Stuff We Like: Fluent Forever

Have you ever wanted to learn a foreign language? I mean: really learn it? So that you can speak it or read it with ease?

Does someone you know — maybe a college-bound student — need to learn a language and absorb a high volume of vocabulary relatively quickly?

If so, then Gabriel Wyner's book, Fluent Forever, is a book you need to know about.

How I Found Fluent Forever

Last summer, I was reading books about how learning works. Two of my favorites were:

When I popped those books into Amazon, to see what other similar books Amazon would recommend, I found Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Remember it Forever.

I was glad I found it.

About Fluent Forever

Fluent Forever was written by Gabriel Wyner. Wyner was an engineering student who, at some point, decided he wanted to become an opera singer.

Opera has many languages: Italian, French, German, etc.

Wyner, with his engineering mind, wanted to discover the most efficient and effective ways to learn those operatic languages. The result of his work is Fluent Forever.

The Key Points in Fluent Forever

To implement Wyner's system, you really need to get the book and read it.

But here's the gist:

  • Start with pronunciation. Wyner recommends first gaining confidence in the sounds of the language. You need to be able to distinguish the subtle differences in the foreign phonemes. At his site, he has materials that make that possible.
  • Images are sticky. The brain remembers pictures and stories very, very easily. So associate everything you learn — vocabulary, phrases, grammar — with an image and, where possible, with a story. Google Images makes it easy to get images.
  • Spaced repetition matters. When learning any new material, you need a spaced-repetition system to learn efficiently and effectively. Items you're learning come to you for review at ever-increasing intervals. If you remember them, the interval increases; if you've forgotten them, the review interval decreases (you'll see it again tomorrow, starting over on that item).
    • Note: For me, Wyner's big value was introducing me to Anki, a cross-platform flashcard app that works as a spaced-repetition system.
  • Leverage technology. Wyner wants you to use the Internet and computers to do things that are either difficult, tedious, or impossible to do without the Internet and computers. Google's powerful search engine for text and image, Anki's ability to store multi-media content and present it to you at spaced intervals, italki's ability to connect you with native-speaker tutors: all of that technological power can help you get your brain fluent in a foreign language relatively easily.
    • Note: I say "relatively" easily, because there's no royal road to acquiring fluency in a foreign language. It always requires intentional effort and deliberate struggle with the material. The effort and struggle with the material is a large part of what gives you mastery of the material.
  • Think about your goal. What does "Learn Spanish" mean? It depends on the person and the circumstances. If you're taking a day trip to Rocky Point and want to be able to buy a knickknack on the street from a local, learning Spanish will look like one thing. If you want to read Don Quixote in the original, learning Spanish will look like something else. For each of those goals, you'll need to spend your time learning different vocabulary and different grammar. Thinking clearly about your desired outcome is a key in learning a foreign language efficiently.

My Current Use of Fluent Forever

I have a friend whom I'll call (to protect his privacy) Mr. Smart Shopper. Or better: Señor Comprador Inteligente.

Señor Comprador Inteligente wanted to learn a foreign language with fluency. I told Señor Comprador Inteligente about Fluent Forever and about the power of Anki. I actually told him about these things a few months back, but the fuego wasn't lit within his alma until last week. Now his desire to learn Spanish using Fluent Forever principles and Anki is ardiente.

¡Cuidado! ¡Caliente!

[Note: If you have still not read The Dog of the South — even after my recommendation — go read The Dog of the South. The narrative is delightfully peppered with Ray Midge's Spanish interjections.]

So now I'm using Fluent Forever's principles to enhance my Spanish and to try to keep Señor Comprador Inteligente from advancing beyond me in español.

Wish me buena suerte.