Consummate dilettantism!

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Pedagogical Purpose Of Text Memorization Finally Revealed!

In Chinese, we are given substantial passages of text to memorize each week. I always wondered what the purpose of this was. It seemed terribly silly, really; I did not understand how my Chinese could possibly improve by reading passages over and over again. Possibly, I thought, they were targeting pronunciation, and I still think that this is the primary purpose. But what a waste of time for just pronunciation, right? Well, I realized just now that there is another, much more important reason for them -- they give you prepared, rapidly usable phrases. Think about it: Generating sentences with grammatical structures you haven't used in a while is hard enough in English ("umm, umm, but, umm, like"), and so it's naturally even harder in a foreign language. Dialogues and narratives effectively serve contextualize words and grammar, such that if you're in a conversation and you need to use the word "progress," but forget how to say "progress very quickly," you're in luck; when you think of the word, your brain searches that memorized lexical database you've stored up and brings back phrases that contain the word. In other words, you don't have to think about how to say "progress very quickly," because you have a freeze-dried phrase that will do it for you.

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