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Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It Paperback – August 5, 2014
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"This is a fun way for anyone to discover the secrets of language instruction presented in a conversational, stress-free way — no matter how little time you have."
--The Chicago Tribune
“A brilliant and thoroughly modern guide to learning new languages. Fluent Forever won't teach you French, or German, or any other language -- but it will teach you how to learn whatever language you do want to learn, and to learn it faster, and more efficiently. If you want a new language to stick, start here.”
--Gary Marcus, cognitive psychologist and author of the New York Times bestseller Guitar Zero
“Aspiring polyglots of the world, take note: this book will help you pick up any new language in record time. If you’re looking for a practical, brain-friendly, field-tested approach to language learning, search no more: you’ve found your guide.”
--Josh Kaufman, bestselling author of The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast!
“Never before have I seen a language-learning method -- or method for learning anything! -- that synchs up so perfectly with our current scientific understanding of how memory works. I now understand why my past attempts to learn other languages (Spanish, German, Latin) have left me with little more than a smattering of near-random vocabulary words, and I'm inspired to try again. Fluent Forever promises a fun, personalized learning regimen that is sure to wire a new tongue into your brain with speed and simplicity. And Wyner’s sharp wit will keep you entertained along the way! I've never been so excited to challenge my mind.”
--Karen Schrock Simring, contributing editor at Scientific American Mind magazine
“Fluent Forever more than meets the daunting challenge of learning a new language by giving the reader a solid game plan based on how people actually learn and memorize information. From the first chapter, I couldn't wait to get started using Wyner's techniques and tons of resources. His writing is engaging, smart, and conversational, making learning a real joy. If you've ever wanted to become fluent in another language, do yourself a favor and start reading Fluent Forever now.”
--Melanie Pinola, Contributor Writer for LIfehacker.com and author of LinkedIn in 30 Minutes
"Fluent Forever is the book I wish I had had during my numerous failed attempts at learning different languages. It’s a refreshingly fun and engaging guide that shows you how to language-hack your brain. Wyner’s done all the hard work so that the reader can actually enjoy the process of becoming fluent in a language quickly!"
--Nelson Dellis, 2011 and 2012 USA Memory Champion
“This is the book I'd use next time I want to learn a new language. It employs an intelligent mix of the latest methods for learning a language on your own using the web, apps, and voice training tips in an accelerated time frame.
--Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick for Wired Magazine and author of What Technology Wants
"I know what you're thinking: But learning a new language is soooo hard! The solution? Stop being a whiner and start reading Wyner. This book is a winner! Guaranteed to rewire your brain in as many languages as you'd like."
--Joel Saltzman, author of Shake That Brain!: How to Create Winning Solutions and Have Fun While You're at It
“An excellent book…Wyner writes in an engaging and accessible way, weaving in his personal language journey. His method, proven by his own achievements, is clear: focus on pronunciation, avoid translation, and use spaced repetition extensively. And he offers lots of specific techniques to make sure you’ll never forget what you’ve learned. I'd recommend this book to anyone who is serious -- not just aspiring but really serious -- about becoming fluent in a foreign language.”
--Kevin Chen, Co-Founder, italki.com
“Mash up the DNA of Steve Jobs and Aristotle, add training in engineering and opera, and you get Gabriel Wyner, whose ingeniously elegant system helps us knuckleheads learn not just foreign languages but, well, everything. Autodidacts rejoice!”
--Jay Heinrichs, author of Thank You for Arguing and Word Hero
“Americans refuse to realize that all languages are foreign -- yes, including English. It's time we learned how to speak like the rest of the world: in more ways than one. This book is a hilarious toolbox that helps you get a head start. Pick a foreign language (yes, including English) and voilà: el futuro es tuyo. High-five to Gabriel Wyner!”
--Ilan Stavans, author of Dictionary Days: A Defining Passion
About the Author
Gabriel Wyner graduated summa cum laude at USC, where he won the school’s Renaissance Award. His essay on language learning for Lifehacker.com was one of the site’s most read in 2012.
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The strong points: 1. an emphasis on starting off with correct pronunciation (he says otherwise you end up learning two languages rather than one). He has very good videos on the mechanics of pronunciation available. He also sells trainers for specific languages.
2. The use of minimal pairs (two words like cat and cut that differ by only one sound). He has a way of using these to train you to actually hear the differences, which can be very tricky in some foreign languages. You have to hear the differences before you can produced them, but understanding how they are produced gives you a leg up.
3. The use of IPA (international phonetic alphabet) to represent the actual sounds.
4. The use of pictures to associate with a new word. This is how you get the concept associated with the word you are acquiring. It is also how you avoid translation, which impedes thinking in the language.
5. The use of a spaced repetition system (ANKI) to integrate concept, sound, spelling and emotional connection with recall. Tricky issues like gender and grammatical problems are also addressed.
6. Frequency lists are discussed and often provided on his site.
7. Tremendous amount of info on webs resources to practice conversation (and his website also gives info on picking topics).
8. The book is so rich in content that I have probably omitted something significant.
OK, nobody is perfect, so what's missing?
1. The pronunciation material should help you master individual words. But an equally, if not more, important part of conversation is called prosody and concerns the rhythm and stress applied to a string of words. Even without knowing a word of French and Italian, you could easily distinguish the difference in rhythm in a typical conversation. If you are singing, the prosody is implied by the music. In conversation, you have no such guide. You will pick this up in conversation (slowly) but can speed this up by learning poetry in the foreign language, because typical poetry emphasizes prosody. You almost can't avoid it.
2. It's not clear how you can take advantage of sequential activities. These are sometimes called Gouin series. A simple example is: I pick up the book; I open the book; I look at a page in the book; I close the book; I put the book down. We are really good at remembering series (it's how we go through most of our day). Sometimes this is called a schema. If we attach the new words to a schema, it's very reinforcing. Perhaps this can be achieved in an anki system?
3. The only truly negative is that much of the material talked about in the book is not yet available on the website. That's hard on the impatient among us!
There are a few core principles to this approach that it's important to understand
1. It puts a strong emphasis on sound and pronunciation
2. It takes an immersion approach (where you attempt to go directly to thinking in the new language and developing associations in it, rather than trying to translate between two languages)
3. It puts a lot of emphasis on the use of flash cards.
4. You build your own learning materials, rather than using a premade solution. (Except, possibly, for the part where you're learning the sounds). There's a lot of detail on how to do this, though, including resources on the web that you can use to help you.
Flash cards are the core of the approach he's advocating. I know there are some people who just HATE the experience of using flash cards, so if that's you this is probably not the way to go.
The short version of my feeling about this is that if you want a lot of control over your learning process, you're really serious about learning a language, and you like the idea of using techniques that have a lot of scientific and research backing behind them, this book is VERY much worth it. If you know deep down that you're more the type of person who prefers to study with tools that someone else has built for you, you may have a really hard time with the emphasis on building your own flash cards. In that case, you might be better off looking at a copy from a library or borrowing it from a friend or something to get a deeper sense of what's involved before you decide if you want to buy a copy of the book and really commit to trying the system he's proposing.
The philosophy here is sort of similar to the "Learn Python The Hard Way" book that's become popular in programming circles. It teaches in a way that can FEEL harder at first than other approaches, but the goal is to ultimately make total learning process a lot easier by not cutting corners and taking shortcuts that could hurt you in the long run.
And to add on some more detail on those 4 important issues I brought up above...
1. He advocates spending time working on learning sounds early because a) you have to learn pronunciation eventually, and you might as well not spend a few years practicing pronouncing something wrong before going back and trying to fix it, and b) knowing what a word sounds like makes it a lot more memorable.
This is something I'd never thought about before I saw his explanations, but it does make a lot of sense to me. I looked it up, and it really is also consistent with how Mormon missionaries are taught (they're constantly sending people overseas, so they have to take the issue of language teaching very seriously).
2. Once you're past the sound issues and learning the spelling rules, he advocates only using the language you're learning on the flashcards, including lots of pictures, and really trying to tie words and meanings to things in your life.
3. For most people, this is actually a really good thing. He recommends Anki (a piece of software you can run on computers and mobile phones for free - the iPhone mobile app isn't free, but you can use the web interface from iPhone/iPad if you want) which implements what's often called an SRS or Spaced Repetition System. The basic idea is that you can learn most effectively by studying something again just as you were about to forget it. The program attempts to predict when you're going to forget something, so that it gradually increases the wait between practice sessions of the same word.
If all of that sounds like gibberish, then I'll just say that it's a really efficient way to learn and study. There's a lot of research and science on his side here. (In fact, some of what he covers also shows up in another book "A Mind for Numbers" that just came out a couple of days ago, that focuses on similar "how to learn" research and tricks with an emphasis on learning math and science. FYI there's also a "Learning How to Learn" MOOC available through Coursera based on that book.)
4. This is the one that I think will be a sticking point for a lot of people. The author believes strongly that you should create your own flashcards. Flash cards aren't really intended to be a teaching tool so much as a review tool. So he views the flashcard creation process as when you teach yourself something, and then you have a connection to your flash cards that makes it easier for you to understand what they were meant to remind you of, and to learn the material on them.
I think there'll end up being a lot of people who are hesitant to put in the time on creating the flashcards, though, and they'll just want to download premade decks. Anki is a great tool no matter what, but I think it really is very probable that people using pre-made decks for sentences and vocabulary will probably be undermining their progress somewhat.
The biggest barrier that I see here is that you have to be willing to take a lot of control over your own learning process, because you're building the materials. This is initially difficult, because it's sort of overwhelming to think... okay, of all the things in the world, what do I want to learn to say? I think that there'll probably be some people who will end up doing better following a lesson plan from some other learning system (like a grammar book or Duolingo or whatever) and using this to strengthen and fill in their learning.
Other products: Just FYI, the author held a Kickstarter a while ago to fund work on pronunciation trainers for various languages, and to build useful starter vocabulary lists as well. I'm under the impression that those are going to become available over the next few months for purchase, which could be a useful way to make the pronunciation stage of this plan easier.
Edit: I actually have the French Pronunciation Trainer now, since I'd preordered it and it came out a day or two ago. In terms of basic function I can say it seems to work as promised. You get flash cards, the flash cards say words, you tell it whether you knew which word, etc. I can't offer anything about how well it works for teaching you something because 2 days of use is a heck of a long way from a fair test.
If you have experience in contemporary language techniques, or if you already run an SRS, don't buy.
For me, his book misses some very important things in his main premise.
One of his biggest positions is surrounding Spaced Repetition Systems. I use SRS extensively, and one of the biggest challenges is adopting native material into cards which prompt speech production and cards which test comprehension. These are two very different skills, and I think they benefit from activities which specifically target each skill separately. While he goes into great details about how to structure cards, this topic is ignored completely.
A great deal of this information can be found on the web, amid the self-learning language community. For an absolute beginner, with no time to research learning techniques on the web, this could be a good introduction. It would be especially useful to debunk the approaches used in most language classrooms. HOWEVER, a dedicated learner is going to have to do this research anyway, because the techniques and approaches are as individual as a suit and will affect your learning in profound ways. As such, I would recommend jumping into that research right away, and simply engorging the materials found on HTLAL and it's newer version. Also, read methodology books, the AJATT blog, etc.
When I learned Korean, I spent about 40% of my time just researching learning techniques, and then 60% of my time on actual target language material. It paid off in spades, concerning that I am learning Arabic, and can apply 100% of my methodology to the new language.
Both of these were tested languages, and I used them for work.
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