1. Tell me a little about you.
I’m a 34-year-old author, living in Chicago with my wife and dog. I was born in Los Angeles and grew up as a nerdy kid obsessed with video games and science. I sang musical theater and classical music as a hobby, and in college, I got dual majors in opera and mechanical engineering. Eventually I decided to become an opera singer, and moved to Vienna, Austria to pursue masters degrees in that field.
I came into language learning because of my opera background; I was studying to become an opera singer and I needed to learn French, Italian, German and Russian for that reason. But engineering never left me. As much as I enjoyed singing, I was, and always will be an engineer at heart. I enjoy solving problems and looking for ways to maximize efficiency in everything I do. So as I started learning languages for my singing, I became obsessed with the process, looking for ways to make it go faster.
2. How did you learn languages?
Badly at first! 🙂 When I was a kid, I floundered for 7 years with Hebrew, then continued to flounder for 5.5 years with Russian. The first times I found any success were in strict immersion programs: I spent two summers learning German at the Middlebury immersion programs, and one summer over in Perugia, Italy to learn Italian. I came to my current methods while studying French; I started by learning pronunciation (for my opera degree), then used a Spaced Repetition System (the app ‘Anki’, to be specific) to teach myself the language, making flashcards that were 100% in French, with pictures. Using this method for 3 months, followed by a 2 month immersion, I ended up reaching C1 fluency in French in 5 months.
3. What is the difference between the Fluent Forever app and other flashcards apps like Anki or Memrise?
The Fluent Forever app is based on research about how we store information. It’s different from other methods in two central ways: it changes what you’re learning every day, and how you’re learning it.
In terms of what you’re learning, this app starts with training you in pronunciation, because if you can train your ears to hear your new language’s sounds, you’re going to have an easier time remembering words and grammar. Then it teaches the rest of your language without using translations: everything you see on a daily basis is exclusively in your target language, so you can focus on building fluency, rather than decoding skills.
As for how you’re learning, the app uses a Spaced Repetition System, the same kind of excellent flashcard system that Anki and Memrise use. The issue with other flashcard-based tools is that they either give you pre-made flashcards, which aren’t very effective for learning new information, or they allow you to create your own flashcards, but that creation process is tedious and time-consuming. The Fluent Forever App is designed to give you the ability to create new flashcards effortlessly, so all you’re doing is choosing words and sentences to learn, and then choosing pictures, and the app will take care of all of the flashcard creation process for you.
4. Which languages are going to be offered in the app?
We’re about to hit our first stretch goal, which means we’ll offer: Spanish, Italian, French, German, Russian, Korean and English. Our next few stretch goals are all about adding new languages, and it looks like we have a good chance of reaching those goals with enough support from the language learning community. The next languages are: Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese, Arabic and Hebrew ($550k stretch goal), Japanese & Mandarin ($700k stretch goal), and then global support for all other languages, where we make tools for users to learn any language and share their resources and sentences with other users learning that same language ($850k stretch goal)
5. When is the app going to be available?
We’ll likely see our first beta tests coming out in February or March for Spanish, and add languages to those tests rapidly after that point. We’ll aim to get our first set of languages all finalized by August of 2018, and if we hit a lot of our stretch goals, then those added languages will show up shortly thereafter.
6. How did the project become the most funded app of all time?
I think there are two main factors: One, my readers have been waiting for an app like this for years, and they were really psyched to see this happen. And two, thousands of my readers have actually become fluent in new languages over the last few years, and many of them are willing to come out publicly and talk about that in writing and on video. That kind of social proof is really rare in the language learning world, and so it’s something that’s really motivating when you see it.
Gabriel Wyner is the author of Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It. He is also an opera singer and polyglot who used to struggle with language in his school’s years. You can learn more about his project and help him at Kickstarter.