mantras in language learning

How to use Mantras in Language Learning

Editor’s Note: Originally published by VOXXI as Mantras and language acquisition

Mankind’s acquired experience throughout time has not been in vain. It would be foolish to discard many age-long practices simply because they are old, because if they had practical use for centuries, it might be wise to vet them carefully to assess whether we might retain them instead of foolhardily dumping and ignoring them.

A mantra is a formula, supposedly mystical, that has the power of transforming and being repeated over and over again, to the point of monotony. It originated in the Vedic tradition of Hinduism and eventually became an essential part of religious lore throughout the world. The Lord’s Prayer in Christianity is a Mantra that Christians repeat constantly. Islam uses the Mantra “There is no God but God and Mohammed is His Prophet.” Hindus chant “Om,” a meaningless sound, all the time.

The word Mantra comes from the Sanskrit Mantra, “instrument of thought,” Latin men’s, mind.

Mantra and repetition are one. There is no Mantra without repetition, with voiced repetition mostly. Many of us still remember the Mantra of yore: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare that at one time or another we have heard on the streets of many cities, sung to the pealing of bells.

How to use mantras in language acquisition

My contention is that if Mantras work for spiritual purposes, they can also work for learning purposes. As long as we still ignore exactly how our brain acquires information and stores and retrieves it, anything goes. All is fair in love and learning. In fact, Mantras were and still are used for rote learning, forcing the brain to retain formulas and sentences by means of monotonous repetition.

Politicians also use Mantras, slogans, watchwords and sound bites like the “Yes, we can” of recent elections. The United States has been repeating Mantras for over 200 years, in schools, universities, in politics: “America is a free country,” for example. Repeated often enough people end up believing it blindly.

We cannot wave aside the power of the Mantra, just because we associate it with religious or mystical practices. Let us gain and learn from it to empower our brains to retain more, especially in language acquisition. Perhaps it would be a good idea to blend the old with the new, and profit from both.

Examples of language acquisition mantras

Quiero, quieres, quiere, queremos, queréis, quieren,” should be repeated by the beginner student of Spanish as a Mantra, from the verb, querer. And later, the future: “querré, querrás, querrá, querremos, querréis, querrán.” There is nothing to understand, and making this a Mantra, murmured again and again, will teach the brain to retain these irregular forms of the verb.

In English, irregular verbs must turn into Mantras: “to speak, spoke, spokento speak, spoke, spoken, to speak, spoke, spoken,” always in a monotone, but again and again and again.

In order to avoid normal, run-of-the-mill grammatical mistakes (“I must to go,” from “debo ir) a Mantra must be sung: “I must goI must goI must go.” Just as the learner of Spanish must repeat “la gente es (instead of “la gente son), in the same monotone until it finally sinks in: “la gente es buena, la gente es buena, la gente es buena…” while the learner of English will chant: “people are good, people are good, and people are good.”

There is no need to darken the room and light a candle to repeat these language acquisition Mantras. No incense is necessary either.

As I am a rabid and extremist procrastinator, my Mantras are: “Do not do today what you can put off till tomorrow,” “No hagas hoy lo que puedas dejar para mañana.” I should change tack, however, for my own good.

Image By Markrosenrosen, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Interesting idea, but I suspect that if the mantra it is not a sentence with a real meaning it won’t stick in memory. The brain tends to discard useless information.