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This Former Opera Singer Raised $250K In One Day For His Language App

By Ariel Cheung | September 21, 2017 2:32pm
 The Fluent Forever app is expected to launch next year.
The Fluent Forever app is expected to launch next year.
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Provided/Forever Fluent

NEAR WEST SIDE — What is it like to know eight languages?

"It can produce some weird dreams," Gabriel Wyner said with a laugh.

It took Wyner five months to learn French, and he claims anyone can learn how to speak basic Japanese, Russian or Hungarian in a matter of days if they've got the right tools.

Specifically, his new smartphone app.

Within a single day, Wyner has raised more than $250,000 on Kickstarter to create his Fluent Forever app, based on a book he wrote in 2014.

"It's kind of nuts," Wyner said, describing the crowdfunding campaign's lightning success. "'Shock,' I think would be a good word to describe how I'm feeling."

Wyner, a former opera singer in Los Angeles who now lives on the Near West Side, said his smartphone app helps users learn pronunciation, make mental associations with foreign words and objects related to them, rather than teaching people to translate individual words into English.

"Fluent Forever" author Gabriel Wyner explains how translating individual words into English isn't enough to truly learn a language. His dog is Instagram famous. [Screenshot/Forever Fluent Kickstarter]

While he said apps like Duolingo are moderately successful, his more complex app goes beyond mere translation to the point where users will think and dream in the foreign language.

"My entire method hinges on this main thing of connecting the words within the language to other things like pictures," Wyner said. "You can practice thinking in this language and not just translating."

People who pledge at least $40 to the campaign over the next month will receive early access to different versions of the app and a lifetime discount on app subscriptions.

During his years as an opera singer, Wyner unearthed a 2002 study where researchers tested ways to teach Japanese adults the difference between "L" and "R" sounds, like in the words lake and rake. 

The Forever Fluent app will use photos and other visual associations to teach users to think and speak in different languages quickly. [Screenshot/Forever Fluent Kickstarter]

Wyner said he used the method to teach himself seven foreign languages: Spanish, French, Italian, German, Russian, Hungarian and Japanese, all with the goal of being able to use each in professional and social interactions.

He raised $96,000 in 2014 to create training program software, but the only system available at the time was cumbersome, and a lot of people got caught up trying to understand how to use the program. Wyner said he hopes to correct that with the new app.

Wyner, 34, moved to the Near West Side last year after his wife was accepted into medical school in Chicago, and he said he never imagined he'd end up as an app developer. He has a degree in mechanical engineering.

Gabriel Wyner spent years as an opera singer, during which he taught himself multiple languages that led to his creating a new method of learning. [Screenshot/Forever Fluent Kickstarter]

Nor did he realize how expensive developing an app can be. He expects the basic design and development to cost $250,000 to $600,000.

That's why the app will operate on a subscription model; the cost of regularly adding new Google images to the app is high, as will be the cost to continue improving it after the beta launch, Wyner said.

He didn't want to fund the app with money from private investors, reasoning that using Kickstarter cut out the middle man whose primary concern would be a return on that investment.

"There's no one in the background driving this and saying, 'Give me my money back,'" Wyner said. "The people who want the app can get it."