After starting my university degree in Early Childhood Pedagogy in 2008 with emphasis on reading and writing literacy, I discovered that remembering had nothing to do with memorizing lists of words or sentences. Studying Paulo Freire, Vygotisky, Piaget among others gave me in the beginning a sense of despair as I couldn’t visualize that amount of knowledge about learning process working in EFL classroom. Especially because when I shared their ideas, teachers would tell me that my conclusions were about Education in a broader sense and not English Learning Pedagogy. My teaching continued to be impacted by those ideas and reshaped it whether I want it or not. One of the most important things I got to understand better was how first language is acquired.
This morning, I started my day reading a chapter of a book about Media, Culture and Childhood for a university assignment which I have to hand in later today. It is holiday in Brazil, so I can relax and take my time. Then, I stopped a bit the reading and decided to do a bit of Language Teaching brush up online. “What skills do students need to learn?” is an ItdI lesson written by Barbara that got me right way thinking about the role of memory in learning 2nd language.
According to several studies the senses play an important role in acquiring first language and concepts. Memory, therefore, also plays an essential role in the process and does it in a marvelous way through experiences and manipulation of reality, especially when we are young learners (preoperational and concrete operational stages). For example, if someone tells you that a certain food tastes like something you may know, you will probably not remember it later so well as if you tasted and retrieved that other taste sensation stored in your memory system yourself. Without searching into your memory that chip of information stored through your sense of tasting, that is not verbal in the early years, and how that food tasted for you, you will not be able to really understand how that new taste really is, if you just hear a description of it. But you will have a pretty good idea of it, if the other food taste used to compare to the new taste is already stored in your memory. Thus, you need to have tasted it yourself in order to make the comparison possible and understand what the other person is talking about. As memory plays an important role in 2nd or foreign language learning, just as in the first language, it seems to make sense that having lots of meaningful contact with the language, in order to learn through the senses as well as manipulating the verbal input is important for successful learning.
This reminds me of something that I learned earlier this year, that is, memory is about remembering and remembering involves a series of skills that I really had no idea existed before buying couple of books that talked about the role of memory. One of them was about how to pass exams, that I bought for my daughter due to her difficults in dealing with school demmands that expected students to know information given by heart and includes mental maps as a tool for memorization¹. The interest in learning more about how memory really works in EFL classrooms, I came across another book that shows the importance of memory skills in language teaching and a series of activies to help teachers in the classroom. As Bilbrough² stresses in the introduction and reminds us, memory underpins every aspect of successful language learning. Therefore, we cannot think of memorization as something repetitive by itself, but by a number of skills that enable memory to do its job.
I can remember as far as I can recall my first days in the classroom telling students back then about memorizing (early days), then years later to internalize (later years,) and then, currently understanding that language needs to be manipulated in a variety of ways, and it will vary depends on the need of each age range and individuals.
Bilbrough struck me with these words when I first read in his book introduction,
“We may be the most dedicated professionals, working in well-equipped classrooms, setting up enjoyable activities for highly motivated learners, but without also engaging memory skills of the people we work with – their abilities to recognize, to notice, to process, to store, to retrieve and to reactivate language – very little can be achieved.”
That statement made me ask myself how much my young learners and teens were really learning and able to produce and I felt so responsible for that, as we traditionally expect them to produce the language as soon as they have been presented to and practiced, like it was just a matter of memorization or a simple equation.
A lesson example using Silly Grammar Task from Nick Bilbrough’s book and + other examples at the end of post. ( from IH London Teachers DIY Development blog)
A slideshare – Activitating Memory in the classroom by Hugh Dellar again!
¹ Lima, Felipe. Douglas, William. Mapas Mentais e Memorização para Provas e Concursos. 2nd Edition. Niterói, RJ: Impetus, 2011.
² Bilbrough, Nick. Memory Activities for Language Learning. 2011. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thornbury, Scott. M is for Memorization. An A-Z of ELT: Scott Thornbury’s blog. Available in: <http://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/m-is-for-memorization/>.