Want to speak French? Here’s how an opera singer did it…

For some people, the tricky part of learning a language is remembering what you learned.

Gabriel Wyner is an American opera singer who learned French in 5 months. In his 15-minute preview video on the Science of Memory, he provides an interesting account on how and why we memorize words and concepts.

According to Wyner, words are more than just words in our mother tongue. They’re attached to sounds, emotions and connections. For example, you probably know the word “cookie” in English.

When you think about a cookie you might think about its crunchiness, maybe the last time you ate one, or your favorite flavor. However, in another language, the same word wouldn’t remind you any of those feelings or memories. You might hear a word in another language but would forget it because it doesn’t link to a memory or feeling you might have had.

At the same time, we don’t remember sounds but we remember concepts. For example if you hear “tigre” (in French this means “tiger”), you wouldn’t care much about word. Instead, if you were told you that a “tigre” is dangerous, you’d find this useful information if you came in contact with one.

So concepts stick, and a great way to get words to stick is to use images. As we know that’s how we learn when we are children, and it works wonders. Wyner says that when you see an image of a cat, you don’t think about how the word has three letters, but that it meows and has nice fur. I have always been a big advocate of learning with images (that’s why I went through the pain to learn how to draw so I can illustrate my own language comic book!).

When we associate an image to a word, our brain tries to make a connection with these two things and it forces us to think about concepts. The final stage to make sure the connection sticks is to connect it to something in your life. Instead of learning that cat is “le chat” in French, it would even stick better if you think about your own cat “Léon le chat”.

I’m amazed that his pronunciation is impeccable! If you’re a musician I think you have an advantage because you can here the changes in tones and accents.

I’m planning to pick up Gabriel’s book on memory and language learning “Fluent Forever” when it’s released in the next couple months. Stay tuned for my review of his book!

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