I think so.


Language is a bike and language is a tree.

Learning a language is like learning to ride a bike – you have to ride the bike to learn to ride the bike, and you have to speak a language to learn to speak a language.

Language is a fractal. It grows like a tree. Verbs are seeds. Vocabulary are leaves.


Essential to understanding the structure of a language.


Language is a Fractal. It grows like a tree. Verbs are seeds.


Language is a matrix. Just mix and match building blocks!


This is a metaphor that describes a system for creating instant conversation in a new language.

Imagine that there is a cup, and on the front of the cup there is the verb “I am”. Then imagine taking little pieces of paper and writing all of the words and phrases that correspond to that verb, and putting them into the cup.

For example, “I am …”


-from Chicago

-a teacher

-a Spanish teacher

-a Spanish and English teacher

-a Spanish and English teacher in Chicago

…and everything else you could possibly want to say. And you put those pieces of paper into the cup.

On the front of the cup, under “I am”, you can also put “Are you …?” and all of the phrases on little pieces of paper of all the things you could possibly want to ask someone starting with the verb “Are you …?”

Are you …?

-a teacher

-a student

-a Spanish student


Put the “I am/Are you …?” cup with all its phrases onto a shelf in your mind, and have it ready whenever you need to take it down and have that conversation.

Next repeat the process with the verb “I have”, and “Do you have …?” Again, write down all the phrases on little pieces of paper that correspond to this verb, and you conversation continues to grow.

I have … / Do you have …?

-family in Chicago

-two kids / kids

-a sister / siblings

-a dog / pets

Repeat the process with “I like / Do you like …?”, “I want / Do you want …?”, “I’m going to / Are you going to …?”, and put those verbs with their phrases on little pieces of paper on your shelf.

Remember, this is a metaphor; an actual suitcase full of cups would be unwieldy. The conversation-verb-cup language shelf is meant to exist in your mind.

My approach to learning a new language, and teaching them, is building this shelf — creating conversation using verbs as containers of vocabulary. Then all that’s left is to practice having the conversation and to have conversation in the new language as often as possible — which is to say, to become faster and faster at locating the right piece of paper in the right cup at the time when they’re needed.


Speaking strategy:

1. Choose a topic
2. Choose a verb
3. Mix and match verbs and vocabulary
4. Add useful expressions as needed
5. Practice writing
6. Practice speaking (in real life)

Listening strategy:

1. Establish context
2. Listen for keywords
3. Get the main idea

Overall strategy:

You learn a language by using it because you need it.

Need + Use = Learn


You learn a language by using it because you need it. The formula is Need + Use = Learn.

Most people follow the formula Want + Study = Learn. That’s like trying to use a book to learn how to ride a bike.

All “learning” a language means is being able to use the language in the situations you need to use it in. So focus on learning to speak one topic or situation at a time. But again if you’re not actually using the language it doesn’t matter.

The next thing after choosing a topic is knowing what verb you need to speak on that topic. For example, if the topic is ‘Spanish’, the verb might be ‘I speak’, or ‘I’m learning’.

The verb you choose will flow into vocabulary like branches. ‘I speak…English; a little Spanish’, and so on. Look at any one of my Language Matrix lessons to see how to plot this on a 3-column page.

Learn your highest frequency topics, and highest frequency verbs. The latter is available in several of languages for free here: http://www.tonymarshmethod.com/beginner-kits/

Practice writing and speaking. That’s output.

The more beginner you are, the more output you need. For example, if I know zero words in a language, it doesn’t help me very much to turn on the TV and listen to that language spoken. I need output. I need to begin conversing in that language using what I know of topics, verbs, and vocabulary. (The importance of your output being in the form of actual conversation is that you are also getting input from the other person.)

As you progress, input becomes more and more helpful (it’s always helpful, it just becomes more and more helpful as you go and you want to get to the point where it’s helpful as soon as possible, which you do through using the language as described above).

When it comes to listening strategy, follow these steps:

1. Establish context.

2. Listen for keywords.

3. Get the main idea.

Step 1. can often make the difference between understanding someone 100% and understanding them 0%. When you know generally what someone is talking about, it’s easy to fill in the blanks by just listening for their keywords.

Getting good at guessing is the main skill here. And by the way, you establish context by asking questions. So if you ask someone, What do you think about xyz? there’s a better chance you’ll get the main idea of their answer than if they had volunteered the same information to you without your having asked. Plus, at that point you’ll be able to apply the other most important skill in listening strategy, which is to imitate.

The more questions you ask, the more you learn.

To summarize, prepare yourself for output by learning your highest frequency topics, one topic at a time, by mixing and matching verbs and vocabulary. Practice writing, then go out (or online) and use the language.

Create conversation by asking questions, and practice applying the steps of listening strategy.

The goal at the beginning is to reach the point where you have enough experience in the language (both output and input) that you learn automatically — like a snowball that’s heavy enough to roll by itself. At that point language is an afterthought (as your native language is), and you’re just living.


Most language learning resources focus on the process of what YOU can do to learn a language.

But what I’m interested in is how a language is an organic, living, naturally occurring phenomenon, like rivers, trees, and humans, and what that has to do with efficient language learning, as well as what it has to do with the nature of life/God/the universe (as a bonus).

The mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci used a set of numbers (Fibonacci numbers) to describe how rabbit populations expand. The numbers are 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, … (each number is the sum of the previous two numbers). This “golden” ratio also describes flowers, trees, rivers, seashells, galaxies, and the human face.

Language also grows this way in your mind — particularly if you’re a child. My goal is that it grow that way also in the mind of the adult.

The way it looks is that for every language you grew up speaking there are a number of situations you’ve experienced in which you used that language. You now draw from those situations and everything in them to speak the way you do today. Each of those situations (or topics) are like branches that grow from a single point — that single point being whatever language you’re speaking.

Each of those situations has its own branches, those being verbs that support the situation. For example when hungry, the verb is ‘I want’, or ‘I need’; when happy, the verb is ‘I feel’, or ‘I love’.

Finally, growing from each verb are vocabulary, such as ‘food’, ‘milk’, ‘great’, and ‘you’–that which completes the sentence that the verb started.

At each level, the total number of points increases, the result approximating the Fibonacci scale (See visual aid at the end of this post).

And that’s it. It’s the tree. It’s the way language grew, multiplied in your mind as a child without your consent. It happens as naturally as anything does in nature. It’s golden; it’s divine.

In terms of practical language learning, it means that if you want to learn a language, you have to cultivate the proper conditions for the language to grow in your mind. This involves sunlight and water (input), it involves roots (thinking in the language), it involves branches (verbs) and leaves (vocabulary). And it involves doing things in a certain order so that the process be in harmony with that golden mean.


estar = to be

Estava = I was
¿Você estava? = Were you?

Estou = I am
Você está? = Are you?

Vou estar = I’m going to be
Você vai estar? = Are you going to be?

ter = to have

Tinha = I had
Você tinha? = Did you have?

Tenho = I have
Você tem? = Do you have?

Vou ter = I’m going to have
Você vai ter? = Are you going to have?

ir = to go

Fui = I went
Você foi? = Did you go?

Vou = I go/I’m going
Você vai? = Do you go?/Are you going?

Vou = I’m going to go
Você vai? = Are you going to go?

fazer = to do

Fiz = I did
Você fez? = Did you do?

Faço = I do
Você faz? = Do you do?

Vou fazer = I’m going to do
Você vai fazer? = Are you going to do?


O que você fez? = What did you do?
O que você está fazendo? = What are you doing?
O que você vai fazer? = What are you going to do?

ontem = yesterday
hoje = today
amanhá = tomorrow

How many question and answers can you make with this?

Share with someone learning Portuguese.