"Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language" by Gabriel Wyner
We all know that knowing several languages is absolutely essential when operating in the field of international relations and diplomacy, but you would be surprised to learn how few people commit to learning this skill. It might be because there are so many to choose from or that you rarely give yourself the time to properly assess and analyse what language will be most ueful to you and your field of operation.
In his blog, former British Ambassador Charles Crawford laments over how relatively few diplomats have extensive knowledge of languages in the countries they are serving. He defines “extensive” as being able to speak live on TV about complex policy issues without “looking foolish”. But achieving this level of “extensive” is difficult to say the least and perhaps not as quick as reading a book about how to be fluent in a language. Many diplomats go into a country as a diplomat and not as a language student, which may be a grave mistake.
Operating abroad without having at least some knowledge of the language is definitely not advisable. Sure, you can say that you will have access to interpreters and translators to help to get by but these are very expensive resources that may not always be reliable. Also, knowing a language does not necessarily mean that you are equipped to interpreting or translating, which is a mistake that many people make. Have you ever seen the shopping list of requirements that employers now expect from potential candidates, particularly when it comes to languages? It is unrealistic to expect someone to know a foreign language fluently and be able to interpret and translate for them all at the same time. Cutting corners leads to costly mistakes and no-one should be expected to do this. Even professional translators and interpreters only translate or interpret. They don’t do both.
Having said that, learning a new language doesn’t have to be a privilege that only students from private schools have access to. Nowadays, there are brilliant mobile apps and websites that have made it easier for people do. Such lessons may not be at expert level but it is a great start to learning at least the basics of the language.
That is why we are recommending the book “Fluent Forever” by Gabriel Wyner to support Chapter 1 “Skills for a Changing World” of the Diplomatic Planner. The author is fluent in German, Italian, French, Russian and Japanese, and has written a book that shares his personal strategies on how to get the most out of your memory for the purposes of learning languages faster. What we liked about this book was that the author brings neuroscience together with strategies on pronunciation and memory tricks as methods to better learning.
According to his evaluation, these strategies helped him learn German in 14 weeks. He stresses that images and personal connections makes it easier for the brain to process and therefore remember things more easily. The brain processes words on four different levels: structure, sound, concept and personal connection. Once we are able to establish these unique differences and apply it to learning languages, remembering what we have learned becomes easier.
From the author’s point of view, repetition is over-learning and is useless for long-term memory. When learning a language, time is everything. The author refers to the Spaced Repetition System methodology, SRS for short, for effective memorisation. Have you ever wondered how children are able to learn and retain languages better than adults? It is thanks to this method as languages are better retained through learning by sound, not by study. The author offers various word games to help build vocabulary and memory games to test what we have learned.
In short, the author recommends that we learn languages in the order that children learn them in terms of its structure. Every language has a unique order of development. Adult English learners from different language backgrounds learn English in the same stages as children. For example, children learn the “ing” form of the main verb before they learn to add the verb “to be”. So they learn to say “he running” first, before they learn to say “he IS running”, and once they have grasped this grammatical structure that is when they implement the verb correctly.
“Fluent Forever” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development toolkit for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Online Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register