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Vera F. Birkenbihl — A Pioneer’s Lifework

Vera F. Birkenbihl: A Life for Brain-Friendly Work, Teaching and Learning

1946 – 2011

Vera F. Birkenbihl was an extraordinary person who, for the last forty years, shaped the world of teaching and learning. The name Birkenbihl is synonymous with her methods. She is highly regarded as the most popular management trainer in Germany, and the only well-known female within the world of brain-friendly language learning techniques. Her work, loved by many, is also criticized, especially by those who only know of her through hearsay. Vera F- Birkenbihl had something to say on every topic, and to this day, her teaching methods have divided educators. Because of this scrutiny, brain-friendly approaches are still rejected by education institutions.

Vera F. Birkenbihl’s Groundbreaking, Even Today

Vera F. Birkenbihl has provided valuable insight to generations of trainers and students. She is a legend. Today, years after her early death, her work continues to inspire many people. Millions of new clicks on YouTube and Facebook etc. prove that Birkenbihl’s individual, authentic character and her opinions are still exciting. Those knowledgeable in Birkenbihl’s presentations are well aware of her enthusiasm to depict complex topics in simple pictures and drawings. This enthusiasm fostered not only her creativity but also that of her audience.

“Brain-Friendly” made by Birkenbihl

The normal procedure at most (so-called) learning institutions is often very strongly AGAINST the functioning of the brain and can, therefore, not work

Vera F. Birkenbihl

She then introduced the English term “brain-friendly,” which was a very popular expression in 1969 in the USA, into the German language: “gehirn-gerecht” (with a hyphen, that was very important to her). From the 90s onwards, learning concepts were commercialized under “brain-friendly.” Brain-Friendly.de pursues Birkenbihl’s methods.

We get smarter using brain-friendly methods. If a person has problems in doing something, e.g. language learning, it is very likely that this can be traced to the method and not to the lack of talent.

Vera F. Birkenbihl

The Birkenbihl Approach

Vera F. Birkenbihl has gained the most significant reputation through her method of language acquisition, the Birkenbihl Approach. The basis of the technique is a word-for-word translation (de-coding). Translating a sentence word-for-word, you will learn the meaning of each word and its use in context without cramming vocabulary: intuitively and brain-friendly.

Birkenbihl’s opinion on de-coding:

Only years after the introduction of de-coding, I found out that similar experiments had already been attempted in the past. However, they also had the same problems. De-coding was being discredited by people who have never seriously tried it because in their opinion the translation has to be a good one.

Why no grammar?

You can return to the grammatical explanation after 3 months and read them if you are curious. At least everything will seem logical then. Therefore: Grammar’s always last!

Creative Techniques: ABC list, KaWa, KaGa etc.

Analogous graffiti called Birkenbihl’ Thinking with a pen in hand.’ It derives from the Greek word “grainz.” According to Birkenbihl, there are three variants of analogous graffiti: ABC lists, KaWa (connotations of words) and KaGa (graphic associations). They can be used in all areas of life as a tool for thinking and creativity.

To create an ABC list, use a vertical alphabet. Now you can read the alphabet up and down. Start writing everything that comes to your mind within 2 minutes. Don’t work from top to bottom, instead use the alphabet and write every association you can think of. ‘No and several connotations are allowed.’ The ABC technique opens up your thoughts, links your two parts of the brain, and so, you think differently: more creative. Instead of using the entire ABC list, you might only use the letters of a single word. Birkenbihl called it “KaWa” (creative analogous “word of association)” or “KaGa” (graphic association).

Emil Brunner and Vera F. Birkenbihl produced the creative seminar on this topic. Soon available as an online seminar or video!

Vera F. Birkenbihl’s Life

Vera F. Birkenbihl was only 13 years old when she realized she couldn’t learn at school but could learn at home.

My failure in school made me leave after the 10th grade (at that time “5th grade” at high school), and I worked while I was looking for another path to take.

She left her parents’ home, and headed to the United States where she was accepted by universities even without a high school diploma, and worked as a cleaning lady.

Vera F. Birkenbihl was autistic. After returning home from the United States in the early 70s, she worked as a freelance author. Her unconventional path, her unique way of working, and her thirst for creativeness helped her to succeed. She had sold two million books by the year 2000, and more than half a million people saw her seminars. She taught techniques for brain-friendly learning and teaching, provided analytical and creative thinking tools and spoke about personal development, specific gender differences and the future. She also trained top managers and coaches, and regularly published her work, for example, in the Harvard Business Manager.

Peculiarities and Memorability

Vera F. Birkenbihl did not adapt externally or internally to social norms, and so she created a unique style among the world of trainers that still exists today.

Birkenbihl’s Drawings

Our brains work very similarly in some areas. These areas include the processing of connected information, and, the delivery of poor learning outcomes when we’re stressed. But in many cases, our brains work differently. For example, how we each prefer to learn — some need to look at things, others need to listen, and some of us need to try things out. Because the majority of people prefer visual learning, Vera F. Birkenbihl did many drawings in her seminars. Her creative techniques, such as the ABC list, Kawa’s and Kaga’s, reflect her drawing passion.

The Real Vera F. Birkenbihl

Emil Brunner met with Vera F. Birkenbihl regularly. He was one of the few people who had this unique opportunity. Only a handful of people were allowed to come close to her and meet her in private. These meetings were always unique and will be remembered forever.

With a mighty voice, loud and concise, she welcomed me (Emil Brunner) saying: ‘In your fax, you forgot the F. [F stands for Fitzgerald, and she was clearly very proud.] That is a sign of a lack of respect. In America, when I was there seven years ago, this was normal. But here in Germany people simply ignore that I have two first names! Please respect this for all future activities concerning both of us! And I’ll tell you in advance: I am slightly autistic, please take that into account if I get loud or interact with you intensely! Yes, and that’s why I’m about to tell you: forget all of the courtesy, I can’t handle it. I don’t want to do that!‘ 

Then we fixed a date for the first interview.

Ha, ha, ha!

A very loud, almost inflammatory laugh, was her second greeting, this time in person. We put up the cameras, one in front of the overloaded desk, the second one above the drawing pad. ‘No one has ever done it like this, but it’s good, you obviously have already noticed that I like to draw and like the camera above me, that’s good.‘ The ice was broken. She gave me her hand and said: ‘We haven’t really had a warm welcome yet!‘ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I wanted to…‘ I said.

Turn it on, who knows what you can use of it,’ she interrupted me. 

It doesn’t bother me. I’ll tell you when I don’t feel comfortable!‘ And she laughed again: ‘Ha ha ha.’

I’ll always remember her laugh.

You can’t process this information correctly. Not just because you’re a man, but because I’ve used a NON-INSTRUCTION! Remember: no one can process a NON-instruction! For example: don’t think about a sour lemon! What do you taste now? Our brain can’t do it!

“Birkenbihl’s products” today

When Emil Brunner worked with Vera F. Birkenbihl, he met many of her fans. But they never stayed long. Only a few of them spent enough time with her and were given her “blessing” to support and extend her work. The expression “brain-friendly” will tell you whether the author is someone who worked closely with Birkenbihl. She used a kind of “secret sign”: the spelling of specific terms, like “brain-friendly.” She always insisted on her very own way of spelling, even though it was contrary to the general rules. In the case of “brain-friendly”: a hyphen is the only thing that connects the two words.

In cooperation with Vera F. Birkenbihl, Emil Brunner regularly hosted live seminars, exclusively offering them to trainers and senior managers. These seminars will be available online soon.

They also worked together on the digitization of the Birkenbihl Approach. Today, Brain-Friendly© MOVIE offers language courses — a TV comedy series subtitled with the de-coding line, produced explicitly for language learning.

Content Manager and blogger Katharina Rucker has devoted herself to the Birkenbihl Approach for language learning since 2011. Since 2014, she has been working as a freelancer in the field of online marketing: www.rucker-marketing.at

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