Category: languages

the italki upgrade

Upgrades, People, Upgrades | Know Your Meme

The original Fluent Forever method worked off of the (clever) insight that in a good grammar book someone much more competent than the learner has broken down all the parts of a language into easy gradated steps. It then proceeded to hook that content up to the power of Anki and SRS. So instead of doing (inefficient) exercises the learner was instead downloading the most important parts of a language, in the most most efficient order, by the most efficient means. Neat.

However, Gab realised as time past that there was a better way of doing things— using a grammar book as your core content generator (after a 500 word list) has it’s flaws and isn’t actually the most efficient way to gain real-world fluency.


The uncomfortable truth is that this remains the default assumption behind the Fluent Forever app—it uses a method which its creator has moved on from! A supposed ‘practicing with native tutors’ feature is still ‘in development’ [as of summer 2021] but won’t be any better than iTalki which exists right now.


The entire premise and genius of Gab’s method was to learn a language how your brain well.. actually learns a language. Learning vocabulary through images, including full native audio, the pronunciation trainers, even SRS itself, they are all taking advantage of how your brain actually retains language.

But the grammar-book-method turns out to be completely artificial because grammar itself is artificial. And because stripping sentences from a book and then memorising them for active recall leaves out the main thing most people learn a language to do.. speak it.

And so the updated method (rightly) has iTalki at its core, using all the best tools from the former way of doing things only now tailored to making the skill of formulating correct speech as efficient and pain free as possible.

The necessities of conversation now decide the order in which vocabulary and grammar are learnt (pronunciation remains first because it’s the basis of everything else) and since in real life there is no forced distinction between the two, there isn’t in your study either.

“The connection is glitching”, “Sorry, give me a moment”, and “Can you write that down?” are learnt before “The girl counts five red apples”, “an agricultural form which was proceeding”, or “I would like to purchase 3 poppyseed cakes”. ‘Actually’, ‘more or less’, ‘maybe’, and the colloquial word for ‘a little’ become necessities.

This is how a language is actually learnt, at random, with the needs of the moment raising stuff to memorise and your brain’s pattern recognition taking care of the rest. The mistakes and knowledge gaps in your conversation will automatically reveal the next most necessary flashcard to make, and the method will take you the whole way to B2 if you let it.

And seeing as you’re speaking the whole time—real conversation is actually your Anki content-generator—speaking is the skill you’ll be improving the most, like a muscle strengthening in the background the whole time.


By switching out a grammar textbook for iTalki lessons the method becomes a positive feedback loop, a self-contained wonderfully-efficient flywheel. A formula for learning to speak a language that’s the best thing going.

All that’s left to do is keep the flywheel spinning, let the ingenuity of the system do a lot of the heavy lifting, and book your next iTalki lesson.

doing the grammar dishes 🧼

FACT: Washing Dishes By Hand Wastes More Water Than A Dishwasher | HuffPost UK

My tendency is to want to understand everything all at once, which usually means trying to extract the grammar I don’t know from new content and then trying to understand the whole concept before moving on.

This can be lethal, especially if you do it too much at the outset (although I now think it’s unhelpful at any stage you’re at). It stalls your language-learning engine.

It makes the whole process too heavy and burdensome because you’re constantly reading articles on grammar points which are impossible for you to grasp yet and totally beyond your current reach. This is discouraging and frustrating and now you’re trapped in a negative feedback loop.

Conscious of this tendency I’ve been trying to avoid it with German. Knowing when to look up a grammar point is its own skill (just like picking the right phrases, or learning when is best to review your cards), but here is a helpful analogy for what I’ve found Best Practice™.

When there’s a load of dishes you have to do, and it’s late at night, and you’re tired and there are several Big Pots—you know the scene—the tactic that works is to start with the easiest thing and work your way into it, always picking the next easiest thing until hey presto! the Biggest Pot’s the only thing left and you’ve done all the others so why not just do it too?

Granted this is the opposite of the ‘swallow the frog‘ school of productivity thought, but with language learning and dishes we’re starting from the premise that swallowing the frog (doing the hardest thing first) is the very thing you can’t do right now.

I think it probably has something to do with using easy tasks to work your way into flow state, but that’s enough theory for one post. Language-learning flow state does sound pretty sick though!

But as with dishes so with language grammar. Study and learn the declensions or conjugations or conjunctions or neat rule that interests you the most that day! Just learn the charts you found and think are dope and move on.

Let your taste be your guide and don’t get yourself in a grammar emo-zone. It sounds like cheating, it feels like cheating! but little by little you’ll start to fill in all the grammar you need.

After all, you’ve got months for compound effects to take effect—years if you want—not days or even weeks. Time is your ally with this way of doing things and you might even get to feel all language-learning zen master (on a good day).

Let the frog chill in the sink until we can eat him in 3 months time (gross metaphor crossover but alas!) 🐸

 

 

goldilocks sentences

I’ve discovered there is a goldilocks sentence complexity when searching for sentences to make into flashcards.

too complex and there’s too much for your brain to get a handle on at once, too simple and you’re not learning enough per card.

it’s a hard balance to strike, especially in the beginning, but sentences which already have a word or two you know are best.

and sometimes you’ll find one which you can feel is.. just right.

drinking up them sweet sweet ‘just right’ new anki cards