Tim Ferris' blogpost How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language in 1 Hour (Plus: A Favor) describes a "language deconstruction technique" to help people find out what a foreign is like before deciding whether they want to learn it. The technique relies on a small set of simple sentences that expose specific language features in the target language, for example:
- does the language have a case system,
- does it have verb conjugations,
- how does it express certain basic things such as past, present and future,
- how does it use pronouns,
- what type of syntax does it mainly use (e.g. SVO order versus SOV order).
Below are the examples from the article:
- The apple is red.
- It is John’s apple.
- I give John the apple.
- We give him the apple.
- He gives it to John.
- She gives it to him.
- Is the apple red?
- The apples are red.
- I must give it to him.
- I want to give it to her.
- I’m going to know tomorrow.
- I can’t eat the apple.
- I have eaten the apple.
The idea is that you find a native speaker of the target language and discuss how these sentences would be translated into the target language. This should give you some clues about the language features listed above.
Some people have applied this to specific languages, e.g.
- French Grammar Deconstruction (à la Tim Ferriss) (the French sentences are read aloud in a YouTube video, so you also get some information about pronunciation),
- Tim Ferris: Thai Sentence Deconstruction,
- Deconstruct Korean Grammar with 13 Sentences.
Ferris' list of example sentences is very short, so there may be important language features that don't get uncovered by means of this list. What sentences should be added to the list to cover language features that are typically learnt at CEFR levels A1 and A2?
In other words, any additional sentences should help uncover language features in foreign languages that the above sentences do not uncover yet (you should mention which feature and at least one language where it is used) and should be basic enough to be learnt at levels A1 and A2 of the CEFR (to remove the element of subjectivity). Proposals to replace sentences are OK. In total, there should not be more than 30 sentences.
The goal is not to cover all language features that are learnt at levels A1 and A2; I mention these levels only to exclude grammatical subtleties that you only need at higher levels. In other words, A2 represents the upper bound of what needs to be covered. The goal of language deconstruction is to get a rough idea of what the target language is like before you start investing time and energy into learning it.