How to speak a language pretty well, starting from scratch, in just two months

How to speak a language pretty well, starting from scratch, in just two months

Benny

Want to speak Spanish well, speak French well, speak German well, or any language for that matter? If I can do this with Czech starting from zero, imagine what you can do!

I’d like to summarise everything I’ve discussed on the site regarding my first intensive language experiment, before I move on to my next one. Feel free to click the links to read more into depth about each point, as this article also links to all articles over the last 3 months.

[Edit: this post is just a summary of some ideas I apply when learning languages. For a much more in-depth explanation, check out the Language Hacking Guide!]

I was initially aiming for fluency in 3 months, but unfortunately I had to stop short at just two months. Even so, after those two months I could hold a pretty good natural conversation with locals about a range of topics and my spoken accent in Czech was quite good. Of course, you can apply these methods to any language. Presuming you can learn a language in the country where it is spoken, this is what I would suggest that you do:

Before going

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When starting to learn a language, make sure you have the right attitude to it; an optimistic viewpoint is essential and half of the

battle in progressing in a language. Also, you should clearly define your motivations to learn that language and keep them in mind throughout the learning process. Try to get as much frustrating study work out of the way as you can in your home country; especially phrases and vocabulary; this will allow you to take advantage of the country and locals themselves for practise. I actually started learning in the foreign country itself this summer, but it can be extremely intimidating for many people without preparation before going.

Get yourself an inexpensive phrasebook to keep in your pocket/purse to take out and study in little 2-minute windows during the day whenever you have to wait. There are actually lots of ways to squeeze more time out of your day and it all adds up quickly! Make sure to use fun memory techniques to not forget all of those new words you are learning. Grammar is important, but unlike many linguists, I believe that it should be taken in very light chunks, and even partially ignored, in the early stages. In my personal opinion, focussing on grammar too much in the early stages is a huge mistake in the academic approach. The priority is to speak as much as possible and you need words and phrases for this, not rules. Study grammar after you can communicate a little and it will be much more interesting and help you “tidy up” what you’ve got.

If you’d like to practise the language before travelling, then use Couchsurfing to host natives of the language, who will be more than happy to help you! As a bridge to learning the language that you wish to learn, you can also try to learn Esperanto first, which you can practise in your home country and it can help you get used to the feeling of speaking another language, without worrying about complicated grammar and vocabulary, or being intimidated by the thought of speaking with natives.

In the country

By far, the most important advice I have given this summer (and the “secret” of how I can actually learn languages) is to not speak English. Please don’t take this lightly. Depending on how serious you are about reaching the best level you can, this decision can make all of the difference. It is extremely hard because it can be very lonely and frustrating not being able to communicate all that you want when there may be so many other expats around ready to chat with you in your native-tongue, but I have to warn you that frankly I’ve met hundreds of aspiring learners who have failed in making much progress because of using English as the language that they socialise in. Lots of people learn languages very well while also speaking English in their spare time, but in my experience they do it much slower than those who are 100% dedicated.

This is why I can learn languages so quickly, and has nothing to do with magical or genetic talents. Not speaking English is a decision you have to make as soon as possible if you want to learn as quickly as possible. Don’t wait until you are “ready”, because you may never consider yourself ready. Just speak! If you remember some conversational connectors you can “fake” actual conversations with natives, even in the early stages.

As you are trying to make progress in the language, to help with your longer-term goal, try to have mini-goals that you can achieve in a very short time. This improves your motivation to study and helps you progress in measurable amounts. One of them is to look forward to a particular meeting with a native and to study for that, but if you find that some natives prefer to speak to you in English, there are lots of ways to convince them to help you. But when you are socialising with them, keep in mind that you don’t need to drink to be able to speak the language.

Other observations

When learning the language with a computer handy, you can use Google Image instead of a dictionary and use Google itself to correct your grammar. Note that to be able to travel to another country, you don’t have to be rich. With my background I managed to get work as an Internet-based freelance translator, but there are plenty of ways to be able to travel continuously or fund your language learning adventure. Try not to take it too seriously and have fun with your language! (See how much fun I was having with Italian for example?)

Thanks to those of you who have followed my first experiment; in just over 3 months, this blog has reached 400 subscribers, was nominated for top language blogs and achieved an impressive 6th place and you have all joined in and contributed to the posts with an impressive 456 comments (at the time of writing). But please don’t be shy and always feel free to join in to say anything that’s on your mind after reading. I hope you will find my next experiment as interesting; I’ll introduce it in the next post (have I built up enough curiosity for it yet? :P )

If you have any tips to add, or if you have any topics or questions that you would really like me to write a post about in the next months then just leave a comment below (several posts this summer were inspired by comments!) Any questions about this summary or individual posts will always be welcome too!

Want to speak Spanish well, speak French well, speak German well, or any language for that matter? If I can do this with Czech starting from zero, imagine what you can do! I’d like to summarise everything I’ve discussed on the site regarding my first intensive language experiment, before I move on to my next […]

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  • http://www.fromwhoatogo.wordpress.com/ Caron Margarete

    Benny, you’ve got to be proud of yourself even if you didn’t make the fluency finish line. What you’re putting out there is the passion and drive and then demonstrating that it’s possible. Not mean feat.

    I can understand completely that immersing yourself is the difference. I tried to learn Mandarin while I’m living here in China and found the impossibilities were directly related to the fact that here I’m an English teacher, an English magazine journalist and my Chinese friends all want to speak English that simply finding an opportunity to speak Chinese is super challenging.

    I believe that if you truly want to learn a language, everything else comes second. Looking forward to the stories of your next language!
    .-= Caron Margarete´s last blog ..The Personal Branding Series! Part 4b: What’s Left to Take Stock of? =-.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Thanks for your encouragement and positivity Caron!! :)
      I can totally relate to how you feel; as I mentioned in the link about not speaking English, I lived in Spain for 6 months, with only English speaking friends, as an English teacher and with almost zero Spanish. It’s a really hard decision to try to start mingling in non-English speaking crowds!! They say that you can’t learn a language after a certain age, but I honestly believe that it comes from confidence; children aren’t afraid to make mistakes, but adults are too comfortable in their current social circle, which may not encourage non-English communication. But you can certainly make it possible!! I was a hopeless case with languages when I first started travelling, so if I can do it, anyone can!
      Thanks again for your twitter @replies!! :)

  • http://www.fromwhoatogo.wordpress.com Caron Margarete

    Benny, you’ve got to be proud of yourself even if you didn’t make the fluency finish line. What you’re putting out there is the passion and drive and then demonstrating that it’s possible. Not mean feat.

    I can understand completely that immersing yourself is the difference. I tried to learn Mandarin while I’m living here in China and found the impossibilities were directly related to the fact that here I’m an English teacher, an English magazine journalist and my Chinese friends all want to speak English that simply finding an opportunity to speak Chinese is super challenging.

    I believe that if you truly want to learn a language, everything else comes second. Looking forward to the stories of your next language!
    .-= Caron Margarete´s last blog ..The Personal Branding Series! Part 4b: What’s Left to Take Stock of? =-.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Thanks for your encouragement and positivity Caron!! :)
      I can totally relate to how you feel; as I mentioned in the link about not speaking English, I lived in Spain for 6 months, with only English speaking friends, as an English teacher and with almost zero Spanish. It’s a really hard decision to try to start mingling in non-English speaking crowds!! They say that you can’t learn a language after a certain age, but I honestly believe that it comes from confidence; children aren’t afraid to make mistakes, but adults are too comfortable in their current social circle, which may not encourage non-English communication. But you can certainly make it possible!! I was a hopeless case with languages when I first started travelling, so if I can do it, anyone can!
      Thanks again for your twitter @replies!! :)

  • http://www.lingvoj.net/ lingovj

    Thanks benny, already looking forward to your next challenge, I goe it’s something exotic.

    lingvoj
    .-= lingovj´s last blog ..On Listening =-.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Dankon “lingvoj” :)
      It is indeed “exotic”!! To be revealed later this week…

  • http://www.lingvoj.net lingovj

    Thanks benny, already looking forward to your next challenge, I goe it’s something exotic.

    lingvoj
    .-= lingovj´s last blog ..On Listening =-.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Dankon “lingvoj” :)
      It is indeed “exotic”!! To be revealed later this week…

  • http://Music-subtitle.blogspot.com/ ppminhphung

    Hey guy, I love your learning method, it’s extremely effective, imo. But I found something wrong with this. If you don’t learn grammar at first, how can you know the meaning of the sentences. Other people, those who ignore grammar, said they will use dictionary for example sentences, do you use this method?
    And another thing is that whether I could master Japanese if I use your method and stay away from Japanese people, I live in Vietnam, and there’s no Japanese here!
    .-= ppminhphung´s last blog ..The Role of Music in Education =-.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Very good point – I certainly don’t go around with a dictionary, and I hope I haven’t given that impression! Grammar is extremely important, but in the early stages I recommend focussing your efforts on vocabulary and phrases. After a few weeks of intensive study of vocab then grammar is much more interesting as it becomes the glue that binds your language together. Glue is useless if you have nothing to stick together with it…
      I understand that a lot of people will disagree with me here, which is fair enough. I’m not disputing grammar’s importance, just its priority in the very early stages. After several learning attempts, I have found that this approach works really well for me. Believe it or not I love grammar! I’m a mathematician and engineer at heart, so I like how the rules can be so logical. But focussing too much on it too early may not be so helpful.
      Yes, this method presumes that you can spend 2 months in the country, although I have discussed ways of practising it without travelling in some of the links above.

      • http://www.ikindalikelanguages.com/ lyzazel

        Well, there is a school (led by Steve Kaufmann, I imagine) which says “ignore grammar at all – you’ll internalize it”.

        I think you should do grammar at the beginning but not from traditional grammar books because they are boring. Try to find something better.

        If there is absolutely nothing out there… I’d say, go on and do the grammar books while trying to use the language as much as possible at the same time.

        I guess it can be motivating in itself because if you are doing boring grammar books you are very eager to go on and practice the language so that you could learn more of it so that you could quit the books. :>

        Still, I guess the most important thing to learn a language is: don’t read advice on the Internet…
        .-= lyzazel´s last blog ..The Basics of a Language =-.

        • http://molista.blogspot.com/ Glavkos

          …but you still give advices on the Internet….

        • girdyerloins

          Native speakers, by the way, are more than happy to correct one’s errant grammar. Especially if you make it clear they have your go-ahead.

  • http://Music-subtitle.blogspot.com ppminhphung

    Hey guy, I love your learning method, it’s extremely effective, imo. But I found something wrong with this. If you don’t learn grammar at first, how can you know the meaning of the sentences. Other people, those who ignore grammar, said they will use dictionary for example sentences, do you use this method?
    And another thing is that whether I could master Japanese if I use your method and stay away from Japanese people, I live in Vietnam, and there’s no Japanese here!
    .-= ppminhphung´s last blog ..The Role of Music in Education =-.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Very good point – I certainly don’t go around with a dictionary, and I hope I haven’t given that impression! Grammar is extremely important, but in the early stages I recommend focussing your efforts on vocabulary and phrases. After a few weeks of intensive study of vocab then grammar is much more interesting as it becomes the glue that binds your language together. Glue is useless if you have nothing to stick together with it…
      I understand that a lot of people will disagree with me here, which is fair enough. I’m not disputing grammar’s importance, just its priority in the very early stages. After several learning attempts, I have found that this approach works really well for me. Believe it or not I love grammar! I’m a mathematician and engineer at heart, so I like how the rules can be so logical. But focussing too much on it too early may not be so helpful.
      Yes, this method presumes that you can spend 2 months in the country, although I have discussed ways of practising it without travelling in some of the links above.

      • http://www.ikindalikelanguages.com/ lyzazel

        Well, there is a school (led by Steve Kaufmann, I imagine) which says “ignore grammar at all – you’ll internalize it”.

        I think you should do grammar at the beginning but not from traditional grammar books because they are boring. Try to find something better.

        If there is absolutely nothing out there… I’d say, go on and do the grammar books while trying to use the language as much as possible at the same time.

        I guess it can be motivating in itself because if you are doing boring grammar books you are very eager to go on and practice the language so that you could learn more of it so that you could quit the books. :>

        Still, I guess the most important thing to learn a language is: don’t read advice on the Internet…
        .-= lyzazel´s last blog ..The Basics of a Language =-.

        • http://molista.blogspot.com/ Γλαύκος

          …but you still give advices on the Internet….

  • http://molista.blogspot.com/ Glavkos

    Hi Benny , i am very glad to see you very energetic and full of enthusiasm after all….But as i have told before maybe it is easy to operate this 3 months fluency project in Europe and among latin languages or Esperanto wich is also Eurocentric ….But what if you try something completely different . Let s say Greek or Arabic or Chinese Mandarin or the Persian Farsi , or Albanian after all (where the social standards are completely different ) ….would you still say that 3 months are enough?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      3 months is definitely enough; the real question is, is it enough for the person trying. There is an ideal way to learn languages (that suits me, and that others may benefit from) and I’m going to discover that. I will try non-European languages soon enough. I don’t know any Greek, but I would consider it also to be “Eurocentric”, even if it’s further away from languages I may have learned up to now. I had no problem applying this method to Czech, and it is not a Latin language or Esperanto.
      My next experiment is nothing like this summer’s 3-month fluency experiment. You’ll see what I mean in a few days, and I’d be curious to hear all thoughts on it.
      As I said in the post about stopping at 2-months with Czech, it is important that I have a personal investment in learning the language, so randomly studying Persian Farsi or Greek without good motivation is not something I plan to do at the moment. If I decide to learn those languages it will be because they mean something to me, and my language and cultural needs will change over time. My ultimate goal isn’t to speak the largest number of languages possible, but I’ll continue these experiments for as long as I have the patience to do it! :)

  • http://molista.blogspot.com/ Γλαύκος

    Hi Benny , i am very glad to see you very energetic and full of enthusiasm after all….But as i have told before maybe it is easy to operate this 3 months fluency project in Europe and among latin languages or Esperanto wich is also Eurocentric ….But what if you try something completely different . Let s say Greek or Arabic or Chinese Mandarin or the Persian Farsi , or Albanian after all (where the social standards are completely different ) ….would you still say that 3 months are enough?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      3 months is definitely enough; the real question is, is it enough for the person trying. There is an ideal way to learn languages (that suits me, and that others may benefit from) and I’m going to discover that. I will try non-European languages soon enough. I don’t know any Greek, but I would consider it also to be “Eurocentric”, even if it’s further away from languages I may have learned up to now. I had no problem applying this method to Czech, and it is not a Latin language or Esperanto.
      My next experiment is nothing like this summer’s 3-month fluency experiment. You’ll see what I mean in a few days, and I’d be curious to hear all thoughts on it.
      As I said in the post about stopping at 2-months with Czech, it is important that I have a personal investment in learning the language, so randomly studying Persian Farsi or Greek without good motivation is not something I plan to do at the moment. If I decide to learn those languages it will be because they mean something to me, and my language and cultural needs will change over time. My ultimate goal isn’t to speak the largest number of languages possible, but I’ll continue these experiments for as long as I have the patience to do it! :)

  • Albert

    Hi Benny. You are amazing, and a lot of your blog posts have helped me and motivated me to continue in my language learning experience.

    How do you feel about doing 3 months of Russian? I hear thats the next up and coming language. At the moment, its my personal target language I am learning.

    Since you know a bit a of Czech, I sure that would help you greatly with the language.

  • Albert

    Hi Benny. You are amazing, and a lot of your blog posts have helped me and motivated me to continue in my language learning experience.

    How do you feel about doing 3 months of Russian? I hear thats the next up and coming language. At the moment, its my personal target language I am learning.

    Since you know a bit a of Czech, I sure that would help you greatly with the language.

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hhu/ balint

    Great summary Benny! Looking forward to the next project! :D

    Just a question, about speaking as much as possible: what is your opinion about that if you start speaking too early (say, from day 4) you will definitely use incorrect language with a lot of grammatical mistakes – and if you keep using this bad language it will ingrain. And they say that changing bad habits is much more difficult than learning the correct stuff in the first place (even if it is a bit slower).

    I’m just asking that because I find that my English has errors and it is really hard to get rid of them (I should have learned correct stuff and then I wouldn’t have this problem now). I don’t want to make the same mistake at Spanish :D

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hhu balint

    Great summary Benny! Looking forward to the next project! :D

    Just a question, about speaking as much as possible: what is your opinion about that if you start speaking too early (say, from day 4) you will definitely use incorrect language with a lot of grammatical mistakes – and if you keep using this bad language it will ingrain. And they say that changing bad habits is much more difficult than learning the correct stuff in the first place (even if it is a bit slower).

    I’m just asking that because I find that my English has errors and it is really hard to get rid of them (I should have learned correct stuff and then I wouldn’t have this problem now). I don’t want to make the same mistake at Spanish :D

  • http://www.lingvoj.net/ lingvoj

    balint, just my two cents:
    IMHO if you continue to be exposed to the language the mistakes will go away quickly. To me fossilization has to do little with speaking but to the the degree of ‘openess’ you have towards the language and its people.

    Actually when I speak I give little regard to grammar accuracy, since my main goal is communication, the more I communicate, the more people wil communicate with me, and through the messages I receive from native speakers my grammar errors get reduced without me even noticing.

    But, let’s way for Benny’s response, he may have a better explanation.
    .-= lingvoj´s last blog ..Input and Output =-.

  • http://www.lingvoj.net lingvoj

    balint, just my two cents:
    IMHO if you continue to be exposed to the language the mistakes will go away quickly. To me fossilization has to do little with speaking but to the the degree of ‘openess’ you have towards the language and its people.

    Actually when I speak I give little regard to grammar accuracy, since my main goal is communication, the more I communicate, the more people wil communicate with me, and through the messages I receive from native speakers my grammar errors get reduced without me even noticing.

    But, let’s way for Benny’s response, he may have a better explanation.
    .-= lingvoj´s last blog ..Input and Output =-.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

    @Albert Unless my travel stops abruptly in the next year or two I will definitely be taking on Russian; this is a language that I keep coming across and ultimately wish to speak fluently, but I only make solid plans for upcoming months. I wish you the best of luck in reaching fluency in it!! :)
    @Balint
    I agree with lingvoj – you need to be open to expanding your English and your Spanish. The biggest problem I see with people who will never improve (and please don’t think this may be you, but is an example) is that they absolutely refuse to accept criticism.
    If you make it clear to native English and Spanish speakers that you want to perfect your level, then a lot of those who really like the language will be glad to help you (a lot of people feel embarrassed to point out other people’s slip-ups). It takes a huge amount of effort to swallow your pride and accept as much criticism as possible, but this is what I do in all of my languages; as long as it is a native correcting me and they do it in a helpful tone, I refuse to let myself get angry or frustrated. A lot of people I’ve met feel that once they’ve reached a certain level, although in theory they would like to improve, in practise they are too proud to accept criticism.
    Your English is excellent; I don’t remember any mistakes in your other comments, but if I re-read what you’ve just said I can say that for example “error” is used in English only for formal mistakes, usually associated with machines and computers, whereas “mistake” is the word we think of in standard contexts, although there are other words you can use depending on the specific context (I’ve got a whole post planned in a few weeks about formal vs informal words like this). I don’t plan on correcting my commenters English mistakes in general as a rule because this may come across as arrogant to others reading it, but if you think of how you feel when corrected publicly like this and see if you could take it more regularly with natives in person, then there is nothing stopping you from truly perfecting any language you wish to learn :)

    • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hhu/ balint

      Thanks for the opinion :D
      That’s totally true what you write here, and I think the right way is to expose myself to as much native input as I can (just like lingvoj said). And of course the right attitude. That’s what I picked up here – from your enthusiastic posts. :D

      Thanks again!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

    @Albert Unless my travel stops abruptly in the next year or two I will definitely be taking on Russian; this is a language that I keep coming across and ultimately wish to speak fluently, but I only make solid plans for upcoming months. I wish you the best of luck in reaching fluency in it!! :)
    @Balint
    I agree with lingvoj – you need to be open to expanding your English and your Spanish. The biggest problem I see with people who will never improve (and please don’t think this may be you, but is an example) is that they absolutely refuse to accept criticism.
    If you make it clear to native English and Spanish speakers that you want to perfect your level, then a lot of those who really like the language will be glad to help you (a lot of people feel embarrassed to point out other people’s slip-ups). It takes a huge amount of effort to swallow your pride and accept as much criticism as possible, but this is what I do in all of my languages; as long as it is a native correcting me and they do it in a helpful tone, I refuse to let myself get angry or frustrated. A lot of people I’ve met feel that once they’ve reached a certain level, although in theory they would like to improve, in practise they are too proud to accept criticism.
    Your English is excellent; I don’t remember any mistakes in your other comments, but if I re-read what you’ve just said I can say that for example “error” is used in English only for formal mistakes, usually associated with machines and computers, whereas “mistake” is the word we think of in standard contexts, although there are other words you can use depending on the specific context (I’ve got a whole post planned in a few weeks about formal vs informal words like this). I don’t plan on correcting my commenters English mistakes in general as a rule because this may come across as arrogant to others reading it, but if you think of how you feel when corrected publicly like this and see if you could take it more regularly with natives in person, then there is nothing stopping you from truly perfecting any language you wish to learn :)

    • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hhu balint

      Thanks for the opinion :D
      That’s totally true what you write here, and I think the right way is to expose myself to as much native input as I can (just like lingvoj said). And of course the right attitude. That’s what I picked up here – from your enthusiastic posts. :D

      Thanks again!

  • http://quirkynomad.blogspot.com/ Quirky Nomad

    Benny, thank you for all the amazing tips, and, most importantly, for all the encouragement you’re giving to aspiring polyglots like me! This is the motivation I needed to keep studying Hungarian!
    .-= Quirky Nomad´s last blog ..18th Budapest International Wine Festival =-.

    • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hhu/ balint

      Quirky Nomad: if you’d like any help with your Hungarian, I’m more than happy to help ;) just drop me a line :)

      • http://quirkynomad.blogspot.com/ Quirky Nomad

        Thanks, Balint! I might take you up on that. I need all the help I can get with my Hungarian! :)
        .-= Quirky Nomad´s last blog ..My Appearance on TV =-.

  • http://quirkynomad.blogspot.com/ Quirky Nomad

    Benny, thank you for all the amazing tips, and, most importantly, for all the encouragement you’re giving to aspiring polyglots like me! This is the motivation I needed to keep studying Hungarian!
    .-= Quirky Nomad´s last blog ..18th Budapest International Wine Festival =-.

    • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hhu balint

      Quirky Nomad: if you’d like any help with your Hungarian, I’m more than happy to help ;) just drop me a line :)

      • http://quirkynomad.blogspot.com/ Quirky Nomad

        Thanks, Balint! I might take you up on that. I need all the help I can get with my Hungarian! :)
        .-= Quirky Nomad´s last blog ..My Appearance on TV =-.

  • Ekaterina

    Interesting point about grammar Benny!
    Coming from Russia (where the accent when one learns a foreign language is on grammar) it’s what I am used to. I really need to study the rules first and build some knowledge before I feel comfortable to start speaking.
    But, I think that the main point in learning a foreign languae is indeed passion. One has to fall in love with the language (or foreign culture) to really feel motivated.
    It’s how I fell in love with the French language.
    I wrote about this experience on my blog some time ago:
    http://robbiewilliamsandme.blogspot.com/2008/04/place-of-my-dreams.html
    .-= Ekaterina´s last blog ..Friends when you travel. How to make new ones? =-.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Thanks again for your comment Katia! Unfortunately, a lot of countries focus on teaching grammar rather than teaching speaking (although I hear this is not the case in Scandinavia for example, but I’m not sure about it). My unstructured stumbles through a language until I naturally and quickly end up at fluency has been disagreeable for some learners and teachers passionate about the traditional approach, since they may believe that you should only speak a language when you feel ready. I’m hoping to show through open experiments on this blog that this is not necessarily true.
      Lucky for me I have learned not to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, so I will gladly make thousands of mistakes within a very short time and not feel any worse off from it :P
      Your story was very interesting! I’ll be sharing reasons why I chose particular languages soon enough (especially for the next mission).

      • Genevieve

        … And if it is not the case in Scandinavia, the Scandinavians have certainly got it right seeing as 83% of Danes and 85% of Swedes speak English! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_language) … Benny, I have been following your weblog from the VERY beginning and I take my hat off to you! I really do! However, I have a question for you. In a few of your weblog posts, you have linked certain words eg. ‘Esperanto’ to Wikipedia articles for their definitions. At university, we are swayed from Wikipedia for reasons of reliability etc. Why do you use Wikipedia for a language learning weblog?

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

          Thanks so much Genevieve! Your comments have been very welcome from the very beginning ;) Hopefully the next mission will be as hat-off-worthy! :P
          You are right that Wikipedia cannot always be trusted as the best source of information, and should definitely not be used in academic circles and each article should be taken with a dash of scepticism.
          However, this blog not a professional presentation, so Wikipedia is the most appropriate source for me to be able to give people a summary of terms they may not know about. I could find more appropriate articles to link to, and sometimes do, but I’d rather focus on writing my article itself. Also, you’ll see that Wikipedia articles work with the dynamic pop-up plug-in, so people can read the article without even leaving my site or opening a new window/tab! :)

      • girdyerloins

        One more comment before I bolt…
        I discovered that one can quell arguments for strict adherence to learning grammar first by asking people how they learned their FIRST language. I ask, “Did your parents come to you at the age of six months with a stack of grammar and language texts and order you to learn from them?”. They usually realize there that they had been hoodwinked by school and concede the point. I’m a big fan of total immersion, by the way.

  • http:/robbiewilliamsandme.blogspot.com Ekaterina

    Interesting point about grammar Benny!
    Coming from Russia (where the accent when one learns a foreign language is on grammar) it’s what I am used to. I really need to study the rules first and build some knowledge before I feel comfortable to start speaking.
    But, I think that the main point in learning a foreign languae is indeed passion. One has to fall in love with the language (or foreign culture) to really feel motivated.
    It’s how I fell in love with the French language.
    I wrote about this experience on my blog some time ago:
    http://robbiewilliamsandme.blogspot.com/2008/04/place-of-my-dreams.html
    .-= Ekaterina´s last blog ..Friends when you travel. How to make new ones? =-.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Thanks again for your comment Katia! Unfortunately, a lot of countries focus on teaching grammar rather than teaching speaking (although I hear this is not the case in Scandinavia for example, but I’m not sure about it). My unstructured stumbles through a language until I naturally and quickly end up at fluency has been disagreeable for some learners and teachers passionate about the traditional approach, since they may believe that you should only speak a language when you feel ready. I’m hoping to show through open experiments on this blog that this is not necessarily true.
      Lucky for me I have learned not to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, so I will gladly make thousands of mistakes within a very short time and not feel any worse off from it :P
      Your story was very interesting! I’ll be sharing reasons why I chose particular languages soon enough (especially for the next mission).

      • Genevieve

        … And if it is not the case in Scandinavia, the Scandinavians have certainly got it right seeing as 83% of Danes and 85% of Swedes speak English! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_language) … Benny, I have been following your weblog from the VERY beginning and I take my hat off to you! I really do! However, I have a question for you. In a few of your weblog posts, you have linked certain words eg. ‘Esperanto’ to Wikipedia articles for their definitions. At university, we are swayed from Wikipedia for reasons of reliability etc. Why do you use Wikipedia for a language learning weblog?

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

          Thanks so much Genevieve! Your comments have been very welcome from the very beginning ;) Hopefully the next mission will be as hat-off-worthy! :P
          You are right that Wikipedia cannot always be trusted as the best source of information, and should definitely not be used in academic circles and each article should be taken with a dash of scepticism.
          However, this blog not a professional presentation, so Wikipedia is the most appropriate source for me to be able to give people a summary of terms they may not know about. I could find more appropriate articles to link to, and sometimes do, but I’d rather focus on writing my article itself. Also, you’ll see that Wikipedia articles work with the dynamic pop-up plug-in, so people can read the article without even leaving my site or opening a new window/tab! :)

  • http://www.pondjumperscroatia.com/ Pond Jumpers:Croatia

    Great advice Benny! Trying to learn Croatian is kicking my butt. I really need to throw myself into it more. Thanks for the inspiration.
    .-= Pond Jumpers:Croatia´s last blog ..learning about the siege on Sarajevo =-.

  • http://www.pondjumperscroatia.com Pond Jumpers:Croatia

    Great advice Benny! Trying to learn Croatian is kicking my butt. I really need to throw myself into it more. Thanks for the inspiration.
    .-= Pond Jumpers:Croatia´s last blog ..learning about the siege on Sarajevo =-.

  • http://www.favelatour.org/ Zezinho da Rocinha

    Benny, I admire what you are doing..great for you..keep advancing yourself and reach for the stars..I see you post on other forums and idiots question what you do? I think it is great to learn many languages and cultures!

    I live in a favela and was born and raise there and all my life I receive negative from people questioning me having my own small business. Keep going and do NOT let negative people stand in your way!

    Zezinho

  • http://www.favelatour.org Zezinho da Rocinha

    Benny, I admire what you are doing..great for you..keep advancing yourself and reach for the stars..I see you post on other forums and idiots question what you do? I think it is great to learn many languages and cultures!

    I live in a favela and was born and raise there and all my life I receive negative from people questioning me having my own small business. Keep going and do NOT let negative people stand in your way!

    Zezinho

  • http://velofou.blogspot.com/ Julius Beezer

    Been reading your blog on language learning, and it’s great! I agree very much with the thrust of your approach. In particular, you must abandon your native language, and speak only the target language, however frustrating that may be. Two years ago I decided to move to France, and while I had tourist French, I certainly couldn’t hold a conversation: now I am fluent, recognisable as a foreigner, but they can’t work out where I’m from, so that’s pretty much good enough, though I’d like to be taken for a native.

    I completely agree that the key is abandoning your native language, but that’s easier said than done. My tips:

    Beginning:
    0) Get the best dictionary and grammar book you can afford in the native language
    1) bust through the grammar book as quickly as possible: I did a chapter a night for the first fortnight.
    2) get a newspaper each day, find the stories that interest you, and look up all the words you don’t know, especially the VERBS.
    3) book 10 – 20 hours 1 to 1 with a professional teacher and make sure they follow your agenda. Concentrate on pronounciation of the stuff you’ve learned from the books.
    Social:
    A language is only interesting if you have something to talk about. Apart from leveraging all commercial transactions to the max–shops are pretty boring places to work, especially if they’re not busy–you need to find the people in the locality who share your interests. Very quickly compose your “script” of who you are, why you’re here, what you’re interested in, and make it as perfect as possible. Try to find the poetry of the language immediately. For me it was cycling and gardening. If you share activities, you become another member of the club, albeit a strange one. Try to excel in the activity, even if your language skills themselves are lagging.
    Internet:
    The internet is great for languages. Apart from online dictionaries (most useful for decoding verb conjugations), the language bar at the side of wikipedia entries gives you side by side texts on a subject in many languages. VERY useful.
    Creative:
    Try to get blogging in the target language as soon as possible. The act of creating a text is the best way of ensuring you have the active vocabulary you need.
    Aural comprehension:
    For me this was the most difficult part: I could say most things I wanted to say within a few months, and be OK 1 to 1 with a native, but it took 18 months to be able to follow a discussion among natives themselves, and I’m still not 100% even now: perhaps 80 – 90%. Listening to the radio is good. Also, YouTube is great, because you can rewind tricky bits over and over again. Shortening this any further would probably involve sticking microphones under peoples’ noses, which I seriously thought about, but didn’t do. I don’t think there are any shortcuts here actually, and if you can get to this point in three months I think you must be described as talented.
    In fact, that’s my one beef with your site: any language is infinite in possibility, so this “three months” label is somewhat misleading. Even native speakers will still be deepening their knowledge and appreciation of their language, and will not be considered “masters” of it until well into adult life, having read the great authors, and demonstrated that they are fit porters of their culture to future generations.
    At which point it is perhaps useful to consider why there are languages, why they have properties that make it possible to detect foreigners, and why bad language teaching is an essential part of the armoury of any modern state.
    .-= Julius Beezer´s last blog ..Une visite chez mes confrères cyclistes =-.

  • http://velofou.blogspot.com Julius Beezer

    Been reading your blog on language learning, and it’s great! I agree very much with the thrust of your approach. In particular, you must abandon your native language, and speak only the target language, however frustrating that may be. Two years ago I decided to move to France, and while I had tourist French, I certainly couldn’t hold a conversation: now I am fluent, recognisable as a foreigner, but they can’t work out where I’m from, so that’s pretty much good enough, though I’d like to be taken for a native.

    I completely agree that the key is abandoning your native language, but that’s easier said than done. My tips:

    Beginning:
    0) Get the best dictionary and grammar book you can afford in the native language
    1) bust through the grammar book as quickly as possible: I did a chapter a night for the first fortnight.
    2) get a newspaper each day, find the stories that interest you, and look up all the words you don’t know, especially the VERBS.
    3) book 10 – 20 hours 1 to 1 with a professional teacher and make sure they follow your agenda. Concentrate on pronounciation of the stuff you’ve learned from the books.
    Social:
    A language is only interesting if you have something to talk about. Apart from leveraging all commercial transactions to the max–shops are pretty boring places to work, especially if they’re not busy–you need to find the people in the locality who share your interests. Very quickly compose your “script” of who you are, why you’re here, what you’re interested in, and make it as perfect as possible. Try to find the poetry of the language immediately. For me it was cycling and gardening. If you share activities, you become another member of the club, albeit a strange one. Try to excel in the activity, even if your language skills themselves are lagging.
    Internet:
    The internet is great for languages. Apart from online dictionaries (most useful for decoding verb conjugations), the language bar at the side of wikipedia entries gives you side by side texts on a subject in many languages. VERY useful.
    Creative:
    Try to get blogging in the target language as soon as possible. The act of creating a text is the best way of ensuring you have the active vocabulary you need.
    Aural comprehension:
    For me this was the most difficult part: I could say most things I wanted to say within a few months, and be OK 1 to 1 with a native, but it took 18 months to be able to follow a discussion among natives themselves, and I’m still not 100% even now: perhaps 80 – 90%. Listening to the radio is good. Also, YouTube is great, because you can rewind tricky bits over and over again. Shortening this any further would probably involve sticking microphones under peoples’ noses, which I seriously thought about, but didn’t do. I don’t think there are any shortcuts here actually, and if you can get to this point in three months I think you must be described as talented.
    In fact, that’s my one beef with your site: any language is infinite in possibility, so this “three months” label is somewhat misleading. Even native speakers will still be deepening their knowledge and appreciation of their language, and will not be considered “masters” of it until well into adult life, having read the great authors, and demonstrated that they are fit porters of their culture to future generations.
    At which point it is perhaps useful to consider why there are languages, why they have properties that make it possible to detect foreigners, and why bad language teaching is an essential part of the armoury of any modern state.
    .-= Julius Beezer´s last blog ..Une visite chez mes confrères cyclistes =-.

  • http://freelancewritingphilippines.com/ Kristine

    Very nice read, indeed :D
    I, too, was able to speak in decent Polish during my third month in Poland. I promised by friends I would be speaking Polish, and they laughed it off. By the time I left Poland, I was speaking to them in Polish, even to people who do not understand English, singing, watching movies in Polish, and even up to now that I’m not in Poland anymore, we even chat in Polish.

    I guess the number one thing that helps a LOT is that YOU WANT TO LEARN Other kids, such as those Polish teenagers whom I used to teach English to, didn’t want to learn. Hence, they end up only saying “What?” or “Excuse me?” when I ask them something. If you want to learn something, then it comes to you naturally – the accent, the grammar, and even the slangs.

    You’re right – it’s easier to learn when you don’t use English. And when you hear other people speaking it, in the shops, supermarkets, train stations, it helps a lot to have those words stuck in your head. In my case, all my friends were Polish, and I was the only Asian. The Turkish students, however, didn’t get to learn as much Polish as me because they didn’t want to learn, and they were always talking in Turkish. And me? I was always with Polish students. Some older Polish guy even told me that my Polish vocabulary is typical for a college student….

    3 months of learning a language is enough, and I say this from experience. I’m happy to see that you, too, think of that ;) When you want something, nothing is impossible ;D

    All the best, and na zdrowie! :)
    .-= Kristine´s last blog ..Freelance Writing – Why Some People Take USD2/article Gigs =-.

  • http://freelancewritingphilippines.com Kristine

    Very nice read, indeed :D
    I, too, was able to speak in decent Polish during my third month in Poland. I promised by friends I would be speaking Polish, and they laughed it off. By the time I left Poland, I was speaking to them in Polish, even to people who do not understand English, singing, watching movies in Polish, and even up to now that I’m not in Poland anymore, we even chat in Polish.

    I guess the number one thing that helps a LOT is that YOU WANT TO LEARN Other kids, such as those Polish teenagers whom I used to teach English to, didn’t want to learn. Hence, they end up only saying “What?” or “Excuse me?” when I ask them something. If you want to learn something, then it comes to you naturally – the accent, the grammar, and even the slangs.

    You’re right – it’s easier to learn when you don’t use English. And when you hear other people speaking it, in the shops, supermarkets, train stations, it helps a lot to have those words stuck in your head. In my case, all my friends were Polish, and I was the only Asian. The Turkish students, however, didn’t get to learn as much Polish as me because they didn’t want to learn, and they were always talking in Turkish. And me? I was always with Polish students. Some older Polish guy even told me that my Polish vocabulary is typical for a college student….

    3 months of learning a language is enough, and I say this from experience. I’m happy to see that you, too, think of that ;) When you want something, nothing is impossible ;D

    All the best, and na zdrowie! :)
    .-= Kristine´s last blog ..Freelance Writing – Why Some People Take USD2/article Gigs =-.

  • Ty

    That’s great if you’re moving to the country in which the language is spoken. What if you’re still in your home country or just can’t up and move (a lot of us can’t)? Advice?

  • Ty

    That’s great if you’re moving to the country in which the language is spoken. What if you’re still in your home country or just can’t up and move (a lot of us can’t)? Advice?

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

    @Ty Good question. I’ll be discussing it soon enough ;) Otherwise the first half of this article is quite relevant!

    @Kritstine Thanks for sharing your positive story! I may have to get your advice whenever I take on Polish ;)

    @Julius Thanks for the detailed tips!!

    @Zezinho Great encouragement there! You can see that I am making good progress in my current mission despite the discouragement I got in the Lonely Planet thorntree forum :)

    @Pond I hope my advice and encouragement will help you to learn Croatian!! You can give me tips when I finally get around to it later :P

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

    @Ty Good question. I’ll be discussing it soon enough ;) Otherwise the first half of this article is quite relevant!

    @Kritstine Thanks for sharing your positive story! I may have to get your advice whenever I take on Polish ;)

    @Julius Thanks for the detailed tips!!

    @Zezinho Great encouragement there! You can see that I am making good progress in my current mission despite the discouragement I got in the Lonely Planet thorntree forum :)

    @Pond I hope my advice and encouragement will help you to learn Croatian!! You can give me tips when I finally get around to it later :P

  • http://freelancewritingphilippines.com/ Kristine

    I think you’d easily learn Polish because you already know Czech. :D
    .-= Kristine´s last blog ..Freelance Writing Jobs 10.28.09 =-.

  • http://freelancewritingphilippines.com Kristine

    I think you’d easily learn Polish because you already know Czech. :D
    .-= Kristine´s last blog ..Freelance Writing Jobs 10.28.09 =-.

  • Geoff

    Tere (Hello) Ben,

    I’m an Australian living with his Estonian fiance in Estonia and have unfortunately been starting to slip into the hole of frustration and hostility that can come with living in a foreign country. A big part of this frustration I now understand comes from the isolation of not being able to easily talk with people at any time and in any way that you wish.

    This I guess is how I ended up on your blog, and I’m glad that I did!

    I’m currently learning Estonian as my first foreign language (which unfortunately/fortunately is one of the deeper ends of the language pool to jump into) and although I’ve actually been doing pretty well in learning and understanding it in class for the last month or so, I’ve been starting to feel pretty useless in social situations as my speaking and listening is so clunky and laborious.

    One of the problems is that Estonian has enormously complicated grammar compared to English (but it’s the use of genitive and partitive cases that is causing me the most frustration at the moment!), but I think after reading your blog that my biggest hurdle is in fact letting go of the metaphorical ‘edge of the pool’ and just trying ‘to swim’ in the language. As I’m sure that my fiance would also love me to become fluent in her ‘emakeel’ (mother tongue) and helps where she can, then I actually have a fantastic opportunity to learn the language!

    Also, I really do love english and the irrational part of me is scared to leave it behind, but considering how easy it is to find english and english language culture, I really have nothing to worry about!

    So my main point really is to say ‘suur tänu’ (lit. big thanks) for sharing your experiences and ‘edu’ (good luck) in all your adventures that follow!

    Tervitades (Good health/goodbye when writing letters)

    Geoff

  • Geoff

    Tere (Hello) Ben,

    I’m an Australian living with his Estonian fiance in Estonia and have unfortunately been starting to slip into the hole of frustration and hostility that can come with living in a foreign country. A big part of this frustration I now understand comes from the isolation of not being able to easily talk with people at any time and in any way that you wish.

    This I guess is how I ended up on your blog, and I’m glad that I did!

    I’m currently learning Estonian as my first foreign language (which unfortunately/fortunately is one of the deeper ends of the language pool to jump into) and although I’ve actually been doing pretty well in learning and understanding it in class for the last month or so, I’ve been starting to feel pretty useless in social situations as my speaking and listening is so clunky and laborious.

    One of the problems is that Estonian has enormously complicated grammar compared to English (but it’s the use of genitive and partitive cases that is causing me the most frustration at the moment!), but I think after reading your blog that my biggest hurdle is in fact letting go of the metaphorical ‘edge of the pool’ and just trying ‘to swim’ in the language. As I’m sure that my fiance would also love me to become fluent in her ‘emakeel’ (mother tongue) and helps where she can, then I actually have a fantastic opportunity to learn the language!

    Also, I really do love english and the irrational part of me is scared to leave it behind, but considering how easy it is to find english and english language culture, I really have nothing to worry about!

    So my main point really is to say ‘suur tänu’ (lit. big thanks) for sharing your experiences and ‘edu’ (good luck) in all your adventures that follow!

    Tervitades (Good health/goodbye when writing letters)

    Geoff

  • Shane

    Hi, I’m living in France right now (doing a master’s program in language and literature), and I will be here into the end of June. Because my classmates and I have received a grant to come here our rent is free. The downside is, we’re a bunch of americans living together in a university appartment. (yeah I know..smart of those who created the program) and it seems nearly impossible to avoid english. Does anyone have any ideas? I’m kind of desperate, and I feel my level of french is suffering. When I was in france last year, I lived with a host family…and it was amazing. Yet this time around, I feel like I’m getting nothing out of my stay here. On top of all this, we are given so much homework that it is sometimes hard to go out and find people to speak with,…and I don’t really want to seem stubborn and rude to my roomates when they speak to me in english. Aghh help!

  • Shane

    Hi, I’m living in France right now (doing a master’s program in language and literature), and I will be here into the end of June. Because my classmates and I have received a grant to come here our rent is free. The downside is, we’re a bunch of americans living together in a university appartment. (yeah I know..smart of those who created the program) and it seems nearly impossible to avoid english. Does anyone have any ideas? I’m kind of desperate, and I feel my level of french is suffering. When I was in france last year, I lived with a host family…and it was amazing. Yet this time around, I feel like I’m getting nothing out of my stay here. On top of all this, we are given so much homework that it is sometimes hard to go out and find people to speak with,…and I don’t really want to seem stubborn and rude to my roomates when they speak to me in english. Aghh help!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

    @Kristine It would be a lot harder than you think!! I’m already forgetting a lot of my Czech and even though they are in the same language family, they are not so mutually intelligible – I met lots of Poles who couldn’t understand any Czech. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a try soon enough :)
    @Geoff Jumping in the deeper end of language-learning first is certainly a greater challenge, but I have no doubts that you’ll succeed!! :) Thanks for sharing your story! “edu” ;)
    @Shane Certainly not the ideal situation, but even living with Americans, it’s quite defeatist to say that it’s “nearly impossible” to avoid English. You should try to branch out on your circle of friends rather than hang out with them. I’m sure they’re nice and all, but you didn’t come all this way to be with Americans…
    I know it’ll be weird, but you should all try to speak French together; surely they should want to do this too and it wouldn’t be you being “stubborn and rude”. I’d find it stubborn and rude if someone forced me to speak English with them all the time when they know I don’t want to… At least up to a certain time – make it a game and say that after say 8pm you can relax (if you must) and speak English.
    Lack of time is not unique to your situation; you have to make time ;) I wrote an article about time. You may be eating, watching TV, “chilling out” after homework etc. with your roommates, and this is frankly time being wasted that you could be spending with French people. It’s hard work but you have to look at your week and analyse where all the time is going and make some sacrifices.
    Good luck!

    • Shane

      Hey Benny! thanks alot! I appreciate your advice! this helps!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

    @Kristine It would be a lot harder than you think!! I’m already forgetting a lot of my Czech and even though they are in the same language family, they are not so mutually intelligible – I met lots of Poles who couldn’t understand any Czech. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a try soon enough :)
    @Geoff Jumping in the deeper end of language-learning first is certainly a greater challenge, but I have no doubts that you’ll succeed!! :) Thanks for sharing your story! “edu” ;)
    @Shane Certainly not the ideal situation, but even living with Americans, it’s quite defeatist to say that it’s “nearly impossible” to avoid English. You should try to branch out on your circle of friends rather than hang out with them. I’m sure they’re nice and all, but you didn’t come all this way to be with Americans…
    I know it’ll be weird, but you should all try to speak French together; surely they should want to do this too and it wouldn’t be you being “stubborn and rude”. I’d find it stubborn and rude if someone forced me to speak English with them all the time when they know I don’t want to… At least up to a certain time – make it a game and say that after say 8pm you can relax (if you must) and speak English.
    Lack of time is not unique to your situation; you have to make time ;) I wrote an article about time. You may be eating, watching TV, “chilling out” after homework etc. with your roommates, and this is frankly time being wasted that you could be spending with French people. It’s hard work but you have to look at your week and analyse where all the time is going and make some sacrifices.
    Good luck!

    • Shane

      Hey Benny! thanks alot! I appreciate your advice! this helps!

  • kendrah

    If only we all had the funds to go stay in foreign countries for months at a time. we'd all be polyglots. :p

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    No you wouldn't. Funds don't make any difference; I know rich people who still don't travel because they invent other excuses (no time, job, etc.). I already linked to an article in this post that explains how funds don't hold you back from travel. People use money as an excuse; if you learned to spend less or change your lifestyle then you can travel – I don't have any “funds” that let me travel. Right now, I have a grand total of €150 in the bank…

    If you want to speak a language very quickly, sorry but you have to go to the country! I don't think that's such a hard thing to accept. You actually save money in a lot of situations. Going to India for 2 months this year was the best financial decision I ever made for example; since English speaking countries tend to be so expensive, the south of Europe, like Spain and Italy and Eastern Europe are so much cheaper in comparison. Travel has nothing to do with being rich, it's about opening your mind to another mentality that allows you to travel.

    However you can reach a good level quickly without travelling. I'm writing a post about it now, so stay tuned ;)

  • chris

    Everyone says Russian is one of the most difficult languages…maybe try that and show us how it's done!! Also your background in Czech could help:)

  • http://learningdutchwithgeertmak.blogspot.com/ P Laurence

    You're right about children. Adults are always afraid. Kids just don't care. I was an ESL teacher until funding went away. Have you ever tried to learn a language where you had no contact with its speakers? I'm doing that now: http://learningdutchwithgeertmak.blogspot.com Please comment.

  • Dan

    Love your website and your attitude.

    Some comments from me on foreign language learning:

    I learned to speak fluent Japanese without every living in Japan by first studying very hard and then getting a job at a Japanese tourist company (I was living in Hawaii at the time, kind of a big advantage!)

    Every day at work I spoke Japanese with co-workers and our customers. I found out what peolpe ACTUALLY say in certain situations, instead of what the text books tell you to say. Text books and classroom instruction are always way too formal, especially in Japanese. If you study Japanese through a text book or in a classroom, you'll be ready to have a conversation with the Emperor, but be totally unprepared to have a conversation with a street vendor.

    So I've been studying off an on for about 20 years. I'm trying to improve my vocabulary right now. Plus I started about a year ago studying Spanish again after 3 years in high school (in which I retained about 3 phrases and 20 words of vocabulary)

    So what I've learned is:

    DOs:

    1. Find study methods that you enjoy. If it's boring, you won't study. Do you enjoy reading grammar textbooks? I sure don't, so I gave up on those. In fact I realized that with only a short period of time each day to study I'm concentrating on using mostly audio-conversation techniques.
    2. Find native speakers to practice with. In Hawaii I learned a lot through language exchange partners. I helped them with English for a 1/2 hour, they helped me with Japanese for 1/2 hour. With lots of foreign students at American universities these days it's pretty easy to find native speakers to practice with.
    3. Use a multi-media approach: Watch TV shows and movies, read newspapers, listen to internet podcasts and news broadcasts, etc.
    4. Study every day, if even for a few minutes.
    5. When speaking with native-speaking friends, practice partners, and tutors, etc. force yourself to speak in the foreign language. It will be EXTREMELY frustrating for quite a while, especially for someone like me who likes to talk a lot, but it conditions you to think in the foreign language.
    6. Check the website meetup.com and find a foreign-language group that meets in your area.

    DON'Ts:

    1. Take a class at a school. You'll have 20 students in the class and never learn to speak.
    2. Simply go to a foreign country and expect to pick up the language by osmosis. You have to actually speak it.
    3. Buy CDs with mostly native-language content, i.e. if you're a native English speaker studying Spanish don't buy CDs that instruct in English with very little Spanish content. You can already understand English, right?
    4. Use flashcards or try to learn vocabulary by reading lists of words. Very boring. You'll give up. You'll remember vocabulary much better if you learn it in context.
    5. Don't believe Americans who tell you things like “Japanese is impossible to learn!” or “Wow, you speak Chinese, you must be a genius!” They're really backhanded compliments, and they're just saying that they're too lazy to learn a foreign language. If you have a good attitude and enjoy learning, it won't be very hard to learn any foreign language.

    Some great resources that I've “discovered:”

    The Assimil language series

    The Berlitz Self-Teacher series

    The “Subliminal Japanese” and “Subliminal Spanish” methods for learning vocabulary. Unfortunately only available in those two languages, although lucky for me.

    The “Pronounce it Perfectly in….” series.

    Ganbatte!

  • Dan

    Oh, and I wanted to add a funny story.

    At first when I read your (Benny) claim that you were mistaken for a native speaker, I thought, “That's BS!, won't ever happen!”

    But I just remembered when I was working in the Japanese tourist industry and one day I had a client in front of me, and I was on the phone with a vendor.

    I was asking the client questions in Japanese, and then translating to the vendor, i.e. having a back and forth conversation.

    The vendor says to me, “Wow, your English is really good!” I laughed so hard…I grew up in Upstate NY, so I hope that my English is good!

  • http://talksushi.com/ Nick Kemp

    I can speak fluent Japanese and now want to learn French as fast as possible. I will be going to France in June, so I have about 3 months. I think a lot of learning a language has to do with confidence and a willingness to make a lot of mistakes in order to learn.

    I will not speak a word of English after 5:00pm everyday (the time I study) until I can converse in French.

  • http://www.MyBeautifulAdventures.com/ GlobalButterfly

    Couldn't agree more on not speaking English! When my gf and I would get together to practice Spanish we refused to answer each other if we spoke any English. At 1st it was almost painful, but as the weeks went on our Spanish improved MUCH better than anyone else in the class.

  • petra

    How do I start with Russian – the alphabet looks confusing before I begin.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot
  • Loserbaby

    I’d like to see you try this with one of the Scandinavian languages, e.g, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic (especially Icelandic). I know Finnish isn’t a Scandinavian language but I’d like to see you try that.

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

    Thanks a million for your comment :)
    I think the way you use audio books is great! Especially since it’s in preparation for real conversations. Make sure to speak regularly – ideally EVERY DAY! ;)

  • http://priyank.com/travel/ Priyank

    Hi Benny,
    Now I love your website since I am finding myself doing something on similar lines although not quite achieving fluency. So far I speak 4 Indian languages and manageable amounts of Japanese, German, Russian and Spanish. Fluent English ofcourse. The trouble arises in recalling words quickly after leaving the native country. I seem to forget a lot of the language… :-(

    So is Hungarian the first language outside the Germanic or Romance language groups you are learning?
    cheers,
    Priyank

  • http://drusillah.wordpress.com/ Drusillah

    Hi Benny,

    I discovered your blog yesterday and I like it a lot. :) I think I will benefit from your articles.

    One thing keeps me skeptical though… You talk about Czech, which yes, has the difficult pronounciation. (Katarzyna for example?! Ugh) What about Finnish?! Which has 16 cases if I remember correctly. How in the world can I learn them. There are so many different endings, depending on what position you have to a certain object. Plus, I am not good with grammar. (or these things that need to be learned by heart).

    To me it seems that it would be impossible to learn to have a conversation in Finnish in just 3 months. Unless I stay endless day and night, which I think nobody has time for that. :P

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Drusillah, I don’t think you’ve had a chance to really look through my articles. Please read this one immediately: http://www.fluentin3months.com/hungarian-is-easy/
      Hungarian is in the same language family as Finnish, but has MORE cases. Despite this I learned enough in TWO months to get interviewed in the language (and you can watch the video). This link explains how the grammar, which is extremely similar in Finnish, can be looked at as being very easy.
      Please stop looking for excuses to make your task hard!! If you are so devoted to believing something is impossible then that attitude will make it so, even if it really is easy for you when done differently.
      Changing your mentality can be done almost instantly, and doesn’t require sleepless nights studying!

      • http://twitter.com/druchan Fotini Boyiatzi

        Ok, thank you for the link, I’ll read it now :) I will try to change my mentality, you are right that the attitude affects it greatly!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Merci Marjorie :) Ouais, je fais une nouvelle vidéo avec le langage des signes ce week-end :D

  • http://www.genvejen.dk/ Genvejen

    So far so good. My Thai is improving, I can say more and more and I’m also starting to read/write things here and there.

    But I have one problem: I find it extremely difficult to understand what the natives are saying.

    As soon as it gets more advanced than what do you want to eat, I’m completely lost (despite being able to talk about a lot more than that myself)

    Any ideas on how to get better at understanding the natives when they speak?

    I have really tried to listen to what they were saying for the last 2 weeks, but I don’t feel there have been any improvement so far :(

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Just 2 weeks and you’re losing hope?? :)
      In this case if you try listening to some audio training course, or (ideally) have a one-on-one speaking session with someone willing to help you, they will speak very slowly and you’ll be able to distinguish the words a lot easier. This is not a good long term solution, but it’s a great stepping stone to understanding people naturally talking between one another.

      • http://www.genvejen.dk/ Genvejen

        Thanks a lot. And don’t worry, I still have hope (actually it’s more like expectations, that I expect that my Thai will be a lot better when I fly home from Bangkok)

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  • Randy Walles

    When I’m going somewhere I usually put my own synonyms list for every main wods I will use. Sometimes I spoke with people with a tourist dictionary but they didn’t understand me. The main thing was the words were too official…

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504892380 Randy Jaden Vidales

    This is inspiring, very. I’m a 21 year old University student born in Mexico and currently going to school in Kansas, and I find it shameful that I have trouble speaking my own native language. My parents taught me English first (more like I taught myself) during my infant years, and all throughout my teen years, my Spanish was very broken that it was hard conversing with my own cousins, uncles, etc., without having my mother or sister there translating. But everyone in my family has long accepted that English is my primary langauge, and have even offered to help me with my Spanish.

    I began teaching myself the language a while back, using various methods (speaking in Spanish whenever I can, watching soaps, etc) and I’m at the intermediate level: I can converse in Spanish in a decent fashion, but my vocabulary is still quite sketchy at times, and I often get too nervous to speak that I have backed out from it a couple of times.

    I can read Spanish quite well, though, but I am  horrible at writing. I have taken up Brazilian Portuguese in the past few months, and so far trying to learn it has helped my Spanish in some ways. I apologize for the pointless story, but your article is inspiring, if only I had read this sooner in my lifetime. I will still continue to try and improve my Spanish. If you have any other advice or words of encouragement, I’d appreciate it, but otherwise, thank you for this article.

  • http://www.thehappinessmanual.com/ Laurence Mason

    I still come back to this article after months of first reading it, just because it’s so inspiring. 

    At my site http://www.thehappinessmanual.com/ I did announce to the world my intention to learn Spanish. And really the most important things I have learned is, not that it can be quick, or easy to learn, but more simply just that it is possible. And that is not a mindset I have ever had until reading your blog. Muchas Gracias Benny!

  • http://twitter.com/TheTwilgrim The Twilgrim

    I really love your blog. And your language hacking tips it was very helpful when preparing for my Personal Pilgrimage of Trust as The Twilgrim

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    Follow me @ Twitter | Friend me @ Facebook | Like me @ Facebook

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

    España = mucho calor (2) ;)

  • Pat

    Hi Benny,

    I just came across the article in the Irish Times this morning and was amazed by your story.  I’ve always wanted to learn a second, and maybe even a third language but gave up all to easily – probably because I too bought into the myths surrounding language mentioned in the IT.

    You’ve inspired me to start again and I won’t stop until I finally achieve my goal. 

    Best of luck with the Mandarin challenge Benny!

    Pat

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

      Glad to hear it! Keep up the good work!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000026873758 Brian Ó Dálaigh

    Hi Benny,

    I have to say I found your blog very interesting. Unlike yourself I find I need to get stuck into a language’s grammar as quick as possible. Vocabulary, for me, comes quite easily, particularly when it comes to Indo-European languages. I see patterns across all these languages – root words which have cognates in other languages – and when you understand the patterns and logic behind the vocabulary you can quickly build up a massive lexicon. For someone like me, the vocabulary is never a problem. However, I understand that not everyone is going to care what the preterite is, or what an epenthetic vowel is, or even what agglutination is, and so I commend you on your work.

    By the way, my name is also Benny (short for Bernard, not Brendan). I am also vegeterian, from Meath but living in Sligo, and a polyglot, with fluent Irish, English, Russian and Manx Gaelic to my name, as well as French, Spanish, Ukrainian, Slovak, Bulgarian, Belarusian, Finnish, Livonian, Cornish, and Scots Gaelic to varying degrees.

    Anyway, keep up the good work. :)

  • The Brown Sugar Life

    Where do I start?

  • gűlő

    You should try hungarian, I speak myself also several languages and I find it far the most dfficult and beautiful! :)

  • @AEScorz

    Hi Benny. Someone told me about your website, so now I decide to learn English as much as I can because I hate to spend too many hours trying to write few paragraphs in English. I would like to travel to a country in which I could be inmersed in the language. But I want to know: which is the first step that I have to give to start learning? Should I have to start reading completely the “Language hacking guide”?

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

      The language hacking guide is for people who want to know my approach more intimately. Buying it is NOT the first step to start learning a language!! Your problems can’t be solved by throwing money at them ;)

      Read through the site and you’ll find plenty of tips. The guide is just for people who want to save time. Start with my TEDx talk.

  • AlanChatfield

    Hey Benny,

    I just jumped over here after watching your interview with Corbett at EE. I like and 100% agree with your idea to not speak English. This is precisely what led me to be very fluent in French very very quickly – because my wife is French, we spend a lot of time there and her parents speak no English anyway (which really helps). So I really believe in exposure, immersing yourself (even though it can be tough – I have to admit after full on days with dinner parties etc and lots of conversation going on I could get headaches from trying to keep up) – it’s worth it though and it works well.

    I would now like to learn Spanish the only problem is that I have no plans to go to Spanish speaking countries so intend to just do so by trying to find some Spanish ‘buddies’ locally here in the UK who want to learn too, reading Spanish bookas and watching Spanish movies, which is the next best thing (although a very poor second) to actually being in a Spanish speaking country.

    I’m assuming your blog is all about travel learning and being in those countries as part of the model but if not and you have any tips for learning a language when not in the native speaking country, then  I’d love to get your opinion. Otherwise, great blog & congrats on all of your success with it!!

    take care & best wishes,
    Alan

  • http://www.dennisnapoli.com/ speech therapy Orange County

    Being able to speak a foreign language in just two months is really an achievement! I do believe that self-discipline is one of the most important things that one should practice when learning a foreign language and this greatly applies by trying not to talk in English. Anyway, practice makes perfect so, keep practicing orally. It will also be a great advantage if you have someone, a friend maybe, who can speak the language fluently.

  • Lisa

    Thanks Benny! I’ve been so intimidated by other languages. My husband is a native Spanish speaker and our children are attending an immersion school, but I keep finding myself frustrated with the mastery of it myself. It’s true, sometimes the most simple advice is the best advice…”Just start speaking Spanish.” Thank you for the encouragement. I found your site while I was trying to find the English vocabulary to describe why it was I wanted to become a TESOL teacher. I know I have the compassion and the patience because I know how frustrating and isolating it can be when you can’t communicated effectively. This is true between people who speak the SAME language, right? Your simple resolve to just speak it really resonates with me. Blessings on your journey…and on mine too!

  • Umar

    I disagree with not learning grammar at the start, unless you travel, or have a bi-lingual partner at your finger tips it’s almost impossible to practice speaking the language without paying or going well out of your way. Before I went and studied Arabic I immersed my self in the grammar, knowing how to read quite well before going to the Middle East. The result? being able to pick up the language and easily pick up on most speech without to much hardship in a few months. I had witnessed the opposite with friends I made who came with 0 Arabic found it hard to even conjugate different forms of verbs after 1year of studies and still had a shallow fluency.

    If you want you just want to speak a language, then perhaps just do what this blog has said, however I believe the written culture of a people is just as, if not more important than just knowing the tongue of a culture.

  • Colin Perschbacher

    Working in Cancun, Mx for the month and have already begun almost full submersion. I am requesting all my compañeros to help me correct my sentences as well as speak to me only in Spanish. That alone has helped me learn more spanish in the last week than I ahve ever known in my life. Obviously, I am not any where near fluent but I can atleast tell me people ‘Estoy aprendiendo español’ (I am learning spanish) and ask them if they understand English. It has helped me communicate easier in difficult situations. I am challenging my self to see just how far I can get in exactly one month (remainder of my internship). Great blog, Ill be on here daily as well as trying your material soon. Keep this up!!!

  • berna ryan

    Benny, Ive told many times that Macedonian is the mother of many languages, like Russian etc. So thats the one I’m going to tackle first with your website help. I know, I’m supposed to be outside right now doing interesting things, but I just found your site and I love it. You sound like an interesting lad. Polishing up on my Irish first tho.

    • Vladimir Georgiev

      луно, луно, земьо македонска

  • girdyerloins

    Hello, Benny, this is terrific…I speak five languages, three of which I learned as a child. I’m now 60, tackling Mandarin and sometimes I think I have rocks in my head, but the other day I realized, conversing with a pal, that I understand far more than I thought. Last winter, I spent almost six months in Northern China with a friend and plan to return. I want to get to the point I can understand jokes and humor. It’s a phenomenal language and, lucky for me, has some similarities to Spanish.
    A Vietnamese friend has a 12 year-old daughter with a demonstrated knack for picking up language and I volunteered to help her learn Spanish, but In conversation with her today suggested ANY language, as she seems to be the sort who views language as a tool AND a toy. Great attitude, in my opinion.
    Keep up the good work, I’ll pass your site on to any and all who might be able to benefit.
    James

  • Andy11

    Hi!, I’m a Colombian guy who wants to learn Portuguese while increasing my level of spoken english, Could you please give me some advice for learning without confunsing, I have already paid a Portuguese course but I don’t want to stop learning english. How can I do it at the same time? and also, Could you please give me any advice for practicing spoken english as well?…I cannot travel right now, so, it would really helpful to hear your suggestions!

  • http://tippingrevolution.com/ Kether1985

    So to make sure I understand. When you say do not speak English, I should avoid doing so until I learn how to say what I want in Japanese (or any other language)? Since I’m learning with my Wife would it be wise to stop what we are doing if we can not figure out how to say something and do a session finding out what it would be before we continue? Seems very lonely bro, goddamn!

    • http://fluentin3months.com/ Brandon Rivington

      No, he’s not saying don’t speak English. He’s saying don’t speak unnecessary English. When he was working as an English teacher in Spain, he still spoke English despite vowing to only speak Spanish for the month.

      So in your case, speak English to your wife, speak English to your anglophone family, speak English when English is necessary. However, do your absolute best to only speak Japanese when you are speaking with a native Japanese speaker, no matter what their level of English is. At first, it’s very difficult and frustrating. But very quickly your level in the language will improve greatly and you will be speaking more and more easily.

      During this process you’ll meet many new people who will want to help you with your Japanese and will want to continue encouraging your throughout your language learning journey. Considering 125 million people speak Japanese as a first language, I have a feeling it’ll be anything but lonely bro.

      Happy Learning!

      –Brandon, the Fi3M Language Encourager

  • somu

    Learn TAMIL and prove me that you can speak it within 3 months and then i will accept your post

    • http://fluentin3months.com/ Brandon Rivington

      As Benny’s claimed before, he doesn’t go around learning “hard” languages as some sort of challenge or to prove a point. He picks cultures or countries that he wants to visit and learns the language accordingly. Although he has visited India, it was before he had started this blog. Perhaps he’ll go back in the future, though.

      I’m sorry you don’t “accept” his post. However, I hope you’ll reconsider after seeing that he’s successfully learnt many languages such as Chinese, Japanese, American Sign Language, and Irish (not to mention quite a few others) to a high level relative to the two- or three-month periods during which he learned them.

      Thanks for the comment!
      –Brandon, the Fi3M Language Encourager

  • Robbie Bruce

    I have lived in Germany for four and a half years, and yet can only speak the usual tourist phrases. This is because my partner who is German, speaks perfect English and she always talks to me in that. I admit I am lazy having my own personal interpreter, but it is annoying because most of the time she is speaking with her friends and family, I have to sit there looking out of the window, because I cannot understand anything. The other problem is that I will ask what something means, such as a phrase or wording on a t.v. advert, and she will tell me, but the next day, it has gone right out of my head. Unfortunately I have a very poor memory, which obviously makes it impossible to learn the language. I envy those people who have good memories and can retain information, but again I suppose my memory retention difficulties are down to my age, as I’m in my sixties. Oh to be young again.

    • http://fluentin3months.com/ Brandon Rivington

      Hey there Robbie!

      Just the other day, a woman from Texas told me that she had a 25-minute conversation with a native Spanish speaker on iTalki entirely in Spanish. She’s been learning the language in the US for six months and she just recently celebrated her 78th birthday. It wasn’t that she was any different than you or I. She has no language gene nor super memory. She’s just a hard-working, resourceful individual.

      Learning a language is tough, there’s no doubting that. But you can use the huge amount of resources on the internet to help you learn. If you haven’t already read Benny’s posts about Spaced Repetition Systems, then you should check it out! In a nutshell, they are awesome programs that help you remember words much better than conventional flashcards.

      When Benny first moved to Spain, he spent six months there and could hardly speak the language. He made one life change, though, that changed his life and led to the blog you read today. That life change was that he spoke no unnecessary English at all. When he was teaching English, sure, he’d speak it. But other than that, he spoke virtually no English. At first, this was extremely difficult because he didn’t know the language. But within the month, he was speaking decent, coherent Spanish. You can achieve the same success if you just sit back and put your mind to learning German. Don’t speak to your partner in English. Don’t speak to shopkeepers in English. Just speak German. This will be very hard at first. You may very well want to give up. But I promise you that if you just push through the hard times and use the 81 million resources you have living in the country, you’ll be speaking fluent German by year’s end.

      Happy learning!

      –Brandon, the Fi3M Language Encourager

  • Noah

    well what if your not in that country but your planning on going (in my case estonian)