Language learning’s a breeze, says Chicago-based startup Fluent Forever

By April 16, 2018

Chicago-based polyglot Gabriel Wyner written a language-learning book and set up a website to allow others to benefit from his techniques.

It sounds like any number of the abundance of self-professed polyglots that claim to be able to help anyone learn a language in a mere matter of weeks, but Wyner claims that his technique is efficient and fast, using his own experience as proof.

Wyner believes that language learning at school puts people off as it is slow, tedious and ineffective in many education systems.

“I had a terrible experience learning Hebrew and Russian in high school,” Wyner told American magazine The Verge. “I didn’t actually learn anything, which seems to be a common experience in the States.”

He maintains in his book, Fluent Forever that his method uses three of the most important language learning tricks to help an individual learn a language, and most importantly remember what they’ve learnt.

“I’m going to show you how to stop forgetting, so you can get to the actual game,” he wrote. “And I’m going to show you what to remember, so that once you start playing the game, you’re good at it.”

Learning pronunciation first is paramount, he suggests, although currently this technique has only been adopted by Military language schools, Mormon missionaries, and opera singers, Wyner pertaining to the latter group. In this way, vocabulary is learnt together with the correct pronunciation, rather than learning the two separately.

The second is learning not to translate a language, forcing the learner to force themselves to communicate in the second language, regardless of ability.

“I really enjoy the process of learning to think in a new language,” Wyner told The Verge. People get caught up in the translation thing. I want to push this idea of, ‘I’m thinking in German,’ instead of, ‘I’m decoding my English really fast.’ That’s what I’m interested in.”

The last technique is using Spaced Repetition Systems (SRS), which uses intelligent flashcards. The vocabulary learned in the past is reintroduced at the precise time when you are on the verge of forgetting it, consolidating the words in your brain.

There are hundreds of language learning apps and self-study courses out there which use one or more of these techniques, but Wyner claims that this is the first course that blends all three seamlessly to create a super-efficient learning experience. His book expounds all the techniques and the website provides materials, both paid and free, to give extra support for budding polyglots. 

Fluent Forever became the most-funded Kickstarter company ever in September 2017, surpassing its funding goal of $250,000 in under 17 hours. When the campaign ended in October, 4,434 people had sponsored the company to the tune of $587,785 .

The popularity of these language learning companies and apps (Duolingo has over 200 million active users) is proof that multilingualism is not only a great way to improve oneself, but also a great business opportunity. Globalism and international commerce mean that more people are required to have at least one foreign language on their CV and quick-fix language courses seem to provide the ideal solution.

The Independent also propounds that learning languages improves general brain activity, staves off dementia, improves multitasking and even makes you smarter.

However, with the multitude of language learning courses out there, how is an individual supposed to choose the best one? Duolingo, although cheap and popular, has been criticised for teaching students low-frequency phrases such as ‘My cats support me,’ and others seem to offer something similar for an infinitely higher price tag.

Glossika is a new language learning programme that uses AI to help develop fluency before anything else to speed up the language learning process. Founder Mike Campbell spoke to The Next Web about his method.

Fluency first, vocabulary second– fluency is the ability to manipulate all the parts of a sentence at will,” he told the tech magazine. “You then use these sentences to add vocabulary and improve expression. You will continue to learn vocabulary for the rest of your life, but fluency can be delivered in a matter of weeks.”

Fluency practice is provided with the use of an AI chatbot, which is much cheaper than the online native speaker providers on the internet. This practice is widely regarded as one of the most important parts of gaining proficiency in a language, and something rarely provided by self-study apps or courses. My Language Hero quoted Rod Ellis’s 2005 book Instructed Second Language Acquisition: A Literature Review in their article on language learning with AI.

“Given that it is the implicit knowledge that underlies the ability to communicate fluently and confidently in an L2, it is this type of knowledge that should be the goal of any instructional programme….There is a consensus that learners need the opportunity to participate in a communicative activity to develop implicit knowledge.”

In other words, if your language course involves placing words in order, memorising flashcards and repeating phrases with no communicative function, fluency and confidence will be almost impossible to achieve.

What many proponents of specific learning courses and styles seem to forget, however, is that people lead different lives with different amounts of time to dedicate to learning a new language. On top of that, people have varying learning styles that work for different people.

The one thing that doesn’t change is that no matter how much you want to speed your way to fluency, without hard work, it is never going to happen, something cleverly disguised by the majority of miracle language courses.