Book Review: Fluent Forever

Fluent Forever: How To Learn Any Language And Never Forget It, by Gabriel Wyner

This book is sort of a sequel to that of many other books that discuss how it is that one gains fluency. This particular book discusses not the gaining of fluency but rather the holding on to it. There are plenty of tricks as to how this can be done and a substantial portion of the book is spent on that. If you want a book that deals with the practical aspects of memory and recall as it relates to learning foreign languages and embedding that knowledge within one’s existing memory, this is a solid way to do that which relies on repetition and timing and embedding rather than on trying to cram and then forget things later. Doing yeoman’s work on making this book as entertaining as possible is an adorable drawn kitty named Lily who serves as the cat for flash cards in multiple languages, as el gato, le chat, and numerous other animal labels depending on the language. And if your efforts at learning languages and mastering vocabulary are as memorable as what is included in the book, you will probably have an easier time than most retaining your learning in other languages.

This book is about 300 pages long and it is divided into seven chapters as well as a large amount of supplementary material designed for help in the effort at preserving one’s knowledge of other languages. The book begins with an introduction that discusses the author’s experience cheating and learning languages as an opera singer (1). After that there is a talk about five principles to end forgetting, including the productive maximization of laziness (2). After that comes a discussion on training our ears, mouth, and eyes for language (3). This leads to a discussion of wordplay and how to play games with words, including gender (4). Then comes sentence play (5), with a look at stories and mnemonics. After that is a discussion about the language game and reading for pleasure and profit (6). This is followed by an epilogue that discusses the pleasure and benefits of learning a language (7) before the gallery shows flash cards that people can make to help them with language, a glossary of terms and tools, and six appendices that provide language resources, a list of words, a decoder of the International Phonetic Alphabet, and estimates on language difficulty, as well as one last note about technology, notes, acknowledgements, and an index.

Fluency in any language, much less other languages besides one’s native language, is a significant challenge. How often, for example, does one know words because one has read them but has never heard them pronounced and so is not truly fluent in them? The author labels these broken words, and I am quite familiar with them myself in the disconnect between reading and listening in English, to say nothing of foreign languages. This is not a book that is given much to theorizing about words and their place within languages, although the book is intensely practical in seeking to encourage the reader in improving recall through various means. Among the more useful, if challenging, suggestions that the author makes is encouraging the reader to learn the IPA alphabet in order to recognize the relationship between the phonetics of the language(s) one knows and that of the target language that one is seeking to learn. The author also likewise has some amazing suggestions to make regarding the use of google images in one’s language as a means of understanding the semantic domain of various words in other languages. The author notes, for example, that Russian dogs are fierce and not the cuddly friends that English or American dogs are, and that the Russian word for girl tends to evoke not cuteness and innocence, but rather barely legal young women in Sochi bikini photos, which causes the author to ponder what is wrong with the Russians, a popular question for students of language as well as everything else.

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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