My thoughts on memorizing

First of all, learning a language is memorizing information to a certain degree. However, I it does matter how you memorize it.  Some people sit down with a list of words or grammar and go through it over and over again until they have memorized every single part of this list. This is what I would call forced memorization. Your only goal is to remember what’s on that list and it can easily slow down your learning process, however, it can also be really helpful.
Other people refuse to memorize and instead they try to expose themselves to those very same words or grammar points, until they know them by heart. But isn’t this just another form of memorization? I would say it is. However, this is what I would call natural memorization and it has a completely different set of good and bad points. It generally takes a lot longer to memorize in this way, however in this way you usually have different situations where you ‘meet’ those words (unlike with forced memorization where the situation is the same for all of the words: sitting somewhere with a paper full of words) and that’ll make it easier to remember. Maybe you meet a certain word often when you are out grocery shopping, and then you meet another word often while you are at school.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that memorization (not to mention everything else in this world) has it’s good and bad points, and in this post I’ll be sharing my thoughts about it.
This post will be all about my personal opinion on the matter, and it is obviously based on my personal experiences with memorization. When I’m saying ´Memorization´ in the rest of this post, I’ll mainly be talking about the forced memorization.

Good:
– It allows you to feel like you are making progress even though you only have a short timespan to work in, and this is an awesome feeling which has the power to give your self-esteem and motivation a boost. Everybody is different and therefore it’s only natural that we all have different needs when learning. Some people just need the confirmation that memorizing a bunch of words, can give. Other people just don’t. It’s that simple.
– If you are the type of person who loves turning everything into a game or who is very competitive, then you probably enjoy things like Memrise, which gives you points for each correct answer. When using Memrise you can also check your position (based on your points) among all the other users. I know several people who find these things incredibly motivating and for people like them, memorizing can be a really good tool for learning.
– When you start learning something new like an alphabet, numbers of similar things, then memorization is an awesome tool. Memorized things are usually forgotten fairly easy but if you can remember them just for a while, then it’ll be a lot easier for you to use them in different situations which then allows you to actually learn the numbers. Memorization itself might not always be a good choice, but it usually does open up for a few new learning possibilities.
– Another good thing to mention is that it allows you to be able to talk about a specific subject in a short amount of time. This is really helpful if you need to make a presentation of some sort or if you want to be able to discuss a certain topic with other people.
– I recently read that memorization helps to keep your brain fit, which then makes it easier to remember stuff in general. My memory is pretty standard I guess, but I would love to make it just slightly better! It also takes a lot less energy to use things you’ve memorized instead of creating those same things all over again.
– Lastly I want to mention that some phrases simply don’t make sense when you look at the words separately. I can’t even count the amount of times where I have been losing my mind over a certain sentence, because I KNOW all the words and I KNOW the grammar, and yet I have absolutely no idea what that sentence is supposed to mean. In these situations, I find memorization very helpful. I’m not sure why, but I actually find that memorized sentences stick a lot easier than memorized words. Maybe because I create a connection between the meaning and the sentence? I’m not sure to be honest.

Bad:
– As mentioned earlier, you often meet new words in a certain situation. Maybe you meet a certain word often when you are out grocery shopping, and then you meet another word often while you are at school. It won’t take long for you to make a connection between the word and the situation, and then when you suddenly read it in a book or hear it in a movie, you’ll have the connection to that specific situation, and that’ll help you remember it’s meaning. If you memorize these same words in a forced way, you most likely won’t have a connection in the same way. If you sit down with a list of words and start memorizing them, then your situation for all those words will all be the same (sitting with a piece of paper) and that won’t be very helpful. I hope that made sense!
– When memorizing words (and often memorizing many words in a short period of time) it often has the – very unwanted – effect of making it difficult for the learner to recognize the very same words if they appear in a new context. This is something that often happens to me. When reading in my books, I have often come across words that I either couldn’t recognize at all, or words that I just knew for a fact that I had ‘learned’ but couldn’t remember the meaning of, even if my life had depended on it. Having a connection to a situation or a place just makes it a lot easier.
– While you can remember every single word today, you might have forgotten them all by tomorrow. Memorized words can disappear from your memory in no time, and you might get really surprised by this if you thought you had learned them for good.
– Memorizing can easily become a really bad habit. If you enjoy the fast results and the steady feeling of progress, then it can be very tempting to just memorize everything you possibly can. We should all keep this in mind when memorizing.
– Changes to the memorized words can ruin your understanding completely. When I wanted to learn the native Korean numbers, I made myself some cardboard flashcards. I wrote the number on one side and the Korean on the other side and started practicing immediately. I looked at the Korean side, and guessed the number on the back of it. It didn’t take me long to memorize them and I even kept practicing for a few days to keep myself from forgetting them, however, after getting all of the cards right over and over again, I decided to practice in the opposite way. I looked at the numbers and tried to guess the Korean side, and guess what? I got about half of them wrong. This slight change was enough for me to completely ruin my so-called understanding of the number. That was a real eye opener for me, and I still remind myself often, so that I don’t make such a mistake again.

Tips:
– Avoid learning to many words at the same time. If you decide to learn 100 new words every day, the chances of forgetting them all or confusing yourself is really high.
– Try putting all the new words into a context. Write down some sample sentences or dialogs. This will make it easier to remember the words meaning later – especially of you find it easier to remember sentences, like me.
– Try to memorize small groups of words that are related, instead of random lists. This way you might be able make a connection between those words and that’ll help you remember it later. Maybe you can’t remember 입장료when you see it, but you do remember that you memorized it along with 놀이 기구 and 놀이공원, so that’ll create a connection which can either help you remember the word or at least understand through context.
– Be prepared to forget many of the memorized words. If you are prepared for it, then it won’t feel like a defeat when it happens – Because it WILL happen.

Lastly I want to share a little story. Not too long ago, I was talking to another language learner and she felt really bummed out. She had been discussing a certain topic with some friends over a few days and therefore she memorized a lot of words related to said topic, though this weren’t her intention. However, after reading pretty much everywhere that memorization is really bad and that it slows down your real learning speed, she felt upset because she now felt that her sense of progress from those discussions, were fake and useless.
That’s a really dangerous thought for anyone who’s learning anything, and that’s the reason why I decided to write this post. While I do not recommend that you rely too much on memorization, it does have some benefits, and it’s not wrong to do it. It does allow you to learn certain things faster and even if you only learn one out of the 30 words you wanted to learn, then that it still one more word you know now. Don’t get stressed out over memorization – it’s really not that big of a deal. Even if you experience temporary progress, it’s still progress that you can use at that time. Enjoy it!

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