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Learning pieces of text by heart
Thread poster: Jonathan Faydi

Jonathan Faydi  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 17:35
Dutch to French
+ ...
Apr 15, 2009

Hello,

One of the teachers at my interpretation school has advised me to learn pieces of well written text in my foreign language (Dutch) by heart. Between 5 and 10 lines every day, making sure that the texts learnt in the previous days are still available in my memory.
She said it would help "activate" my vocabulary and some grammatical structures.

Have you ever used such a method for learning/improving your language skills?

Thanks for your answers,

Jonathan


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sokolniki  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:35
English to Russian
+ ...
Your teacher is correct. Apr 15, 2009

Learning pieces of classical literature, preferably poetry, will not only activate your vocabulary and grammar, but also improve your pronounciation and intonation. As a language instructor I used the method numerous times when teaching English to Russians and Russian to Americans. A couple of other things I would recommend to learn by heart: lyrics of folk songs and proverbs.

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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 17:35
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Or pieces of poetry Apr 15, 2009

sokolniki wrote:
A couple of other things I would recommend to learn by heart: lyrics of folk songs and proverbs.


If you don't have access to a native speaker to read the text for you, try getting snippets off youtube. Some languages have nothing, but others have a remarkable amount of stuff put there by native-language students as part of school projects.


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Vitals  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 18:35
Member (2008)
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
Proverbs, sayings Apr 15, 2009

Yes, especially proverbs, idioms, cliches and sayings. Imagine - the person you are interpreting for mentions a poetic/idiomatic expression which 1) can not be literally translated into the target lagnuage, 2) you don't know the exact equivalent, 3) and you have 10 seconds to come up with something.... It is then that your "poetic" memory can save you with a chunk learnt by heart in the good times of your life.

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chica nueva
Local time: 05:35
Chinese to English
It helps pronunciation and fluency Apr 15, 2009

Hello Jonathan

Interesting. I don't know about interpreting school, but I know I definitely benefitted from this technique as a 'beginner' (even though I probably only used it once). And I have continued to use the 'read and look-up' technique (which relies on short-term memory) to go over favourite readings. Some vocabulary seems to stick in the mind this way for recall later, but I have to agree with sokolniki, IMO a large part of the benefit is in pronunciation and fluency.

AFAIK 'passive' vocabulary is the vocabulary that you recognise but can't produce.

Lesley

[Edited at 2009-04-16 22:04 GMT]


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Margreet Logmans  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 17:35
English to Dutch
+ ...
Grammar and syntax Apr 16, 2009

I'm not sure about the value of learning pieces by heart for your vocabulary, but in my school years I was told to learn sentences and small texts (for Latin and Greek) in order to learn certain 'constructions' with regard to grammar and syntax.

These sentences and pieces created a 'framework' that would help me recognise the same structures in other sentences and texts. After more than 20 years, I can still recite them... This is particularly helpful with long, complex sentences.

I am a native speaker of Dutch myself, and my advice would be to read a lot of books, newspapers and magazines, especially the letters to the Editor or the advice columns. The latter will help you familiarize yourself with the vocabulary of 'the man in the street'.
Then pay special attention to the way words are arranged in the sentences. Statements have a different word order than questions, for example, and sometimes the verb changes too. I happen to know quite a few people who learned Dutch as adults, with various (linguistic) backgrounds, and it seems this is the hardest to learn. Find yourself good examples of sentences where the sequence changes with the type of sentence, and learn these by heart.

So, yes, I do believe learning small pieces of text by heart can help you improve your language skills, but I think you will benefit mostly in the field of grammatical structures.


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esperantisto  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:35
Member (2006)
English to Russian
+ ...
Depending on your goal, Apr 16, 2009

this may help or may not. If you want to become a translator, there is no sense of learning texts by heart. But if you want to speak fluently a foreign language, yes, learning by heart speech cliches can be very beneficial. And learning poetry will let you discover the language’s beauty which can facilitate learning by exciting your interest. However, classical literature may load you with archaic words and structures, thus, beware.

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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 17:35
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
To think in a language Apr 16, 2009

Margreet Logmans wrote:
* I'm not sure about the value of learning pieces by heart for your vocabulary ...
* ...my advice would be to read a lot of books, newspapers and magazines, especially the letters to the Editor or the advice columns.


You get two types of vocabulary, namely words that you recognise in an existing sentence (read/understand) and words that you would think of when creating a new sentence (speak/write). I'm sure there is a fancy linguistic term for these two categories. Reading and listening will improve the former, but it will do little for the latter. To improve your speak/write vocabulary, you need to do more than just soak up -- you need to practice.

esperantisto wrote:
If you want to become a translator, there is no sense of learning texts by heart. But if you want to speak fluently a foreign language, yes, learning by heart speech cliches can be very beneficial.


To translate into a language, you need to be able to think in that language. And to think in a langauge, you need to be able to speak it. Learning pieces of text by heart helps your tongue and your brain get used to the sounds and shapes of the words and sentences. I would recommend learning pieces of text.

Learn songs, if you find poetry and prose boring. Folk songs is a good one -- the tunes are usually easy and the words simple. Religious songs can also be a good one -- believers in different countries often use the same or similar tunes, so you only need to learn words. Both folk songs and religious songs can have some archaic stuff in them, but the purpose of learning them is to stimulate an area of your brain that will eventually learn to soak up more appropriate vocabulary from other sources.


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Margreet Logmans  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 17:35
English to Dutch
+ ...
@ Samual: Clarification needed Apr 16, 2009

Samuel Murray wrote:


You get two types of vocabulary, namely words that you recognise in an existing sentence (read/understand) and words that you would think of when creating a new sentence (speak/write). I'm sure there is a fancy linguistic term for these two categories. Reading and listening will improve the former, but it will do little for the latter. To improve your speak/write vocabulary, you need to do more than just soak up -- you need to practice.
....
Learning pieces of text by heart helps your tongue and your brain get used to the sounds and shapes of the words and sentences. I would recommend learning pieces of text.



Samuel,

I understand what you are saying about two types of vocabulary.
But I don't understand why you seem to think that learning something by heart is practicing. After all, you're learning a text someone else wrote, aren't you?

Practice is all about creating your own sentences and texts, not using someone else's - in whatever form. Or am I missing something here?


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 17:35
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Practice need not be creative Apr 16, 2009

Margreet Logmans wrote:
But I don't understand why you seem to think that learning something by heart is practicing. After all, you're learning a text someone else wrote, aren't you? ... Practice is all about creating your own sentences and texts, not using someone else's...


1. Practice (or perhaps "doing exercises") is often repetitive and non-creative. To give but two analogous examples: * piano players practice by playing short, repetitive pieces over and over until their fingers are so used to the movement that it comes naturally; * mathematicians or engineers practise by doing lots of similar sums, starting at simple ones, until they can recognise the patterns of such problems without even having to think about it.

The point here is that practice makes perfect -- and that doesn't mean "trying new things all the time" makes perfect, but "getting one thing right" makes perfect.

2. Unlike painting, or whistling, where you can be as creative as you like, language requires that you mimick the patterns of existing speakers (otherwise no-one will understand what you're saying). And what better patterns to copy than those that were well-thought and carefully crafted?

But I suspect I'm encroaching on psychologists' field here... so don't take my word for it.


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Jonathan Faydi  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 17:35
Dutch to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for your answers! Apr 17, 2009

The analogy you draw with piano players is quite interesting. In most activities (sport, music...) repetition comes before creativity. Combined with other learning strategies I'm convinced that learning relevant pieces of text by heart can do wonders.

My level in Dutch is quite advanced and I've noticed that this way of learning, combined with others, allows me to activate new structures, words and expressions.

An example: last week I learnt a piece of nicely written text from the Dutch newspaper Trouw in which the expression van een leien dakje appeared (literally this expression means something like "to go like from a slate roof" (=with much ease). This expression has been part of my passive vocabulary for quite a long time. I know precisely what it means but would never use it in speech.
Yesterday I used it twice in two different conversations, which gave me much satisfaction!


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Margreet Logmans  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 17:35
English to Dutch
+ ...
Thanks Samuel Apr 17, 2009

...for your clarification.

Food for thought!


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Poisson rouge
Germany
Local time: 17:35
German to French
+ ...
Good idea Apr 17, 2009

When I first started learning German when I was about 11, we had to learn dialogues off by heart. Over 10 years later, I still know some of them. And I will never forget the word for guinea pig (it was in one of the sketches).
I think it's a really good idea to do so, as you get used to articulating sounds you perhaps don't normally use, activate the access to some words in our mind etc. Actually, I think I might start doing that myself!


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 17:35
Member (2009)
English to Croatian
+ ...
Helpful Apr 23, 2009

Yes, you learn them by heart, and later it becomes automatic ( that's how the brain recognizes them). In psychiatry, it's called " broken-record technique"

However, ideally, it must be combined with other methodologies, e.g. natural dialogues with native speakers, reading literature by native authors, etc..


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