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.