I always hated learning languages and became convinced that I had no talent for mastering them. Case in point: after
cheating on French exams studying French in high school, I finally visited Paris with my family. After spending thousands of dollars on my private school education, they were horrified when we walked into a bakery and I couldn’t order a croissant.
This traumatic event scarred them, so they were shocked when I told them that I was conversational in Portuguese after studying it for an hour a day over the course of a month. Arjun 1.0 can barely formulate a sentence after years of study. Arjun 2.0 can engage with hundreds of millions of people. What gives?
It turns out that many foreign language teachers lead you down an inefficient and painful path that jams weird sounds into your ears and strange conjugations into your brain. To make matters worse, as much as your pubescent self wants to fly to Paris and meet French girls, unless it’s on the short-term radar you aren’t going to be very inspired to learn. With a change in motivation and method, so comes a change in your abilities to master languages.
Let’s start with the motivation first. I became a remote worker so I could travel more and experience different cultures with the hope that I’d take something back with me from each person I met and be better off because of it. And, yes, staying up to see the sunrise on Brazilian beaches isn’t bad.
I realized pretty quickly that exploring new countries was a million times better if you could speak the local language. For almost every one of the most populous countries in the world, less than 10% of the population speaks English and those that do are generally “westernized” and more educated. That means that if your goal is to understand new vantage points and ways of life, it isn’t as helpful to chat with a wealthy, English speaking engineer in Bombay as it is to have dinner with a dabbawala and his family.
It’s also way more fun — you have the opportunity to make tons of friends and locals will always give you the best tips on which bar to hit and which restaurants to avoid. You also have a way better time romantically as being able to speak cute, broken Italian is arguably more attractive and definitely less stressful than having the pressure of being a modern-day Casanova.
In fact, it turns out that you can optimize for frequently used words and important grammatical concepts that will get you to a conversational level in a month if you find the right method.
Enter Fluent Forever.
The app was created by Gabriel Wyner who learned French in five months and Russian in ten while only using his spare time on the subway to study. With recommendations from Kevin Kelly and Tim Ferriss, I decided to give it a shot. I’ve used it every day since.
In fact, it’s so good that I wrote a journal entry about it (yes, I’m a nerd), recommended it to all of my friends, and partnered with them so our readers can get a free sixty day trial. What makes me so enthusiastic about it? Glad you asked.
It uses gamification so that you can track your study streak while also clearly showing you how many words you know and how far you are away from the next CEFR level. This makes every practice session feel rewarding.
Fluent Forever also incorporates spaced repetition flashcards, which makes the process of learning feel like you’re playing a video game. Instead of studying cards at random, the software figures out the perfect level of challenge for you and presents you with words you’re about to forget. It’s incredible how big a difference this makes as you always find yourself in the perfect state of flow rather than feeling bored (too easy) or overwhelmed (too hard). The instant feedback the flashcards give you make the process incredibly engaging.
Additionally, it skips over conjugation tables and grammar books and instead, you learn sentences from which you naturally discern the patterns in each language. This was a welcome shift for me after being tortured by charts as a student and, while I do look up some concepts online, it works incredibly well.
Lastly, it puts a huge emphasis on speaking and listening. You master your pronunciation and start to sound like a native speaker before your vocabulary catches up to your accent. This is helpful as you get used to hearing sounds in your target language and become good enough at reproducing them so that locals can understand you when you speak their language.
If you find yourself with some extra time your day, I recommend playing around with it so that you can enhance your next voyage. And please let me know your experience by tweeting at me, really curious to hear how it goes.