Fake it ’till you make it

Fake it ’till you make it

Benny

In about a month I’ll be starting the first of several intensive missions of 2011 to learn to speak a new language well starting from scratch. It will be totally unrelated to any language I’ve learned to date, and yet I’ll be speaking it confidently from day one.

How can I be so confident about speaking a totally new languageInterested how I do it exactly? Check out Fluent in 3 Months Premium – the essential guide to speak another language fluently in the shortest possible time. ?

I’ve got a whole book full of strategies to make it happen, but one aspect of what I’ll be doing that I also apply to other aspects of my life to get over shyness, have a successful website, dance, sing and achieve so many of my other projects is my fake-it-till-you-make-it approach.

Self produced confidence

I met a British girl the other day with rudimentary Spanish. She couldn’t conjugate verbs, had poor vocabulary skills etc. and yet she was confidently conversing with me entirely en español with a spunky attitude for over 20 minutes, and even made a few jokes!

Technically she “couldn’t” converse well enough yet, but she had convinced herself and me that this wasn’t true and was going with the flow, not hesitating with doubts. Her confident view of her Spanish drowned out any doubts others listening might have.

There are others I meet all the time with way more internal skills and actual knowledge of the language than she currently has and yet sadly, they don’t speak at all. Nothing but their lack of trying is holding them back.

My approach to starting to speak the next language in January will be precisely like that girl’s. I will learn a little on the flight over or in my first days and use it all immediately with an air of “I know what I’m doing”. Apart from with Parisians, this approach has always worked successfully for me.

People are always surprised that I have only been in a country for a few days or weeks when I speak to them. It is NOT because I’m throwing out obscure vocabulary or having my case endings agree perfectly. It’s because of how confidently I’m speaking.

Technically, I guess I have no reason to be confident. I’m just winging it most of the time.

Seriously; I’m just pretending like I know what I’m doing when I start to speak a language and everyone falls for my manufactured confidence. I can’t seriously say my level is fantastic and if I stopped and thought about it, I’m sure I could come up with a list of excuses for why I should wait until I’m “ready” or why I’m not “good enough” to speak yet.

Instead I tell myself “I’m Benny the Irish polyglot! I know what I’m doing!

That statement is silly and has no factual information at all in it relevant to speaking a language, and yet fooling myself and others about how confident I am when I start to learn a language actually makes it become the reality and because of this, I do know what I’m doing.

Act as-if and it will become natural to you

The power of this technique is incredible and I wish more people would realize it.

In research at Wake Forest University, for example, scientists asked a group of 50 students to act like extroverts for 15 minutes in a group discussion, even if they didn’t feel like it. The more assertive and energetic the students acted, the happier they were.

Yes, this means forcing something at first that may seem hard or unnatural. This is how new habits are formed; they are unnatural at first, but you get used to it.

The fact of the matter is that both a positive AND a negative feedback loop are powerful tools. When you have your filter set to find all the reasons why you can’t do something, you will not be able to do it! But what drives me mad is that people genuinely think it’s the excuses themselves holding them back. In reality, most of the time it’s their devotion to those excuses that is the real problem.

But this also works the other way. When you are selectively looking at the positive and ignoring unhelpful negative feedback, then you will be way more likely to make progress.

This year only one native (out of hundreds or thousands that I’ve met) has told me that my language level was not good enough for him to listen to. It happens so rarely to me because I create this new “reality” for those interacting with me through my behaviour that is so strong that anyone who opposes it starts to look silly themselves, because they can’t possibly oppose it with the same confidence as I’m promoting mine with.

I brushed that guy off as being an asshole rather than thinking “Oh gosh, he’s right! I should stop speaking the language immediately and abandon this project!” and when everyone saw how I reacted by showing him where the exit was so he wouldn’t have to hear me any more, rather than back down and give up, they started to agree with me.

Didn’t you hear? I’m the popular guy!

People ask me a lot how I make friends when I travel – applying this technique has helped immensely. For example, the other night I went to a Couchsurfing party and when I arrived I didn’t know a single person.

Most people in such a situation might humbly introduce themselves to someone at the edge and tone down their personality until they got to know people better. That’s fine, but I have a different approach.

I act like everyone should know me. I pretend like I’m the life of the party and like I’m not the new outsider and it becomes the reality. Rather than a humble introduction, my first words to the group where a loud and proud “Don’t worry everyone, I’m here! The party can start now!” Normally a stranger (or at least, not a sober one) would never say this, so most of the group presumed I must know most of the others.

When I introduce myself to people, I may be saying “My name is Benny…”, but I act like I know them already with some humour and a pat on the shoulder for guys. All of these non-verbal cues communicate way more than the words I’m saying do and because of this I make friends much easier.

Acting confident isn’t just for my own benefit; when people see how confidently I believe in something, they start to believe it themselves. Subconsciously they start to forget that I am brand new to them and begin to synch with my body language and act like they’ve already met me.

When they see me speaking a language so comfortably, that drowns out the mistakes.

If any of you are shaking your head thinking “No, I’d never put up with someone making so many mistakes in a language!” you are totally forgetting the context of social interactions and what’s involved. Confidence and charisma are way more powerful than noun gender agreement in convincing people you “deserve” to speak their language with them.

Whatever your goal is, presume it’s true

My approach to get what I want is to presume from the START that it’s going to happen. I then just follow the path that is most likely going to lead to that result.

There is no “maybe” in my mind. When I start a language mission, I presume from day one that I am going to be successful. This isn’t arrogance – it’s a crucial part of the strategy to make it happen. Any doubt is going to do me no good, so why should I embrace it as most people would?

If I want to make new friends, I go out and presume that I will have filled my phone up with new numbers and will have laughed with and gotten to know lots of interesting people, and go along with that presumption the entire night, while it is happening.

Negative self-fulfilling prophecies work really well, so I’m just doing the same thing for positive ones ;)

Interested how I do it exactly? Check out Fluent in 3 Months Premium - the essential guide to speak another language fluently in the shortest possible time.

Whether you think you can or think you can‘t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

In about a month I’ll be starting the first of several intensive missions of 2011 to learn to speak a new language well starting from scratch. It will be totally unrelated to any language I’ve learned to date, and yet I’ll be speaking it confidently from day one. How can I be so confident about […]

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  • http://twitter.com/FSLReoch Fergus Reoch

    I completely agree with your confident talking method. It’s worked wonders for me in the past. When can we expect to hear what your next mission is going to be? I’m looking forward to following it!

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

      I’ll announce it in the Language Hacking League e-mail newsletter most likely the day I get back to Ireland a few days before Christmas: I just need to make sure I get the visa OK!

      • http://twitter.com/natalie_ Natalie

        Visa??? That automatically makes me think of Russia–if you are going there, I will be SO FREAKING JEALOUS! I can’t wait to find out where you’re going. :)

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

          As you know, Russia is high on my list of priorities, but I don’t think I’d go there in January. Way too cold!! Plenty of other places I need a visa ;) All I’ve really revealed in saying that is that I won’t be coming back to the Americas and I won’t be staying in the EU :P

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

          As you know, Russia is high on my list of priorities, but I don’t think I’d go there in January. Way too cold!! Plenty of other places I need a visa ;) All I’ve really revealed in saying that is that I won’t be coming back to the Americas and I won’t be staying in the EU :P

          • http://twitter.com/natalie_ Natalie

            True, true, fair enough–again, I can’t wait to find out where you’re going next. And yes, Russia is quite cold right now, but I love cold weather and so would absolutely love to be there right now. ;)

          • Lorenzosalvioni

            Benny, spot-on! Last week -24 degrees were recorded in Moscow, so by all means stay away from Russia in the winter! I’m going to attend a Russian language course in Moscow next year (actually I was meant to do that last summer but then I had to move to Northern Ireland as you know) and since I don’t like cold (and the inconveniences it causes) at all it will be either in late spring or in the summer. Indeed, the period between May and September is absolutely fine in Russia weatherwise and even in April and October it’s almost never very cold so that’s when you should go. As for your next mission, I guess it could be Turkey or Japan (although the latter is presumably much less likely since it is a very expensive destination as you pointed out).
            On another note, here in Belfast it has been snowing a lot these days, so enjoy the sun and the heat in Colombia before you head back for Ireland later this month! Lorenzo from Belfast

      • http://twitter.com/natalie_ Natalie

        Visa??? That automatically makes me think of Russia–if you are going there, I will be SO FREAKING JEALOUS! I can’t wait to find out where you’re going. :)

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/medviten Victor Berrjod

    This is very, very, very true!When I arrived in Japan, I spoke Japanese very slowly, making the sentences in my head before saying them out loud – to make sure they were going to be correct. I stopped doing that, and while I do make mistakes, it’s not a big deal, because I’m being confident and saying a lot more than I would otherwise. Sometimes I fall back in the “not-so-confident” way of talking, and people start asking me why I’m so quiet all of a sudden. :)

    Sure, people in Japan are quick to comment on how well you speak anyway, but I get it a lot more when speaking confidently with mistakes than when I speak slowly and correctly.

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

      Absolutely. People don’t realize that the reaction from people is WAY BETTER when you speak confidently even with mistakes than when you take your time to form perfect sentences but lose out on keeping the conversation flowing.

      • http://joop.kiefte.eu/ Joop Kiefte

        The fun thing is, mistakes are actually part of the language, and native speakers are not immune to mistakes (and they actually influence the changes of the language for the next generation).

        If you make a mistake in a fluent conversation, most people don’t notice.

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

          That sounds like a great way to justify my mistakes :D I’m paving the way for the future :P

  • Anonymous

    I spoke a bit of Italian to an exchange student with a lot of confidence, as I thought I was pretty good without knowing much. He then started saying a load of stuff which I couldn’t understand, extremely quickly. He assumed I could speak it but I didn’t understand any of it. What would you have done in that situation?

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

      Confidence has to work both ways. Not just confidence in what YOU are saying, but confidence in how much you understand. If you presume you won’t get it, then you definitely won’t.

      What I do is focus on understanding even just one or two words in the response and extrapolate from the context what s/he means, even if I don’t understand every single word. Otherwise, you can always just remind them that you are learning and to slow down.

      It’s a little sneaky, but I always phrase things like “you are speaking so fast” or “I’m sorry but your accent is a little unclear” rather than “I don’t understand”, since putting the blame on THEM maintains my air of confidence :P hehe

      • http://www.google.com/profiles/medviten Victor Berrjod

        That is also true. Sometimes, when I think I didn’t understand a sentence, I will ask myself: “are you so sure about that?” and it often works – I realize that I actually did understand it, but was taking the easy road of not “bothering” to understand.

        • Silwing

          Actually many of the issues people seem to have when learning af foreign language is exactly the same issues we meet in our mother tongue, we just don’t bother remembering it because it happens all the time anyway… Sometimes I think I didn’t hear what another person is saying to me in my native language but when I think again I actually did hear it. Simply too lazy to take the time my brain needs to process the information. It’s not like I stop speaking my native language because I make mistakes or don’t always get what people are saying when they talk fast or I’m not paying enough attention… So why should it stop me from speaking a foreign language? Seems kinda silly when you look at it like that ;)

      • Anna

        True though you can sometimes get into trouble. I had a conversation in my very skimpy arabic with an Iraqi woman once and we ended up talking at cross purposes when I was using the arabic word for “peace” (Salam) and she was hearing the arabic word “Islam” …. we ended up in an argument until we realized what the confusions was about … but this proved to be a good learning experience too.

        Arabic speakers also have funny confusions of words when trying to speak English. Using the word “chicken” for “kitchen” or “terrorist” for “tourist”. Always a good laugh!

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

      Confidence has to work both ways. Not just confidence in what YOU are saying, but confidence in how much you understand. If you presume you won’t get it, then you definitely won’t.

      What I do is focus on understanding even just one or two words in the response and extrapolate from the context what s/he means, even if I don’t understand every single word. Otherwise, you can always just remind them that you are learning and to slow down.

      It’s a little sneaky, but I always phrase things like “you are speaking so fast” or “I’m sorry but your accent is a little unclear” rather than “I don’t understand”, since putting the blame on THEM maintains my air of confidence :P hehe

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

      Confidence has to work both ways. Not just confidence in what YOU are saying, but confidence in how much you understand. If you presume you won’t get it, then you definitely won’t.

      What I do is focus on understanding even just one or two words in the response and extrapolate from the context what s/he means, even if I don’t understand every single word. Otherwise, you can always just remind them that you are learning and to slow down.

      It’s a little sneaky, but I always phrase things like “you are speaking so fast” or “I’m sorry but your accent is a little unclear” rather than “I don’t understand”, since putting the blame on THEM maintains my air of confidence :P hehe

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

    Cockiness and arrogance would come across if I was implying that I was amazing and constantly talking only about how great I am. I keep the to-and-fro as equal as possible, compliment the other person and try to make them feel good etc. The difference between being confident and being arrogant is WHAT you are talking about. So I always tell people to act as confidently as they possibly can, but to still make sure to be nice :)

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

    Cockiness and arrogance would come across if I was implying that I was amazing and constantly talking only about how great I am. I keep the to-and-fro as equal as possible, compliment the other person and try to make them feel good etc. The difference between being confident and being arrogant is WHAT you are talking about. So I always tell people to act as confidently as they possibly can, but to still make sure to be nice :)

  • http://philintheblank.net Phil Paoletta

    True words. The sooner you get that positive feedback loop going, the better. The cool thing about travel is that you aren’t going up against anyone’s expectations of you. You can arrive in a place and effectively re-invent yourself. If you start confident and charismatic then that’s how people will know you.

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

      Well said. Many people don’t have any expectations of you, so you really can mould the situation to your advantage. Re-invention is easier than people think!

  • http://jasminewanders.com Jasmine Stephenson

    Benny, you’re looking very dignified in this photo with your uncle :)

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

      That portrait of me and uncle Henry VIII was taken about 500 years ago. Good times!

      • http://jasminewanders.com Jasmine Stephenson

        You age well parcerito… and I had no idea Cornflakes are so old!

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

    I fake not being overwhelmed too :P Trying to enter a completely new group in a country thousands of miles away from anyone you know can be intimidating, but I just don’t think about that.

    Glad you enjoyed it ;)

  • http://twitter.com/tourist2townie Gareth Leonard

    Good article Benny, I actually wrote about the same exact thing a few months ago. You definitely need to fake ’til you make it. “Fake it ’til You Make it” http://bit.ly/c1Vg0o

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

      Great post with some excellent practical language tips! Thanks for sharing :)

  • http://twitter.com/tourist2townie Gareth Leonard

    Good article Benny, I actually wrote about the same exact thing a few months ago. You definitely need to fake ’til you make it. “Fake it ’til You Make it” http://bit.ly/c1Vg0o

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

    Absolutely! Fun it is :)

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

    I don’t get the reference and don’t know what movie it is. Many people have confirmed for me that the least patient cultures in the world for listening to foreigners are the French (only from a few major cities, especially Parisians) and the Brits (only from major cities like London). Everywhere else they will generally congratulate you on all attempts to speak if you do it enthusiastically enough.

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

    Positive pressure really is the key to improving language skills quickly :)

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Yup, done it with Spanish, works great. You can always, ALWAYS find some oddball way of improvising what you want to say, even with a limited vocabulary, and especially if you’re creative with your body language–forgot the word for airplane? well, can you say “thing that flies”, or even something like “big bus in the air/sky” and maybe make a airplane engine noise with your mouth and stick your arms out? They’ll get it. It won’t be pretty, but they’ll get it, it’ll work, and that’s all that matters.

    You can look up the word for ‘airplane’ and the other two dozen words you needed and forgot but managed to improvise for when you get back home or to your hotel or whatever. Do it later, put ‘em in Anki, and don’t worry about it. You can ALWAYS improvise something, just go for it! :D Also, I shot you a message about a guest post as per your recent request on Twitter ;) Cheers,Andrew

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

      I like your imaginative description! I always opt for that – doing what I can to get my point across!

      Yes, I do check my e-mail, reminders aren’t necessary ;) I currently have 150 e-mails awaiting a reply, so I’ll get back to you! But it would help if the link you sent me wasn’t giving a 404 on your site!

  • Jay Wan

    This is how my immigrant mother has survived living in an English-speaking country.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/medviten Victor Berrjod

    As a (fellow?) Norwegian, I certainly believe you. :) Conversational fillers for the win. :þ

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

    Yeah, give it a try! As we say in Ireland, a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet ;)

  • http://twitter.com/joshywashington Joshua Johnson

    Your perspective and advise is always spot on and hilarious Benny!

  • http://twitter.com/joshywashington Joshua Johnson

    Your perspective and advise is always spot on and hilarious Benny!

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

      Thanks Joshua!

  • http://twitter.com/joshywashington Joshua Johnson

    Your perspective and advise is always spot on and hilarious Benny!

  • http://www.briangerald.com/ Brian Gerald

    Came to your site by way of Joel Runyon’s Blog of Impossible Things. Fluent in Danish is on my list of things to do real soon and your site is a reminder that it’s something I CAN do. Thankfully, I’m already a big believe in confidence wins and have been speaking with natives… just not as much or as often as I should be. Gotta get back to that if I expect anything to be different.

    Rock on!

    PS Danish should totally be your next language. I will go to Denmark with you and we can fake it til we make it. Shoot, I’m a filmmaker, we can even make a web series about it!

  • Anonymous

    Spot on post. I’ve been in Japan about 2 months now, and getting to notice peoples Japanese ability (I work with a lot of foreigners). Now I’ve learnt a bit I can see which ones are better, and which ones have got through with confidence. It’s interesting to view it from an outside perspective and judge people on their ability.

    I went into the local town today with a friend who just started to work with me, and she has been studying Japanese a bit and knows the writing language much better than me already, we’re about the same in terms of ability, but as I already have been to the restaurant we ate at, I knew a bit about ordering the food so came across with more confidence, definitely made a big difference and made me look to be the better speaker even though I technically wasn’t.

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

      Great point! Situational and location-based confidence also contribute to language skills. I wish more people would realise and take advantage of that!

  • http://twitter.com/gracewatrudoing grace d

    love this post benny, I’ve been way to guilty of being that excuse-filled person when it comes to trying out my spanish on native-speakers! I’m too embarrassed I’ll make a mistake – and it definitely shows! I will be trying out this ‘Fake it till you make it’ theory and see how it goes – I have a big feeling it is going to work (It always does when I’m drunk… you know how alcohol is liquid courage! When I’m in a bar and inebriated my spanish is amazing!) will definitely let you know how I go! Espero que conozca muchos amigos eh?! Todavia estoy aprendiendo y empezo ahora! (Si hay gramatica incorrecta.. no es importante eh!) Una vez mas, muchisimas gracias por tu ayudar!

  • http://twitter.com/gracewatrudoing grace d

    love this post benny, I’ve been way to guilty of being that excuse-filled person when it comes to trying out my spanish on native-speakers! I’m too embarrassed I’ll make a mistake – and it definitely shows! I will be trying out this ‘Fake it till you make it’ theory and see how it goes – I have a big feeling it is going to work (It always does when I’m drunk… you know how alcohol is liquid courage! When I’m in a bar and inebriated my spanish is amazing!) will definitely let you know how I go! Espero que conozca muchos amigos eh?! Todavia estoy aprendiendo y empezo ahora! (Si hay gramatica incorrecta.. no es importante eh!) Una vez mas, muchisimas gracias por tu ayudar!

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

      Definitely give it a try! :)

  • Anonymous

    I especially like your point that acting confident benefits both you and the ones you’re talking to. Indeed, if we are confident in believing something, people around us will eventually believe it too.

    I do a relatively similar activity. I visualize things I wish to achieve and create mental pictures of the things I wish to succeed in. It helps a lot in inspiring the mind to follow the idea.

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

      Yes, mental pictures helps a lot! :)

  • http://twitter.com/carlfordham Carl Gene Fordham

    Congratulations on your successful year and I wish you all the luck for your new missions in ’11! Loved your first e-book and hope you will write another smash hit very soon. BTW, I know you don’t take requests, but I would get a mad kick if you chose Mandarin or Korean as your next language! As the Chinese say, 加油 (add oil!).

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

      Thanks Carl!! I’ll have a nice post summarising the year, hopefully with a video, just after Christmas :)
      Here is the answer to requests: http://www.fluentin3months.com/fi3m-faq/

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

    Thanks Liezel!

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

    Hi Pond,
    I don’t talk about listening comprehension because I feel that focusing on that would be too academic. The way I have good listening comprehension is by constant listening AND speaking. The pressure to understand in the moment forces me to improve.
    Otherwise you can always attempt listening via podcasts in the comfort of your home if that really is your biggest issue, but give it your full attention when you do. Lots of great Spanish podcasts to listen to :)
    Best of luck!

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

    Don’t start small. Start as you mean to go on! Starting small is the problem with most inefficient approaches.
    There is no “imposter” aspect to this. The “fake it” approach might sound like that, but it’s convincing yourself and your previous mentality that the fake is true. You are the only one who will ever feel like an imposter, not others hearing you ;)

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

    I listen to stuff related to my interests (travel, technology, blogging etc.) and find them by setting my iTunes to Spain as explained here: http://www.fluentin3months.com/free-podcasts/

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

    Glad you’re enjoying the blog. I get asked your question a lot, please read this:
    http://www.fluentin3months.com/fi3m-faq/

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  • Kevin Mulligan

    The method that I like to write as CONfidence, because you con one’s self and others into believing it, works insanely well! I went from being one of the most shy people I’ve ever met to being one of the most extroverted using this and a few other techniques (some of which you have already mentioned). Great blog and thank you for the reminder that CONfidence can work for learning languages, I’ll definitely start using it to learn Afrikaans.

  • Kevin Mulligan

    The method that I like to write as CONfidence, because you con one’s self and others into believing it, works insanely well! I went from being one of the most shy people I’ve ever met to being one of the most extroverted using this and a few other techniques (some of which you have already mentioned). Great blog and thank you for the reminder that CONfidence can work for learning languages, I’ll definitely start using it to learn Afrikaans.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I find such qualifiers to be oversensitive nonsense, which doesn’t exist in many languages. Maybe not speaking English much over the last decade is why I don’t care for such “but…” additions.

  • Pedro H. Dettoni

    I just read this text listening to “Brave” – Sara Bareilles and it fits perfectly :D