Book Review: Zilch To Conversational

Zilch To Conversational:  A Guide To Quickly Attain Conversational Fluency In Any Language, by Daniel V. Rusten

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by BookSirens.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

In many ways, this book is both a welcome and useful sort of guide and a bit puzzling.  It is puzzling that the author thinks himself qualified to write a guide that purports to teach the one way to learn all languages.  This book is the linguistic equivalent of the book written by someone who has just lost a couple dozen pounds using some diet method and decides to write a diet book to share his newfound expertise with everyone else.  The advice is certainly worthwhile, but there are other guides as well that would be useful and other ways that one can learn languages well, and someone who is just in the process of learning his first foreign languages would do well to learn more ways and include more tips rather than try to sell just one or a few methods as is the case here.  It would appear that as is the case with diet books, with language learning books too there is the phenomenon of the true believer where someone thinks that they have uncovered the secret to a problem that has plagued the earth a long time.  Even if you don’t go that far, this book still has a lot of useful information.

This particular book is less than 100 pages and is divided into eleven sections.  The book begins with a list of hyperlinks and then discusses the audience of the book (1).  After that the author discusses how to learn a language and gives an overview of later chapters (2).  Then there is a discussion of how a beginner needs to train one’s ear to picking up sounds via mimic method and pimsleur (3) and also used a spaced repetition system (4) like the Fluent Forever app that the author hawks.  The author then briefly shares his opinion on teachers (5) and books (6) and then discusses some of the skills of learning languages in some detail (7), like speaking, listening, writing, and reading.  The author then discusses an eight week study plan in going from a beginner to a conversational “trickster” focusing on different skills the first few weeks with a lot of review (8).  After that there is an introduction to the author, the author’s sensible list of the most frequent words and phrases to learn in any language, and then a recommendation for other readings and resources, at which point the book ends.

The target audience for this book is someone who loves to learn languages.  Obviously, the author himself has some experience in the matter, and he is apparently working on his second or third language, which puts him above most but not in the elite level of polyglots.  I am a bit surprised that he does not recommend any books or any site like duolingo that has a community for people to learn from, but as I am learning Portuguese right now I will definitely take advantage of some of the suggestions he made for various free resources to use.  I think most readers will find some things in here to appreciate and adapt it to their own learning and discount the high claims the author makes about his expertise, and to me that seems like the right answer.  I would like to see this author edit and expand this book as he gains more experience and learns different types of languages that might call for different solutions, or gains insight and experience from a broader group of people.  But this is a solid beginning, that’s for sure.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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