NATIONAL BESTSELLER • For anyone who wants to learn a foreign language, this is the method that will finally make the words stick.
“A brilliant and thoroughly modern guide to learning new languages.”—Gary Marcus, cognitive psychologist and author of the New York Times bestseller Guitar Zero
At thirty years old, Gabriel Wyner speaks six languages fluently. He didn’t learn them in school—who does? Rather, he learned them in the past few years, working on his own and practicing on the subway, using simple techniques and free online resources—and here he wants to show others what he’s discovered.
Starting with pronunciation, you’ll learn how to rewire your ears and turn foreign sounds into familiar sounds. You’ll retrain your tongue to produce those sounds accurately, using tricks from opera singers and actors. Next, you’ll begin to tackle words, and connect sounds and spellings to imagery rather than translations, which will enable you to think in a foreign language. And with the help of sophisticated spaced-repetition techniques, you’ll be able to memorize hundreds of words a month in minutes every day.
This is brain hacking at its most exciting, taking what we know about neuroscience and linguistics and using it to create the most efficient and enjoyable way to learn a foreign language in the spare minutes of your day.
This book has given me some new ideas about how to learn additional languages. I feel like it would be so easy for schools to implement this type of program and actually make school foreign language departments useful. This book helped me feel better about how utterly useless Duolingo has been in my efforts to relearn German and French, and learn Irish (even having used the app for nearly a decade).
I think starting with the sounds of the language before moving on to vocabulary building is the most logical way to learn a language. It’s how the brain naturally learns languages. I’ve often wondered through my years of language learning in school why the sounds of the language are the absolute last thing taught, when they’re the first thing native speakers learn.
My only concern with this book is that some of the ideas don’t work for all languages, mainly endangered languages. For languages like Irish, Navaho, Maori and other indigenous languages that need to be preserved for culture’s sake, there aren’t always accessible recordings of native speakers or books/newspapers to read in those languages. Often, these languages don’t have frequency dictionaries either. There is no advice for situations like these, which would be supremely helpful.
I get that as a vocalist, endangered languages aren’t important to the author, but they are important to people, and his readers. He did a survey to see what pronunciation guides his readers wanted most. Irish tied for the number 1 spot. He’s since made pronunciation guides for the entire top 10 languages apart from Irish. I’m actually a little disappointed by that. It’s been years. Clearly it’s not going to be made.
Overall, a solid book, but needs tweaking for some (arguably the most important) languages.
If you want to learn a new language, get this book. I wouldn't try to learn with any other method!