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Coach a monoglot in her first ever successful language learning mission! Learn more!

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New mission: Speak any language, anywhere

| 47 comments | Category: mission

Hello from Colombia! I’ve just arrived and am ready for my last language mission of 2010.

Since the blog started just over a year ago, I’ve learned pretty good Czech and Hungarian (both in two months), got by in Thai, managed to convince Brazilians that I was one of them, and passed most of the very challenging ZOP examination in German.

Each time I have gone to the country that speaks the language, but this time I’m doing something completely different. I’m not actually in Colombia to learn Spanish (I already speak it at “C2/mastery” level according to the Instituto de Cervantes) or a native American language.

You can speak any language anywhere in the world

The purpose of this mission is to prove that no matter where you are you can speak your target language; any language, anywhere.

I am sick of people saying that my – or anyone else’s – success in learning to speak languages quickly is down to ability to travel. You can all speak your target language for several hours every day without ever leaving your town.

So to prove this, I have picked a non-capital city in South America that looks like it would be interesting to live in; Medellín, Colombia. Here, I intend to speak seven languages every week and these seven languages do not include Spanish and English. i.e. French, German, Irish, Portuguese, Italian, Esperanto and Hungarian.

If I can speak Irish or Hungarian in Colombia of all places, then what’s stopping you from speaking French/Japanese etc. in your town?

This will be quite the challenge considering it is not in more accessible/international countries like in North America or Europe and also because it is not a capital city, but if I can pull this off then you will have no excuses for not trying if you do live in such places.

Of course, I’ll be explaining how I’m doing it

This is not the first time I have attempted this. I actually learned the vast majority of my Brazilian Portuguese while living in France and by speaking it with Brazilians in person rather than wastefully over-studying. I already spoke Portuguese (not “portuñol”) when I first arrived in Brazil thanks to this.

I plan on explaining precisely what I’m doing along the way, mostly applying the tips that I discussed in much more detail in the Language Hacking Guide. I’m hoping people will apply my tips and stop making a language something just for studying. Speak it!

You must practise your target language immediately if you want to make any progress in it. This of course is the basis of my success in being able to speak languages in the last eight years and the unique message, ignored in pretty much every course, that the Language Hacking Guide was written around.

Living in Colombia

Choosing Colombia was easy – it has long been on my list of countries to visit. I’ve met so many fantastic Colombians in my travels and I could see that they were my type of people.

So I will, of course, be speaking mostly Spanish here. That’s separate to the mission, and more for cultural and social reasons. I’m not going to be speaking at Colombians in languages they don’t understand, only in Spanish. I travelled across the planet to hang out with Colombians after all!

My vague plan is to work in the mornings, socialise mostly in Spanish in the evenings, and to speak and otherwise improve another non-Spanish (and non-English) language every afternoon and/or some evenings, depending on who I meet. Hopefully I will get through all seven languages in my list for several hours every week until I go back to Ireland for Christmas.

So this will mean several hours every day entirely living through a language that comes from another part of the world.

I may use Skype and other online tools for some speaking, but only as a plan B. The point will be to do the vast majority with natives (or with advanced speakers) in person.

This will also be an opportunity for me to refresh my level in languages that I constantly maintain, without having a new language distracting me at the same time. I will need this refresher because I have some pretty intense new language missions planned for next year and will have much less time to maintain my current ones.

And yes, it’s also a good excuse for me to spend winter months, cold in many places, close to the Equator living among Latinos once again. ;)

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Think this mission is a worthy challenge? Will you be following to see how I’m doing it so you can speak your target language from home too?

Let me know in the comments! And don’t forget to share this new mission with your friends on Facebook!

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  • Marco Petersen

    Great article, but how do you plan to find say French people or Germans in Colombia?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Easy. All will be revealed with time ;)

      • http://tastyinfidelicacies.blogspot.com Jewel

        In Colombia, you will probably find a lot of ‘natives’ of Japanese, Arab, German, and other origins.

    • Anonymous

      There’s tons of Germans/French in South America. I’m sure they’re in Medellin as well.

    • Anonymous

      There’s tons of Germans/French in South America. I’m sure they’re in Medellin as well.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/108211145653718284448 Russ

    Ha, the idea of this mission was a funny surprise! It’s a good idea and a change of pace. I can imagine you finding people to speak the 7 languages with via couchsurfing, local universities and language schools, and such.

    But why no Czech or Thai in the list of languages to find? :)

    As for spending winter in a non-freezing place – I envy you.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      At the end of my time in both the Czech Republic and Thailand I decided not to maintain those languages. The work involved is immense, as you’ll see in what I’m doing to maintain French, Italian etc. here, so I only do it for languages on my “permanent” list. I will always learn some languages just to live in those countries and not maintain them afterwards due to the work involved.
      German will be on my permanent list this year and I will decide in December if Hungarian will be too.
      Glad you can see some of the ways I’ll be easily meeting up with native speakers :)

  • http://www.axisofawesomeblog.com Trever Clark

    Hey Benny – I just discovered your blog via Twitter and subscribed for updates instantly. Great stuff! I think it would be hilarious though if you did speak AT Columbians in languages that they didn’t understand. ;-)

    I took 5 years of Spanish in school, but never gained fluency (overstudying?). Just got back from 5 weeks in Mexico, and decided to start working at it again – looking forward to seeing how some of your language hacks work.

    Best of luck in Columbia. Enjoy the warm weather!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Thanks Trever – best of luck with your Spanish ;)

    • http://tastyinfidelicacies.blogspot.com Jewel

      Trever, I studied Spanish, too, in school, but couldn’t speak it at all. When I was a member of a Mexican gospel band (last minute hire, substitute pianist) I learned to speak Spanish reasonably well in 2 weeks with the band! Thank Univision and being totally immersed into it. Almost no English at all.

    • Jake

      Sorry Trever but you don’t say Columbia you say Colombia and Colombians!!!

    • Jake

      Sorry Trever but you don’t say Columbia you say Colombia and Colombians!!!

  • http://www.prolificliving.com/blog Farnoosh

    I did not believe you entirely when you told us this at dinner in Vegas but now that you are in Columbia, I might as well believe the Hungarian bit. Benny, you are brilliant and my new role model!!! Je te souhaite de réussir tout ce que tu entreprends.

  • http://www.prolificliving.com/blog Farnoosh

    I did not believe you entirely when you told us this at dinner in Vegas but now that you are in Columbia, I might as well believe the Hungarian bit. Benny, you are brilliant and my new role model!!! Je te souhaite de réussir tout ce que tu entreprends.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Merci Farnoosh !!! :)
      Yes, I actually am doing all this. At least you are proof to any doubters of me having gone to Vegas :P

  • marcissimo

    Acabo de regresar de Medellin, y es un ciudad muy linda con gente muy amable. While there I attended a CS intercambio de idiomas – that’s a fun group to hang out with and you’ll have a chance to meet a variety of language-speakers (though probably not all on your list!). While there, I’d suggest a daytrip to Guatape/El Penol and also going para-sailing.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      I was also recommended that meet-up. Will definitely check it out! Para-sailing sounds like fun :)

  • http://tastyinfidelicacies.blogspot.com Jewel

    Muito bem, muito bem, muito bem! This is how I often learn languages. You will be surprised how many people there are who want to talk to you in their language, even if you make lots of mistakes. In fact, one of the first things I learn to say in any language, is “Pardon my mistakes. I’m learning to speak ———–. ” It goes a long way. So does being able to say, “Please speak slowly. I don’t understand everything yet.” They never teach you this in school.

  • Quokka

    haha … the idea of this mission is just truly awesome!
    Looking forward to read more. ’nuff said.

  • http://www.mylanguagenotebook.com/learn_basque.aspx Jim Morrison

    Hi Benny,
    I read your blog all the time and by chance I spent the last week in Medellin. Yesterday, I came to Cartagena though. Its a shame because I would like to have met you. Anyway, thats a very interesting challenge and a great choice of city. Medellin is beautiful!
    Have a good one.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Sorry the timing didn’t work out – glad Medellín was a good choice for me though :)

  • http://ryangoesabroad.com Ryan

    Tell you what, if you can practice those languages with other speakers from Colombia, I will be impressed. But, isn’t it the case that a lot of the time you will be spending indoors online cyber-practicing rather than out with the natives? I suppose you can do it if you already have your business set up…

    Right now, I’m practicing Spanish in the US in order to go to Colombia. Tell me what you think of Medellin!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      “with other speakers from Colombia” – that’s not the point. The point will be to practise with ANYONE – whether they are Colombian or not.

      I will be online a little to practise and will talk about that, but that won’t be the point.

      Not sure what you mean about having my business set up.

      Thoughts on living in Medellín will be on twitter and eventually on the blog too ;)

  • None

    Hi Benny, I’ve been thinking about your digital guide and a question comes to my mind:
    Doesn’t worry you that someone uploads a downloadable copy of your book for free? What would you do?

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    I am FASCINATED to see how you manage to find native speakers to practice with since that would be massively helpful to me and, obviously, this is the best way to actually speak with natives (Skype is a close second–you have to admit it does 98% of what talking face-to-face will do).

    I’m really looking forward to seeing where you’re going with this.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • Anonymous

      Your profile says you’re from the US, have you heard of meetup.com? I was able to find a German, Dutch, and Spanish meetup in Seattle, I know their are other, smaller groups as well.

      Of course, if you’re from a smaller city it could be harder.

    • Anonymous

      Your profile says you’re from the US, have you heard of meetup.com? I was able to find a German, Dutch, and Spanish meetup in Seattle, I know their are other, smaller groups as well.

      Of course, if you’re from a smaller city it could be harder.

      • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

        I have, in fact I’ve got an account, though I haven’t checked it in a couple of years, I had never thought to check and see if there were any language-related groups, I’ll do that. Thanks.

      • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

        I have, in fact I’ve got an account, though I haven’t checked it in a couple of years, I had never thought to check and see if there were any language-related groups, I’ll do that. Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/diarmuidh Diarmuid Hayes

    Hi Benny!
    Good luck on your mission-would hosting couchsurfers be part of the way to practise the languages?
    While living in Dublin I got my French level up to fluent-also there was many other European nationalities around-Going to language exchanges is good but not really necessary in large European cities (or American) which are big melting pots..great for us linguists!
    Ádh mór!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Grma! Yes, I’ll be using Couchsurfing among many other things ;)

  • http://twitter.com/barcodex barcodex

    I can forsee many people using your arguments to put it upside down: if Benny can speak any language at any place, why couldn’t we, we just keep speaking our own language in any country we visit.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Nobody will use *my* arguments to speak their own language. People have been doing that LONG before Fluent in 3 months existed. People are naturally lazy and I constantly meet expats who don’t speak anything but their own language, not because of someone telling them they can, but because they don’t care. Anyone who were to twist my words into another excuse not to try is nothing more than narrow minded.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Nobody will use *my* arguments to speak their own language. People have been doing that LONG before Fluent in 3 months existed. People are naturally lazy and I constantly meet expats who don’t speak anything but their own language, not because of someone telling them they can, but because they don’t care. Anyone who were to twist my words into another excuse not to try is nothing more than narrow minded.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    OK thanks – I will arrive late on Saturday and will be busy looking at apartments on Sunday so I can’t really hang out in hostels until next week. Maybe they’ll still be there :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Any language, anywhere, ANY AGE.
    There are 70 year olds reading my blog using my advice to improve and learn new languages. I started this whole adventure when I was 21, despite all the “facts” about learning a language being impossible after a certain age.
    Don’t use age as another excuse. If you *think* age will hold you back, then it will.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Any language, anywhere, ANY AGE.
    There are 70 year olds reading my blog using my advice to improve and learn new languages. I started this whole adventure when I was 21, despite all the “facts” about learning a language being impossible after a certain age.
    Don’t use age as another excuse. If you *think* age will hold you back, then it will.

  • http://www.wovenlore.com Martin LaBelle

    Hey Benny, good to meet you at Blogworld. Careful in Columbia, saying its got less crime then Washington doesn’t say too much.

    Looking forward to following your exploits, really dig your project. Keep in touch @martinlabelle

  • http://www.wovenlore.com Martin LaBelle

    Hey Benny, good to meet you at Blogworld. Careful in Columbia, saying its got less crime then Washington doesn’t say too much.

    Looking forward to following your exploits, really dig your project. Keep in touch @martinlabelle

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Thanks Martin! Stereotypes about dangers in Colombia are decades old. I feel safer here than I did in the states…

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    If you travel for business then getting to know locals doesn’t help you and having people speak the same language is convenient.
    For people who spend more than a weekend in a country, not learning its language is pure laziness and you are restricting your social circle only to university educated locals, and likely presuming taxi drivers etc. should speak a language from the other side of the world…
    “The worldwide spread of English” is just another lazy excuse not to try to learn other languages. Very few people speak English outside of the hostel here in Colombia. Delusions about how prominent English is can only get you so far!

    • Yuzhou

      You’re right about English in South America, my brother lived in Peru and I have been there a lot myself. The value of a universal language really hits home in SA where you can travel from country to country without any language barriers (with the exception of Brazil of course).

      Benny, since this mission is about maintaining languages, how would you rank your languages in terms of proficiency, especially those meditarrenean ones?

  • Anonymous

    I guess couchsurfing will be part of your plan? Great way to meet international people and language exchange.

  • http://twitter.com/Josephjacotot Joseph Jacotot

    Hello Benny,

    I’ve been following your blog for quite a while (I just gave yesterday a lecture at my university highlighting the efforts of people like you, Moses McCormick or Mezzofanti), and I was wondering whether would be possible to meet up during these days you’ll be here in Bogotá. I live downtown (near La Candelaria). It would be an honour to treat you an orange juice!

    Best regards,

    Andrés Carvajal

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Andrés, you should have contacted me sooner – I was only in Bogotá for two days. I’m already in Medellín looking for a place. In December I’ll be back in Bogotá but likely for just a day and might not have time to meet. If you make it to Medellín we can have a chat! :)

      Glad to see you sharing our language learning messages at a university! :D

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    They say “bacano” in Brazil too, so that was easy :D But “¿Qué mas?” is an interesting greeting I’m getting used to :D

  • Julia

    Hallo Benny, ich bin durch Zufall auf deine Seite gestoßen.
    Macht Lust die Koffer zu packen und zu reisen.

    Take care!