Comprehension Vs Memory


What’s better to understand a lesson, or to memorize it?

Image taken from page 402 of 'The Writings of ...

Common sense clarifies so much in so many occasions, I’d rather try to use it for this post. Everything depends on the situation really, and we cannot expect a secret formula that works all the time the same way. Each skill has its pros and cons.


As all past times were better, we normally regard memory as something beautiful, romantic, overwhelming.

But we might rely on memory a bit too much sometimes. Memory is a great companion when it comes to a telephone number, names or maybe directions.

There’s no reason for trying to understand a sequence of words or numbers, as we have our memory for it.

Human memory, unlike elephants’, is not very good. However; we manage to get by reasonably well. But there are many things we want to remember, and we make our mental note, but we then forget.

When we remember events and situations from the past, we do not actually take a file from our hard disk, we just get some elements we remember and join them together. Meaning we have to rebuild the entire experience once again using our logic.


We build language the same way we remember experiences, we rebuild them each time we need them. Meaning that you don’t have a database full of sentences and take one you think is suitable for each situation.

As language is built each time we use it, we better understand grammar rather than memorizing vocabulary. Which can be useful, but obviously not the most important part.

That is why people cannot learn with a phrase book, because we cannot memorize it all and use it at any time. But they can be really useful in certain situations!

Some people have photographic memory, if you’re one of them, you may not need my advice on this subject, but for the majority of us people with a limited memory capacity; we better rely on our understanding.

What to do

If you have to memorize a list of words, you can apply some memory tricks, or just use mere repetition to retain it.

The very first thing is to know yourself. How do you memorize best? What’s your system? When I was a kid I used to move along the corridor while trying to memorize something, as our body moves can help some people’s mind. Others would prefer to make a diagram in which all details are contained.

Here’s a funny trick you can do by inventing funny sentences in which the first letter represents a concept. This is used to teach the children the planets of the solar system.

This illustration shows the approximate sizes ...

My Very Energetic Mum Just Serves Us Noodles

So the capital letters represent Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. This simple mnemonic trick can help us out a lot.

On the other hand, other concepts require understanding, and memory does not play a vital role. You can memorize mathematics results if you want, but the operations will not be the same in different situations.

Talking about grammar, despite a few concepts to remember, most of it must be understood as we apply a number of rules that produce different results in different situations.

A phrasebook can be very useful, but if you want to learn a language, you must be able to express yourself using grammar tenses and concepts that do not necessarily appear in your phrase book. So you have to understand what you are doing.

When we speak, we do not have a list of possible sentences, we build our speech from nothing by applying our language grammar rules and vocabulary. That’s what you have to learn.

Three steps

You must understand a concept firstly, then you must study it until it sticks in your mind, and you must finally use it in a real situation.

I hope this helps. Keep Thinking!




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