How I learned to speak Arabic while living in Brazil


My three months are officially up! In a few hours I’ll be getting a flight back to Ireland to spend Christmas with my family, then heading to Germany for a few days to celebrate the New Year in Esperanto with some good friends as always, and then a few days into January I fly into […]


The most important skill a traditional learning approach will never teach you (+2 month Arabic video)


Here it is; my official two month point in Arabic! Subtitles in English, Arabic and Portuguese via Youtube.

I had initially planned to go to the Egyptian consulate in Rio, to finally speak the language for the first time in my life in person, but there were issues in setting up a meeting there. Luckily, I randomly ran into an Egyptian-American, Ahmed, at a Couchsurfing meeting!

I decided to only speak English with him then and ask him if he’d be up for recording a video with me. We still spoke English before recording the video, so he had no idea what my level would have been at. The reason I did this, was so you could literally see the very first time I genuinely spoke the language face-to-face with someone in my life, the moment after I pressed record.

Sharing this key moment is good for tracking my progress, since I know people are curious about such important milestones of the mission, (unlike some friends of mine, I don’t tend to have a camera on my head to catch such moments in cognito!) but obviously breaking into Arabic suddenly, after not speaking it for over a day since my previous Skype session, meant I didn’t have quite the ideal kind of flow I’d like. In future, I’ll speak in the relevant language for several minutes before recording, so I have this flow.


Mission update: There are no quantum leaps in language learning progress – but that doesn’t mean you can’t sprint!


Today’s video marks the half-way point of my mission to learn Egyptian Arabic to fluency in 3 months, while in Brazil. The above video shows how I’m doing after 44 days, and you can follow along with the basic interaction by activating the subtitles in English, original Arabic, or Portuguese.

Unlike in the previous video, this time I tried to interact much more with the person I was talking to.

Today it was Henry, an Egyptian who lives in Australia, and it was the first time we ever talked. He’s a reader of this blog, and offered to let me record our Skype conversation.

I’m glad to say that I understood over 80% of what he said to me (although of course, he was speaking slowly and basically for my benefit). I think I explained my points more or less at a good enough level considering I’ve only been learning the language for about 6 weeks, although I am indeed speaking very choppy and could have used much better words.


Week 2 video: Why learning off phrases is essential for beginners on the road to fluency, not just for tourists


Here’s the next update to this crazy project! Subtitles in English, Portuguese and Arabic as always!

Unlike in last week’s first video, where I was reading, this time I have no script to refer to and recite the entire seven minute script from memory. There are a LOT of mistakes, but I like to think I am at least coming across as a bit more confident than the previous week!

Of course, this is not in the least bit spontaneous (that will come later), but I’d like to greatly encourage other beginner learners of any language to focus on learning off PHRASES as soon as possible!


Solving specific problems rather than trying to learn everything: My first ever video in Arabic (reading)


Here it is – my first ever video in Arabic, a week after starting to learn it! Subtitles are provided in original Arabic, English and Portuguese for all videos of this project.

In this video, I read a script written entirely in Arabic (no romanisation) about how I’m in Rio and just starting the mission. To make it more interesting, I’ve thrown in some nice views of the city at various points in the video, but there is no editing out of my pauses and hesitations.

As you’d expect after learning for just a week, as my first video it’s painfully slow, so patience is required if you’re actually going to watch more than a minute!

Today’s post explains the process that got me to making this video, and an essential aspect of the steps behind this 3-month project.


Learning Egyptian Arabic to fluency in 3 months… in Brazil! Benny’s new language mission!

It’s finally time to announce my next major language project. This may be one of the craziest ones I’ve ever undertaken! Watch the video for the proper introduction, and to see the fancy new intro (and outro) too!

As you’ll see, I have three months, starting today, to reach fluency (more specifically, high level B2/low C1 on this scale) in (Egyptian) Arabic and I plan to do it… in Brazil!

In case that wasn’t confusing enough, this project has yet another twist to it, mentioned in the video or below.


Video in ASL: Gallaudet university, city of American Sign Language and Deaf culture


Check out today’s video, entirely in American Sign Language. There is no sound at all in the video, but (as always) you can click “CC” to read captions of everything in English, if you don’t understand ASL.

Last year I spent a month in Austin (TX) (excluding time spent at the SxSW festival, I had about two intensive weeks learning this language) and had learned enough to make a multilingual music video in ASL, but not enough to record a video interacting with someone.

This time (as part of my summer mission to improve each of my languages) I made it a major focus to improve my ASL to a level where I could interview people to share Deaf culture and more about ASL and how it works with the world.

So, I got some Skype based lessons in June to get back up to the level I was before, and then I went to the best place in the world to immerse in ASL and really use it; Gallaudet University!


Mid-summer language mission update! (Clues of next mission coming)


We are over half way through the summer and the 3 month challenge that I’ve proposed to people. How’s it going? Make sure to share your story in the language forums – I’ll be happy to share some of your missions and videos on the blog soon! What I’ve seen so far is really inspiring! […]


Language leveling up: Moses and Benny speak a dozen languages in Columbus Ohio

Today I’ve got a fun video to share with you all!

I met up with fellow Youtube polyglot, Moses McCormick (see his Youtube channel) in Columbus, Ohio and the two of us went to a mall simply to walk up to complete strangers and practise a bunch of languages with them!

It’s what I like to call “social skydiving”, although usually the strangers I go up to are in social events or parties, which is not that hard since they expect interactions with strangers. But Moses does what he calls levelling up, which he demonstrates excellently in this video. This really is with complete strangers in pretty much any situation. And it turns out it’s easier than you think!


Interview in Mandarin with TV presenter and Chinese teacher Yangyang

Time for another video in Chinese! This is actually part of the summer project of improving many languages, and as such it is the first in a series of many interviews with natives of the languages in my list of 10.

I hope you like the new graphical intro! (Feedback appreciated: should I use a different musical intro, do you like the pop sounds, does the overall video look good?)

Yang Yang works as the Mandarin speaking presenter for the TV show “Hello Hollywood”, speaks on YoyoChinese lessons (a paid membership site where she teaches beginner Chinese), and also does her own videos on her Youtube channel. We had a couple of chats on Skype and she helped me with some problems I was having, and was happy to record our last conversation.


Did I Really Learn to Speak Chinese in 3 Months?


The big question regarding my Mandarin project that a lot of people have been asking is How well can you really speak it Benny? I’ve been saying it’s about a B1 (lower intermediate), but I’m sure self evaluation (even though I have indeed sat so many CEFRL examinations ) can lead to some scepticism, so […]