Training Vs. Rote Memorization In Learning English: What Are The Differences?

Training Vs. Rote Memorization In Learning English: What Are The Differences?
Gianluca Ciro Tancredi/
Summary: Learning is the conscious effort of rote memorization of facts in English. Training is a subconscious activity of the learner in which he/she develops the skill of thinking in English and speaking in it effortlessly.

How To Distinguish Between Training And Rote Memorization In Learning English

In other words, in learning, the teacher is in the center. In training, the learner is in the center. Let's have a closer look at what rote learning is, and how it is different from training:

Rote Memorization Technique

The rote memorization technique is based on repetition and memorization of individual items. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more one repeats it. When we learn all subjects in school, we try to remember information, and rote memorization is the only technique available to this end. However, adults experience frustration in learning a foreign language because they apply rote memorization to it as to all other subjects, and in most cases, they fail.

System 1 And System 2 Of The Mind

To explain why an adult can’t learn a foreign language by rote memorization, I need to remind you about two concepts, introduced by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. We think slow and fast because we have two different systems of the mind. System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activity and, therefore, is slow. For example, rote memorization belongs to System 2, whereas expression of our feelings and thoughts, i.e. speech, belongs to System 1.

If you learn a foreign language with the objective of communicating in it, you need to develop it as System 1 – communication operates automatically and quickly. That is why the conventional methods of learning a foreign language, which belong to rote memorization, should be substituted with training language skills. Training is the best alternative for adults since it belongs to System 1. Driving a car, figure skating, playing a musical instrument, martial arts skills, or speaking a foreign language – all of these skills are trained as System 1. During training of all these skills, the brain finds and records the patterns that it can perform after training without conscious effort and with minimal attention, i.e. effortlessly.

The Tyranny Of The Mother Tongue

There is another reason why adults can’t use rote memorization – in adults, the native language comes to dominate the linguistic map space and all incoming information must be translated into the mother tongue to become understandable. This phenomenon is known as "The Tyranny of the Mother Tongue". Most adults, when learning a foreign language, subconsciously revert to cross-translation to and from their mother tongue.

Cross-translation is the main barrier most teachers and educators ignore. When you cross-translate, you think in your native language while trying to speak in a foreign language. This process is slow (System 2) and does not allow you to produce natural speech or understand the spoken language. It is worth bearing in mind that even if the teaching is in the target language exclusively and formally, with no translation drills in class sessions, most adults (about 95%) still revert to subconscious cross-translation. Your speed of talking in a foreign language is an easy check. Your normal talking speed in your native language is probably between 90 and 130 words per minute. If you speak the new language in short sentences with a speed of about 60 words per minute, it is a sign that you have a cross-translation problem. You are constantly reverting to your mother tongue while trying to express your thoughts in a foreign language, although you are not aware of this process.

Global Language And English Proficiency

With only 370 million native English speakers on the planet and over 1.5 billion people using English worldwide, non-native English speakers outnumber native speakers 4:1. The sheer volume of non-native speakers has impacted English so much that it has morphed into a near relative to what we have traditionally taught and understood as English. The new English isn't broken - it's global and the only people who can't be understood in the global village are native English speakers. In spite of the great progress in advancement of English as a global language and spending billions of dollars on learning it, we observe a low English proficiency in such countries as China (#36), Japan (#37), Brazil (#41 out of 80 countries), and many others according to the world's largest ranking of countries by English skills measured annually by EF Education First.

To solve the global problem of low English proficiency we need to find an alternative to the conventional rote memorization methods and implement it as soon as possible. Rote memorization is limited to conscious learning of the facts about a foreign language; it is a typical System 2. Training English skills consist in training the mind to think and speak English as a subconscious process; it is a typical System 1.

Training History

Training as a better alternative to rote memorization learning appeared not from nowhere. A forerunner of training, the 'acquisition method' was introduced by Stephen Krashen in 1982. Dr. Krashen described the 'acquisition method' as follows:

"Language acquisition is a subconscious process (System 1 – AZ); language acquirers are not usually aware of the fact that they are acquiring language, but are only aware of the fact that they are using the language for communication. The result of language acquisition, acquired competence, is also subconscious. We are generally, not consciously, aware of the rules of the languages we have acquired. Instead, we have a "feel" for correctness. Grammatical sentences "sound" right, or "feel" right and errors feel wrong, even if we do not consciously know what rule was violated".

The acquisition method did not reach the mainstream of language teaching methods because it lacked the detailed pedagogy that would allow implementing it for self-training English skills. The acquisition method didn’t have any mobile applications, which are mandatory for the digital learners to consider it as the main training tool for acquiring English skills.

Training English Skills

Training English skills (System 1) can be achieved by the simultaneous training of reading, listening, and speaking skills. For the sake of brevity, we would call the concurrent triple activity of reading, listening, and speaking as a simultaneous repetition.

Here, we face a strange dilemma: how to explain that repetition, associated with rote memorization, should be avoided; but simultaneous repetition, associated with training language skills, should be used? Here is why. Simple repetition is performed consecutively after listening; it is associated with System 2. Simultaneous repetition is performed concurrently; it is associated with System 1.

Simultaneous repetition results in the habit of thinking in the native language being turned off automatically since performing 3 actions at the same time fully occupies your attention and you cannot do anything else, including cross-translating. Simultaneous repetition helps learners establish direct wiring between words in English and images or associations which they describe without reverting to cross-translation into the native language. Learners start thinking in English from the first lesson. New learning habits of digital learners, the technological and pedagogical advancements in the last decades call for a new definition of training English skills.

Definition Of Training English Skills

I propose the following definition. The training of English skills is a subconscious process, in which all English skills—understanding, reading, listening, speaking, pronunciation, and intuitive grammar—are trained concurrently. The act of speaking combined with reading the text and listening to the recording develops in the learner’s brain the language patterns and intuitive grammar which the learner after multiple repetitions and training drills uses without much effort, i.e. subconsciously.

The best training results are obtained when the same mobile application is used for self-training of English skills and for guided training in the classroom or online courses. The details of such mobile application are described in this article.

Keep in mind that according to this definition, video lessons do not belong to training. The video lessons offered by dozens of companies on the internet should be modified to be considered as a tool for training English skills. They need to implement simultaneous repetition and drills should be modified so as to allow their completion without much effort, i.e. subconsciously. This article demonstrates which modifications should be incorporated into video lessons to make them suitable for training English skills.