The best investment you can make to learn anything

Every day I get several e-mails asking me what the “best” language learning course is and my answer to what they should “invest” in is always the same…

Human Beings

  • If you want to speak a language well, the amount of money or quantity of course material or choosing the “best” one to invest in, or how much you study, will not determine your success. It’s how much you practise it with human beings. For the next few weeks on FI3M I’m showing you how easy it is to find other speakers of that language.
  • If you want to be a more confident person, reading a thousand self-help books will do nothing to help you if you don’t put them down, go outside and interact with people more often. It’s not as scary as you think! I used to be very shy, but large amounts of getting-off-my-lazy-ass to meet people and ignoring the excuses has turned the tables for me.
  • If you want to run a popular website, networking and meeting other bloggers in person to learn from them and work together will get you way further than being an SEO expert ever will.
  • Even if you want to improve your skills in a technical subject, sometimes the best thing you can do is find a meet-up related to that and pick the brains of those more experienced than you. I learned much more to become a better translator not as much through reading about it or pure bulk of time invested in working, but by attending the meetups on the translators’ social networking site Proz.

Seriously, get off your computers, get your head out of your books and meet other people.

With languages, speaking from day one is by far the best way to you can advance quickly. The reason I can learn a language so quickly (apart from understanding the intensity of the time invested) is not because I travel (as evidenced by my current mission). It’s because I spend all day doing something in that language with other people.

Apart from genuine practice and seeing what you do need to study, you get encouragement and see that you aren’t alone in your struggle as they relate to you. No book, podcast or software material can ever provide that.

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  • Randy the Yearlyglot

    “Overcoming fears” posts seem to be the trend this week. I wonder if the approaching holiday season has anything to do with that… or maybe that was a theme at blogworld. :)

    It’s totally true… there is more to be gained from making a few friends than from weeks or months of study. (And people are better than any flashcards, too!)

    • Benny the language hacker

      When you see the theme of pretty much all e-mails I get from people, you’ll understand the theme of many of my blog posts ;)

      • Randy the Yearlyglot

        Totally! Most of my blog posts these days are just me elaborating on a response I gave in an email.

        Speaking of email, how funny was that response I copied you on? :)

        • Benny the language hacker

          Very funny response! Enjoyed it :)

          I actually get quite a lot of those kinds of e-mails, which is why you’ll notice my contact-me form has so many hoops to go through in the bullet points.

          I’ve told people in advance that all such obviously copied and pasted e-mails will get clicked to spam immediately – I doubt they’d ever read a non-positive reply, no matter how cleverly written :P

  • Benny the language hacker

    I don’t doubt there are some fantastic ways to “learn vocabulary”, but learning vocabulary is a very small part of your ability to communicate in a foreign language and something I hope people reading this are slowly realising. If you know the Spanish dictionary inside and out you still won’t be able to use the language…
    The only way is socially! ;)

    • cmsadler

      También aprendí mucho español desde mi telenovelas. Pero, ahora empiezo a mejorarme a final porque hablo mucho mas con gente. Gracias por animarme!

    • Brent

      Totally agree. When I moved to Spain I knew four words. I bought a book and never read it. Instead I just socialised as much as I possibly could. Now I get compliments on my Spanish. People love it when you try hard to speak in their language and they make an effort to help and teach you. Love it.

  • Douglas

    Rapaz, olhe o cara de camisa preta.

    Who’s gay?


    • Benny the language hacker

      Eu não gosto da fruta! :P

  • Andrew

    I absolutely agree, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with for finding native speakers locally. If you’ll post it, I’ll try it.

  • Andrew

    It’s funny you say that, I just published a post on using that exact method to learn Spanish, it’s something my friend used that he called “The Telenovela Method”, if you wouldn’t mind checking it out and letting me know what you think since you’ve done this I’d greatly appreciate it: The Telenovela Method of Learning Spanish – did you pause and look things up as you went along? Did you ever use the script if you could find it (I’ve got several sites I linked to there that have scripts available online)? My favorite one that I’ve used this method with is the movie Maria Full of Grace because I managed to find the English translation of the script online, thereby giving me a contextual translation of the whole dialogue!!


    • Benny the language hacker

      When I was first learning Spanish in Spain, the rate that Spaniards would speak was quite intimidating, so I really enjoyed South American telenovelas and gained a lot of confidence from them, although I can’t say I genuinely learned anything – but that confidence was a big help. The story-lines are so simple and the dialogue is so basic that you could probably get the gist of them without ever learning Spanish though.

  • Pedro Paulo

    Gostou mesmo do Brasil hein ?! aHUAHhuA. A fotinha é a cara do Brasil mesmo. Melhor país com certeza do mundo! Previsão de quando vem de novo pro Brasil ?

    Vez ou outra sempre lendo o blog.


  • Benny the language hacker

    Thanks Juan, although the flashcards & your link are not actually relevant to this post. Better not to drop links like that in future ;)
    Glad you are following my tips and interacting more :)

  • Aaron @ PhraseMix

    I don’t like this post. Which is not to say that I disagree with it. I agree that human interactions are by far the richest source of language practice.

    But I don’t like it because, well, damn it, I don’t want to go out of my way to speak with people. It’s time consuming, it’s messy. It requires me to put myself out there and open myself up to rejection and ridicule (in another language, no less!)

    I also don’t like it because I spend several hours a day writing up lessons for people to use when studying English, and I don’t particularly relish the thought that I could be doing all that for nothing. Or for only very marginal improvements.

    So screw you Benny. Screw you and your… truth!

    • Benny the language hacker

      Sorry Aaron – a language is there to be spoken. And frankly, expecting ridicule is… RIDICULOUS. I ridicule you for expecting it from other human beings. Very few cultures are that nasty.
      Writing up lessons is fine – I’m not trying to get people to abandon lessons altogether. But a lesson I would happily recommend people to use would have its lesson and then have a conclusion “OK, now go out immediately to practise what you’ve learned with a human being!” (not doing exercises in a book).

      If the purpose of the lessons you write up is to help people pass exams, then this post is less relevant as I write this blog for people interested in speaking languages. How people invest their time depends on what they are aiming for.

      • Jewel

        I recall something Arnold Schwartzenegger said, that, while true, is still unpopular. He told the immigrant to stop listening to his language, to turn of the radio and television in his language and to get out there and start speaking. I know many immigrants from Russia. The ones who are successful are those who do everything to acquire fluency. The people who aren’t, refuse to try. I find it a thrill to hear someone speaking with an accent. It is the door that opens up an opportunity to try your language(s) out. So what if you make mistakes? The person whose language you are trying to speak is more than likely going to be flattered that you tried. I have been ridiculed, too, but again, so what? When you open your pie hole to let the cat whose got your tongue out of the bag, everything else you are trying to do in your language learning improves.

    • Wardy

      You got serious issues mate. So wrapped up in fear you destroy your own happiness potential. So what if you get rejected you’re not going to die. Just move on and find someone else who deserves your company.

    • Mme Scherzo

      I get it now, Aaron. You are a salty wit!

  • Benny the language hacker


  • Brent

    That is one of the best ways to groundbreak a new language or deepify your understanding. It’s amazing how the mind processes the double input from audio and subs.

  • Gosxka

    thanks to you and all your blog posts  I changed my mind and really got out and now I’m attending tandem evenings in warsaw every monday :) (people who want to talk in any language meet every monday at 7pm in a given location). my focus is on Norwegian, but still I meet new people and talk in other languages

    • Benny Lewis

      Glad to hear it Goŝka!

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