Hello! How are you doing? Have you had a good week? I am AOK. I discovered something AMAZING this week. Something that could REVOLUTIONISE our attempts to learn foreign languages. Are you excited? I sure am.
It all started when I read this blog post. Which got me on to this interview with Timothy Ferriss, author of best-selling book The 4 Hour Work Week. Which led me to this awesome guy called Gabriel Wyner, author of Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It. How amazing is the internet? Very.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am usually uber sceptical about American whiz kids like Ferriss and Wyner. My Australian sensibility says ‘Right, so you’re 30 years old, you speak four languages, and you reckon you taught yourself fluent French in 5 months by practicing on the subway.’
Tear that tall poppy DOWN!
BUT. As someone who is about to take on the daunting task of learning Mandarin Chinese – encouragingly ranked at Level 5: Languages Which Are Exceptionally Difficult for Native English Speakers on this list, along with Arabic, Japanese, Korean and Cantonese – I am open to new ways of doing things. And Gabriel Wyner’s method seems to make SUCH GOOD SENSE.
After reading his website and watching his videos on fluent-forever.com for an afternoon, I was inspired to rush out and buy the book from Readings St Kilda. NO OTHER Readings stores in Melbourne had a copy EXCEPT my local St Kilda store. AND when I got there, the nice lady and I had to search down the back of the shelf where it had FALLEN DOWN and was COVERED IN DUST, hiding there and waiting for me to come in and buy it. I call that fate 🙂
Fluent Forever’s theory in a nutshell:
- Learn the sounds of your new language first. If you get the pronunciation right at the very start, you’ll be in a winning position.
I found this example from Wyner’s book fascinating.
In Japanese, the sound we know as ‘R’ sits in between the English ‘R’ and ‘L’. When a group of Japanese adults was tested on the difference between Rock and Lock, the results showed that they could not pick the difference between the two words.
This did not improve with continued practice and testing. Even when the ‘R’ was exaggerated to ‘Rrrrrrrrock’, the results weren’t much better. BUT. When the routine was repeated with FEEDBACK, everything changed. If the participants chose ‘Rock’ and they were correct, the computer would go ‘Ding! Correct!’ In three 20-minute sessions of THIS type of practice, receiving positive or negative feedback for each answer, participants were permanently able to hear the difference between ‘R’ and ‘L’.
Isn’t that amazing?
In Chinese, I have great trouble hearing the difference between Chī 吃 – to eat
And chē 车 – car, vehicle
Can you hear the difference?
I am going to use the above method of ear training, playing pairs of words that sound the same to my ears, but are actually not, and receiving feedback each time. I hope it works. Thanks Gabriel!
- Use a Spaced Repetition System, and start by learning the most important vocabulary and grammar first
Who knew that there is a free program called Anki that allows you to create your own digital flashcards with words, pictures and sounds? And then knows how often to show you these cards to embed them in your brain?
You can look up the character for ‘rock’ in Chinese: 石
And use this free website to download a sound file of a native speaker saying the word in Chinese:
Using a list of the most common words, you can create a deck of personalised flash cards with sounds and pictures, and never need to use the English word ‘rock’ in your learning process. Out with translation for good! Apparently even the process of searching through Google Images for a picture that best represents the word to YOU AND ONLY YOU is a BIG PART OF THE PROCESS – the new foreign word is already worming its way into your brain. I am only half way through Fluent Forever, but I reckon this method is going to be a winner! My recent efforts at learning Chinese, both at university and for a couple of weeks in Shanghai last year, left me frustrated at the number of new words that went into my head only to rush out again within a week. I don’t want that to happen this time. Wish me luck!
Have you tried to learn a language before? What was your experience like? What do you think is the best way to stop yourself forgetting new words?
I would love to know.