Say you've read a poem by William Shakespeare. You liked it very much so you remembered it by heart. Now you can recite it, i.e., read it aloud from your memory, or, you can write it down accurately without checking up the source.

Is there an English word or phrase to describe the latter action? In Chinese we have a word called 默写 that does the job. It functions both as a verb and a noun. If I were to translate it into English, what is the colloquial way to express it?

I've asked this question in the English Learners forum but I didn't seem to get what I wanted. Someone suggested quote but it could be either speaking or writing. Maybe the idea of 默写 as a learning mechanism simply doesn't exist in the west?

  • 1
    Why was this down-voted?
    – NS.X.
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 20:49
  • well because it's rather a question about English language, with some reference to the Chinese word or Chinese culture. i reckon it's inappropriate to some degree.. Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 23:58
  • 3
    I sort of agree, it moreso belongs on ell.se, but ... I think the people who would know best the answer to it all sit on chinese.se ... perhaps the rules should be changed so there's some kind of linkback depending on the language FROM, because translation is a two-way street?
    – Ming
    Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 1:13
  • Decided to do some hunting, entered my opinion here: meta.chinese.stackexchange.com/a/432/3561
    – Ming
    Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 0:37

2 Answers 2


Yes for @monalisa, 'write from memory' is good. I would like to add another option too ..

An idiomatic expression for this would be "learn by heart":

"I owe everything to a system that made me learn by heart till I wept. As a result I have thousands of lines of poetry by heart. I owe everything to this." - George Steiner

Also, an example from an english.se answer:

The director told me to learn my speech by heart. I had to go over it many times before I learned it by heart. (TFD)


So, to exactly cover what you're after:

Please write down the poems by [x] that you have learnt by heart.

EDIT: one small addendum--American English uses 'learned' where British (and by extension International English I believe) uses 'learnt', that's why I use learnt, and the english.se example uses 'learned'. Just in case that was an area of confusion.


I would translate it as "write from memory".


The teacher made the students write out the poem from memory.

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