April 29, 2022

Fluent Forever

I made 120 highlights while reading Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner. The book will give you insights into efficiently learning a language.
  • My cookie is memorable because it contains so many connections. I can access the cookie in a thousand different ways. I will remember cookies if I read about them, hear about them, see them, smell them, or taste them.

  • Since we need to learn words, not pictures, we will use combinations of words and pictures.

  • Learn the sound system of your language, bind those sounds to images, and bind those images to your past experiences.

  • You'll be making two cards for many words: a comprehension card (bear = ?) and a production card (big, furry animal, likes to eat honey = ?).

  • Create flashcards to memorize every spelling pattern you need.

  • To create a deep, multisensory memory for a word, you'll need to combine several ingredients: spelling, sound, meaning, and connection.

  • Choose one or two images that you found particularly telling, and you'll put them in your flashcards.

  • You're looking for any memory that you can connect with your new word. If you can find one, you've just made your word 50 per cent more memorable. Even if you can't, the process of searching for a memory gives you a significant boost.

  • You can make your words more memorable in two ways: (1) By investigating the stories they tell (2) By connecting those stories to your own life.

  • Pick and choose your favourite examples of each grammar rule. Then break those examples down into new words, word forms, and word orders. You'll end up with a pile of useful, easy-to-learn flash cards.

  • Add two basic design principles to your flashcards; (1) Many simple cards are better than a few complex cards. (2) Always ask for one correct answer at a time.

  • Even when you're focusing on a book or show, never stop doing flashcard reviews. They get more useful, the longer you use them.

  • Each word should bring out an explosion of associations: sounds, spellings, definitions, grammatical features, memories, and emotions.

  • The more flashcards you make for the same information, the easier time you'll have.

  • If you're using Anki, feel free to ignore the phonetic alphabet part; you're just going to take the example words and find recordings of each.

  • Try to connect four or five chunks of information for every word in your new language: (1) Spelling, (2) Pronunciation, (3) Picture, (4) Personal Connection, (5) Gender.

  • Look for an example sentence that includes a few words you know already, and a few words you don't. That way, you'll pick up a few new words passively.

  • In any of the languages with genders, you have to know a word's gender before doing anything with it. That's why your grammar book starts with a long tirade about gender in the first or second chapter.

  • Imagine all of the masculine nouns exploding. Your tree? Kaboom, splinters of wood everywhere. Make your images as vivid as possible.

  • Feminine nouns should catch fire. Your nose spits fire out of it like a dragon. Feel the heat of each image; involve many senses.

  • Neuter items should shatter like glass. Jagged, brown-red, sparkling shards of horse spread across the floor, as does your broken heart (sniff).

  • Use your grammar book as a quick guided tour through your language. Read the explanations, learn an example or two, and skip over the (often monotonous) drills and exercises.

  • Pick out an example or two that you find particularly interesting, make a flashcard for them, and poof, you'll have that grammar rule memorized.

  • Grammar is amazingly complex, but it is awe-inspiring in its simplicity.

  • In one to three months, you'll be ready to tackle grammar, without needing to learn vocabulary, pronunciation, and spelling at the same time.

  • I encountered three essential keys to language learning: (1) Learn pronunciation first, (2) Don't translate, (3) Use spaced repetition systems.

  • Not only can a beginning student skip translating, but it was an essential step in learning how to think in a foreign language.

  • You'll have to determine whether your image of fluency includes political discussions with friends, attending poetry readings, working as a secret agent, or lecturing on quantum physics at the Sorbonne.

  • Your first task in language learning is to reach the next level: sound.

  • Concepts can get broken down into two groups: abstract and concrete. Deeper still than abstract concepts are concrete, multisensory concepts.

  • We prioritize and store concrete concepts because they engage more of our brains, not because they're necessarily any more important than other information.

  • To maximize efficiency, spend most of your time recalling rather than reviewing.

  • You'll make the best use of your time when practising recall if your earlier experiences are memorable. You can accomplish this by connecting sounds, images, and personal connections to every word you learn.

  • Impressions matter. Your accent makes your first impression in any language. A good accent can make the difference between a conversation that starts in French and ends in English, and a full conversation in French.

  • When I learn a language, I tend to use a combination of recordings and a phonetic alphabet, at least until the little French man in my head starts sounding very French. Then I stop with the recordings and rely on my phonetic alphabet. Suppose my language is very friendly, phonetically speaking. In that case, I'll phase out my phonetic alphabet once I'm feeling (over) confident about my pronunciation.

  • Math can be challenging for the same reason that languages can be challenging. At some point, you miss a connection, and if no one goes back, takes you by the hand, and shows you that connection, then you're suddenly doomed to memorize crappy formulae.

  • English has at least a quarter of a million words. But if you only knew the top hundred words, you'd recognize half of everything you read. Many of these words are function words. Still, even if you set those aside, you'll find a small group of useful, simple words that you use all the time.

  • With only a thousand words, you'll recognize nearly 75 per cent of what you read. With two thousand, you'll hit 80 per cent. As you might expect, you'll run into diminishing returns after a while.

  • By learning the sounds of your language, you gain access to words. By learning words, you gain access to grammar. And with just a little bit of grammar, you gain access to the rest of your language.

  • Start by learning the top one thousand to two thousand words to form a solid foundation and then add key-words based upon your interests.

  • Fluency isn't the ability to know every word and grammatical pattern in a language; it's the ability to communicate your thoughts without stopping every time you run into a problem.

  • Create an environment in which you can speak your target language as much as possible.

  • Once you have some grammar and vocabulary under your belt, you can begin to learn the subtle differences between similar words. Until then, learn one basic word and move on.

  • As soon as an English speaker learns proper French pronunciation, he already knows thousands of words.

  • At the end of my French immersion program, I sat in a classroom with seven advanced French students, discussing philosophy. We had recently read Huis Clos by Sartre, and we were comparing Sartre's ideas with those of Descartes. It may have been the most esoteric, highbrow conversation I've ever had, and it was in French, of all things.

  • French is, accordingly, two languages: the written language of Descartes and the spoken language of Dekart.

  • One of my French teachers was an American woman who had married a Frenchman and moved to Paris. When she spoke French, she was one of the most elegant, intelligent women I have ever met. On the last day of our French program, we finally switched to English. In an instant, that same elegant woman suddenly transformed into a quick-witted, sailor-mouthed party girl from Texas. That's not to say that her French persona was somehow fake; it was just a different side of her personality, and it came to the surface in her French.

  • Suppose you're learning the word chèvre. You could make one flashcard that asks "What's a chèvre?" and another flashcard that asks "What's this?"

  • We could keep going: (1) How do you pronounce "chèvre"? (2) How do you spell the word "she-vre"? (3) What's a food that chèvres eat? (4) What colour are chèvres? (5) What's your least favourite memory of a chèvre?

  • Begin with short intervals (two to four days) between practice sessions. Every time you remember, you'll increase the gap (e.g. nine days, three weeks, two months, etc.), quickly reaching intervals of years.

  • If you forget a word, you'll start again with short intervals and work your way back to long ones until that word sticks, too.

  • You'll spend a fixed amount of time learning new words every day, remembering the words from last week, and occasionally meeting old friends from months or years back.

  • In four months, practising for 30 minutes a day, you can expect to learn and retain 3600 flashcards with 90 to 95 per cent accuracy.

  • I suggest the following: (1) Sound Play: Learn how to hear and produce your target language's sounds and how spelling and sound interrelate. (2) Word Play: Learn 625 frequent, concrete words by playing Spot the Differences in Google Images, finding personal connections, and if needed, adding mnemonic imagery for grammatical gender. (3) Sentence Play: Begin turning the sentences in your grammar book into flashcards for new words, word forms, and word order. Use written output to fill in the gaps missing from your textbook.

  • I suggest this next: (1) If you haven't already done so, learn the first half of your grammar book. Make flashcards for everything you find interesting. (2) Learn the top thousand words in your target language. Write out definitions and examples whenever you're not entirely sure what a word means. About halfway through, you'll find that you can understand a monolingual dictionary. Use it to help you learn the rest of your words. (3) Go back to your grammar book, skim through it, and grab any remaining bits of information you'd like. (4) Read your first book while listening to an audiobook. (5) Watch a full season of a dubbed TV show, reading episode summaries in your target language ahead of time. (6) Get a ton of speech practice. Get as much as possible, either through an immersion program, a language holiday abroad, or through teachers on iTalki. If you get a private teacher, talk about the next thousand words from your frequency list and add specialized words for your particular interests. Together with your teacher, create example sentences and enter them into your SRS.

  • If you're always speaking and writing, and you're using your SRS to learn from your mistakes, you'll improve at breakneck speed.

  • Someone sat down and spent months (or years, heaven forbid) organizing the information you need, and you can have all of that effort in the palm of your hand for $15 - $25.

  • Phrasebooks from the Lonely Planet company are cheap and come with a tiny, convenient dictionary in the back.

  • A pronunciation guide will walk you through your language's entire pronunciation system, with the help of recordings and diagrams of your mouth and tongue.

  • A frequency dictionary typically contains the most essential five thousand words of your target language, arranged in order of frequency.

  • You may also want a thematic vocabulary book.

  • Dictionaries you will need; (1) Traditional bilingual dictionary (e.g. English - French), (2) Monolingual dictionary (French - French).

  • Once you start making flashcards, Forvo will become your best friend. If you're using Anki, but recordings from Forvo into your flashcards.

  • A Hint for Rhinospike. Your request for a recording will get done more quickly if you record something in English for someone else. It's how they encourage people to record.

  • A good pronunciation guidebook will come with a CD, provide diagrams of your mouth and tongue, and walk you through the entire pronunciation system of your language.

  • A good textbook/CD combo will start with a good pronunciation guidebook and provide you with everything you need.

  • A good dictionary will give you a guide to its phonetic alphabet, which may range from a couple of occasional marks to full-blown IPA. It may even begin with a good discussion of the spelling rules.

  • Enter the word frequency list. Researchers take a giant mass of text - millions of words and jam it all into a computer. The computer counts the words and spits out gold: the words of a language in order of their importance.

  • Each language has its frequency list (Routledge publishes the best frequency dictionaries). They are fascinating, both because of the words they include and the words they don't.

  • If you're using Anki, get my (free) demo deck. It's all set up to generate every card in this book automatically. You assemble the information (spelling, recordings, personal connection, etc.), and it spits out all the cards you could want.

  • Extra repetition is known as overlearning, and it doesn't help long-term memory at all.

  • When you study by reading through a list multiple times, you're practising reading, not recall.

  • Translations strip the music out of words.

  • You can't learn much from writing without a source of corrections. You need native speakers to tell you how to say whatever you want to say.

  • Whenever and wherever you practice, follow the golden rule of language: no English allowed. By practising in this way, you'll develop comfortable fluency with the words and grammar you know.

  • Watch movies and television. In these genres, you listen for the stories, so you'll pay attention to everything you hear.

  • We learn with our eyes more than our ears, and so when subtitles are present, we don't improve at listening.

  • You need to put yourself in a situation where you're relying entirely on your ears, and subtitles take that away from you.

  • TV series are easier than films.

  • Which TV series should you watch? Choose whatever you like, as long as it's not a comedy.

  • If you're looking for a way to refresh and maintain a language with the least amount of effort, then watch a lot of television.

  • The better you internalize good pronunciation habits initially, the less time you'll waste hunting down broken words.

  • Suppose you can build a gut instinct about pronunciation. In that case, every new word you read will automatically find its way into your ears and your mouth. Every word you hear will bolster your reading comprehension.

  • When you listen to a person with a thick Japanese accent, notice this: they aren't saying r when they mean to say l. They're saying a consonant you can't quite hear.

  • I go over a tremendously valuable tool known as the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). It was created, naturally, by the French, who needed some way to deal with the fact that four of the five letters in 'haies' (hedges) were silent (it's pronounced "eh").

  • When you use minimal pair testing at the beginning of your language journey, you'll learn much faster in the long run. You'll have an easier time remembering new words because they no longer sound foreign. You'll also understand native speakers better because your ears are in sync with their speech.

  • If you work on your accent early, you will pronounce all of your new words correctly.

  • To master your mouth, you'll need information. You need to know what your mouth is doing whenever you open it.

  • The phonetic alphabet does two remarkable things: (1) it turns languages into easily readable sounds. (2) It tells you exactly how to make each of those sounds.

  • In general, you only need three pieces of information to make any sound: you need to know what to do with your tongue, with your lips, and with your vocal cords, and there aren't that many options.

  • By making the end of a word as comfortable and familiar as possible, you'll never get lost on the way there.

  • Keep imitating your recordings while you're paying attention to your tongue, lips, and throat until you understand how to form each sound.

  • Every book you read will increase your vocabulary and dump buckets of grammar into your language machine.

  • For your very first book, try to find a familiar story - a translation of something you've already read or a book that's got turned into a movie you've seen. Read it along with an audiobook.

  • Even familiar words can sound different in the context of rapid speech, and audiobooks are the easiest way to familiarize yourself with real, spoken language.

  • I can highly recommend the Harry Potter series. The translations are excellent, and there are lots of audiobook versions.

  • SRSs are flashcards on steroids. Based on your input, they create a custom study plan that drives information into your long-term memory.

  • Create flashcards that test your ability to recall a given the word, pronunciation, or grammatical construction. Along with images and personal connections, these cards will form the foundation of a powerful memorization system.

  • Feedback is a simple concept with dramatic results. If we encounter our 'gato' flashcard and get stumped, we can look at the card's backside and see a picture of a cat. We have just given ourselves immediate feedback.

  • At its most basic level, a Spaced Repetition System (SRS) is a to-do list that changes according to your performance.

  • When you review your cards, give yourself five to ten seconds. Recall whatever you can, then turn the card over, and check your answers on the backside.

  • Despite the prevalence of English, foreign languages' demand has increased in recent years as we've grown more interconnected.

  • Even if you don't change careers, you've potentially increased your salary by 5 - 20 per cent.

  • Employers see language skills as a sign of intelligence and competence. That puts you - their newly bilingual employee - in higher demand.

  • You don't just seem smarter when you know another language; you become smarter.

  • By learning a language, you permanently change structures in your brain.

  • Bilingual brains are measurably different than the monolingual brain. Specific brain regions are more developed - and recent studies show that you don't need to be bilingual from birth to show these signs of bilingualism.

  • When you learn a language, you permanently improve your memory - you'll be able to memorize faster and easier. You'll multitask better. Bilingual people are better at focusing on tasks and ignoring distractions. They're more creative. They're better problem solvers. Bilingual students beat monolinguals in standardized tests of English, math, and science.

  • Bilingual brains are more resistant to the wear and tear of age. Studies show a significant delay in the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

  • Mnemonic images work for reasons you might already surmise: we're good at remembering images, mainly when those images are violent, sexual, funny, or any combination of the three.

  • Make your images as vivid and multisensory as you can. If you do, you'll have an easy time recalling each word's gender whenever you review, and if you get stumped, you can create a new image then and there.

  • Instead of drilling verb forms or noun declensions, you can learn a pattern once, attach an image to it, and use that image to memorize the pattern of every related word.

  • Whenever you run into a tricky pattern, choose a person, action, or object to help you remember. For verb patterns, pick a mnemonic person or an object. For noun patterns, use a person or an action. Adjectives fit well with objects, and adverbs fit well with actions.

  • PAO relies upon the three essential ingredients of a story: a person (Arnold Schwarzenegger), an action (explodes), and an object (a dog).

  • Once you have a source for corrections, your goal is to make mistakes.

  • Once you get your corrections, you'll figure out precisely where your problems are, and you'll learn how a native speaker would express them.

  • Put every correction you receive into your flashcards. That way, you'll never forget it. It's is one of the best features of SRSs; they give you the ability to remember everything.

  • Use writing to get a feel for the words and grammar rules in your textbook.

  • I finish my daily flashcard reviews and then begin writing example sentences and definitions for new words.

  • If you want, you can even work with your tutor to generate example sentences for new flashcards.