I just finished up the Fluent Forever book by Gabriel Wyner and thought it was great. I’m interested in learning Spanish, and I like the approach that the book takes. It has solid advice and is backed up with some research citations.
In this post I’ll break down my key takeaways from the book and the accompanying website which has rich videos. Check out Derek Sivers’s post for an in-depth review.
Spaced repetition is key
Consistent spaced repetition underpins the entire system. I won’t go into heavy detail in this post, but it is basically a way to create flash cards that you see at the optimal time for retention. An algorithm determines how often you will see cards, so you only review cards that you actually need to review. By setting up small cards that you can review, you can learn and retain a lot of information.
Wyner stresses learning pronunciation first. It is important to do this if you want to speak in your target language so you aren’t actually learning two languages, one spoken and one written. This seems to make sense, although I think I would have tried to put pronunciation off until later without this advice.
He spends some time in the book and has various resources on his website about learning pronunciation. Specifically, the IPA is used. I would have disregarded this as a tool, but it actually seems like a good way of learning the sounds of your language and being able to sound out words that you might not know. Also, being able to spell out words that you hear.
After getting some base pronunciation to avoid needing to unlearn words, the next step is to learn the top words of your target language.
To start thinking in your target language, don’t use your native language at all. Only use pictures that you recognize to give meaning to the words. So instead of saying “cat” -> “gato”, you say “picture of cat” -> “gato” (and the reverse) and “audio of gato” -> “gato”. This helps reinforce the language that you are trying to learn and prevents you from translating into your native language.
By learning the top 600-1000 words, you can greatly increase the amount of the language that you can say and understand.
Grammar from sentences
After this, start looking for grammatical patterns and creating cards in your spaced repetition system for them. Also, start working on different verb terms, etc.
Speak, read, and listen
You should at this point start producing in your target language because this will expose where you are weak and strengthen your grasp of the language. There are a variety of resources online to talk to people that speak your language and potentially help them with English.
He recommends reading in your target language, especially if you can find an audiobook version and play it at the same time for the first book. This helps reinforce your pronunciation.
Television and movies in your target language are another resource that can be helpful for helping you be able to carry on a conversation in the language you are trying to learn.
Overall, I recommend checking this book out if you are interested in learning a new language. I think that it takes an approach to learning languages that is both new and seems really useful.