The Study Dude – Fluent Forever

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to be recruited by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) on the basis of you being multilingual–and attending an immersion program that CSIS recruiters frequent!

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

Today’s study tips are based on a reading of Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner.

Learn Sounds before Words before Sentences
The Study Dude learned German and French?well?kind of. What was amiss was becoming fluent in the languages. While I can tell you that your necklace looks beautiful, or that your mother’s name is Mrs. Schaudi?all in German?I can’t actually carry on a fluent conversation.

Gabriel Wyner (2014) completely understands the shortcoming of classroom settings for learning languages, instead opting to make his own system for it. One of the most essential components to learning a language, according to Wyner, is the order in which you learn concepts:

– You should learn the sounds first, either using an International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) for your target language that you can look up on Wikipedia or by going to a site such as http://www.forvo.com/ and having a listen to the words for their respective sounds
– When learning sounds, it is wise to learn similarly sounded words that have different meanings. These similar pairs will help you understand the nuances of the phonetic sounds in the language.
– After learning sounds, it is wise to learn vocabulary. Wyner (2014) has a list of the 625 most frequent words in most any language that you can use to get your vocabulary started. He recommends going to Google Images, using the default version by scrolling to the bottom and clicking on the “Switch to Basic Version” (that supplies the tags in your target language), and applying mnemonics for memorizing gender.
– When you go to Google Images and type in your foreign language vocabulary words, a number of images will come up that will give insight into how that word is perceived in the target language. You should add these images to flashcards you make.
– The mnemonics for gender include imagining explosions to represent the male gender, fire to represent the female gender, and shattering to represent the neuter gender. Gender in German determines how the word “the” is represented before nouns, for instance, so imagining a feminine noun in German as being on fire will help you to remember the gender.
– After you learn vocabulary, you should learn grammar. Here you will turn sentences in your foreign language grammar book into flash cards. When learning grammar, you should pay particular attention to new words that appear, new word orders that arise, and new word forms that emerge (such as she eats versus he ate for the base form of the verb to eat).

The Media for Learning a Language
Before reading Wyner’s book, The Study Dude pontificated that it would be best to listen to foreign language radio for learning a new language. Au contraire! Wyner (2014) lists a number of much more effective media sources for learning your language:

– Make flash cards for the words you want to learn, ensuring that you only incorporate your target language and images on the card?and omit any and all English. By omitting English, you avoid merely translating word for word and instead immerse yourself into the uniqueness of the target language.
– Learn the vocabulary?the most frequent words (learn the top one-thousand of them). You can find these words in a frequency dictionary. Part way through, switch from a bilingual to a monolingual dictionary that speaks only in your target language.
– Return to your grammar book and learn the rules by gleaning two or so examples that you find the most compelling and then making your own sentences with them. Take your sentences to the Lang-8 website and request someone in your target language to correct your writing. If you correct others writing on that site, your requests for correction will be made sooner.
– Get a Harry Potter book, or some other book you’ve read that is popular, and find a translation of it along with its audiobook for you to read along with.
– Watch dubbed television shows, preferably a series, so you don’t have to spend time figuring out who is who. Read a summary in your target language on a site such as Wikipedia.com
– Get private tutors at low costs on http://www.italki.com/ or similar sites, go on a holiday to a country that speaks your target language, or go into an immersion program. Recruiters for government spy agencies frequent immersion classes, so although the classes are expensive, you might just become the next James Bond.
– Repeat the above as you see fit.

Use the Spaced Repetition System
The Study Dude loves flashcards, and they are the basis for the Spaced Repetition System (SRS) that Wyner (2014) advances. I use flashcards through the Anki online system for learning vocabulary and a Leitner box, which is an actual physical flashcard box with dividers, for learning computer programming.

Wyner (2014) uses either the online Anki system or the Leitner boxes as the foundation for his Spaced Repetition System. Here’s how it works:
– “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” (p. 43)
– The flashcards are meant to teach you “alphabet, vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation” (p. 43).
– You omit any English on the cards, and opt instead to use sentences with the word in question missing or replaced with an underline. You also use images from Google Images to help you decipher what the word in question is in your target language.
– If you use the online Anki system, located at http://ankisrs.net/, you will have access to a downloadable product that will enable you to add sounds (pronunciation), images and text all to your electronic cue cards. With the anki system, you don’t have to rely on the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) system for learning pronunciation.
– If instead, you opt for a Leitner box, you will go and purchase a flashcard box holder, at least seven dividers, and tons of blank flashcards. Each of the seven dividers represents a level from one to seven. Every day, you go through the level one cards, every other day, the level two, every third day, level three, and so on, with the frequency becoming less the higher up in level you go. You will make 15 to 30 new flashcards a day and put them in level one. Each time you get a card right, it advances to the next level; each time you get it wrong, it goes all the way down into level one again. After success at remembering level 7 cards, your word, sound, or sentence inevitably becomes ingrained in your psyche. In the Leitner boxes, you draw your images and have to rely on the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) for pronunciation.
– There are different word card types, such as a question of how to spell a word that has a sentence with the word missing, the IPA spelling, and an image. Another card might ask you how to pronounce and spell a word while providing you just an image of a cat.
– If you make the cards yourself, then whether you use either a Leitner box or the anki system, you will learn them much more readily than if someone else were to make them for you.

Books to Use for Learning a Language (French as an example)
So, what books do you need to learn a language, such as French, which all Canadians would, ideally, be mandated to learn? Wyner (2014) reveals:

– You should get a grammar book. A French book that is recommended is Schaum’s Outline of French Grammar by Mary Crocker.
– Also buy a phrase book, such as the Lonely Planet phrase books. Lonely Planet French Phrasebook by Michael Janes et al. comes highly recommended.
– A pronunciation trainer by the Gabriel Wyner himself called the French Pronunciation Trainer is highly recommended. Wyner, the author we are examining throughout this article, has written pronunciation trainers for a number of languages, such as German and Arabic.
– Another pronunciation book recommended is called Pronounce it Perfectly in French by Christopher Kendris et al.
– A frequency dictionary is recommended that will help you decipher the most common words and enable you to add a progressively larger word set to your vocabulary. The recommended frequency dictionary is called A Frequency Dictionary of French by Lonsdale, Deryle, and Yvon Le Bras.
– A thematic vocabulary book will come in handy. A recommended vocabulary book is called Mastering French Vocabulary by Wolfgang Fischer et. al.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

References
Wyner, Gabriel. (2014). Fluent Forever. New York, NY: Harmony Books.

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