Psychoacoustic effect of recitation on learning

Psychoacoustic effect of recitation on learning

Since ancient times, recitation of the Koran, the Buddhist sutras and scriptures, and classical works of Confucius was the only method of learning in village schools and in the Chinese “si shu” or private school houses. The teacher recited the text and the students repeated after him. Writing was not taught separately.

However, through recitation alone, the student was able to learn reading, writing and speaking.

Recitation associates pronunciation or sound with the written word. Students learn to write by imitating or tracing the forms of the letters and the characters one has recited. I have posted several pictures of how Chinese (kanji) characters are written.

Recitation reinforces the image of the written word on memory without conscious and tedious memorization. Frequent recitation also lessens the problem of “ti bi wang zi” or “raising the pen but unable to remember how the character is written”, which is a problem that plagues many Chinese and Japanese. One knows how a character (kanji) is pronounced but one suddenly forgets how to write it.

Recitation of text reinforces spelling. One reads a word and subconsciously notes the spelling in order to pronounce the word.

Recitation of text reinforces recognition of syllables and syllabification.

Recitation is the way to learn to pronounce foreign words and sentences by first listening to a reading of a text and then by vocalized imitation of what was heard.

Compared to just reading and listening without vocalized repetition by the student, recitation is more of an active learning process whereas reading and listening are a more passive way of learning.

Mental visualization of text helps one to recite from memory.

I have encountered many who were able to recall and recite from memory the first passages of the Koran and the Buddhist Heart Sutra. They were able to do so after repeatedly reciting the texts of those passages without spending conscious effort in active memorization.

One of the effects of recitation is spontaneous recall. All drama students learn this.

Recitation establishes speech patterns by repetition. Chinese mathematician Chern Sen-sheng once said that the way he became good at math was by doing math assignments for fellow students.

A fellow student of mine had a diction problem, so he recited Shakespeare to correct his diction. In helping a supranuclear palsy sufferer’s slurring speech, I advised reciting poems. Standard speech therapy involving the repeated vocalization of vowels failed to slow down slurring speech.

Recitation also bypasses active memorization. Thinking interrupts a smooth recitation. Recitation becomes rhythmic, and ancient Chinese students reciting classical text would often be depicted swaying the torso back and forth or from side to side as he recited.

Recitation induces a rhythm or a rhythmic pattern of sound, and the bodily movement manifests this rhythm. Physical movement seems to also reinforce passive subconscious memorization.


About masterchensays

Victor Chen, herbalist, alternative healthcare lecturer, Chinese affairs analyst, retired journalist
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