Repetition, memorising standard processes of learning language

I agree that to master the Chinese language, one needs to memorise its vocabulary and the pronunciation of its different tones in order to utter the correct word with the right meaning (Memorising characters key to mastering Chinese, by Mr Soong Hung Hao; Sept 11).

Children, especially in pre-schools and kindergartens, are exposed to the language via sentences or rhymes that they repeat over and over until they know them by heart.

A teacher would instruct older students by writing a sentence or phrase on the board and having each student repeat after him, before they start reading on their own.

After repetition and frequent usage, understanding and comprehension gradually come.

This is the standard process of learning most languages, in particular those that do not use the Roman alphabet.

How are we to use a phrase or an expression if we do not have it in our memory in the first place?

When we read books, magazines or newspapers in Chinese, it is a time-consuming and tiring process to have to look in a dictionary for every word we encounter. It disrupts the smoothness of the reading process and breaks our concentration and imagination.

In conversations, we often use proverbs or quotes to support an idea or principle. If we had not memorised these, then we would lose the impact we wanted in our speech.

Even a native speaker must have learnt a lot of words by heart during his school days in order to have a large vocabulary and be an eloquent and smooth speaker.

If not, then he would be tongue tied, especially when giving an impromptu presentation.

Therefore, memorising is a necessary tool in the process of learning, let alone mastering, a language.

Syed Alwi Altahir

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2017, with the headline Repetition, memorising standard processes of learning language. Subscribe