Formulaic Memorization as Barrier to Language Learning


  • Amjed Saleem Department of English & Applied Linguistics, University of Peshawar


Can memorizing text in the target language facilitate L2 learning? This paper examines an extreme case—the Quran as memorized by Muslims who do not have any independent knowledge of Arabic. The hypothesis, derived from existing research literature, was that they would develop implicit sensitivities to certain grammatical patterns in Classical Arabic as a result of repeated exposure to fully correct formulations, unadulterated by any interlanguage features. Non-Arabic-speaking Quran memorizers were asked to distinguish Classical Arabic sentences with and without an introduced morphological error. Contrary to the hypothesis, they could not identify ungrammatical sentences beyond chance level, and could rarely pinpoint the error in a sentence that they did isolate. A small follow up study using Quran memorizers who spoke modern Arabic revealed the same pattern, indicating a surprising lack of extrapolation from Modern to Classical Arabic, despite sufficient points of similarity to make pattern identification feasible. The reason for the findings is considered in the light of a model of how memorization is, or is not, a support to accurate language learning.