Learning languages with the Birkenbihl method

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As I am looking for ways to improve my language skills, I found about Vera Birkenbihl method for language learning. I watched her videos on Youtube and read about her and her method. 

Learning languages with the Birkenbihl method

Who is Vera Birkenbihl?

Vera Birkenbihl was a German motivation coach who was most known for the language learning method she developed. She was born in 1946 and she died in 2011. As a young woman, she began to develop learning methods and then developed the Birkenbihl method for language learning in the 80s. She wrote books and gave speeches on a wide range of subjects: brain-friendly learning and teaching method, analytical and creative thinking, personal development and even more esoteric topics such as numerology.

Why did Vera Birkenbihl develop her language learning method?

Vera Birkenbihl thought that traditional languages learning methods, that focus early on grammar and on vocabulary lists, were both inefficient and outdated. With her language learning method, she aimed to develop a brain-friendly learning technique, that makes you use both the right and the left hemisphere of the brain.

What are the different steps of the Birkenbihl method?

The Birkenbihl method includes 4 steps:

Step one: decoding

In a first time, Vera Birkenbihl advises to try to decode a text in the language you want to learn. The text should be translated word by word, both to give you a basic understanding of the text and to make you aware of the way sentences are built in the studied language.Let’s take a basic example. Let’s say you want to decode the French sentence “J’ai froid“. You would get „I have cold“ instead of „I am cold“, which will make you aware of a difference in the way the sentence is built. In German, however, when you are cold, you say „Es ist mir kalt“ which could be decoded with „it is to me cold“. The structure of the sentence is different this time again.

Step two: active listening 

For every text studied, you should listen to the corresponding soundtrack. Active listening is an essential part of the Birkenbihl method. You should listen the soundtrack as often as you need it in order to be able to remember how each of the new learned word should be pronounced.

Step three: passive listening

During this step, you listen to soundtracks in your target languages while doing something else, such as cooking or cleaning the house. The goal is not to try to understand everything you hear but to familiarize yourself with the sound patterns of the language.

Step four: active reading, speaking and writing

After you worked on the three first steps, you should be able to read, write and speak in your target language.

Some thoughts about the Birkenbihl method

I have not tried this language learning method yet but I find it interesting. A difference to more traditional learning methods is that you do not really learn grammar. You catch the way the sentences in your target language are built through decoding. I am a little unsure whether this is really enough, but that may only be because I like grammar.
I find the part about passive listening also interesting. Speaking languages with a good accent is something most people find difficult. Passive listening could indeed help.
Have you already tried the Birkenbihl method or any other language learning method? What do you think about it?


  • matthewrbaker

    I’ll have to try the Birkenbihl method! I’ve always done step one (decoding) when learning a language, partly because it helps me remember the unique grammar/syntax. Do you know if the method works better for some languages than others?

    • momslovelearning

      According to the video, it depends from the languages you already now. For instance, in English, around half of the words have the same origin as German and the other half comes from French, so German and French are supposed to be easier for English speaker.

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