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"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 native language.

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 capitalized."

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, etc.

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:

¿Cómo estás?
¿How are?

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:

¿Cómo estás?
¿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 grammar rules.

Happy decoding!

© 2008 Nathalie V. Fairbanks

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