The path to writing this Fluent Forever summary started when I moved to Spain to teach English in 2015, I spoke very little Spanish. My vocabulary consisted of less than ten words.
I had lived in Australia and New Zealand beforehand and I thought Spain would be similar to that. However, I didn’t account for the language barrier.
Living in Australia and New Zealand as a native English speaker was easy. Communication was not a problem. That changed when I lived in Spain. Despite living in Barcelona, which is a fairly cosmopolitan city, it was still a struggle to communicate with people.
English is not widely spoken in Spain. The younger generation doesn’t have too many difficulties, but if you try to talk to older people, they have a poor grasp of English.
For someone whose Spanish was minimal at this point, this wasn’t great. It did force me to learn Spanish as quickly as possible, but it meant that I struggled in a lot of basic social situations at the beginning.
Going into a cafe and ordering a coffee was an ordeal at first. Over time, I got better and speaking in Spanish became more comfortable. However, it may not have been possible without reading Fluent Forever.
I spent a lot of time learning Spanish in the first three months I was there without progressing as I hoped. When I went home for Christmas, I bought this book to help me improve my language learning skills.
What I found inside opened my eyes to learning a new language and gave me the confidence that speaking Spanish to a reasonable degree was within my capabilities.
If you plan on learning a language, Fluent Forever is the one book I recommend to give you an idea of what this entails and how to go about it.
Fluent Forever summary
Takeaway 1 – Images are a great language learning tool
One of the things I did at first when I was learning Spanish was to translate English words into Spanish. This seemed like the most practical way to learn the language.
I could just use a huge database of English words and translate them to learn their Spanish counterpart.
This sounds fine in principle, but in reality, it doesn’t work.
The problem with this method is that it doesn’t make the words memorable. Sure, I might pick up a few words from translations, but unless I’m using them, I’m going to forget them quickly.
This is where images come into play. When you associate a word with an image it becomes much easier to remember.
Images are easier to recall than words because we think conceptually. If I learnt the Spanish for cat, which is gato, without an image I may forget it.
However, if I use a flashcard with an image of a cat and gato underneath it, that word becomes easier to remember because I associate it with the image. Whenever I now see a cat, the flashcard image enters my mind and I now see a gato.
The trick is to make the images personal so you remember the words more effectively. If it came to learning the word cookie, for example, I would devise a flashcard with an image of the cookie monster.
My brain would instantly recognise the image and associate it with the word cookie. This may not for everyone, but it’s about what works best for you.
Takeaway 2 – Spaced repetition is key to learning a language
Another issue with just translating words into the language you want to learn is that if you don’t repeat the exercise a few times you’re not going to remember them in the long run.
There are a few instances where you might remember a translated word because you did it in a moment where you were conversing with someone.
The reason for this is that the word, or words, will be associated with the memory of speaking to that person, as opposed to the act of translation itself.
If you think to your time at school, one of the ways you remember what you need to for a test is by revising the information over and over again until it becomes entrenched in your memory.
My method was to read the textbook from front back, write down the important points and rehash them over and over again.
Thankfully, we don’t need to go through a whole phrasebook and write down the most important phrases. Nowadays, you can find multiple apps to help you learn a language through the art of spaced repetition.
Duolingo is the most popular, although I’m not a big fan. I prefer Memrise, which applies the principle of spaced repetition. You learn a set of words and phrases, then every so often, you have to go back and recall them.
It works surprisingly well. I used it to try and remember some of my high school German and after three months I was able to remember a lot of what I learned and regain a decent level once again.
Fluent Forever has its own app. I haven’t used it, but I plan on using it in the future. A phrasebook, grammar book and an app that utilises spaced repetition are essential items when it comes to learning a language.
Takeaway 3 – Turn language learning into a game
When I read this it made so much sense to me that I couldn’t believe I had thought of it sooner! Turning learning anything into a game is the best way to learn.
This is even truer for learning a language. Going through a textbook is boring. I know this as a language student and I know this as a former language teacher.
Whenever I was teaching English to children, they would be much more engaged when it came to playing games than to doing a boring worksheet.
Think back to your time at school and you’ll understand why. Schoolwork is boring, but whenever it was time to play a game, everyone was happy and lively.
It’s the same principle with learning a language. One of the ideas in the book is to turn speaking and learning a foreign language into a game of taboo.
This applies more to intermediate and advanced learners, but you could do it as a beginner, though it would make life difficult. However, you would likely learn faster as a result.
Every time you speak with a native speaker or another language learner, you should only speak in the language you want to learn and not your mother tongue.
The temptation when you can’t recall a word is to revert to your native language to express that word. However, this defeats the purpose of learning a language and restricts fluency.
If you can express yourself in your chosen language even when you forget words, that is a form of fluency. Every time you do this it’s a small step in the right direction. If you’re in the country where they speak your chosen language, your life is much easier.
All you have to do is go to a shop, a cafe or talk to people on the street and you can practice. It becomes harder when you’re in a country which speaks a different language to the one you’re learning, but there are still ways to learn.
Find a language exchange nearby. These are great ways to improve your ability and give you a chance to meet other people in the same situation as you.
You can also use websites such as iTalki, where you can exchange languages with native speakers in return for them speaking to you in your native language.
There are opportunities to learn languages all around you. If you can gamify the process via an app or a challenge all the better!
Fluent Forever review
This Fluent Forever summary has looked at what I consider to be one of the best books for learning another language. Since I read this book, I’ve found it much easier to learn languages.
I used to think that people who could speak multiple languages were outliers, but after reading this book and progressing with Spanish and improving my German, I realised I was wrong.
The beauty of this book is that it breaks down learning a language into a simple to follow process. Learning a language is daunting because there are so many aspects to it.
After teaching English for a few years, I realised from the perspective of a teacher and student. When you have to learn how to read, listen and speak in another language, you understand just how tricky it can be.
What Fluent Forever does is to show you a few tricks and tips to help you get a head start on learning a language. The tips were so useful, I incorporated some of them into my classes.
If you want to learn a language, as well as buying a grammar book for that language, you should invest in this book too.
It’s a brilliant overview of what it takes to learn a language and I’ve yet to come across a book on the topic.
Who should read Fluent Forever?
If you’re looking to learn a language, this is the book for you. It breaks down the process of learning a language and shows you how you can become fluent in any language.
Unless you’re looking to learn a language, there’s not much point in buying the book. But if you are, you won’t find a better guide to learning a language than this one.