Posted on Sat 30 August 2014

Reading Fluent Forever

After being tempted for a good while, I finally read Gabriel Wyner's [cached]Fluent Forever. It's a solid introduction to language learning and teaches you a lot of good techniques. While I knew most of it already in theory, I hadn't put everything into practice yet, so reading it was a good way to take a look at my own language learning and see what I could improve.

Introduction: Stab, Stab, Stab

Gabriel starts of with 3 basic keys to language learning: 1. Learn pronunciation fast 2. Don't translate 3. Use SRS

He then recommends to get a few books (or websites): Definitely a grammar book and a phrasebook, optionally a frequency dictionary, a pronunciation guide, a bi- and/or monolingual dictionary and a thematic vocabulary book.

Upload: Five Principles to End Forgetting

He continues with explaining how to properly remember foreign words and new concepts:

  • make memories more memorable: learn words by combining structure + sound + concept + personal connection (search for images on google!)
  • maximize laziness: only study until you can repeat it once
  • don't review, recall: helps most for learning
  • wait, wait! don't tell me!: recall just before forgetting is most efficient
  • rewrite the past: successful recall strengthens memory, even when you do forget feedback brings back memories

Basically, just use a SRS like Anki. Deck building is actually incredible important, don't just use premade decks from someone else. If you made your own deck, studying the cards will then hook into the memories made when creating the cards. Read [cached]20 rules for good cards if you haven't yet.

Sound Play

Gabriel proposes a three step approach to learning a language, starting with learning sounds. This is important so you can actually connect spoken and written language. You can use minimal pair testing to learn all phonemes of your language, he's [cached]selling Anki decks for this purpose.

Being able to recognize your language's sounds then allows you to get a good accent by learning how to pronounce correctly. Use the backchaining trick for long words - start by learning how to pronounce the last bit, then successively add letters to the front.

Also make sure you know how to go from written words to correct pronunciation - use IPA if necessary. [cached]Forvo has recordings of words by native speakers if you want to make sure. (Also put these on your flashcards!)

Word Play and the Symphony of a Word

The next step is actually learning words. Start with the most used words, best by following frequency lists. He [cached]offers premade ones, but you can also just check Wikipedia.

Then use google images (basic version will show captions) to find the meaning of your word - often subtly different from your own language - and connect it to a personal memory so you can better remember it. Optionally use mnemonics to memorize grammatical concepts - male words explode, etc.

Sentence Play (Grammar)

Finally, you need to learn some grammar. Simply use example sentences from your grammar book, only a few per grammar point, and put them in your SRS. Grammar only has 3 basic operations: new words, word forms, word order; you can learn all of them using [cached]cloze deletion (My homework was eaten _ the dog).

Similarly, use (made up) sentences to remember declensions, conjugations, etc and mnemonics for grammatical groups. For this, the Person-Action-Object system is quite handy, e.g: Arnold (plural 1) explodes (masculine) a dog.

Also make sure practice writing - you can write about whatever you want - and get corrections on lang-8 (this is also useful for your made up grammar sentences). Put any corrections you get in your SRS.

The Language Game

In the long run, you should learn roughly 2000 basic words, then specialize. Once you have enough vocabulary, use monolingual dictionaries and learn other words passively while looking something up.

Reading books while listening to the audio book is great for passive vocabulary acquisition and also makes sure you follow the natural flow of the language and don't get hung up on details.

Once you are more advanced, watch movies and especially TV shows in the target language, without subtitles. You can optionally read the summary first to make it easier. It's also great practice to only talk in the target language, especially if you don't know how to say a concept. There's a lot of language exchange websites out there (,,,, with paid teacher), you can either find a partner to talk online or meet up in real life.


The book concludes with a few more very detailed chapters on how to make your own flashcards, and how to make minimal pair testing cards to learn sounds. I won't summarize these here, if you feel you lack experience in that area check them out.

Final Remarks

The book also includes a list of 625 most popular words (in the English language), this can be quite helpful to get you started in your new language.

Overall this is a great book, especially if you've never learned another language. I'll definitely recommend it to my friends and start loaning out my copy of the book now. But first I'm going to throw out all premade Anki decks I've downloaded and instead start adding example sentences for all the grammar points I read about in Japanese.

Tags: languages, learning, books

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