Friday, April 12, 2013

My Line on Learning Lines

Blog reader James writes ...

Dear Kevin,

I've been studying Latin for the past year and it has been suggested to me that memorizing passages (either from classical authors or prayers, psalms etc) would be useful because I would be giving my brain a sort of archive of good grammar etc.

Anyway, I'm more used to studying science/mathematics based subjects and am not used to trying to memorize blocks of text but it occurs to me that you actor types must have to do this all the time. I know there's no substitute for putting in the hours of hard work (I am learning Latin after all) but I wondered if you might have any hints and tips for a beginner on what sort of things I ought to be doing?

I would start with poems, James, rhyming poems.  For instance, this one quoted here, which is pretty darned good.  The meter and the rhyme will help a lot in the memorization process.  Actually, poetry is harder to learn than prose, but easier to remember, once learned.

And here's how I would do it.

Go take a hike.  Literally.

Find yourself a place in the woods where no one can see or hear you.  Give yourself a good three hours.  Get deep into the woods and have your "lines" with you, printed out or saved on your phone.  Start saying the first line aloud.  Keep repeating it until you know it.  Refer back to the print version to make sure you're getting it right.

Once you feel you know the first line, go to the second.  Once you know the second, say the first and second aloud together - and so forth, until you know the whole stanza.  Keep repeating aloud, while walking, until you feel you know the whole first stanza very well.

Then proceed to the second stanza.  Once you've done the same with the second stanza, put the first and second stanzas together, reciting them aloud while walking, referring to the page to check yourself when needed.

By building up like this, you can get a short poem like "The Strange Music" memorized word-for-word probably within an hour.

But here's how our brains work.

You can get a poem of 16 lines down within an hour - or a good deal less than an hour once your "memorization muscle" gets in shape.  But after you go to sleep, the next morning YOU WON'T REMEMBER ANY OF IT.  If it took you 45 min. to memorize it the day before, it will take you nearly 30 to bring it back the next day.

But then a strange thing happens.

On the third day it will only take you 20 min. to bring it back, and after about a week you'll be able to recite the poem quickly and without thinking about what you're saying, having the words pour out automatically.

There is a dip the day immediately following the first memorization, and then pure progress from that point forward.

And work on a piece every day for a week.  On week two, add a new piece, but keep going over the old one regularly.  That way the old piece won't slip away.

And if you really want to learn something, make a commitment to recite it in public.  The terror involved in that experience will sear the thing into your mind.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

Other actors, feel free to chime in.


Tom Leith said...

I can attest to the salutary effects of said terror. And also to the terror of letting your castmates down.

Anonymous said...

If you're looking for some short pithy Latin, you might try Martial's Epigrams.