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Avada Kedavra...

And How to Memorise Spells

I magine — you are a young wizard at Hogwarts, excited to try out a new spell. You take out your wand and lift it up... and then you realise you cannot recall the words. We all know what it is like to forget something we have learnt — but imagine just how bad it would be if your name was Tom Riddle and you were trying to perform your very first death spell. Imagine the disappointment. The frustration.

Now, memorising spells is, in fact, a lot like memorising vocabu-lary when learning a new language. It takes time and effort to build up a vocabulary that is big enough to have a proper conversation. We all know this from when we tried put-ting our conversation skills into practice. The same goes for memorising spells: it takes time to memo-rise the words, and it takes a while before you can fully incorporate what they are used for.

Language is part of a cognitive system which also contains perception, reasoning, memory, emo-tion, and categorisation and abstraction processes. All of these are intertwined: they are part of the same system (Gonthier and Mondt 151). This means that language is connected to all of these other areas as well, and this has consequences for our ability to learn languages. It means, for example, that if we associate a word with a certain feeling we are more likely to remember it. It also means that if we use logic to reason about the meaning of a word it will be easier to process.

An important aspect of learn-ing a language is memorising words and phrases. According to Guénault and MacDonald there are “three (interconnected) problems involved, namely, recording, storage, and re-calling of information” (523). These three stages are all present not only in learning a language, but also in memorising spells. Tom Riddle read the death spell: he recorded the information; he stored it inside his mind. The only problem was the stage of recalling the information. So how do we make sure we are able to recall information?

This is done through repetition. Repetition has been proven to “improve performance in standard recall and recognitionmemory experiments” (Michael and Visser 1031). This includes studying vocabulary and memorising words. However, although repetition is an important part of memory, it is not the only part. Guénault and MacDonald argue that for verbal material it is especially important to pair repetition deliberately with different memorising strategies for deep encoding in order for language to sink into our long-term memory (523).

As for Tom Riddle — we all know that in the end he did manage to remember his precious death spell. It is probably safe to say that he has had sufficient repetition to allow the words to sink into his long-term memory. Avada kedavra... and another one falls.

by Marlene Cammeraat



Works Cited


Gonthier, Natalie, Katrien Mondt. Dynamisch Inter(- en Trans)disciplinair Taalonderzoek: De Nieuwe Taalwetenschappen. Gent: Academia Press, 2006. Print.

Michael, C.W., Troy A.W. Visser. “Exploring the Repetition Paradox: the Effects of Learning Context and Massed Repetition on Memory.” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 21.4 (2014): 1026-1032. Web.

Guénault, A.M., D.K.C. MacDonald. “Memory and Language”. Nature. 4815 (1962): 523-5. Print.