"This way of learning a language made complete sense to me. Working with the SpeakEZ German course, I was able to understand more in 2 weeks than in five years of German in school!"
-- Asbjørn Finsnes
"The way in which this method is presented provided me with language that will suit me in a foreign country instead of a collection of unusable vocabulary words.
Those who have studied languages realize that looking-up individual words cannot convey a language in the correct manner. Becoming fluent means being able to verbalize ideas ; not learning technical rules and identifying the Past Predicate Indicative.
The audio part of this method has been my favorite portion of the learning process. Not only is the pronunciation slow and clear, but it is presented so that I remember the flow of sentences and concepts.
Thank you for the opportunity to work with this amazing program; it has been a blessing for me."
-- Destiny Yarbro, College Student
Look Closely You'll Never Forget
What You Saw ! Decoding Foreign Language Grammar
by Nathalie V. Fairbanks
One of the great insights
of Ms. Vera Birkenbihl on language learning is what she tagged "decoding,"
or the word by word translation from the language you're learning into your
The advantages are obvious...after you've done some decoding,
instead of asking a German:
Wie bist du?
How are you?
(which would be the literal translation from English to German)
You'll know to ask her:
Wie geht es dir?
How goes it to-you?
Why? Because seeing the decoded version in English sends a
message to your brain that prevents it from following its natural tendency to
translate back from English to German.
Depending on how the grammar of your target language differs from English
grammar, you'll run into different issues while you decode.
Here's an easy example that we'll use to show you the principle
behind decoding. In German, all nouns are capitalized. To reflect that in your
decoding, you capitalize all the nouns - in English! Don't let your eyes glaze
over quite yet - you'll see what I mean below.
English: I drive to work.
German: Ich fahre mit dem Auto zur Arbeit.
Decoded: I drive with the Car to-the Work.
Looks funny, right? And it works! For some reason, when you see
the capital letters in English, they jump out at you. You intuitively understand
the rule, much better than if I just tell you "in German, all nouns are
Similarly, many European languages have two forms of address.
In Spanish, the people you're close to, like your family, your friends, etc. are
addressed with "tú," and strangers, or people who are older, are your superiors,
etc. are addressed with "usted."
Since English doesn't make that distinction, you need to find a
way to show the difference in your decoding.
In our SpeakEZ Spanish course, we decoded the "usted" forms by using ALL CAPS.
To keep it consistent, we used ALL CAPS for everything formal: YOUR, YOURSELF,
Spanish: ¿Cómo está usted?
Decoded: ¿How are YOU?
For all the "tú" forms, we used the regular small type font:
Spanish: ¿Entonces tú no vives in Cuzco?
Decoded: ¿Then you not live in Cuzco?
This makes it easy to follow, and you always know when you read
your decoding whether or not they're being formal.
Notice that we also used the upside down question mark in the decoding. Your
brain will automatically register it because it looks so out of place in English
- that's the whole point!
Another particularity of Spanish is that the subject is often "hidden" in the
verb. Instead of saying:
¿Cómo estás tú?
¿How are you?
Spanish speakers simply say:
This can be very confusing at first, because unless you really understand the
context, you're not quite sure who you're talking about.
What we figured would help you is to put the subject in parentheses, like this:
¿How [you-] are?
That way, if you're not completely on top of your verb forms yet, you don't have
to go look them up to figure out if the subject is "I," "you," "she," or
whatever. We do recommend that in the beginning, you get the help of native
speaker for some of the trickier parts. It'll soon come naturally!
The bottom line is: be creative! There are many ways to do
this. Using different colors is very effective, as is using symbols such as
little stars or triangles for words that have no translation in English.
The beauty of this exercise is that once you've decoded your text, you've
mastered the grammar, without the negative side effects of memorizing the
© 2008 Nathalie V. Fairbanks
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