Learning a language is tough and it’s a daunting task. Unless you take classes, it can be hard to know where to start. Most people might start with Duo-lingo or a similar language app or online program. But what is really the best way? I recently read the Fluent Forever book by Gabriel Wyner and it changed my whole way of thinking about language learning and aiming high.
The book focuses on the best method of how to learn a language, scientifically. There is a lot of information about how the human mind works, such as memorization techniques, where to start, and how to create a plan of action.
Here I am going to outline my personal takeaways and how I created a plan of action.
Fluent Forever Key Takeaways
- Learn Pronunciation First
- Don’t translate
- Use space repetition systems
To really master a language, you need to understand how the words and sounds are formed so you can accurate communicate and listen while learning your language. Learning the sounds and shapes of the language will allow you to learn more about the language and learn faster. No more will you have to ask google or your friend to say each and every word. Learn it first and you will excel.
“There’s no reason to become fluent in a badly pronounced language, because no one will speak to you.”
Memorising flashcards might help when trying to remember all the types of cells for a biology class, but just like biology class you need to learn the context of each cell and remember what exactly it relates to. Chien might mean dog in french, but when I see a cute fluffball walking by on a leash, what do I think? The words need to relate to other memories and other visual objects, not just a translation of a word.
For example when we learn grammar, it’s not always a direct translation. Sometime the direct object is in other places or we need to modify the verb to correlate to who we are speaking to or about. It’s good to learn the literal translation, but also to picture it in your mind and visualise a scenario this sentence would be used in.
“Je te parle.” – “I speak to you” – literally: I, to you, speak.
Now say that sentence and imagine speaking to someone or saying that sentence to them. There you go, you just created a connection, thus strengthening your memory to that phrase.
Spaced Repetition System
Basically a flashcard on steroids. They space out the words to match up to what is “the forgetting curve.” Your memory retention increases as you review your content in a spaced out system. 1 day, 3 days, 10 days, 30 days, 90 days. This method will help retain your vocabulary and keep you up to date.
Where to Start
To master pronunciation, make sure you know all the sounds in the language and how to tell them apart. You can find pronunciation guides in all sorts of books and all over Youtube. Fluent Forever actually has a great beginners guide to the IPA alphabet using French sounds. Link under Tools. You can also find pronunciation trainers all over youtube as well that teach you to hear and pay attention to the minute differences in particular sounds. In french that “u” and “ou” really gets me, as well as all the nasal sounds “en” “un” “in”.
Next you must start building your vocabulary. A program might go step-by-step and talk about family or food or shopping, etc. But, no all of these words may be useful in day to day life. A better place to start is a frequency list. You can buy a frequency dictionary, or google “1000 most common french words” or use one of Wiktionary’s lists.
While learning vocabulary a good tool is to use Google images. Search for your word and see what kind of images pop up. You can use these for your visualizations or choose something a little more personal (usually better).
Grammar. Everyone’s favorite part, right? The trick to this is get a book. Straight up don’t try and learn from a website or an app. Get a book because all the grammar you would ever need is stored right at your finger tips. Read through the book. Take notes. For me, I’m choosing to read through my grammar book, copying down charts and tables, making examples, and trying to notice the various grammar usage in other aspects of studying, such as when reading an article in french. I do the same with vocabulary. By connecting the vocabulary and grammar I am learning to real stories and situations, it helps me better learn and remember my french. After I read through this grammar book, I plan to get a grammar book based on exercises and practice, practice, practice, reviewing and really mastering how to use it.
Another way to master grammar exercises is creating flashcards. Make a simple sentence in your language, but take out the verb and replace it with the infinitive in parenthesis. The back of the flash card is the conjugated verb.
Building a Custom Language Class
Okay so you got the basics down and things are getting a little boring. How can we spice things up some more? I can already tell I’m getting bored or at least impatient, time to liven it up!
What do you want to learn? What do I want to learn? Personally I need to be focusing on day-to-day tasks i.e. going to the store, talking at the post office, explaining who I am to immigration, etc. I also need the necessary vocabulary to talk to little kids as I am working as a babysitter. I need to make out a list of important words and essentially create a script or write a mini essay. Writing a story will help me figure out which words I really need to communicate and get my point across. The website: Lang-8.com allows you to submit short stories to an exchange community and have native speakers correct your writing, so you know you are using correct expressions and grammar.
Read a Book
“Every novel-length book you read… will automatically increase your vocabulary by 300-500 new words and dump buckets of grammar into that language machine in your head.” – Fluent Forever, Gabriel Wyner
That quote pretty much sums up why you should be reading. Start with something easy, something fun, and something that you have read before. The Harry Potter series is known as kind of a “modern day Rosetta Stone” (the actual rock, not the software) because it has been translated in many languages and has worldwide popularity. Believe me, I own the first Harry Potter in english, spanish, and italian, though I have only managed to read the original version in english, whoops. I swear I’ll actually read through the french version… soon.
The Fluent Forever method also suggests to read your chosen book along with an audiobook, to help you hear the words and get through the book a little faster.
(Without subtitles!) Eventually you will have to wean off subtitles and reading since real life does not have any subtitles included. Baby steps! Start with an interesting TV show without subtitles, read the episode summaries ahead of time so you know the basics of what is going on and you can focus on getting the actual content.
- Custom vocabulary and writing
Do note that this is not a linear list and not the exact list from Fluent Forever. This list is meant to be a general guideline of where to start. Don’t just stop learning vocabulary or practicing your pronunciation. Don’t “move on” to the next step, instead absorb the next step and continue to improve on past skills.
Tools for Learning
Italki.com – Affordable language teachers and tutors from home
Forvo.com – Free Recording of Words.
Wiktionary – Elaborate dictionary for any word, including background, and many uses
Free Frequency Dictionary (PDF) – http://ekladata.com/6FxXu86fl5mQwo7lEyDS5hG9NTc.pdf
Conjugation Website – http://conjugator.reverso.net/conjugation-french.html
Writing Corrections – Lang-8.com
Language Exchange Websites:
Recommended French Language Resources
These are direct recommendations from Fluent Forever, which you can find here: http://fluent-forever.com/french
I highly recommend checking out the above website as well as reading through this book. It’s inspirational and he really breaks down language learning to feel like it’s a feasible reality. Even if you don’t want to buy or rent the book, spend some time on the website looking and learning and paying attention to the method.
À tout l’heure! Bonne Chance!