and a participle tasted, so I’l use the shorthand VP standing for Verb and Participle =
E) Continue to doodle your doodle-og and send them in!
F) Start to “read” your doodle-og. Add tags, hints, etc. to help you memorise it. Once you can read it through without making ANY mistakes, you can put it down. If you do make a mistake, read to the end and start again. Pay close attention to the area you missed.
G) Continue to memorise the book on day 2, paying attention to the Review method outlined here. For a quick recap, review should look something like this:
Conclusion: Memorising and reviewing dialogues by creating snappy doodles is a stimulating way to get those creative juices flowing while beginning the Herculean task of transferring passive knowledge into active knowledge. It’s a great way to review and also really helps build up fluency in spoken language. However, it does require a lot of effort and time to do properly, and so may not be so suited to a less than dedicated learner with a very particular learning style. However, I find it an incredibly efficient and enjoyable method for language learning.
Who knows? It might be a great method for you! Give it a try!
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you have found it to be useful, please share it! Also, if you have done some, please share it with our Facebook groups (CI Polyglot: French, CI Polyglot: Spanish, etc).
Challenge: Doodle the following dialogue:
Cashier: Would you like a plastic bag, sir? There is an extra charge.
Customer: No, thanks. I’ve brought my own.
Good luck and send in your doodling!