[Before I put April Fools' in the title of this post, quite a lot of people were falling for it! Rest assured that nothing here is true ]
I am writing this post with a heavy heart, but the lies must end. I can’t do this any longer – the guilt is tearing me apart!
It’s time I revealed the truth to you all. This may sound incredible, but all will be explained:
I don’t actually speak any languages but English! All the Youtube videos I’ve ever made in other languages were done by reading a phonetic transcript of the words that I had a native prepare for me.
Benny the linguist
You see, I am actually a phonetician (i.e. a linguist that studies the phonetics of languages), but like many linguists all I do is study how languages and the processes behind them work – I don’t actually speak them!!
All of you have been part of elaborate research for my PhD thesis about demonstrating the potential of IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet. I wanted to prove that you could fake knowing an entire language just by becoming an expert in reading and pronouncing those symbols accurately.
You will recognise these symbols beside words in most English dictionaries and most of what I have been reading for online audio production has actually looked like this:
‘tio ɪz’tæsu nu’ʃərtso
After a year of research and preparation, I applied my attempts publicly back in 2008 when I started making videos on Youtube to read out IPA that was based on text prepared in various languages. University funding allowed me to simply hire some translators and phonetic transcribers familiar with those languages.
Less than two years ago I started blogging to get more attention simply because I needed to convince at least 1,000 people that my claims were true for validity for increased funding from the university board. But things got a little out of hand! I’m currently getting over 60,000 hits a month for this psuedo-project! Now that I have tens of thousands of comments on the site from people who I had tricked, my professor assures me that I will be able to go as far as to get an honourable mention in the Journal of Phonetics!! For this, I thank you!
I picked a ridiculous name of Fluent in 3 months and made some things up about being social and confident and believing in yourself or whatever (nonsense! School systems have shown for hundreds of years that you need at least 5 years of structured classroom learning just to get the basics in any language, I can’t believe any of you fell for this “Learn while you speak” communicative rubbish!)
Faking the videos
Reading phonetic script off-screen for various languages in my videos was obviously easy. I used the excuse that I was aiming for “documentary” style videos and that it was “too much work” to record the video seven times over and more “efficient” to add audio separately. Most people fell for this, but to take it to the next level, I needed to record myself speaking on camera!
Since I couldn’t possibly remember all the IPA script for several minutes when talking on camera, I came up with clever ways to allow me to read them without it seeming like I was! Too many Youtube polyglots are just staring into their computer screen while they rattle off languages, and that’s not convincing enough!
I didn’t want to be outed publicly at such a crucial stage of the research.
So if you look at my Language Hacking Guide video, you will see that when I transition into Spanish (for example), I throw the Orange very carefully, while making it look like I’m casually just playing with it!
I rotate it in a way that took me hours to master, while still covering parts of it since those were the parts where I had written my script! I glance at it very quickly to make it seem like my eyes are going all over the place. I did the same thing with all the other objects – you can see me glance quickly under the base of the Eiffel tower, Colosseum replica etc.
Most of my practice for that video involved holding those items in the right way. To this day I’m very proud of how skilfully I threw around that orange!!
The “Irish” persona
One of the hardest parts of all of these lies were how extensively they went. I’m very sorry but I have to admit to you all that I’m not even Irish!!
Using advanced studies in audio laboratories I pinpointed typical Irish phonemes to mimic whenever I’d speak in English. This was both part of the misleading aspect of the experiment to show what I could “speak”, and a simple ploy to get more gullible subscribers. Everyone loves the Irish! They’d never lie!
I went as far as to even force myself to write using a European flavour of English (see that extra u??)
I’m actually from Durham, North Carolina! My doctorate in phonetics will be completed here at Brink A. Deira University.
As the project gained credibility, the school board increased my budget and allowed me to make brief trips to other countries. I wouldn’t spend several months there as I claimed – it would usually just be a weekend. I’d record enough video and change my clothes several times between clips, all in the one day, to make it seem like I was there longer.
I didn’t need to actually interact with locals at all since we have enough recordings of their languages in our lab back in the states.
For the current “mission” I didn’t actually learn any sign language – I just practised for those two videos by mimicking a signer for just those words and didn’t learn anything else. This month of blogging was just to buy some time until my thesis was given the final OK.
The end of an era
Since my thesis proposal has been enthusiastically accepted, and will make the most groundbreaking contributions to phonetics studies of our generation, I no longer need to write on this blog. Once again I’m really sorry if you actually believed any of this “social learning” stuff.
Just so you can see how I was reading the text on the back of that orange, I’ve shown how I was reading that orange and explained it using my more natural American accent in this video. [Also here if Youtube can't display it] I hope it will make things clearer!
I look forward to reading your comments about the importance of this research and how convincing it all was!
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If you enjoyed this post, you will love my TEDx talk! You can get much better details of how I recommend learning a language if you watch it here.
This article was written by Benny Lewis
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