My native language is Portuguese and I had the initiative to read and memorize Os Lusíadas by Camões, the principal literary work in Portuguese.

So I started to memorize the Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri too. In Italian, not in Portuguese. And after that I memorized the poem "When You Are Old" by W. B. Yeats, in English.

And I realize that I memorized a lot of stanzas with facility!!! And more: I didn't forget them anymore!

So, I came to some conclusions and questions ...

  1. Conclusion: I think that the modern schools of idioms are wrong, because they try to teach foreign languages without forcing students to memorize any texts. Result: the students forget in the next week what they learned the previous week.
  2. When I proposed this method to several teachers, some said that this the classic method. Question: So, I’d like to know if there is some book or study that reports that people in the past really used this method.
  3. Question: I’d like to know if it is really possible to learn other languages using this method (memorization of rhymed poems).
  4. Question: Do you know any rhymed poems in English, French or Spanish? For example, like this excerpt: La Divina Commedia - Inferno - Canto I. A poem agreeable to hear and memorize and of long term.


  • 2
    JMO: Memorizing (good) poems is rarely a waste of time -- it has other benefits for the mind and soul -- but neither memorizing poems nor memorizing songs will help you learn a language. Poetry deliberately works at the edges rather than the center of (a) language, and this is exactly what you /don't/ want as a foreign-language student at most levels.
    – SAH
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 20:01
  • I asked similar (but different) question: Learning language by singing songs Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 21:43

2 Answers 2


Memorising poems of the length of the Divine Comedy or Os Lusíadas is very impressive. The longest poems I ever memorised were sonnets or other poems of similar length (Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?, The Windhover, Le Dormeur du val, De Dapperstraat, De wolken and perhaps a few others).

Poetry is a very specific type of language that is typically unlike the language you need for communication. This is especially the case for old poetry such as Os Lusíadas (16th century) and the Divine Comedy (14th century). By learning by heart works like this, you do learn language, but it is a language that is no longer in use.

Even the poetry of William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) is different from present-day English (e.g. putting the adjective after the noun in the phrase "their shadows deep" in "When You Are Old").

In spite of these reservations, there are also benefits. Learning poetry can help you learn new vocabulary (because the words are used in a meaningful context), syntax and other aspects of grammar, even though, as I pointed out, both vocabulary and grammar may diverge from normal present-day grammar. Laraine Flemming illustrates this with a German poem in her article Learning a Foreign Language through Poetry.

Poetry is also used in language classes for children. In addition to providing new vocabulary, it also makes children aware of rhythm and rhyme. For example, Andrew Pudewa created a teaching tool called Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization (a book with CDs; see the publisher's information).

Although memorising poetry used to be a normal learning task, I am not aware of it being used as a language teaching technique; I have always assumed it had a cultural goal.

The main downside of spending a lot of time on memorising poetry is that it takes away time from other language learning activities, such as extensive reading, listening practice, conversation practice, using an SRS to review vocabulary and grammar, etc.

  1. You didn't say how memorising of the Divina Commedia influenced your Italian skills. The way your question is formulated now, the conclusion doesn't seem substantiated.

  2. Yes, that's one of the aspects of the classical approach to language teaching. I recommend taking a look at the Theories of Second Language Acquisition course at Coursera. It's a lightweight introduction to the topic of different language teaching approaches, including the classical one.

  3. Surely not as the only or as the main method. Note that poetry uses untypical word order, contains obscure vocabulary and words in untypical meanings, and has other such aspects that make it different from everyday written and spoken language. By concentrating on poems you're only learning a very special subset of the language. If that's what you aim at, that's fine, but that's not what most language students want.

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