David A. Antler

Fluent Forever

How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It

By Gabriel Wyner

Read: 2016-04-12
Rating: 9/10
ISBN: 978-0385348102

An interesting book that proposes a modern method for learning any language. I thought it would be nice to record my progress following Gabriel’s program for learning languages, and in case you’re interested in following along, it’s under the learning log tag. I changed the rating to 9 because this book was very effective in teaching me how to teach myself Spanish, but also teaching me useful things about memory in general.

my notes

I’ve heard that hard work never killed anyone, but I say why take the chance? —Ronald Reagan

Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. —Theodore Roosevelt

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 research a word using Google Images, you’re playing the Spot the Differences game; you’re looking for the difference between what you expect to see, and what you actually see. The game is a lot of fun; the Internet is full of weird,

You can make your words more memorable in two ways: • By investigating the stories they tell • By connecting those stories to your own life • When you create flash cards, use the best storytelling tool ever invented: Google Images. • Then spend a moment to find a link between each word and your own experiences.


Go through the 625 list and separate the words into three categories:

  1. Words you know: You immediately recall the word, you know how to pronounce it, you know its gender, and you don’t need to waste time relearning it.
  2. Words you kind of know: If you looked them up in a dictionary, you’d think, “Oh yeah!” Perhaps you’ve forgotten precisely how to pronounce them, their gender or their spelling, but they definitely seem pretty familiar.
  3. New words: You might have learned them at some point, but they don’t seem familiar at all.

Skip all the words in category 1. You don’t need to spend time with them. For words in category 2, use the Refresher Track in the Gallery. It will help you dust off your old memories without taking too much of your time. For words in category 3, follow the instructions in the Gallery as if you were a beginner. You’ll use the Normal Track or Intensive Track, depending upon your needs and the trickiness of your target language.

do this in front of a computer

these exchange communities are tremendously helpful; I usually get a detailed correction from the Russians on Lang-8.com within an hour, and after a few hours, I often have five Russians commenting on my little paragraph.

italki.com is one of the best—that can connect you to extremely affordable private tutors.

Put every correction you receive into your flash cards. That way, you’ll never forget a correction. This is one of the best features of SRSs; they give you the ability to remember everything. When you were learning a language in school, you could receive the same correction hundreds of times, and never actually remember it. With spaced repetition, you only need to receive a correction once, and within a few weeks, it will become a permanent part of your long-term memory.

Take each new construction you learn and use it to write something about your life. What do you do for a living? What would you order in a restaurant? Turn the dialogues and examples in your grammar book into language that you’ll actually use, and see what mistakes and missing words you can find.

playing Spot the Differences with Google Images, adding in personal connections, and using mnemonics for gender (if needed).

Word of the day: A boyfriend or girlfriend who teaches you a foreign language is euphemistically known as a pillow dictionary.

Begin with the top thousand words in your new language. There won’t be many new words—you’ll have learned most of them already from the 625-word list—and they’ll let you understand nearly 85 percent of the words you hear and 75 percent of the words you read.

The second thousand words will give you a 5 percent boost to your reading and listening comprehension—you’ll understand 90 percent of what you hear and 80 percent of what you read.

(90 percent comprehension takes approximately 5,500 words,

95 percent comprehension takes 12,500 words)

for a high degree of fluency, then keep going until you know the top fifteen hundred to two thousand words.

find these words by skimming through a thematic vocabulary book and finding key words for every context you need—travel, music, business, and so on.

after 1500, get specialized vocab

I like to write whenever I’m stuck on a long commute. I’ll finish my daily flash card reviews and then begin writing example sentences and definitions for new words. It’s an endless source of portable entertainment.

If you get a really good dictionary, then you’ll even find premade example sentences for your words. If you’re lucky enough to find a dictionary like this, you’re holding a one-stop shop for all of your vocabulary needs. Take those examples and definitions, grab a few accompanying images from Google Images, and move on to your next word.

On average, a single book will teach you three hundred to five hundred words from context

By reading in conjunction with an audiobook, you’ll have a much easier time moving through a long text, and you’ll pick up invaluable exposure to the rhythms of your language in action.

A film with English subtitles is basically an English storybook with some foreign language background noise. It’s useless for our needs.

With subtitles, you won’t train your ears, but without them, movies and TV shows can feel overwhelming. You can dial back the difficulty in two ways: by choosing your first shows very carefully and by reading about those shows ahead of time on Wikipedia.

in a TV series, you only have to do it once. By the second or third episode, you basically understand what’s happening and you can sit back and enjoy yourself. In a film, you may never understand what’s going on, which is extraordinarily frustrating. It feels like you just threw away two hours of your life, and you didn’t even have fun doing it.

Choose whatever you like, as long as it’s not comedy.

Watch House or 24 or Some Guy Runs Around and Shoots People.

I got through forty-eight episodes of 24 Heures Chrono (the French dub of 24) in a two-week TV binge, and it did wonders for my French.

practice using a simplified version of Taboo. There’s only one rule: no English allowed. Every time you speak with a native speaker or another language learner, you’ll stick to your target language exclusively. At some point, a thought will arrive in your head, and you won’t have the words to express it. That’s the moment that matters most. Seize it! It’s the opportunity to turn your memorized vocabulary and grammar into fluent spoken language, and you only get it when you stubbornly refuse to speak in English. This is the most important game in this book.

Verbling, Live Mocha, and italki.

Escuelas Oficiales de Idiomas (Official Schools of Language) throughout Spain;

immersion program

had forgotten a lot over the course of learning Russian and Hungarian, and I wanted to bring it back—and so I started watching ridiculous amounts of television and film. Within a month, I got through three seasons of 24 and five films. By the end of that month, I was once again dreaming in French. It’s a tremendously fun way to maintain a language.

Chinese and Japanese (and, to a much lesser extent, Korean) use a set of characters known as logograms. In contrast with alphabets, logograms correspond to words or chunks of words rather than sounds.

When you review your cards, give yourself five to ten seconds.

If you remembered all of the essential facts, you win.

You’ll pick up the ability to easily spell your name / address / whatever when speaking and understand spellings whenever a native speaker says them out loud. You can find example flash cards for letter names at Fluent-Forever.com/gallery.

ITALKI A language exchange community with a well-thought-out payment system. You can use italki to find a professional teacher or untrained tutor in your target language and work with him through email or video chat for extremely low prices. There are free options on the site, which can help you find language exchange partners, but I mostly recommend italki for its paid services. italki.com LANG-8 A free language exchange community devoted to providing writing corrections. You sign up, submit some writing, correct someone else’s writing, and get a correction of your own, usually in less than a day. Lang-8.com

LANGUAGE EXCHANGE WEBSITES Websites that are designed to help you find language exchange partners. Livemocha.com, Busuu.com, MyLanguageExchange.com, italki.com, and Language-Exchanges.org are some of the better-known language exchange websites.

its main use is to connect you with a language exchange partner. LiveMocha.com

RHINOSPIKE A free language exchange community, devoted to providing audio recordings. You submit a text in your target language and a native speaker will read that text aloud and send you an MP3. In exchange, you’ll record someone else’s English text. The service is lovely, but be aware that it can occasionally take several days to get a response. Rhinospike.com

Verbling facilitates language exchanges in the form of speed dating. You tell it what language(s) you speak and what language(s) you’re learning, and it connects you with a language exchange partner automatically, in five-minute bursts. Verbling.com