March 8


Easy Language Learning by Vera F. Birkenbihl – The Decoding Method

By Katharina Rucker

March 8, 2019

Forget about cramming vocabulary: the best way to learn a language is by using decoding exercises. Translate a German sentence word-by-word into your native language – thus you will learn the word’s meaning as well as the language’s grammar.

Definition of Decoding

Decoding means to “decipher”. The native language serves as a supporting factor as we know it inside out. By translating a foreign text word-by-word into the native language, we learn to understand the foreign language.

Every word is being translated separately, which enables the language learner to easily learn:

  1. the word’s meanings
  2. the word’s using in the context
  3. the language’s sentence structure
  4. the language’s grammar such as conjugation, tenses, and prepositions
  5. the differences and similarities to our native language

How to decode a text?

On paper:

Write down on a piece of paper two to three sentences of your foreign text, preferably on A3 format. Use the whole space to make notes, drawings and everything that comes to your mind helping you to memorize. Leave enough space between the lines to eventually add an additional line. Or make a copy of a text passage from a textbook and scale it up so that there is plenty of space to insert a decoding line.

On a computer, e.g. Microsoft Word:

Copy your foreign text and choose an appropriate font size – I recommend 16 pt. Structure your text and add some free space after every word by using the tab key or a table. When working with a table, copy every word of your foreign text into one cell. Leave two free lines after every line. Now use the second line to write down the word’s translation. The third line remains empty and helps you to structure the decoding:


Ready to start translating:

Have a look at every single word. Are some words already familiar to you? If so, write down the WORD-BY-WORD TRANSLATION below those words that aren’t new to you. You may also draw those words or work with another language (in case another language occurs to you much faster, or you are able to build mnemonic devices because of similarities). However, it is very important to write down word-by-word translations, even if the sentence doesn’t sound correct or makes no sense.
The next step is to look up those words that are unknown to you in dictionaries or on the internet. Try to translate those words word-by-word, but pay attention to the context. Having worked with language courses by Linguajet for years, we are convinced that the best and easiest way to learn a language is by decoding sentences within its context and not completely isolated. Have a look at the following example to get a better idea of it:

By paying attention to declensions, we help our brain to abstract the foreign language’s grammar rules. We don’t recommend such adaptations to language learners who have just started to learn the language, as it may be too complicated. But no worries… You will be able to decode the words within its context soon!

→ Learn more about the Birkenbihl Approach

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Katharina Rucker

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