How to Memorize a Poem or Text


Memorizing a text, like a poem or a chapter
of scripture, is different from memorizing a list of objects or names. My three principles for memorizing texts are
repetition, chunking, and transitions. In this video I will introduce each of these
principles briefly. The first principle is repetition. As with any memory technique, you memorize
by repeating. Frequency is important, so practice often. And regularity over time is important, so
you must commit to practicing daily for weeks or months. (Students of languages already know this.) Practice repetitions using as many of your
senses as possible. Read the words, but also say them aloud. This allows you to hear the words in your
own voice, and also feel them in your mouth and in your throat. The experience of hearing and saying them
will help you to remember. You should also write out the text you plan
to memorize, daily if possible. This engages still more of your tactile senses. Using all of these sense experiences together
will give you faster memorization and more reliable recall than using any one of them
alone. One last thing about repetition: get a recording
of someone reciting the text you are memorizing. Listen to it regularly, repeating along as
much as you can. You can repeat over the speaker, or pause
the recording and speak after him, line by line. This method helped me memorize Lepanto, about
twelve years ago. I played a recording of it in my car on my
way to and from work each day, then recited along as I learned it. The second principle is chunking. This means breaking the text down into manageable
pieces, then memorizing each piece separately. Manageable means manageable for you, so feel
free to make the chunks as small as you need to. The first stanza of Chesterton’s poem Lepanto
is fourteen lines long, and I chunk it into three groups, of six, four, and four lines. (More about that in another video.) Chunking lets you memorize a longer text in
pieces. This leads to the third principle, transitions. Once you have memorized two chunks, you need
to remember a transition between them. Ideally, this is a mnemonic that will trigger
at the final line of the first chunk, and will bring to mind the beginning of the second
chunk. The end of my first six-line chunk of Lepanto
is “shaken with his ships.” The next four-line chunk begins, “They have
dared,” which continues the story by telling what the ships were doing. When I get to the end of line six, I remember
“what were those ships doing?” and the beginning of line seven comes to my mind automatically. Transitions can be based on the sound, rhythm,
or meaning of the text involved. In some cases, you may just have to add a
transition as one more item to memorize. So those are my three principles for memorizing
texts: repetition, chunking, and transitions. In another video, I will apply these principles
to memorizing Chesterton’s Lepanto. Thanks for watching today; goodbye.

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