How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It – Goodreads Link
This book made me want to improve my foreign language proficiency beyond my childhood fascination with able to talk to more people. Speaking other languages offers many benefits including improving your memory, strengthening your cognitive abilities, and getting better at focusing. And with tools like Anki or spaced repetition systems, it is easier than ever to load stuff into your brain.
How I Discovered It
In my attempts to study Japanese, I stumbled upon the world of Anki notecards. I read an article via Ali Abdaal on How To Remember Anything Forever-ish by Nicky Case, which cited this book.
When learning another language immerse yourself as much as possible and avoid translating to help learn how to think in a foreign language.
Use images instead of words in your native language which engages the conceptual part of the brain to learn faster.
Focusing on the highest frequency words builds proficiency faster and then makes it easier to fill in the blanks with future vocabulary.
Who should read / watch / listen to it
Anyone interested in learning a foreign language or reviewing a language learned in the past – the methods in this book convinced me to revisit French, which I learned five years ago and have already begun to forget.
💬 Top 3 Quotes
1) One tip to never forget new vocab
If you connect gato to a picture of some cute cat, you will have an easy time remembering that word. But if, in addition, you can connect gato with a memory of your own childhood cat, that word will become practically unforgettable.
2) The power of good pronunciation
An accurate accent is powerful because it is the ultimate gesture of empathy. It connects you to another person’s culture in a way that words never can, because you have bent your body as well as your mind to match that person’s culture.
3) Speaking a new language helps you focus
In the process of learning to speak a new language, you necessarily learn to muffle and ignore your native language. You learn to focus in the face of constant linguistic distraction, and as a result, your brain gets better at focusing in general.
🔟 High-Value Take-Aways
1) Pronunciation first
Once you have mastered the sounds of a language, you have also trained yourself to hear better, making it easier to comprehend and learn vocabulary.
To learn how bonjour fits into your companion’s mouth and tongue; to learn how to manipulate the muscles, the folds, and even the texture of your throat and lips to match your companion’s—this is an unmistakable, undeniable, and irresistible gesture of care.
2) Practice Recall, Not Reading
When you study it’s better to practice recalling a word, not reading a list over and over. Replace your sheet of notes with flashcards or maybe some multiple-choice test.
And when you test yourself and rate your results, your brain feels pressure to remember, which stimulates “memory-boosting chemicals” and particularly as you feel rewarded for successful recall, you get dopamine which further encourages long-term memory. If you can test yourself just before you forget, you make the recall test twice as effective. This also makes the case for study as little as possible!
Your blank sheet of paper has created a drug-fueled memory party in your brain. Your boring word list never stood a chance.
3) High-Frequency Words
Instead of only learning the vocabulary in a grammar book, which often centers around a story and theme, start by learning the highest frequency words. The top thousand words in a new language allow you to understand over 80 percent of the words you hear and 75 percent of the words you read.
Learning the next thousand most common words gets you to 90% comprehension for listening. And practicing grammar becomes much easier with the vocabulary to make sentences.
4) The Power of Spaced Repetition
Spaced repetition systems are “flashcards on steroids.” The secret sauce is that the system tests you on vocabulary just as you are starting to forget it, doubling the duration between each review.
In a four-month period, practicing for 30 minutes a day, you can expect to learn and retain 3600 flash cards with 90 to 95 percent accuracy. These flash cards can teach you an alphabet, vocabulary, grammar, and even pronunciation.
5) Get the Right Tools
Best tools for studying – buy a grammar book which saves you from having to organize the information yourself. There’s tons of free stuff online, but you can waste years sorting through it all!
Highlights to consider buying:
- Frequency dictionary – with the most important five thousand words arranged in order of most frequently used
- Bilingual Dictionary – with accurate pronunciation listed
- Monolingual dictionary – this helps teach you phrases and example sentences
6) Four Types of Connections to learn words
When we make further connections to a word the memorizing process becomes more effective and enduring.
- Structure – how many letters or syllables in the word?
- Sound – does it rhyme with something? Or some other sound tip?
- Concept – can you think of a synonym?
- Personal Connection – do you like this noun or have a relatable story?
We’ll get better results if we skip the English word and use an image instead. We recall images much better than words, because we automatically think conceptually when we see an image. Image-recall studies have repeatedly demonstrated that our visual memory is phenomenal.
7) Tips for Flash Cards
These three suggestions are extremely helpful:
Tip 1: Make your own cards in Anki, a spaced repetition program
Just the process of creating a flash card connects you further to the vocabulary. Yes, you can also download many pre-made decks of vocabulary, but when you make the cards you understand all the context around your new words.
Tip 2: Use Google Images
Wyner describes his method of looking at Google image results for a foreign word. ln addition to the image, the accompanying caption gives another example of the word in context.
Tip 3: Work with a tutor
Take notes and turn the new vocab you learn into more flash cards to review! This helps flesh out the square vocab that you learn from a textbook with more slang and colloquial words.
Good resources include italki.com
8) Review a Learned Language by Writing
Self-directed writing is the ultimate personalized language class. The moment you try to write about your upcoming vacation without the word for “vacation” or the future tense, you learn precisely what bits of language you’re missing. Writing also trains you to take the patterns you’ve memorized and actually use them.
9) Read monolingual definitions
Every time you read a new definition, you automatically learn a few new words and a bunch of grammar. It’s like having a French guy in your pocket who is willing to discuss any word in his language at any hour of the day.
10) TV show and Books
Gabriel Wyner recommends watching shows without subtitles, otherwise, you’ll just be reading! With subtitles on you probably don’t improve at listening because our brains will rely on the written words.
Avoid TV comedies that leverage puns or other punch lines that will make you feel bad for not understanding. And read summaries before watching for easier comprehension!
For your very first book, try to find a familiar story—a translation of something you’ve already read or a book that’s been turned into a movie you’ve seen—and read it along with an audiobook.
** You might also like my summary of The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It **
❇️ More Resources
How To Remember Anything Forever-ish by Nicky Case — the article that led me to this book.
Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner convinced me to finally (re)start learning French, and create a Leitner Box. (my 64-day calendar was adapted from this book)
Forvo.com – good resource for pronunciation, and you can download the audio files, maybe to import into Anki for your flash card review.
Ear Training Videos for listening and pronunciation – Fluent-Forever.com/chapter3
🎙 Podcast Interviews
Picture Superiority Effect (Wikipedia) – many many studies show that brains remember pictures and images better than words.
“The best summary of this stuff comes from the following article: W. H. Levie and S. N. Hathaway, “Picture Recognition Memory: A Review of Research and Theory,” Journal of Visual/Verbal Languaging 8 no. 1 (1988): 6–45.”