Memorization, Memory and Remembering

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.


Great addition to the topic by Mura ( @muranava)! Tks Mura. 🙂

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)

Webinar by Hugh Dellar for Besig – it is a great one. With sample vids of his classes.

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.

Other readings:

Thornbury, Scott. M is for Memorization. An A-Z of ELT: Scott Thornbury’s blog. Available in: <>.


4 thoughts on “Memorization, Memory and Remembering

  1. Hi Rose!

    I enjoyed very much reading your post. I have been through the same situations that you described when I tried to bring Pedagogy into Language Learning.

    Memory has to do with recalling and remembering. But before we try to retrieve information it is important the way we allow students to store it. Helping students in this process makes a big difference as we facilitate their language learning experience. Storing has to do with context, with emotions, with multiple sensory channels. The more we are able to involve young learners physically, cognitively, and emotionally the more triggers we give children to recall it.

    When we re-call we call again. Here calling would be asking for the presence of language.
    When we re-member we member again. Membering would be making the connections to the groups to which that piece of language belongs, including context, similar words, how the words were used, emotions felt, how we said it. (Fatima Freire, Paulo Freire’s daughter, taught me to analyze the words and play with their hidden meanings)

    I believe that language has to be lived with YLs and therefore should always be used as a means of communication in an authentic and involving dialogue.

    You say it all when you mentioned that language has to be manipulated in many different ways according to learners needs. Manipulation involves playing, feeling, rearranging, feeling the weight, throwing it up in the air, rolling on top of the table.

    Well, these are my 2 cents on the theme.

    Enjoyed being in this conversation with you!



    • Hi Juan,

      Thanks for writing this. It is great to know that I am not alone in my journey. 🙂 I need to learn though on how to bring more of this into class. I was trained to present language, make students practice orally and written and then try to get it out of them. lol It sounds funny to say that now, but it is in fact for me sad. Not for adults actually, because they pretty much learn by repetition and structured teaching, but with kids and teens is so different and I feel I am not able to reach them as I could and should, or that I have but not at the extend that they deserve. I have been thinking a lot about it this year. I have seen adults becoming able to communicate in English from the first year and I am happy to be part of their progress. But I don’t see this happening with kids and younger teens. I believe most of this come from how they feel, especially cause of the peers pressure. I try very hard to create that kind of worry free environmental for them, but peers win. But I won’t give up. I want to start next year trying out new things to improve classroom environment and language usage opportunity.


  2. hi rose
    i would be interested to read more of your use of the Bilbrough book am thinking of getting it. have you read this write-up of one of Bilbrough’s activities –

    also there is the vid by hugh dellar for besig which is quite good , a slideshare of similar talk here –



    • Great additions to the topic Mura. Thanks.

      The first link I hadn’t seen before. Awesome. Some practical applications with reflection and samples. Love it.

      I made to that webinar just in time to get a good part of it, but I didn’t get back to it afterwards. Good reminder.

      Thanks for all the links. 🙂 Do you mind if I add then to the post?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s