Prof. Zev bar-Lev

About Nanocourses

& Nanosemantics.

The biggest cause of “glossaphobia” (fear of learning foreign languages ) is biting off more than you can swallow, like wanting to speak like a native or speak without errors ( not the same thing, but equally impossible). Learning 2-3 important words (like ‘no’ & ‘thanks,’ in a 2-3 languages is a good start, for basic communicative possibilities. The best next step is a “nano-course”,” with “story-sentences,”to force Creativity. There’s no limit to the confidence & fluency you can develop with two dozen words, chosen for interest from the main parts of speech. offers several Nanocourses, from Italian to Japanese.

You should tell “imaginative stories about fun animals in the present tense. Language Hobbyists sometimes learn commands first, but these often lead into “Tarzan speech.” In English it’s also pirate speech (“I be tired”), a step above Tarzan. But in some languages it sounds much worse, eg for Je Parlez for French Je Parle (with silent e). Here & generally, “too much grammar” is confusing, & the best rule is “if in doubt, leave it out.” In English, “the childs wented to many storedren” is much more confusing than the (also very incorrect) “Many child go yesterday to many store, which is communicatively clear. If you’re using my Nanocourses, be sure to follow the Study Steps fully, one at a time. Stretching out the lessons is also helpful.

eXit monolingualism!

Comprehending unknown words, English (like SPHecelation) or foreign, as my friend Barry Farber did with Hungarian restrooms labeled FERFIAK & NÖK. (Read this fun story at His successful analysis was actually a precursor to my “Nanosemantics” with “Magic Letters.” The theoretical & practical validity (& fun) of Nanosemantics is proved by hundreds of “Parallels” within & between languages, such as Hebrew/English Baqar/Beef, Knesset/Congress. (K = C, etc.) , and even between the plural endings of Hebrew/Chinese cherub-iM/Hayydz-Men ‘children.’These are not mere coincidences to memorize by rote. They go back to the “revolutionary” fact that letters have meanings. “Magical M” means ‘together,’ as in Hebrew aM & Chinese Min ‘people.’ Such Parallels can be specially helpful within single language, like Hebrew iM ‘together with,’ & even Mellekh ‘king’ & iMa ‘Mom.’ Similarly for Chinese Muchin/Fuchin ‘Mother’/‘Father’ & Greek Nyn/Neos ‘Now/New. Magic Letters is a “Thinking Person’s approach to language. Learners may believe incorrectly that they learn better with Rote memorization. But Magic Letters allow independent play, as it opens up the history of meaning in all languages like a delicious salmon fillet on the grill. Learning even just 3 Magic Letters (MagLets for short) with multiple examples especially in new languages will be the best start to learning the system.

‘Push/Pull’ & Lift.

Of course these are best examples. Parkway (where you drive’ & Driveway (where you Park) show how messy language usually is. But if you understand rather than memorize, your Brain will help you most: rather than memorizing, understanding that MagLets can be onomatopoetic (like Sh in SHelter, SHirts, SHoes, & Hebrew SHalom ‘’peace.’ SImilarly for B in Bump & Bolshoy Ballet. They can be kinesthetic (like L in Italian Leva La LIngua ‘Lift the tongue). In principle, MagLets are always “iconic,” like C meaning Catch (in Contain, Container) like Italian Casa ‘house.’ The “rubbery” meaning shifts are the big challenge:. In Language as in Life, “SHift happens.” But Meaning Shifts are more, well, Meaningful than phonetics or grammatical endings. One old-time trend in Hebrew is teaching without meaning, which they call “decoding”! But this is a harmful misnomer, producing students who can recite “the motzi” easily & in the right contexts, but don’t know the meaning of the word Motzi. The same for Kaddish: even the poet Ginsberg mistakenly thought it is a “prayer for the dead,” despite the presence of a full translation in most prayer books. It’s odd that Hebrew teachers so want to create a meaningful experience but leave out meaning itself as too scholarly. But knowing that the Second Main Meaning of Sh is ‘peace&quiet, ‘law&order’ etc. provides a blatant Key to SHabat SHalom, giving entree into SHabat & the full range of Jewish experiences & texts.


GR is one of the half dozen consonant pairs (MagPairs) that are a funner phenomenon, because they have a more specific meaning than the very abstract MagLets. (Solitaire MGLets are like the five tastes that the tongue distinguishes, while MAgPairs are more like the many flavors thzt the nose distinguishes. PL is another fun MagPair, as in PLaying PoLo with PLutocrats on the acroPoLis. Back to thinking, Nanosemantics shows an interesting & useful “compositional”side: the meaning of a MagPair is derived from the meanings of its Solitaire MagLets , So PL means ‘lift up’ (PLaza, PLus) composed of P

Practical Summary.

If you learn 2-3 MagLets and 1-2 MGPairs along with several examples of each (mostly foreign words), you will well in your way to actually using the system, especially in more effective learning of foreign languages. And you’ll be smart as a Sphinx in recognizing new English words like SPHecelation. (SF means ‘squeeze,’ as also in Hebrew SFTayyim ‘lips’ (compare Safah ‘lip, language.’) To enjoy & succeed, wake up your imagination, for a Virtual Visit to the Bolshoy Ballet dancing the classic imaginary Russian Ballet “War & Peace,” where Cyrillic B bumps Magical M until the finale,in which a line of M’s spells out Miru Mir ‘peace for the World!

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