Early this year I read Fluent Forever, and I’m very glad I did. I’m trying to learn Serbian. Wyner’s language learning method is very sound in the principles of neuroscience… and, since I’m an education enthusiast and have a degree in neuroscience, this is always something I’m looking for in methods for learning.
The jist of Wyner’s method is that first, you really have to master pronunciation. Pronunciation matters. In order to do this, that means you have to really master the basics and pronounce every sound in a language just right. And if your target language isn’t spelled phonetically, you really need to have a native speaker pronounce every word for you. Thankfully, Wyner knows about all the great online resources which actually make this possible without kidnapping a native and forcing them to read the dictionary into a microphone. Woohoo!
Another key Wyner talks about is not using translation. Usually in a high school language class, if you make flashcards you put the target language word on one side, and the English word on the back. But that just means when you try to think in the target language, you first have to convert everything to and from English. That makes it really hard to become one with the language. So, Wyner says you’ve got to avoid using English at all costs. Use pictures. So my mačka flashcard looks like this:
That’s much more effective than having it look like c-a-t.
Wyner’s last key to effective language learning is a spaced repetition system: basically, a flashcard app that helps you review your flashcards just before you manage to forget. The act of recall strengthens the synapses for that word if you have to work a bit to think of it, but if you know it so well that the flashcard is a waste of time… well, it’s a waste of time. It’s also a waste of time if you’ve already forgotten it. So you want to review it exactly when it’s hard but still doable.
So basically, yay, computers and internet! They have made learning languages easier.
My one beef with the book is that it makes it sound like this system makes it EASY to learn the language. I think EASY should not be confused with EFFECTIVE. This method is time-consuming, but it works. Once you have your flashcards, it works. But it does mean you spend a bit of time creating a flashcard with images and audio and IPA pronunciations and all that jazz.
I read this book for Amy’s Up and Coming Challenge 2017 for the nonfiction category. The verdict? Is it a classic? It will have an honored place on my shelf. It’s the best book on effective language learning that I know of… Aaaaand, yes. I do indeed think people will still know about and talk about Wyner’s language learning techniques (and thus, this book) in 2111. So… yes. It’s a classic.