Benny Lewis: Fluent in 3 Months

Fluent in 3 MonthsBenny Lewis is a self-proclaimed failed language learner…. yet is now also a polyglot, having mastered a dozen or more languages in varying degrees.

It wasn’t, however, until his 20s that he figured out how to approach language learning. He failed miserably acquiring languages for the Irish leaving cert and couldn’t speak Spanish even after spending six months in the country.

It’s only when he changed his outlook towards learning Spanish that he made any progress.

He now runs the language hacking website Fluentin3months.com and is a digital nomad whose entire worldly possessions fit into a 50lb bag.

He is one of the few genuine Irish Internet success stories and one of the only Irish guys (if not THE only one) to be invited to a TedX Talk.

He has now consolidated his approach to language learning in a new book published by Collins, also boldly called Fluent in 3 Months and is currently doing an extensive book tour through the UK, Ireland and the US (as well as some other parts of the world) and I took this opportunity to attend the event in Waterstones in Cork where he first gave a little 15-minute presentation, then answered questions from the audience before moving on to the signing.

So…. Fluent in 3 months?

Seems like quite a promise, especially for people who may have struggled with languages before.

Is he selling snake oil?

Nope.

But the title does bear some explaining.

For starters he defines “fluency” as being able to express yourself in a social setting in a flowing style of talking without too many hesitations. In other words somewhere between B1 and B2 is where he would be aiming for.

He acknowledges that there are various other ideas of what constitutes fluency in a language and for the later stages C1/C2 he uses the term “mastery”.

On his site he had once mentioned that the 3 months part of his domain name is not a promise but a goal or a challenge and he is very keen on setting yourself precise targets and mini-missions and if 3 months may prove too short for your goals, then 4 months or 6 months could also do (or indeed just a week or two for smaller challenges).

In the book he emphasises that the 3-month goal is not achievable with just an hour per week here or there but does require full-time studying during that time frame (or at least two hours per day).

So with a minimum of 180 hours (but up to 720 hours if done “full time” properly), it’s safe to say that reaching levels around A2/B1 or slightly higher is indeed within the realm of the possible.

Benny quickly ditches a number of language learning myths. It has e.g. never been scientifically proven that children are indeed better geared towards language learning and there is at least one study that shows that adults are actually far better wired towards acquiring new languages. If kids have one advantage then it is the fact that they are surrounded by better “teachers”, i.e. parents who constantly encourage them and provide non-stop feedback. In other words: if there is a possible advantage, it is a question of nurture over nature.

His main point about acquiring new languages is to speak from Day 1. There really has never been a better time to learn a new language. If you don’t know anyone in your neighborhood who can help you speak, learn and communicate, then there are now scores of opportunities that can hook you up with language exchange partners and tutors online.

He keeps traditional academic approaches focusing on grammar to a later stage in his studies and also doesn’t bother much with reading or listening and film watching exercises at the early stages.

This is one of the few points where I may ever so slightly disagree with him. I love to surround myself with various media and foreign language input right from the start and am somewhat dubious whether it really is a good idea to keep everything grammar related to a later stage when it is more difficult to unlearn a number of bad habits but, hey, who am I do argue with someone who has clearly been more successful than me in acquiring a large number of languages? Plus, Benny openly admits that there is not one sure fire way in this regard and the important thing is just to set yourself precise missions and then find your own path to glory and see what methods work for you and which don’t.

All in all this is a fun and encouraging book, primarily aimed at people who have so far struggled with learning languages. Those who have already mastered one or more may not get all that much more out of it but even then one does find occasional nuggets: One suggestion he has for the mastery stages of language learning when a lot of the basics are already in your blood is not to find a tutor but a speech therapist or voice coach to help with the proper enunciation.

The book is kind of an offline summary of his online ideas and will likely introduce him to a new audience that may not yet be all that familiar with him. If you have already followed his website extensively, then a lot will of course already sound familiar.

Still, it’s great to have all his tips and tricks combined in one book.

(The book can be purchased from either Amazon US or Amazon UK.)

Please let me introduce… Peppa Wutz

peppaFollowing up on my recent post on learning German with the help of movies and in particularly silent movies, here’s a little addendum:

One really helpful way to improve your listening and general language skills is to watch children’s shows.

Their language is generally relatively simple, yet includes a large number of important phrases, and the pronunciation of the speakers concise.

And a lot of them are easily available on YouTube. In order to find those just e.g. search for “Peppa Wutz”, the German name for Peppa Pig, and spend the next few hours going from one recommendation to the next.

Watching German television online

The subject came up during one of my lessons: Is it possible to watch German television online?

I definitely recommend to immerse yourself fully with anything German (listening to online radio shows, checking out German language YouTube clips, reading German language newspapers and magazines) so watching German TV would be a huge benefit for any student regardless of their skill level.

In actual fact, even if you are a complete beginner it would be helpful regardless of whether or not you understand the entire program: There will always be certain words and phrases that are being repeated and that will stick in your memory.

The good news is that it is indeed possible to view German TV programs online and from what I can tell (living in Ireland) there do not appear to be any restrictions in viewing those from a foreign internet connection.

Both of the main public TV channels have their online players if you missed a show:

The ZDF is the most easily accessible one. Just click on this link and all the programs are showing up for the previous week. Some (all?) of their programs also have German subtitles (“Untertitel”) available. Just click on the link underneath the screen that show an ear with hearing aid. This really beneficial if your German is not yet up to scratch to catch it all without this aid.

The ARD as well as all the regional channels associated with it also have their own player. Once you access this website you will see a heading that says “Sendung verpasst?”. Click on this and it gives you the option to sort the shows by “Sendedatum” (date) and by name (“Sendungen A-Z”). Once you choose which show you want to watch you then also have to click the camera icon. It takes a bit getting used to but once done, you should be flying.

The private stations I checked only appear to show clips of their shows and are often introduced by commercials but if you really can’t wait for the next season of I’M A CELEBRITY feel free to view clips of the German equivalent and marvel at how stiffly the presenters are trying to be funny. Ant and Dec they sure ain’t.

Easy German on YouTube

The fun videos on YouTube are teaching (or better: demonstrating) the use of practical German. They were created by Solarnet.tv and are meant to complement any regular German language course. They were filmed in Muenster and are bringing back memories from my own time in the university there. In case you’re wondering: Lesson 5 appears to have been deleted by YouTube.

Flow chart for the four German cases

One of the most difficult aspect of learning German grammar – especially for native English speakers who are not really exposed to that concept – is the idea of having four cases for nouns (Nominativ, Genitiv, Dativ, Akkusativ).

There is a good overview available about those at About.com and their list of Dative verbs can also be found here. Do yourself a favour and copy the text of those lessons into a Word document and save it on your computer. My understanding is that the previous About.com writer is no longer involved in it and as soon as they find a replacement the old documents that are really quite helpful will be taken offline and no longer be available, so download anything you need from there to your computer to save you disappointment at a possible later stage.

Despite having a good overview of the four different German cases knowing when to use them can still be a bit intimidating. The truth is that there are really only a handful of major reasons for picking one case over the other. I therefore decided to put a little basic flow chart together to help you identify when what case is used. That chart should cover probably about 80-90% of all scenarios you are going to encounter. Scenarios not included in this one are e.g. the use of the Akkusativ in certain time and distance expressions (Jeden Montag fahre ich zur Arbeit. Das Krankenhaus ist einen Kilometer entfernt.)

Click on the image to get the full sized version. Any comments and suggestions would be greatly appreciated. A PDF file of this document has also been made available on the Training Material section of this site.

German Language Club and Deutsche Welle online help

I recently joined the German Language Club on Yahoo, a large friendly group of students who help each other in their quest for learning Deutsch. Have a question about the grammar or vocabulary that’s been bugging you for the longest time? Ask those guys a question, and you’re bound to get it answered in no time. Hell, I am a native speaker and even I learn something new occasionally!

Incidentally, some of the posters there use the training materials provided by Deutsche Welle for some group learnings.

Both of those sites come highly recommended if you’re interested in online learning.

Popling

I recently came across Popling, a nifty new online application that assists with learning languages as well as other subjects.

The idea is that while some people may find it difficult to devote longer periods of time every day to learning a language, everyone can afford a few seconds here or there. When you download the application you will every once in a while receive a flash card with a term that you will then need to translate and will then learn whether you got this right or wrong. Once you gave the answer you will then continue with your normal work at your computer until sometime later in the day when another flash card with a new term will show up.

For the German version of Popling there are already a large number of possible subjects available on flash cards ranging from learning basic nouns and phrases to food and restaurant vocabulary and even phrases for dealing with problems.

If there is one thing that could be criticised it is that the list of nouns by and large do not include any indication as to what grammatical gender we are dealing with and as I had previously indicated learning the gender of a noun right from the beginning is of the utmost importance. Still, everyone is allowed to upload their own sets of flash cards, so hopefully over time some of those will also be added.

If anyone is using Popling, I would appreciate some comments about it as I have not actually started using it myself.