Book review: Fluent Forever

Lately, I’ve been reading more guides on how to study a language effectively. One such book is Fluent Forever, written by a multilingual opera singer. I picked it up not expecting to learn much new, but this book surprised me. It offers tools and learning strategies that are highly relevant in the internet age.

The good

– Fluent Forever is a fantastic guide to mastering the sounds of any language. This is where the author’s opera background really shines. He teaches you to train your ears to the new and bizarre sounds you will often encounter when starting out. In addition, there is plenty of value here for intermediate students and above. Contrary to popular belief about the “critical period” being the only time when people can learn new sounds, it’s encouraging to know that adults can improve their pronunciation in a systematic way. For more details, check out the book.

– The book offer a science-based strategy to improve memory recall of vocabulary items. The author’s system is so clever that I wish I’d had his idea first! I won’t attempt to describe it here, but the strategy involves the creation of multiple neural links that make use of sound, image-association and personalization. I tried the method with Korean vocabulary items and can confirm that it works.

– Incorporation of frequency lists. This is a principle we have followed for a long time. Why would anyone ever learn the Chinese equivalent for “pencil sharpener” before “go”? The vocabulary contained in many academic textbooks is often illogical. Frequency lists are your saviour. Understanding the most frequently occurring vocabulary serves as a massive boost to your comprehension.

– The author’s endorsement of flashcards and spaced repetition software (SRS) is right on the mark.

– Makes effective use of internet tools such as Google Images. Yes, I was skeptical too, but it’s a novel approach that actually works!

– The appendix contains tons of valuable information and links to free online resources.

The bad

– It’s too long. At times it feels like there is more filler content than necessary. If you patiently read through, there is plenty of value to be found but several chapters probably shouldn’t have made the cut.

– At times it can be confusing how and when you are supposed to incorporate the various strategies. I think that a “90 day plan” or something similar would have been useful for beginners looking to start out in a completely new foreign tongue.

Belongs on the bookshelf of every language student

I’m certainly no newcomer to studying foreign languages, but Fluent Forever was a revelation. It offers solid information on building long-term foreign language proficiency. I can honestly say that I learned a lot from this guide.

To sum up, Fluent Forever is a highly actionable book that deserves to be on the bookshelf of any semi-serious language learner. You can buy it here from Amazon. If you are in a rut and looking for inspiration, I recommend Barry Farber’s excellent “How to Learn Any Language” (see our book review).

Have you already read Fluent Forever? What were your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!

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