“No one can give you a language: you have to take it for yourself.” — Gabriel Wyner
Gabriel Wyner is clearly brilliant. He is an opera singer who graduated summa cum laude from his university and is fluent in six languages, primarily self-taught. In Fluent Forever, published in 2014 by Harmony Books, he shares his language learning secrets.
Wyner names the three key points of learning a language: 1. Learn pronunciation first; 2. Don’t translate; 3. Use spaced repetition system, a rather elaborate but effective flashcard system. Fluent Forever details these three key elements, which clearly have worked for Wyner.
He also makes a very interesting point about high frequency words. “Not all words are created equal: we use certain words far more often than others…We get a lot of mileage out of our most frequent words…With only a thousand words [of your target language], you’ll recognize nearly 75 percent of what you read. With two thousand, you’ll hit 80 percent.”
Wyner says high frequency words are the place to start, and includes a chart (in English) of the 625 most commonly used words in any language. After four years of studying Italian, I was a bit surprised to discover that I know less than half of those words (307), so I still have my work cut out for me!
I really enjoyed Fluent Forever, read through it quickly and will work to adopt the spaced repetition system into my studies (it just takes a chunk of time to get set up!) But what I really enjoyed about this book was the sheer love Wyner has for languages, and how he celebrates the joy and value of learning another language. Continuing are some of my favorite excerpts:
“Fluency, after all, 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.”
On Tangible Benefits of Language Learning
“You don’t just seem smarter when you know another language; you become smarter. By learning a language, you permanently change the structures in your brain. Bilingual brains are measurably different than monolingual brains — certain brain regions are more developed — and recent studies show that you don’t need to be bilingual from birth to show these telltale signs of bilingualism. You just need to learn a language and maintain it: the better you learn it and the longer you maintain it, the more your brain will change.”
“How does this affect your daily life? 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…these advantages are collectively known as the bilingual effect.”
On Proper Pronunciation and Accents
“An accurate accent is powerful because it is the ultimate gesture of empathy.”
“All in all, I think developing a good accent is worth the effort, even if it makes people think you know more than you do….”
“People with strong foreign accents are frequently treated as less adept at the language (and less intelligent as a person) than they are.”
“There’s no reason to become fluent in a badly pronounced language, because no one will speak it with you.”
On Loving Language Learning
“That is the dearest gift of language learning — you get to meet a new you.”
“Beyond all the economic and mental benefits of language learning lies the greatest treasure of all: language learning is good for your soul.”
And that, i miei amici, is the exact reason why I love Italian: I am a more joyful, carefree and light-hearted person when I am learning or speaking Italian, language blunders and all.
Like all BookLoves, this is an unsponsored post. This post first appeared on Prayers and Piazzas.
4 Comments Add yours
Pronuncia – I emphasize to all beginning Italian students how supremely important this is!! I work at it constantly and yes, I agree that people will think you understand more than you do if your are speaking with an authentic accent and pronouncing words correctly!!
Agreed! I’m still at the point where I preface my Italian conversations with, “non parlo l’italiano molto bene…” even though my accent is decent having grown up around Italian grandparents. I don’t want people to think I can understand more than I do! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bonnie, love hearing from you!
Thanks for sharing this book! It sounds like it will be very helpful in pushing me on to overcome hurdles with good new reasoning (because half the battle is “why”), and affirming ones I already really know in my heart. And good practical advice!
Thanks for your comment, Anna, and glad you feel inspired! I think you will enjoy this read. 🙂