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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

Dramatically Improve Your Comprehension in a Matter of Days

by Nathalie V. Fairbanks

Any beginner student in a new language faces the same predicament: how in the world am I ever going to understand this language?

What you hear when you listen in on two native speakers conversing is an endless string of sounds. Those sounds are punctuated by a loud exclamation, then later a short laugh, and you notice two or three words that you recognize in every other sentence. The more you try to catch a word here and there, the faster they seem to speak. This leaves you in the dust and you wonder what in the world they are talking about that's so fun and interesting.

You can't help but feel some frustration and ask yourself if you'll ever catch up with them or if you'll be the outsider forever. Alienation is a problem when you're among people who speak another language, and there's no reason for you to be an "outsider." Picking up the language is easy if you know how to do it.

Have you ever wondered how you learned to understand your native language? As you retrace this learning process, you'll find some answers that will point you to the things you need to do to be able to understand a native speaker going at 100 miles per hour.

How do you make sense of what someone says in English? Steven Pinker explains it very well in his book, The Language Instinct:

"Comprehension ordinarily takes place in "real time." Listeners keep up with talkers; they do not wait for the end of a batch of speech and interpret it after a proportional delay, like a critic reviewing a book. And the lag between speaker's mouth and listener's mind is remarkably short: about a syllable or two, around half a second. Some people can understand AND repeat sentences, shadowing a speaker as he speaks, with a lag or a quarter of a second!"

In other words, you match the sounds you hear against an internal database to make sense out of the stream of sounds. To do the same thing in your new language, you'll need to build a new database for, say, Spanish sounds.

Let me share a personal story to illustrate what I mean.

My little daughter Catherine, 18 months, comes to the weekly yoga class that I teach. The last pose is always Savasana, or "corpse pose," where students lie flat on their back, relax and focus inward. For once, Catherine was quietly sitting on my lap, whispering to me as I was instructing students to relax each part of their body. When I got to "let your eyes sink deeper into your eye sockets," Catherine enthusiastically peeped up "Sockies! Sockies!" and pointed to her feet! Needless to say, nobody was focusing inside at this point. We were all laughing!

Catherine was obviously trying to understand what I was saying and listened to each and every word coming out of my mouth. When her ears caught on to a sound (sockets) similar to a word in her small internal database (sockies), she was so happy to finally be "in the know" and "get" what was going on (or so she thought).

Similarly, as a language learner, you start off knowing only a few words. When you hear your Spanish friend talking on the phone, you "scan" the inflow of Spanish sounds for those you might know to take a guess at the topic of the conversation.

How do you raise your rate of comprehension from 5% to 70% (enough to get the essentials)?

Memorizing single vocabulary words will not help because you won't recognize them when they're embedded in a sentence with other words that you don't know. Instead, you should:

1. Take a "real life" dialog, an everyday run-of-the-mill conversation and listen to it until you understand it without looking anything up, just as if it was English. If you need a refresher on the most efficient way to do this, please refer to our complimentary e-book "The 7 Language Learning Secrets Your Teachers Won't Share With You."

2. Focus on recognizing frequently used patterns or "building blocks" in this dialog. That's what legendary language teacher Michel Thomas teaches you to do in his courses. For example, he teaches you how to say "I want/I don't want something" in Spanish which is as follows (the word-by-word translation under each sentence is called "decoding" and is one of the SpeakEZ Steps; Michel Thomas doesn't use written materials):

Quiero. (I want.)

Lo quiero. (I want it.)
It [I-]want.

No lo quiero. (I don't want it.)
Not it [I-]want.

Quiere. (You want.)

Lo quiere. (You want it.)
It [you-]want.

¿Lo quiere? (Do you want it?)
It [you-]want?

¿No lo quiere? (Don't you want it?)
Not it [you-]want?

¿Qué quiere? (What do you want?)
What [you-]want?

Start by learning the building blocks that make up your new language and practice saying them over and over. Play around with them, make variations, so they flow off your tongue intuitively and you don't have to think about them anymore. Knowing them is only Step 1, as you might not yet be able to recognize them and pick them out when someone speaks fast.

3. Go back to the dialog you picked out earlier. Play it over and over and train your ear to latch on to the phrases that are used all the time.

Once you master the "core" elements of a language, it's only a matter of learning a few vocabulary words here and there that are specific to what's interesting to you, and not the other way around.

© 2009 Nathalie V. Fairbanks

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