I have a working knowledge of Italian, enough that I can read and write it, and I do fairly well when listening, too. But speaking? That’s where I have an enormous deficit. It makes me sad that my Italian is so passive now, compared to when I was a kid and actually using it everyday. I’m missing out on most of the fun of knowing another language! When I noticed Gabriel Wyner’s Fluent Forever on the Blogging for Books website, I couldn’t resist requesting it.
Wyner’s approach is based on a spaced repetition learning system, or SRS. My first reaction when I realized this was dread: Doesn’t SRS mean boring flashcards? But Wyner makes it sound like it could be fun. This isn’t a dry read at all. His writing style is engaging, sometimes even humorous. He is enthusiastic about language learning, and his excitement is infectious! Plus, he provides and explains a lot of scientific research about how we learn language, how memory works, and statistics that prove the effectiveness of SRS.
The key is to learn new words (or grammar rules, or whatever information you need to know) by simultaneously creating multisensory experiences because “neurons that fire together wire together.” The flashcards used in SRS are unique to and personally created by each individual, whether you choose to create them on paper or within an app. I tried Wyner’s suggestions for a week (via Anki), and was shocked by how much I learned, far more quickly than in the past.
Fluent Forever focuses on learning on one’s own, outside of a classroom. This is great for those studying uncommon languages, or for those living in areas with few, if any, resources for their target language. The book has a nice, user-friendly layout: key points are highlighted in a separate box at the end of each section, there are special notes for intermediate and advanced learners, and a clear index which makes for easy future reference. And it is chock full of resources: books, apps, internet sites (including where you can find language partners for speaking practice), word lists, and more. Wyner also breaks down the different kinds of resources and how they are best used. He does not promote working through every single exercise in dull textbooks, cover to cover. Instead, this is language learning at its most efficient, tapping into the way our brains secure memories and the rich experiences that come with communicating in another language.