Here’s why learning things by heart is good for you

In the fascinating Radiolab episode “Juicervose”, there’s a great story of the how the Suskind parents managed to get through to their autistic child. In the story, the boy spent a lot of his time watching Disney cartoons and not communicating with anyone verbally, always only using the word “juicervose”. One day, the boy kept playing and rewinding this particular video from the Little Mermaid:

Go ahead and watch this, many times if you have the patience! In any case, his family made a fascinating discovery about what their child was trying to communicate. You probably should listen to just the first 10 minutes of this to find out about what their boy was trying to say.

In today’s blog post, I want to continue talking a bit more about memorisation, which played a significant role in how the Suskind boy managed to slowly learn to communicate with the world. As we’ve explored a little earlier on this blog earlier, a lot of us educators are sometimes wary of just getting our students to memorise facts for no other reason than for its own sake. We understand that an overemphasis on rote-learning is sometimes harmful to the intellectual development of our children. As Basecamp, we take a long term approach towards learning, and train our students in creative thinking skills in our English, Maths, and Science tuition classes. 

In this short article, we will look at the issue from another angle, and consider how can learning things by heart help, instead of detracting from learning.

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Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, and active and creative reader is a rereader.

— Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Literature

The two concepts, learning, and memorising, are actually closely related. Learning is the acquisition of knowledge, while memory is the demonstration of what has been learnt. When we say we are acquiring new knowledge slowly, we call that learning, but when the acquisition occurs instantly, we say that’s memory work. However, there are certain types of learning that can only be achieved through repeated practice and memorisation. For instance, when pick up a new text for literature, we are initially overwhelmed with the plot details, characters, and “what happened when” that we are unable to properly appreciate the tone, texture, and structure of the text. When we memorise poems and reread books, we start to gain familiarity with our material, and only then are we able to start developing insight into what we are learning. 

Learning things by heart is good exercise (for your brain)

Yes, even Einstein could be forgetful at times. However, learning how to become better at memory is a skill that everyone can acquire, and while we should know to differentiate between the things that are important to memorise (our parent’s birthdays, concepts and how what we learn ties in with everything else) and things that are unimportant (random facts, for example), we nonetheless work our brain muscles and can pick up memory skills when we put in efforts to learning things by heart. For example, did you know that you can learn to memorise π to one hundred digits in less than four minutes?

 

 

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