Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Learning a Foreign Language Through Poetry

Guest post by Laraine Flemming
Laraine's text is longer than my usual posts and therefore opens in a new window.

I wholeheartedly agree with her assessment of the value of memorizing poems, not only to assist in learning a foreign language, but also to make you appreciate the finer points of your own language. I believe I have an ear for the rhythm and melody that can be achieved in a text, and I think one reason is that we had to memorize poems in school and recite them aloud. That way, I started to see the expressive potential of different meters and to the present day, I 'hear' the sentences that I write down. I attribute this directly to my experience with reciting poems.

To me, the claim that one doesn't learn anything from memorizing poems is dubious, to say the least. It's just one of the many ways in which education has been dumbed down over the last decades based on spurious claims that do not hold up to scrutiny.


Volker Sayn said...

Dear Laraine,
your pourpose is very good! With this methode I try to make better my ugly englisch. The famous Hamlet monologue (to be or not to be), I have just learned. The monologue of Rchard III is much more difficult, but I´ll try it. (In german language I have learnesd it.)

Laraine Flemming said...


This is very impressive, but perhaps you should pick something less daunting, maybe a sonnet? Still, if you were able to learn the monologue in German, that may mean memorization comes easily to you. People seem to vary in how readily they can memorize, although with effort anyone can do it.

And your English is most certainly not "ugly" It's very fluent and the only thing that betrays that your a non-native speaker is calling English "ugly." But that just makes what you say all the more charming.

Ulrich said...

@Volker: I also enjoyed your comment. You know, we both went to school at a time when memorizing poetry was not considered a waste of time, and I have been grateful for this all my life.

Volker Sayn said...

Dear Laraine and Ulrich,
thank you both for the nice replay. Yes, Laraine, it would be better, when I learned not so dramatic poems, but to be or not to be I MUST learn, because all people has the meaning, that they make a great joke, when I say SAYN and they say Sein oder nicht Sein... Now I can return with the WHOLE text in English and this is a joke for me. Richard is a challange, but I will try it......
My monitor is very bad, I hope, that I can read the identity-words right.
yours Volker

Ulrich said...

@Volker: I had to laugh! But seriously, if people ask "Sein oder nichtsein?" ("to be or not to be" in German) when you introduce yourself with "Sayn", you must move in circles that are sehr gebildet (very well-educated) indeed. [For non-German speakers: Sein (the verb) and Sayn (the name) sound exactly the same.]

Speaking of gebildet: I assume when you talk about the speech in Richard III, you mean the opening soliloquy. I remember from way back John F. Kennedy talking about "the winter of our discontent". Apparently, he assumed that he was talking to people who would understand the allusion. If a president would do this today, he would be accused of "elitism".

Laraine Flemming said...

@Volker, I found this suggestion on the Web:

"With an index card, cover everything but the first line of the poem. Read it. Look away, see the line in air, and say it. Look back. Repeat until you’ve “got it.”

Uncover the second line. Learn it as you did the first line, but also add second line to first, until you’ve got the two."

I think I will try to memorize a sonnet. I have been saying I would memorize some poems so I have them in my head when all else fails i.e. I am waiting for someone or something and don't have a magazine or iPad in hand. But I haven't followed up. You have inspired me to do what, so far, I only talked about.