Students often find the textbooks restrictive. Each chapter begins with a set of so-called “Core Conversations” based on the vocabulary and grammar points to be introduced. The conversations are to be memorized and then recited in class, with the professor correcting pronunciation, accent, and in some cases even body posture and movement. Lots of people, including students in my class, criticized the series for this focus on memorization, rather than a focus on creating original sentences.
Yes, I mean memorizing such Core Conversations might seem pointless and ridiculous. When after all will you be sitting with a friend looking at a girl`s picture from a dating service and need to have the following interchange- “Is she pretty?” “Well now… she is not very pretty.” “How unfortunate.”Or the equally thrilling exchange – “What is that?” “This?” “Yes, that.” “This is a pen.” Great. Okay we all laughed in class learning this seemingly inane and pretty useless-seeming phrases. Honestly is there any point in learning such a conversation?
What is that? This? This is a pen.
This exchange is actually kind of famous in Japan, since “This is a pen” is one of the first sentences that most Japanese school kids learn in English class. Credit for this image to MyAbridged. Check out an entire hour of “this is a pen” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkZ2s0lzulw.)
Admittedly, I have never had to have this exact conversation while living in Japan. However, the such memorized phrases and sentences have come in extremely handy. The month after I arrived in Japan, I was with a friend attending a formal dinner event. She had run out of business cards, which are invariably exchanged during introductions in Japan. I advised her to say, “Moosiwake gozaimasen. Meesi ga kirasite orimasite…” (My apologies. I have run out of name cards.) She was surprised that I would know such a sentence and in keigo, the polite form of Japanese speech.
Often I find myself pulling phrases and sentences directly from sentences and conversations that we drilled in class. I still remember despite having studied them years ago. “Excuse me. Could you tell me where the Okura Hotel is?” “Um, could you explain to me how to use this machine?” “No! Please let me pay today.”
Memorization may be considered a crutch in language acquisition and a hindrance to natural and fluent speech. However, I would have been lost sometimes without my memorized phrases. On those days when my brain just cannot form an original sentence, I am most grateful for memorization.