Fluent Forever: How to Learn any Language Fast and Never Forget It by Gabriel Wyner
$10.39 at Amazon ($9.87 Kindle)
I’ve always considered myself to be one of those people with no talent whatsoever for languages. Despite a year of Spanish in middle school, followed by three more years in high school, I barely remember a word of it and I never could understand spoken Spanish (of course, being hard of hearing contributes to that as well). Since I’m planning a trip to Paris in a few years, though, I decided I really should try learning French.
Fluent Forever isn’t about any particular language; rather, it’s about how to learn languages for maximum retention. The writing is very good, and entertaining; I found it to be a fun read. The book is about two main topics: the science behind how we learn languages, and the tools we can use to take advantage of that knowledge – in particular, spaced repetition systems that help you to spend time on words only when you’re close to forgetting them. I’ve read about these tools before, but this book does a better job than anything else I’ve seen at explaining why and how to use them.
As a child, I had a speech therapist to help me learn to hear and make the different sounds in English that I had trouble with, so the section on learning sounds…er…sounds familiar. The author emphasizes learning the sounds of a language prior to learning words, so that you don’t end up having to learn two entirely different languages (spoken and written). Links are provided to videos showing how the mouth works to create various sounds. Once we “specialize” in one language, we have trouble differentiating between similar sounds in other languages that don’t occur in ours; the author discusses how to learn to hear these “minimal pairs”.
Quite a bit of supplementary material is being made available through the website for the book (some for free, some for sale), but most of it is still under development (in fact, as of this writing – October 5, 2014 – all I see available is the French pronunciation trainer. So I haven’t tried any of this yet, but the prices look reasonable.
Overall, I quite enjoyed reading this book. I haven’t started implementing the suggestions yet – I plan to start learning in January – but they make a lot of sense and I can see how they’ll make learning a language much easier. For anyone who wants to learn how to learn a language, I fully recommend this book.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of the ebook through the Blogging for Books program.