Fluent Forever was born out of our founder’s need to learn French within 3 months for his career. Gabe was an opera singer who struggled with existing mainstream language-learning tools so he researched the best general learning methods and combined them into a hyper-effective method for learning languages very quickly and actually retaining them.
Gabe then wrote a guest blog post for Lifehacker.com about his resulting method, which went viral and allowed him to launch a high-traffic language-learning blog. It also landed him a book deal to detail his method, which became a WSJ Best-Seller and inspired him to offer first-generation learning tools, like Pronunciation Trainers, which helped thousands of people worldwide learn the language of their dreams.
Check out the video below for a cartoon depiction of Gabe's journey 😉 (Note: all app imagery is a conceptual representation, and the feature in Step 4 (connecting with native tutors) is in development and not yet available in the app).
The foundation of Fluent Forever's method is based on the principles of personalized flashcard creation and spaced repetition, extremely powerful learning tools that optimize your brain’s memory abilities.
In other words, you learn the words in your language by creating custom flashcards for each word, and then review these words periodically with less and less frequency until you commit them to memory. It's important to note that your flashcards are created not with translation but rather with images that you personally choose, which is critical for optimum memorization. This is the fastest way to learn a language and the best way to remember it forever.
A bit of background: Gabe first discovered the effectiveness of these principles using an open-source flashcard and spaced repetition software called Anki, which was tremendously useful as the foundation of his method but needed to be adapted to work as Gabe intended for fast and enduring language learning. The Fluent Forever app takes the core of Anki, facilitates the most time-consuming flashcard building steps, and adds in Gabe's specific tools for effective language learning, such as daily goals, pronunciation lessons, mnemonic aids, tutor guidance, progress tracking, and many more.
Built on this foundation of personalized flashcards and spaced repetition (and no translation), Gabe organized his method into four chronological steps to get from zero to fluent within months:
Train your ears with pronunciation lessons.
Start with pronunciation fundamentals. You need to learn what a language sounds like before you can learn how to speak it. Before you can begin assembling memories for words, your brain needs to create a spelling and sound foundation upon which you can build those memories. If you’re new to the language, our method provides pronunciation lessons during your first few weeks focusing exclusively on the spelling system and sounds of your target language, so that those foreign spellings and sounds are no longer foreign to you.
Train your ears with minimal pair tests. A “minimal pair” is a set of two words that differ by only one sound, like “hit” and “hid”. We train your ears using minimal pairs to help you hear the subtly nuanced sounds in your new language. In just a couple of weeks, you’ll find that you can rewire your ears to hear new, foreign sounds, just by testing yourself using recordings of very similar words. To explore this topic further, check out this example of a study where researchers successfully taught Japanese adults to differentiate between “rock” and “lock” with minimal pair testing.
Learn vocabulary through images instead of translations.
Fight your urge to translate. Unlike other language learning apps on the market, our method encourages you to learn words through guided discovery rather than trying to teach you words by having you memorize translations. This has three advantages: first, when you learn new words through your personally selected images, you’re creating unique memories that are easier for your brain to recall. Second, you reinforce the sound and spelling foundation you built in Step 1. Third, you learn to think in your target language. To explore the concept of learning through guided discovery, check out this example of learning to properly differentiate the various Russian words for girl.
Start with the most frequently used words. Our method teaches you the most frequently used words first, as this is the most optimal use of your time. This is the 80/20 Rule in action; why learn “niece” in the beginning when you’re going to need “mother” 80 times more often? Most other methods clump words together by category, regardless of their relative utility, which delays the time it takes you to reach a conversational level of fluency. With only the top 1,000 words, you will recognize nearly 75% of what you read.
Recall more easily with carefully chosen word associations. Most programs teach words in themes; you’ll learn colors today, numbers tomorrow, and professions the next day. Unfortunately, this can cause serious long-term problems in your ability to remember similar words (i.e. you get your colors mixed up with each other!). Our method places words in actual environments where the word would naturally be used, so you learn it in context. For example: instead of trying to learn “green” by tediously memorizing a list of all colors, you learn “green” within a scene that features a prominent green-colored item, like a green frog sitting on a green lily pad on a pond surrounded by green grass. Learning “green” in this way, will allow you to memorize the word twice as quickly, and retain it for twice as long. Our carefully chosen word associations also mean that you’re learning several words at the same time with the optimized retention, rather than just learning individual words with comparatively mediocre retention.
Learn tricky words more easily with mnemonic imagery. In the broadest sense, mnemonics are anything that helps you remember information. Mnemonics are tremendously helpful for language learning because languages are full of abstract, hard-to-remember concepts – like pronunciation, spelling, grammatical gender, and verb conjugation patterns. Our method allows you to easily apply personalized mnemonics to turn these abstract concepts, like tricky sounding words and grammatical gender, into imagery that you can easily remember long term.
Learn grammar naturally through stories relevant to you.
Absorb basic grammar through easy sentences using words you know. Looking to learn an abstract word? Other methods will suggest that you memorize its translation, but you’ll learn much faster by learning it in the context of a sentence. We’ll provide beginner, intermediate and advanced sentences for each new word. You simply choose the sentence that resonates the most with you, choose imagery to go along with that sentence, and our system will produce customized flashcards to teach you everything you’d like to learn in that sentence. In the process, you’ll intuitively build a deep understanding about how grammar works in your new language.
Learn grammar rules intuitively. In every single language, grammar is conveyed using some combination of three basic operations: grammar adds words (example: You like it -> Do you like it?), it changes existing words (example: I eat it -> I ate it), or it changes the order of those words (example: This is nice -> Is this nice?). That’s it. And that lets us break sentences down into grammatical chunks that are very easy to memorize. Our method will show you variations, or forms, of words you already know, used in a variety of sentences. You’ll choose the sentences and stories that interest you the most, decide which aspects of those sentences are most interesting (i.e. new words? intriguing word order?), and some imagery to go along with each new story. In the process, you’ll automatically connect new grammatical concepts with the stories and sentences that they enable you to tell.
Learn grammar rules faster with spaced repetition. Our method lets you review the grammar concepts you learn in our spaced repetition system, which will provide you with the exact amount of repetition you need to effectively memorize any grammatical form forever. Instead of completing hundreds of grammar drills in a typical textbook, you can take just one or two examples of every new grammatical form to practice and move onto the next concept. This lets you progress extremely fast and devour a textbook worth of information within a couple of months. It’s also a lot of fun; without getting bogged down with boring grammatical drills, you’re constantly learning new ways to express yourself.
Learn gender with mnemonics. If you have studied a language with grammatical gender, you know how much of a pain it can be trying to remember whether chairs are supposed to be masculine, feminine or neuter. Some of the friendlier languages may give you clues – perhaps masculine nouns usually end in ‘o’ – but those clues aren’t always trustworthy. Our method uses a simple trick to make abstract information like grammatical gender stick: mnemonic imagery. You assign vivid verbs to each gender (i.e., perhaps all ‘masculine’ nouns explode, all ‘feminine’ nouns melt, and all ‘neuter’ nouns shatter into a million pieces.) You’ll find that mnemonic imagery like this makes gender extremely easy to memorize, right from the start, and our system allows you to easily connect imagery to every new word.
Practice your speech to fluency with native tutors (not yet in app).
NOTE: Tutor costs are not included in the app price. As we build our network of native tutors we recommend you read this blog post on our suggested solution until this feature is launched.
Create your own sentences with the guidance of native tutors about topics you want to learn. Immersion is a wonderful way to learn a language from the basics through spoken fluency, but if you have steady work, a dog, a family, or a bank account in need of refilling, you can’t readily drop everything and devote that much of your life to learning a language, much less spend significant time in the country of your target language (unless you’ve moved there as part of a lifestyle change). In order to learn a language to conversational fluency while living your day-to-day life, you need a more practical way to get a new language into your head, make it flow smoothly out of your mouth, and prevent it from leaking out of your ears. The best way to do this is by regularly spending time with native tutors, to help polish your newly acquired words and sentences into comfortable, fluent speech. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend countless hours speaking with tutors; our method maximizes the efficiency of your tutoring sessions, so that you don’t spend an extra minute re-hashing something that you already discussed in a previous hour with your tutor.
Fuel the virtuous circle of speech practice and confidence boosts. Fluency in speech is not the ability to know every word and grammatical formation in a language; it’s the ability to use whatever words and grammar you know to say whatever’s on your mind. This is a learned skill, and it’s something you can work on directly and efficiently, even at an intermediate level. Speech practice pulls together all of the data you’ve crammed into your head and forms it into a cohesive, polished language. This produces a self-perpetuating cycle of improvement: The more vocabulary you learn, the easier it will be to speak about a wide variety of topics. The more you practice speaking, the easier it will be to consume foreign entertainment and learn new words, grammar, expressions, and slang. Most importantly, speech practice helps you clarify any confusing concepts in your new language, and correct confidence-shattering mistakes. In practice, the more you speak, the more rapidly you’ll learn; the more you learn, the more confident you’ll become; and the more confident you become, the more often you’ll want to speak. This is the virtuous circle that feeds fluency and should be the guiding star in your language learning journey. Practicing speech with a native tutor allows you to jump start and fuel this virtuous circle with a helpful, nonjudgmental expert that will better prepare you for speech practice with other native speakers.
Our current app provides the basic tools you need to get learning, but it doesn’t yet give you an overview of what to expect long term. We’re working on that as fast as we can (along with a bajillion other features!) but that doesn’t mean you can’t get started right away.
If you’re an Intermediate/Advanced student, skim through this beginner guide, knowing that you may be jumping past pronunciation and perhaps even past the base vocab words. If you’re a beginner, here’s what your first few weeks will look like:
Get oriented & start learning
On your first day, we mostly just want you to get oriented within the app. You’re going to log in, then answer some simple questions about your current level in your target language (TL) and how comfy you are with your TL’s pronunciation system.
Our current release will show you 3 screens:
Keep at it
At first, the Home screen is going to keep you focused on pronunciation. As mentioned earlier, work on Bonus tasks whenever you have extra time.
Add base vocab to the mix
If you’re a beginner, then your top priority should be getting through all those pronunciation lessons. But by Day 8ish, your ears are going to start feeling accustomed to your new language’s sounds and you’re likely ready to throw in a few base vocab flashcards. This will add some extra variety to your reviews (more fun = more retention), and it’ll also get you familiar with more of our app. The home screen will suggest this as a bonus task, and I’d recommend following it at some point around day 8 (or earlier, if you’re comfy doing so!)
Keep at it
The Home screen will push you through all of your pronunciation lessons until you’re all done with them. That’ll happen sometime between Day 9 (if you’re learning one of the simpler sound systems and you’ve been religiously doing 4 Pronunciation Lessons every day) and Day 45 (If you’re learning one of the more complex languages and/or just doing 0-2 pronunciation lessons per day).
Finish pronunciation and try out grammar
As mentioned above, you’ll be finishing up with your pronunciation lessons at some point between Day 9-45. Fur the purposes of this guide, let’s say that happens on Day 22.
Once you’re done with Pronunciation, the Home screen will push you towards Base Vocab.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, then try to build some Grammar flashcards. They’ll be listed as a Bonus task on the Home screen.
When learning grammar, you’ll see a list of 10 words, similar to the Base Vocab tab. You can swipe on any word if you Know It or want to Skip It. Tap on a word you’d like to learn.
Now you’ll see some example sentences with various difficulty levels. Choose the sentence you’d like to learn. If you’re a beginner, you’ll probably want to stick to the easy sentences for now.
Choose 1-4 pictures for your word. If you tap on the + button, you’ll find a much more sophisticated image search engine that allows you to search for any combination of words from your sentence with just a few taps. Or you can search for word combinations from the English translation of your sentence. If your chosen word is abstract (E.g., “By” in “My homework was eaten by my dog”), then choose pictures that fit the story in the sentence (E.g., a guilty dog, eaten homework).
On the Preview screen, you have three types of flashcards you can create. You can preview what they look like by enabling them and then tapping on them on the top of the screen. Make whichever ones you think will be interesting to you. I’d suggest the following:
- Vocabulary: Always do this one - Word Order: Only do this if the word you’re learning is in a surprising place in the sentence (e.g., “Norbert es un perro lindo” ‘Norbert is a dog cute’) - Dictionary Form: This teaches you when a word (e.g. “teaches”) is different from its dictionary form (e.g. “to teach”). Skip whenever the dictionary form feels obvious to you.
Once you’ve made your first flashcards, you’ll have the option of learning more words from the sentence. Say yes. Then swipe on words from the sentence to mark them as known, tap on ones you’d like to learn, and make more flashcards until you’ve really consumed all the meaty bits from the sentence.
Tap on “I’m done with this sentence!” and do a review session.
Days 23 and onward
Keep at it!
At this point, you’ve tried out all the sections of our current release. If you haven’t finished pronunciation yet, finish that first. Then you’ll have to choose between whether to focus on Base Vocab or Grammar. I’d recommend moving to Grammar and staying there as soon as it feels comfortable. For some folks, that may be immediate, and for others, that may take several weeks of working on Base Vocab. This isn’t a race so choose the path that feels most comfortable for you. That said, DO move on to Grammar at some point, because it links all your words together and brings life into your language. As always, all of this guidance is built into the Home screen and you can just follow instructions there.
Where do the tutors come in?
There’s a phenomenon I discuss in my book, relating to Personal Connections. The short explanation of that phenomenon is this:
MY DOG’S NAME IS NORBERT ← This sentence is great for learning words like “Dog” and “Name” and even abstract stuff like “Is” and “My”
MY DOG’S NAME IS [Your dog’s actual name] ← You can memorize information from this sentence 50-100% faster than the first sentence, and you’ll retain it for 50-100% longer.
In the Grammar section of the app, you’re choosing from our pre-made example sentences. Those sentences are as high quality as we can make them, but they can never be as good as a sentence that relates directly to you.
So if you’re going to use a tutor, you could spend that time chatting about random stuff, and that’s always a great use of your time. But...a much more efficient use of your tutoring time is to have your tutor help you create personalized example sentences for the words you’d like to learn (i.e., “My dog’s name is [your dog’s actual name]”).
We’re currently in the process of building a tool for users to make their own example sentences and collaborate on those sentences with a tutor. Since it’s not ready yet, I recommend sticking to the daily plan described above. You’ll learn fast and I think you’ll have a lot of fun internalizing your new language’s sounds, vocab and grammar.
That said, if you have lots of extra time, DO try out chatting with a tutor and seeing if you can find someone who’s a good fit for you. Chatting with native speakers is always a good use of your time, particularly when you actually like your tutor. Then, before you know it, you’ll already have a native speaker friend that you know well, we’ll release our tutoring tool, and you’ll be able to maximize the efficiency of each tutoring session with your friend. For the moment, we suggest tutor platforms like iTalki to connect with native speakers – read this blog post for a detailed guide on how to maximize your time on here.
Please note that tutor costs are not included in our app price.
Check out the video below for a high-level walkthrough of the Fluent Forever app. Follow along as our founder, Gabe, reveals how the app brings the Fluent Forever method to life, explains each section and feature of the app, and summarizes the features in development we'll be rolling out soon.