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How does our brain react to different language teaching methods?

Author: László Bódi, PhD. Last updated: 2nd January 2017

After years of physiological, anatomical and linguistics studies in many parts of Europe, I developed a new method, created 14 textbooks and audio materials. So after more than 8 years of experience and working with 6500 clients I suddenly came to a stop. The aim of taking a short break was to summarise everything I have learned until that moment and develop my methods even further. By constant monitoring of our clients’ brain functions, me and my team would like to make language learning even easier and improve our methods even further. Allow us to introduce you our findings and recent experiences. By reading this article, you will be able to understand language learning in general and those who are even more interested in the topic, should read the “grey matter” as well.


Processing speech and meaning by the human brain

From the day we are born, we are exposed to different sound stimuli, the human voice being the most important among them. Due to its being an important mean of communication, hearing is one of our vital senses and a part of speech.

But how do we understand the human speech?

1. Speech sounds, like every other sound wave, are first processed in the primary auditory cortex

2. Speech sounds are then further processed in the Wernicke-area. Our brain uses this area to process and form speech

3. From the Wecnicke-area, sounds are transmitted to the Broca-area


How do we understand and learn foreign languages?

Understanding and learning foreign languages is like a game of puzzles. It is a game of patience where the player tries to complete the whole by putting puzzle pieces together.

Understand live speech requires a short reaction time and we are not given a sample copy like in a puzzle game. We also do not possess all the pieces that are needed to complete the puzzle. Rather, there is more and more information we need to process when listening to foreign language speech.

This is why patience and self-control is much needed when learning a foreign language.


What methods of foreign language learning are there?

The audio-lingual method makes language learning similar to the way we learned our first language. Foreign words are recognised and sentences are slowly processed and so, language is understood.
Mind that this does not mean that language is being translated into the mother tongue. When a Hungarian student with excellent German knowledge is sent to an Austrian university, he/she learns all the terms in the target language. This way, the student will not be able to give the meaning of the terms in his/her mother tongue. We recommend our learners to connect the meaning of words in a foreign language to pictures or concepts and not word in their mother tongue. This way, the brain learns to think in the foreign language.

It is important to start with baby steps, meaning that at first, the student should listen to audio texts that are 10-20 seconds long. The vocabulary should be easy and it should contain already known words. The context should be understood as a whole and not translated. With this method, listening to longer and more complicated texts will not be a matter to our students in the long term.
This method requires more concentration and we will experience that our student will get tired and deconcentrated after a while. This is why listening to texts should be divided to 10-20-second-long texts following by 1-2-minute-long texts and even 20-30-minute-long texts. Audio should be listened to repeatedly until each of the words are understood by the student.

Attention! The text should not be translated into the mother tongue! The brain shall be taught to think in the target language from the start. After listening to the text, ask yourself the question: Can I understand this? If the answer is yes, you are doing well. Do not translate!

The result: By listening to texts, our passive vocabulary concentration will improve quite a lot. If we want to put this into praxis and use the language actively, we have to summarise each text loudly. By doing this, the Broca-area becomes active and language becomes active.


Learning languages by reading written texts is mostly used and preferred in schools. Reading is one of the best methods for broadening our vocabulary because we learn a lot of new words thanks to the rich vocabulary of the author.
But learning like this is complicated because new words have to be looked up in a dictionary, the Hungarian equivalent has to be found and the text has to be re-read again. Only those with the highest concentration levels are able to reach success with this method, unless there is a teacher by our side who can help us in this process. For those with excellent language skills, reading is of course mandatory for broadening their vocabulary. But does it really become broader? We may surprise you there because the answer is: not really. Without putting those newly learned words into active use, they will be forgotten quickly. This is why, like with the audio-lingual method, the text has to be summarised and re-read in speech. New words have to be especially repeated a lot because our brain tends to FORGET.

Attention! The text should not be translated into the mother tongue! The brain shall be taught to think in the target language from the start. After reading the text, ask yourself the question: Can I understand this? If the answer is yes, you are doing well. Do not translate!

The result: By reading texts, our passive vocabulary concentration will improve quite a lot. If we want to put this into praxis and use the language actively, we have to summarise each text loudly. By doing this, the Broca-area becomes active and language becomes active.


Language learning based on a logical system (grammar) has always been the favourite of state and private school. Seeing these schools, an amateur would say: This is the appropriate method! Understanding the rules of languages, practising these in various sentences, drilling, drilling, drilling…

Solving exercises, translating sentences, memorising rules and tables. I have a wonderful story for that. I visited many universities in Europe and I was always happy to see, how many chose to study on the German track, hoping to be language teachers, translators or academics one day. The professors are always proud to introduce their first, second or third year students and praise their language. Their grammar, because it means everything to them. They understand it and can use it precisely. But they face theirs first problem when I give my presentation in German and after I have finished speaking, I ask them if they have any questions or comments regarding the topic. The room becomes completely silent in this moment. One of the students asks me to switch to their native language. Because they understand the grammar but they speak the language with mistakes and mostly, with fear. They are afraid to ask any questions. The moment I switch to their native language, they blow me away with their questions. I think this answers everything about the advantages and disadvantages of the grammar-based language learning methods. It is important that we can understand grammar rules but we mustn’t forget that we learned our mother tongue in a natural way: from our parents and by constantly using it. We make many mistakes as a child, using the language at the first time but by constant exercises we have learned to use it perfectly. We only learn grammar rules of our mother tongue in the school, at a later age. We would already know how to ask for an apple in accusative (“almát”) by the time they explained us in school, what the accusative case means. Development always comes with failure as well, and even native speakers make mistakes sometimes.

Attention! Grammar-based language learning is very popular and important, but it should only be one part among the many others of language learning. Grammar rules should be only explained when a student makes a certain mistake more than once and cannot understand why. Language should not be based on grammar. For it is difficult to understand it when grammar is explained in a foreign language and if we use the student’s native language to explain grammar, then the use of foreign language will become limited.

The result: Learning grammar is an important part of any foreign language but it should only be an explanation to develop written and spoken fluency. The right order is thus the following: 1. Use of simple words and sentences 2. More difficult words and sentences 3. Answering grammar questions to explain mistakes and errors.


The communication methods may seem to be the hardest way to learn languages, still, this method brings the quickest end most efficient results. Those who want to speak a language, have to begin with talking.

In the beginning, use simple, 2-3-words-long sentences, like a child. You will be able to utter more complicated sentences in a short amount of time. If I had to compare languages with a sport, I would say it is a lot like swimming. I may know how to swim in theory (like the grammar), I may have seen or heard other people swim (like reading and listening) but I will still drown when I jump into the deep water while I can’t swim. Because I don’t know how to swim, although I have swum before: in my mother’s womb. Swimming is, just like language, in our DNA. Everyone can learn it if they want to. There is no need to learn much about theory, because everyone can learn it just by doing. Let us speak with courage, even with bigger or smaller mistakes, because it is important that we gain positive experience by listening to others and ourselves. If we are corrected by others, use the right expression from then on and enjoy that we can converse with people of different nations. Because speaking is nothing else but being open to others.

Attention! Speaking should be practised under the control of someone who can speak the foreign language perfectly, because their criticism is important for our improvement. Being confident is very important, so don’t be afraid to talk and make mistakes.

The result: The communication method is not only fun but quick and efficient. There is nothing to add to that. Using this method, we can learn to speak in German, English, Spanish, Italian, and many other languages.


The ReformDeutsch method

The ReformDeutsch method is a communication-based language teaching method. We start with the most simple sentences and go towards the more difficult ones, this way we can develop vocabulary with question-answer activities. New vocabulary and grammar are taught and practised in authentic real-life situations and dialogues. Thanks to our method and algorithm, these words will re-occur often during your training until they will be a part of the learner’s active vocabulary and they will be able to use them in every grammatical situation. By broadening the active vocabulary and making learners communicate in real-life situations, their confidence will rise and they will be able to communicate correctly and fluently. Our goal is to make them communicate and thus help them learn new words while raising their confidence.


We can help you too! Learn to communicate fluently in German with our communication tainings.




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