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Becoming Fluent: How Cognitive Science Can Help Adults Learn a Foreign Language
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Becoming Fluent: How Cognitive Science Can Help Adults Learn a Foreign Language

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  691 ratings  ·  94 reviews
Adults who want to learn a foreign language are often discouraged because they believe they cannot acquire a language as easily as children. Once they begin to learn a language, adults may be further discouraged when they find the methods used to teach children don’t seem to work for them. What is an adult language learner to do? In this book, Richard Roberts and Roger Kre ...more
Hardcover, 248 pages
Published August 2015 by The MIT Press
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2020 non fiction book 6 out 12

Becoming Fluent was an informative and interesting book about language learning for adults backed up by cognitive science.

For some background to my experience, I have been learning French for 5 years. Throughout the way I have discovered things that have worked, andmany that haven't. It was really interesting to discover the science behind why that may have been.

One of my biggest takeaways from this book was the difference between how adults and children learn la
Aug 26, 2015 rated it liked it
Relatively new book out of MIT Press about second language learning in adults. I felt like this book couldn't really figure out its purpose: to serve as encouragement to adults to stop feeling like the ship has sailed on language learning, to be a summary of the relevant research, or to serve as a repository of tips on language learning.

It did pretty well on the first task, but it was only a small portion of the book - the first full chapter or so. As a summary of the relevant research, it did.
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audiobook, languages
111th book for 2019.

As a cognitive scientist, who has learnt a second language in late adulthood, and who has started learning a third, I had hoped this book would both inspirational and offer practical advice. It does neither. Unfortunately, the cognitive science it offers is both too superficial to either be of interest to those interested in the science, or to those trying to gain valuable tips how to learn a language effectively.

For instance, there is no discussion of relative word frequenc
Benny Lewis
Apr 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
There are many books about language learning in general, but it's great to finally see this scientifically sound account of second language acquisition. I was constantly nodding my head at things that I know to be true as an experienced language learner and coach to language learners, explained in a no-nonsense way drawing on many valid sources. Recommended for people who want to know the facts about adult foreign language acquisition. ...more
Apr 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This review is an excerpt from my full review - you can get it along with my 10 pages of book notes at

Why It's Awesome
There are many language learning books out in the market that tell you all about how wonderful the author's methods are. Most successful polyglot-style books follow this system. The logic is that if following certain steps made the author fluent in another language, then you can do the same by copying the steps.

In Becoming Fluent, I detect
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
Nothing super new or unheard of, but interesting nonetheless! The cognitive science is for beginners and some of it is just common sense, so if you already know a bit then you may not be super satisfied. I personally didn't have an issue with it.

Becoming Fluent was pretty encouraging and I recommend it to any of you wishing to learn a second language! :-)
Donna Craig
Apr 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wow! I expected this audiobook to be dry and a bit boring, but I absolutely loved it! I tutor adults in ESL, and I cannot wait to try out the many ideas I got from this book. It really helped me understand the difference between the way a child acquires language and the way an adult can. Using your cognitive advantages as an adult, rather than attempting to learn the same way a child would, you can learn a language and become fluent, according to the authors. They lay out specific cognitive adva ...more
Madame Histoire
This is actually NOT a how-to guide to language learning, this is a book on the science behind language learning, which is why I found it fascinating, and actually different from (should I say complementary to) the other 3-4 guides to language learning I have read.
And although the authors give you a lot of the scientific terms of cognitive systems or methods, the book is overall easy to follow along and they give example to illustrate what they mean.
The fact that the author gave some reference t
Nov 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. I would recommend it to anyone who doesn't even want to learn a foreign language. Here's the kicker. The book is about cognitive science as applied to foreign language, not about foreign language with the use of cognitive science. The book can apply to an assortment of different situations if you only take time to sit and think about what the book is saying and how could this or that apply to situations outside of learning languages. It's not a difficult connection to m ...more
Susan Oleksiw
Jun 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
As someone who has learned and forgotten and vaguely recalled perhaps a dozen languages over the years, this book on learning a language at any age was a delight and packed with information on the latest science and research on learning. The main point is that you are never too old to learn a language and in fact the older learner has some advantages over the younger ones. Of course, I read that section very closely. The experiences described did match many of my own as I returned to a language ...more
Feb 16, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2021
Fun read! I’d say the info provided in this book is useful if one has no experience self studying a language. At this point in my journey, I feel time is all I need to reach the level I want to be at. Nice to keep in mind these things for the future!
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
I started it because I'm addicted to linguistics. When I saw the authors were connected with my alma mater I was really excited.
I had learned a lot of this material in my classes although there was some new tidbits of information in here for me. It was also nice to have citations and places to look up new information. Not everyone majors in psychology though.

I found that this information was more academic and less immediately implementable. The authors seemed to intend for the info to be very do
Jan 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book because I have studied many foreign languages in my life, but I forget them faster than I learn them! After having read Becoming Fluent, I feel I have taken away a lot of useful techniques that I can apply to my learning. Some of them I have been using subconsciously (such as leveraging my old knowledge to form associations with the new), while others I've been doing wrong (such as setting strict studying routines).

Overall, I found this book clearly-written, well-structured
Chad Maddox
Jul 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Honestly, this book was not what I thought it was. I was looking for something that could help identify ways to better learn a foreign language using cognitive science, as the title of the book suggests. But the title is definitely misleading. The first part of the book was a bit more geared for that purpose, but I left with basically no techniques, tricks, or methods to apply to my language learning endeavor. If you are interested in cognitive science, then this will certainly be an interesting ...more
Jan 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Much of this book serves as a cheerleader for adult language learners (You can do it!), which -- anyone trying to learn a foreign language certainly needs along the way. In addition, it explains the science and function of the adult mind and how to use them to your linguistic-expanding advantage. I discovered a few new insights, and found that most of the concepts rung true -- as I have already observed, experienced, and learned from them over the past few years of studying Italian and Spanish, ...more
Jan 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
It helps, if you're over 35 and have no idea of what your cognitive limitations are. I was expecting a plan-a strategy-for how to tackle a language, but the book itself is not bad. It mostly focuses of tricks and strategies for a certain mindset to tackle a language. So, while this book was not for me, I'm sure that people who have an inkling to learn a language, but feel they don't have the capabilities will find this book highly helpful. ...more
Blythe Musteric
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not sure if this will help you become fluent in a second language, but I think it will motivate you to start studying. The authors will convince you that your age is not a barrier to learning. You’ll learn tips for studying as well as the cognitive science that backs up their claims.

I had a second language acquisition class in grad school, so the content wasn’t new to me, but I still enjoyed reading it. I recommend it to my fellow MATESOLers! It’ll bring back memories. :)
Jul 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Interesting book that refutes common misconceptions about the disadvantages of being an adult (rather than child) foreign language learner, and tips about how to tip the odds in one's favor. More detailed practical examples would have been nice, but this was a quick and entertaining read. ...more
Ken Hammond (kenzaz)
Mar 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
It's all about learning and how to learn a language, as an adult language student, learn the idioms, practice with a buddy. Practice with fluent speakers, speak it home. All good hints, many more tips in it. ...more
Jun 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
More encouraging than strictly useful, though encouragement can be useful.
Apr 22, 2019 rated it liked it
I just sort of filleted this one for ideas, rather than read every word. It's looking at how adults learn languages, and how their acquired skills can compensate for the quickness and brain plasticity children have. It has some interesting "meta tips", in it. In other words, it doesn't suggest any specific tools or actions or methods, but does talk about the kinds of ways adult minds learn languages and what general, broad strategies you can deploy to help things stick in your mind. Where it fin ...more
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
A lot of great concepts to consider if studying languages is a struggle (like it is for me).
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you're thinking of learning a new language, grab this easy read. lots of good tips and hints, recommended for fans of thinking fast and slow as it really goes into cognitive science. ...more
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good book, lots of tidbits on the subject of languages. Equal parts rah-rah cheerleading (which is good) and pointing out gotchas and similarities between different languages in more general view. As this book is not focused on any single language it doesn't give you specific tools to use in your specific language study, but it helps paint the bigger picture. It was nice to hear the different levels the FSI gives to their language studies. And similarily it does very good at pointing out what se ...more
G Ben
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting book about using cognitive science in language learning. I found the tips quite relevant and useful in overcoming common problems when learning a language.
This book isn't quite what I was expecting; it doesn't really prescribe a single clear-cut method of learning a language, though this wasn't necessarily a bad thing in my point of view. Instead, this book is more concerned with offering encouragement to adult language learners and giving advice to help construct a language learnin
This was really good. I would've finished earlier if I had realized how close I was to the end (the kindle book showed I was close to 60 %, but the book ended at 61 %...). In any case, I got a lot out of this book and will probably reread at least parts of it, or skim it, since it took me so long to read it (mostly because of life and stuff, the book itself was a smooth read).

I liked how this book took up some myths about language learning and gave really good arguments why one should not believ
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
On the one hand I don't think I was part of the intended target audience, but I'm still judging it as if I were.

The authors provide many cute anecdotes, but fail to translate this giant literature review into usable steps. The book could benefit from this.

They do not display a thorough knowledge of the research on figurative language either, especially when taliking about conceptual metaphors. It seems they read two pieces (Lakoff & Johson 1980 and Gibbs 1994) and decided that was enough.

I hope
Korine Kolivras
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book could've been so much shorter. It felt like a scientific research article that was expanded into a book, with some humor thrown in. I'm learning a new language and I was hoping to get some tips. I DID jot down a short list of ideas to employ AND I truly believe that adults can learn languages thanks to the expansive research reviewed here, but there was much superfluous info. I'm not sure who the target audience is, but I don't think it's someone looking for help or ideas on learning a ...more
Aug 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
A must read for language learners and wannabe polyglots. Written in an accessible and actionable format, this book is clearly well researched but isn't stuffy. The studies mentioned in the book and discussions of cognitive science are efficiently written and clear even to those of us who aren't science people, and there are interesting narrative details that illustrate the humor and frustrations of language learning. Big fan. ...more
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