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Ben Franklin’s Language-Learning Secret

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin described a technique he frequently used to improve his writing and language skills:

Whenever Franklin came across a piece of writing that he felt was extremely well-crafted, he would read the passage repeatedly until he could write down word-for-word—from memory—what he read on a separate piece of paper. He then would compare what he wrote to the original passage he read, would make whatever corrections he needed to, and would repeat the whole exercise several days later.

If there’s some aspect of your language skills you’d like to improve (writing, speaking, or listening, etc.), give Benjamin Franklin’s exercise a try:

Improve your listening skills by writing down the words you hear in a foreign language movie or song.

Watch your favorite foreign-language TV show, and try to imitate your favorite character’s accent or vocabulary.

Or, if you want to work on you foreign-language writing and expression skills, buy a translated version of your favorite book (or translated poems by your favorite poet), and try to copy 1-2 sentences of your favorite passage(s).

Semi-brute-force memorization techniques often are thought of as being old-fashioned and clumsy. I prefer to think of them as time-tested: not only is memorization a necessary part of learning a language, but if you use techniques like Benjamin Franklin’s, you can make memorization pretty interesting by shaping it to your tastes, needs, and interests.