Charlotte Mason and Language Learning: The Habit of Memorizing

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Memory work is a big deal in the homeschool community. Whether your children are working on the Classical Conversations timeline or trying to remember all of the elements of the periodic table, many homeschool families have made memory work a priority, as they want to see their children have the ability to study and retain information well.

If that’s true for your family, I’d love to let you in a little secret…language learning is also a great way to “stretch” your children’s memorization muscles. 

Over the past week or so, I’ve been musing on the elements of language learning that help support habit formation, à la Charlotte Mason. So far, I’ve written about how learning a new language can help to develop kids’ habit of attention and how organizing their language study can teach them how to exercise mental effort. Today, I’d like to round out this brief series with a quick post on how language learning can expand a child’s ability to memorize—and to offer some helpful suggestions for language learners working on memorization tasks.

If we consider all of the discrete tasks that go into learning a new language, it quickly becomes evident that there is a lot of memorization involved! Let me make a quick list of all of the things that students may need to memorize as part of their language learning process (depending on the target language, of course):

  1. Memorize a new alphabet
  2. Memorize a new phonetic system (sounds that go with the alphabet) 
  3. Memorize new punctuation rules
  4. Memorize hundreds of words of new vocabulary
  5. Memorize the names of different verb tenses and the conjugations of regular and irregular verbs within them
  6. Memorize basic grammar rules and all of their exceptions
  7. Memorize cultural traditions and customs

I’m sure that there’s more to be added—this is just the list that comes to mind in two minutes of brainstorming! And while it may seem like a lot, the good news is…the more you memorize, the easier it gets.

So if memorization is a skill that you want your kids to master, here are some creative ways to go about memorization in your home:

Strategies for Beginning Language Learners:

  • Use music to support memorization of the basics. YouTube is a great resource for this—a quick search should reveal helpful videos for any language learner. Here’s a few to start with, however: the Spanish alphabet song and the French alphabet song. By the way, teaching programs like Song School Latin and Song School Spanish are designed around using music to teach language, so if this works with your kids, you may want to consider adding those to your homeschool curriculum. 
  • Create vocabulary flashcards with images instead of translations. Language learning research shows that students retain new vocabulary better if it is attached to a picture rather than a translated word. Having your child draw a picture to represent the new word is also an activity that will help to cement the new vocabulary in his or her mind—so it has a doubly positive effect! 
  • For children learning new verb conjugations, have them pair the conjugations with movements—this works particularly well in Romance languages, in my experience as a language teacher. Simply have your child repeat the conjugation and clap (or stomp, jump, or wiggle their fingers) between each conjugation.

Strategies for Intermediate Language Learners:

  • Memorize short poems or nursery rhymes in the foreign language. Some books that I recommend for this are Uno, Dos, Tres: My First Spanish Nursery Rhymes and Un, Deux, Trois: My First French Nursery Rhymes. Both of these volumes are bilingual—making it easy for parents to follow along—AND they include CDs of the rhymes read aloud, so your language learner can first enjoy them as performed by the narrators and also use them as a tool for checking his/her pronunciation. 

Strategies for Advanced Language Learners:

  • Memorize Scripture in the target language. Two birds, one stone. As a bilingual family, we also work to memorize Bible verses in both languages so that our sons will be well-equipped to have spiritual conversations with both Spanish and English speakers. If you have a child who is seriously interested in missionary work, this is a great strategy to use.
  • Memorize proverbs, or common sayings, in the target language. Proverbs are especially especially interesting because they often contain double meanings or cultural references that language learners have to work to figure out! Here’s a fun list of Spanish dichos and another list for French learners.  

What is your family doing to support memorization for your language learners? What tools are you using? Leave your suggestions here!