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.
The author Gretchen Rubin has long been fascinated by human nature, and wanted to know why some people easily adopt new habits while others struggle to change. After years of investigation, she realized these differences could be explained (and better managed) by identifying how a person responds to expectations. It turns out that certain people respond very differently to inner expectations like New Year’s resolutions or personal goals and outer expectations like work deadlines or requests from family or friends. The personality framework she developed—detailed in her book The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better—divides people into one of four basic personality groups depending on how they respond to inner and outer expectations: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Read on to discover which Tendency best describes your personality and how to apply the framework in language learning.
The journey to full fluency in a foreign language can be roughly divided into what psychologists call the four stages of competence: Unconscious Incompetence, Conscious Incompetence, Conscious Competence, and Unconscious Competence. You can think of progress through the stages like climbing up a mountain peak all the way from sea level. Read on to learn more about the stages and how to keep going when the going gets tough.
You can often spot a new language learner by the scale of their language learning goals and daily habits. When we first start out in a new language, the excitement makes it easy to commit to big, hairy, audacious language learning goals and herculean daily routines. Perhaps we commit to listening to three hours of foreign language audio a day, reading one foreign language novel a week, or speaking with a language tutor for an hour every single day. We might keep this up for a few days, or even a few weeks, but eventually, our motivation will run out and we’ll fall off the pace. Perhaps we have a bad day at work, and cancel our tutor session. Or we have a fight with our spouse and don’t feel like studying any flashcards. Or maybe we get sick and opt to binge watch Narcos instead of listening to language podcasts. One missed day turns into two, and then three, and then weeks or months of zero language study. Most people (especially perfectionists like me) will then think, “Well, since I can’t do it all, I guess I will do nothing.” Fortunately, we can avoid this all-or-nothing-perfectionist trap by committing instead to a “minimum effective dose” of daily language study: a tiny, tiny amount of time and effort that we will hit each and every day no matter what.