Gabriel Wyner is a polyglot, former opera singer, the author of the book Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It, and the creator of the new Fluent Forever app, the most funded app in crowdfunding history. I highly recommend his book and app, especially to anyone who struggles with foreign language pronunciation or making new words stick. In the interview, we discuss: 1) How opera led Gabe to learn French, Italian, and German. 2) How a summer German immersion program proved he was not “crappy at languages” as he had previously believed. 3) Why opera is the perfect career for those who want to get paid to become multilingual. 4) The visceral difference between simply “pronouncing” a language and actually “thinking” and “feeling” in it. 5) Why you shouldn’t learn a language through translation (“It murders you before you start.”) 6) How images are a faster, more effective way to build new linguistics connections. 7) Why you should start with pronunciation training first. 8) How minimal pair training helps you learn pronunciation quickly and better notice your progress over time. 9) Why you can’t make old memories go away (the groove remains!), but how you can make new memories more powerful (making the groove deeper). 10) Why images (and the meanings they represent) create stronger memories than spelling and sound. 11) Why personal connection (“self-reference”) is the ultimate memory “supercharger.” 12) How self-testing with flashcards can make your study time five times more effective than simply presented yourself with information. 13) The critical difference between “recalling” and “reviewing.” 14)The power of “uh….?” moments and how spaced repetition can help optimize them. 15) Why modern digital flashcards are not really “flashcards” at all, but rather “computerized tests.” 16) Why language learning doesn’t take nearly as much time if you can actually hold onto what you learn. 17) Gabe’s “minimum viable” daily and weekly language learning habits. 18) How to get immersion “chunks” wherever you are. 19) Why frequency dictionaries are linguistic gold.
Once upon a time, you had to two choices if you wanted to get fluent in a language: ① Take language classes, or ② Move abroad. I did both and had a (mostly) great time doing so. But while I think classes can be great for those who can afford the time and tuition and that living abroad can be a profoundly transformative experience, neither undertakings are a requirement for learning a language. Today, anyone with an internet connection, a little creativity, and sufficient discipline can reach a high level of fluency anywhere in the world if they design the proper environment. Read the article to see exactly how.
In the world of language learning, there are actually two main kinds of memory, not just one: declarative and procedural. Both play a role but it’s important to understand the difference between the two and get a balanced “language diet” of both.
I know lots of people who spend hours a week working through sudoku squares, crossword puzzles, and brain training apps like Lumosity. Some folks no doubt genuinely enjoy these activities, doing them for leisure’s sake with little to no thought of their supposed “brain benefits”. I suspect, however, that the vast majority of people are forcing themselves through these puzzles because they want to keep their brain young, stave off neurodegenerative diseases, and improve cognitive firepower. The research does indeed seem to support the notion that doing difficult mental tasks can help change how one’s brain is wired and increase “neurogenesis” (a.k.a. “brain plasticity”), but as a biased language addict, I feel compelled to ask the obvious question: Given all the time and energy one spends trying to solve such puzzles, why not just learn a language instead?
Spaced Repetition Systems (or “SRS” for short) are flashcard programs designed to help you systematically learn new information—and retain old information—through intelligent review scheduling. Instead of wasting precious study time on information you already know, SRS apps like Anki allow you to focus most on new words, phrases, kanji, etc., or previously studied information that you have yet to commit to long-term memory. Read on to see how spaced repetition apps work and which SRS tools I recommend.
Few of you probably know that long before I was “John the Language Guy” I was “John the Bike Guy.” I got my first real mountain bike in junior high school. It was a beautiful blue GT Tequesta it changed my life forever. Suddenly, my world was not limited to just the backyard or schoolyard. I could now go anywhere my 12-year-old quads could propel me! Reflecting back 22 years later, I now realize that when learning to ride a bike or speak a foreign language, the key is building robust procedural memories that you never fully forget no matter how long you go without riding or using the language. And how does one go about learning in the first place? There are 3 fundamental principles involved in all physical and psychological transformations…