Brain-friendly language learning - what does that mean?

Brain-friendly learning - that sounds good. Who doesn't want to learn in such a way that content can be processed as well as possible by the brain? But aren't we all doing this already?

No, unfortunately not! The conventional methods of learning a language, which are also taught at school, are not brain-friendly. We learn inefficiently, in that we take unnecessary detours and soon get demotivated.

In this article you can read what makes the principle of brain-friendly learning different from conventional learning. You will also find out how to learn languages using the brain-friendly learning technique.

Then you will know how to make effective use of your brain to learn a foreign language with little effort and a lot of fun.

What does brain-friendly learning mean in general?

Brain-friendly learning is the term used to describe learning methods that try to use the brain's natural way of learning. The learner should not be forced into learning techniques that in the worst case work against these natural mechanisms.

The basic assumption is that man has learned for hundreds of thousands of years mainly through imitation. If a person wanted to learn something, he had to observe his environment and imitate the desired behavior.

Any method that supports the neuro-mechanism of imitation is therefore brain-friendly.

Learning by heart or the classical cramming of learning materials, on the other hand, is not brain-friendly. Because only if you feel like learning can your brain effectively absorb new information.

This motivation is generated by self-reward when you really understand and can apply what you have learned.

What does it mean to learn languages in a brain-friendly way?

As far as languages are concerned, it is best to get to know the foreign language before trying to speak it.

Consider, for example, how toddlers and babies learn to speak. They proceed completely intuitively and without theoretical learning in order to acquire a new language. Long before they start imitating the sounds they perceive in their environment, they just listen.

This listening stimulates the linking and shifting of nerve pathways in the brain, which are necessary for the correct pronunciation of the learned language.

To learn a language in a brain-friendly way, you can take a similar approach.

How is language normally learned?

The first step in learning a language is the same for almost all methods: Learn vocabulary. Learners are encouraged to pronounce and memorize words they've never heard before.

So they can't know what that word has to sound like either. The teacher reciting the word a few times is not enough to teach the brain how to pronounce the word correctly. A typical example of native German speakers learning English is the "th".

If this leads to the permanent learning of incorrect pronunciation, there is a risk that the foreigner will not be understood and native speakers will not understand because they do not recognize the correct pronunciation.

Such mistakes are very difficult to get rid of once they have crept in.

Modern learning methods assume that it makes sense to speak the target language from the very first moment. According to Birkenbihl, however, this is not brain-friendly learning. It has been proven that people can only imitate sounds when they have heard them often enough. 


Once the vocabulary is (supposedly) learned, the student is faced with the task of understanding a lesson.

Since foreign-language texts cannot simply be translated word for word in order to obtain a correct English sentence, a good translation is the supreme discipline in learning a foreign language, so to speak.

Despite this difficulty, learners are required to translate sentences in this way right from the start.

The result is frustration and, as a result, the insight that learning a foreign language is difficult. But frustration is the mortal enemy of motivation and without motivation nobody learns well.

Teachers and learners

Who can't remember grammar exercises from school? One has the feeling that these are particularly popular with teachers.

On the other hand, most learners do not like such exercises at all. They prefer to listen, understand and speak. Surveys prove this.

What students get in class is the exact opposite - a very theoretical approach to the language.

This brings us back to the topic of "motivation". Learning a language becomes a daily struggle for the students, which they only have to survive reasonably unscathed.

What makes brain-friendly learning better?

In response to traditional learning methods, Vera F. Birkenbihl has developed a method of brain-friendly language learning.

This technique allows you to get closer to a new language step by step, gradually familiarizing yourself with every single aspect. These steps are clearly separated.

For example, it is important to familiarize yourself with the pronunciation before speaking a language. You only learn as much as you want to learn. The smallest goal you can set yourself with the Birkenbihl method is to understand a spoken language.

For example, if your goal is to watch movies in their original sound, that's enough.

Building on this, you can continue to expand your knowledge of the respective language. The method for brain-friendly learning therefore comprises four steps:

  1. Understanding the meaning of words
  2. Active listening
  3. Passive listening
  4. Implementing further learning activities

Step 1: Understanding the meaning of words 

To understand the meaning of individual words, the context of the whole sentence is often necessary. While this fact is neglected in normal vocabulary learning, the Birkenbihl method deals with it by the so-called word-for-word decoding. Every word of a text is translated.

In a line below the original text, the literal translation is assigned to each word. Of course, this does not result in a translation in correct English, but in a strange-sounding collection of words.

The aim of this translation is to capture the content of the text intuitively. It is not yet a question of learning the individual words or even of making a beautiful translation. If decoding is too tedious for you, you can use Linguajet's language courses, where the texts are already decoded.

The more advanced you are in a language, the less translation work you have to do. The advantage of decoding is that texts are understood immediately and completely new foreign languages become transparent.

You can also use this method to understand the sentence structure of the foreign language without grammar rules. Words or idioms that cannot be translated directly are particularly memorable.

Step 2: Active listening

After decoding a text, listen to it on a sound source. This should be spoken by a native speaker, which is why it makes sense to use language courses such as Linguajet, which offer such a soundtrack.

While listening to the text, read the decoding and imagine the content. Press pause again and again to replay the sounds you hear. As the text becomes more familiar, you will have to pause less often until you end up listening to the entire section of text. Once you understand each word without decoding, active listening for this lesson is finished.

You learn the words in a meaningful context, even if they have a completely different meaning elsewhere. By starting to listen to a foreign language, it becomes normal for you to understand that language over time.

Step 3: Passive listening

In step 2, you have familiarized yourself with a text. Now run individual sections of the text in a continuous loop in the background very quietly. While the text is playing, you can follow your normal daily activities, even if they are noisy. Your subconscious still picks up the strange tones.

This helps your brain activate the necessary nerve pathways that will help you to pronounce the foreign language correctly later on. These are the same neuro-mechanisms that are used when an infant learns its mother tongue.

Step 4: Implementing further learning activities

After steps 1 and 2 you can understand a foreign language, with step 3 you learn the correct pronunciation. In the last step, the language is now actively applied. This will teach you how to speak, read and write a foreign language.

The Birkenbihl method offers some brain-friendly learning methods, two of which are briefly introduced here:

The chorus method

Listen to the lessons with headphones and speak along with it .

This method, which has been used in schools in the past, is brain-friendly, but has the advantage that you only hear the accent-free pronunciation from the tape and not the faulty pronunciation of fellow students.

Gap speaking

Copy parts of your text and paint over some words with Tipp-Ex. Now proceed as for active listening, but read aloud and fill in the gaps.

With good preparation in steps 1 to 3, this exercise is very easy and leads to a quick sense of achievement.

Building on this, you can also practice writing by filling in the gaps in writing.

Brain-friendly language learning with Birkenbihl

The Birkenbihl method teaches you foreign languages in a way that submits to the learning mechanisms of the brain and does not attempt to force the brain into a learning system that is unnatural.

This will give you a lot of fun and a great sense of achievement when learning a new language.

Just give it a try. There is a free basic lesson for every language offered by linguajet.



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