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Why impatience is a virtue and taking your time is wasting your time

| 38 comments | Category: learning languages

It’s about time I discuss one of the biggest questions I get asked by readers: What’s the rush?

Not just about my time-restricted objective, but in general – why try to learn a language so fast? Shouldn’t you take a few years to absorb it?

I’ve discussed before that my 3-month deadline is not some promise or claim, but it’s a target I aim for based on my lifestyle. I’m a traveller and tourist visa limits tend to be 3 months long. So this basically explains why, and if I have to leave the country anyway then no amount of you saying “take your time” makes much sense to me; I might as well speak the language as best as I possibly can given my time limit, as that will allow me to interact way more with the locals and have some amazing experiences with them that would have otherwise been impossible.

It’s like a foodie telling you to take your time eating your dinner even though the restaurant is about to close and you’ll get kicked out. You may as well gobble up everything since it’s good food that you’ve paid for. The doors are going to close and no amount of arguments that “savouring every bite is so wonderful” actually matters. Eat more so you’ll be less hungry. Simple as that.

But there’s another reason that I want to get into today, which is another huge motivator for me having such tight deadlines even in cases where visas are not an issue (such as when I’m in EU countries, and technically if I dealt with a bit of bureaucracy I could get around the visa issue in some countries easily enough), and that’s quite simply: I am not interested in wasting time. I’m impatient, and I see that as a good thing because it ultimately leads to much better results.

What can you do right now is what matters, not “some day”

Intentionally slow learners are obsessed with the long term and can’t do jack in the short term because of it. I prioritise the short term, and all benefits I reap will also help me in the long term (as long as I keep up the language, which I will be doing in Chinese).

A long-sighted learner is only interested in one thing: they want to be equivalent to a native. Three months or any other short period where you set yourself an ambitious goal is clearly not enough to reach native level, so they have this idea that anything else is not good enough.

Well this attitude is not good enough. It’s wasteful and impractical.

It seems logical – of course we all ultimately want to speak the target language excellently, so it makes sense that you should hold yourself to their standards in your studies. It makes sense… but it’s wrong.

You see, you absolutely can NOT just learn learn learn, and expect that one day in 5 or 10 or 20 or whatever years, your brain will suddenly go “bing” and you’ll magically be as-good-as-a-native. This is never going to happen.

I want to know what can I do right now to make sure I am speaking better right now. This approach is so powerful and has worked so incredibly well for me and many other learners, that it drives me crazy when people get their minds clouded with long-term issues that don’t matter to them in the here and now.

My impatience to solve the biggest issues I have right now, mean that I’ll get somewhere quicker. And my awareness of how quickly I can get somewhere very useful means that I will indeed want to do this in months and not years.

My stepping stone approach: do something tangible and do it better than you did last time

I’ve been finding a lot of the comments on my videos over the last few weeks incredibly annoying, mostly because when unnecessarily critical, they are coming from perfectionists who don’t have a clue what I’m actually trying to demonstrate. Since I’m hoping to speak Mandarin very well in early April, they mistakenly think that every video I upload is some kind of preview of the final product or “mini fluency”.

It’s nothing of the sort – I don’t care about fluent behaviours right now because I’m well aware that it’s outside of my current capabilities. There are much more important things for me to worry about. Every single week I ask myself “What are the biggest problems I have this week that I can solve?” and I get busy.

To illustrate this, here has been my vague stepping stone plan over the first weeks of this mission:

By week 2 point: First be able to say key pleasantries, then be able to say longer sentences, then be able to say those sentences with good pronunciation. At first reading a sentence from the phrasebook or smartphone is fine to say it a few seconds later. Next work on remembering all of this so you can say any of it at a moment’s notice.

Is this debating politics? No – it’s completing actionable steps that are totally within my reach having started the language, and my absolute priority since that will allow me to order food and ask for help. Learning some sentences off by heart is a small enough feat that I can take it on as my “mini goal” and achieve it and put it into use immediately.

By being impatient enough to want results right now, I got results. Perhaps it’s not so impressive – and that’s kind of the point. When you break any “impressive” feat down into the steps it took to get there, you’ll see they were always things that any mere mortal could do, although sometimes it takes quite a lot of sacrifices.

So I uploaded the video to show that I could recite off lots of Mandarin from memory. It was mostly understandable but with many problems. Some people told me what the problems were (too many pauses between syllables and speaking too slowly), and some people complained that I’ll never speak Mandarin if all I care about is reciting some learned off lines – even if this newfound skill is actually getting me tangible things and helping me interact superficially with people. I don’t care if you think I won’t be fluent in April. I’ll worry about that in April when I’m tweaking my language level then. In my early weeks I need to remember to say things and I achieved that.

The priority should never be the long term. If I am in the here and now and fixing my biggest priorities for communication then I am going in the right direction, and doing so quickly.

By month 1 point: So over the next two weeks I worked on my next biggest issues – I fixed the main problems I was having in terms of being understood and started clumping words together as units, and speaking a little faster, while sacrificing some tones in the process. I’ve also increased my store of vocabulary and practised way more on natives.

I was at the stage where if I knew the words I could spontaneously form my own sentences and they would be fully understood by natives. It’s not reading a newspaper or watching the news or other fluent-y things, but it’s a very important stepping stone. My sentences still have lots of problems with wrong word order and such but I’m almost always understood by human beings.

If I sit a test I might fail it – but I’m doing what I need to do in the real world. Why would tests devised for people in classrooms matter more than results in the real world?

So I uploaded the video to show that I can interact with natives in a way that they’ll understand me. My wrong utterances were corrected just before I said them on camera – a big step forward compared to learning them off for an entire week that I needed for the first video. But actually, the point of the video was to share a cultural nugget – I thought I could use the language to share something useful, but that’s probably not so true because many people ignored the content and focused on the fact that I’m not conversing with the natives or showing that I understand all of their replies.

I’d been learning the language a month – I wasn’t aware that I had to perform miracles! Everything I’m talking about and blogging about is quite achievable when you break it down. But there are big priorities for my first month and comfortably conversing spontaneously about a complex topic was not one of them.

Putting any kind of long-term goal standards (even when that goal is just a month or two away) on what you can do right now is a mistake.

By the mid-point:

Quite happy with my ability to say things fine if I know the words, my biggest issue was of course not understanding replies back to me, so it was not possible to have a conversation. I knew lots of words, but hearing them all come out at lightning speed from natives in succession just wasn’t something I could handle.

But I don’t have time to whine about such things, so I (reluctantly) set up 3-hours of spoken time in Mandarin per day. I wasn’t “ready” for this, but I had solved most of my previous main issues and needed to nip this in the bud. The first class was incredibly exhausting – I needed every sentence repeated many many times and conversing was slow.

The next time was a little easier, since I was hearing a few patterns I had already recognised before. And the next time slightly easier. Never any huge jumps or light-bulbs going off that I’m suddenly speaking the language where I wasn’t 5 minutes before, but each time I am doing better.

And now this week I can have more varied conversations, whereas I could only talk specifically about me / my travels / my work in the first meet-ups. Lots of listening means that I’m slowly able to distinguish the words and piece together meanings. My first teacher spoke incredibly and unnaturally slowly to allow me to try to understand, but now I just need someone to speak a little slowly, and have been able to express myself even with natives that are not at all used to speaking to foreigners, with relatively long conversations.

It ain’t pretty – I still hesitate a lot, and my sentence structure leaves a lot to be desired, and there’s still plenty of words left to learn, but I can talk to people – I can interact with them, within many limitations that I’m well aware of.

Next week I’ll share a video of me speaking spontaneously. It’ll be riddled with problems, and very far from a natural comfortable conversation, but it will be a stepping stone.

And that’s the thing – I’ve gotten this far with stepping stones and I will indeed get much further with even more stepping stones.

Soon I’ll have enough words to discuss way more varied topics, while I’ll also be working on sentence structure so my strange sentences don’t slow the conversation down too much, then shortly after I’ll improve it further so there is no slowing down needed at all, and I can understand more complex statements from the other person. I’ll continue the ridiculously large amount of practice (about 20 hours a week one-on-one with people – it’s like a half-time job!!) so that I’ll get used to people speaking enough to let them speed up, and get used to me speaking, while constantly getting feedback so that I know what to improve.

There is plenty of work left, but everything is a problem that I can solve once I am focused enough to prioritise what needs to be solved NOW. And this is the key of it all. All of these minor things add up to bringing me closer and closer to speaking Mandarin very well – not some day, but within a matter of weeks.

I’m not interested in trying to act like a fluent speaker right now. I am pushing myself that little bit more outside of my comfort zone every day. It’s all baby-steps, but I’m doing it with an intensity that leads to very fast improvement.

The slow traditional academic approach is for impractical perfectionists

I’ve run into a few perfectionists/preferred long-term learners in recent weeks – none of them natives of Mandarin, although their level is excellent after many years of working on the language, and it’s been so interesting to see how conversation flows differ.

I ask a native a question with bad Mandarin, it’s understood (occasionally after some rephrasing) and I get an answer. Language successfully used to communicate.

I ask a perfectionist a question with bad Mandarin and the wrong tone on my 5th syllable is pointed out, while I’m reminded that I should put the time component of the sentence before the verb and not after it.  Language successfully analysed at high standards not important to me right now. My actual question is ignored until I say the sentence perfectly.

This really conveys my frustration with letting perfectionists take control of language learning. At the time, my biggest priority wasn’t tweaking my tones to be precisely right or having the right word order – all of these are of course very important, but if I’m understood then they are low priority. Tidying my language up is something that is more appropriate for my final run towards fluent level. Right now I have bigger fish to fry, like vocabulary issues and distinguishing words when natives say them quickly. Problems here will hinder communication way more than a wrong word order which any native can understand anyway after thinking for a second.

So when you say that I’m impatient like it’s a bad thing, I say that all this long-term nonsense is (ironically) incredibly short sighted.

I have a triage system set up where I try to figure out what should I fix right now to improve my ability to communicate. Ultimately the collection of all of these little things leads to fluency – I will indeed be tweaking my word order in the next couple of weeks, and then my pronunciation much later, but I need other problems solved right now.

My impatience is actually a very selective prioritisation – I want to speak better now, and am doing what it takes to do that. Fixing low-priority errors is wasting my time until I’m at the stage where those are the “biggest” problems I need to fix, which will be a great time indeed as I’ll be quite comfortable in the language by then.

Taking your time is for people who are not interested in results

The impatience I’m talking about isn’t the fact that it’s “just 3 months” – it’s that I want results right now, and long-term learners (with more patience from one point of view, and less of a practical way of using the language from another) prefer to use their language in real-life situations some day, when they can mimic the natives much better.

As I wrote in the last post, I find language learning boring, and yet I love speaking foreign languages. This may sound like an oxymoron to some of you, but to me it explains one of the biggest misunderstandings in the entire world of language learning, and that’s the misconception that the rest of us should learn languages in the same way that those of you designing the courses would learn them.

Almost every single person presenting a language to you in a learning environment has got perhaps a degree in linguistics or instead a lifelong background in language learning, and generally a passion for languages that they’ve had their entire life. So yes, they’re an expert, but they don’t know what’s going on in your head. They can’t possibly understand because to them the language learning process is so beautiful – “Why would you possibly not want to do grammar exercises and take your time?” they think to themselves.

It’s something many ESL teachers without a background in languages have picked up on by presenting a language through games and real communication.

Perhaps the fact that I boldly say that I find studying languages boring is insulting to those passionate about languages, but I am equally annoyed by such people not using the language for true communication, as quickly and as often as possible.

The “result” that a take-your-time approach is looking for is “speak like a native some day”, or more likely “pass this exam”, “prove that you know x words” and other such nonsense that has little value in the real world. When I walk up to a native, I don’t want to show them a certificate, I want to confidently speak to them in their language.

The only way I see this as being realistically possible is by getting there via stepping stones of having used the language to communicate in simpler situations, while progressively making them more complicated. Every day I am expanding on the possible situations I can handle, both linguistically and socially.

And this is because I am impatient enough to want results right now.

If you enjoy the process of learning a language over a long time, then that’s great – but me and many many other people don’t. We want to speak them, and we want to speak them now. “Good enough” is a good place to start and work from. The high standards that you want in the long term don’t concern us and are of very little actual importance in the short term, nor do the natives we speak to mind at all.

The world needs more impatient language learners. Who’s with me?

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  • http://karol.gajda.com/ Karol

    “As I wrote in the last post, I find language learning boring, and yet I love speaking foreign languages. ”

    Profound. It’s useful not just for language learning, but so many other activities. Learning an instrument, for example. “I find learning the guitar boring, but I love playing songs.”

    Anyway, taking time has a time (ha!) and place. It obviously has no place in your language learning. I think the biggest point you made is the visa restriction. If you’re going to be placed into a restricted time frame anyway it’d be silly not to make the most of it. I have a feeling most language learners do not travel to new countries and, therefore, don’t realize this restriction. Even if they know it’s a restriction it’s not the same as being in the country and *feeling* that restriction. Hard deadlines are motivating beyond what some may realize.

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

      Definitely. Even when not travelling, I’ll focus on short-term goals as the motivation to achieve something will be much greater that way. ;)

  • C Grcevich

    Eloquently spoken. :) Ignore the naysayers that don’t know what you’re doing; it’s not worth your energy. Personally, I’m always in awe of how much you accomplish in such short periods of time, and admire your tenacity! I get frustrated so easily, and usually give up because of it eventually, but I won’t give up in my language learning ventures as long as I keep reading your blogs for inspiration. It’s entirely fascinating and makes me realize that language learning is a very possible thing for me! Congrats on all your successes, big and small. :)

  • WC

    I think instead of being upset with all the people who are throwing fits in their comments, you should be proud.  These are people who can’t deal with the thought that what they ‘know’ about Chinese might be wrong!  They’re doing their best to shout you down because they don’t want to be wrong.  They aren’t trying to help you, even though they think that’s what they’re doing.  They’re just trying to keep their world-view intact.  But you’re crusading ahead and proving that the world is just a little smaller place after all.

    As for the perfectionists, their goals are simply different than yours, and most people can’t empathize with others enough to accept that they think and feel differently.  It doesn’t surprise me that they try to force their own priorities on you.  They probably even think they’re doing you a favor.

    And finally, I’ve noticed that most people who are studying a language have absolutely no desire to actually use it.  It’s some kind of trophy to hang on the wall.  The wife of a friend of mine minored (I think) in Japanese.  When she started talking to a friend of a friend, her accent was *horrible*.  I had studied Japanese far less time, and certainly spent far fewer hours ‘studying’, but my accent was markedly better.  And I wasn’t even following your program!  My goal was actually to read the language, and understand it spoken.  Output was not a goal for me…  At least, not then.

    • Spencer

      Totally agree with you WC.  Also keep up the videos Benny cause I love them!  People who make negative comments clearly don’t know the reason why you post these videos.  For me, it gives a real understanding of where you are and also ideas to try out in my own journey.  Keep up the good work!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=-0PrTkE5jG4

  • Reese

    I totally agree.  This is the way I’ve been working on learning languages outside of a standard course, and I actually find it much easier to learn that way: I don’t focus on all the components of grammar or needless vocab they like to teach you first for some reason, like colors and such.  I hold off on the hardest things while slowly progressing to them by expanding my vocab. 

    Verb conjugations and all that I don’t even worry about until later: what’s the point if I know how to say one action in 10 different ways when I could learn to say 10 different actions in one way, but then be understood anyway?  I really enjoy your postings, and I find much truth and practicality in them. 

     All the best,
    Reese :)

  • http://www.soultravelers3.com soultravelers3

    Good points as always Benny!

    Still, I think perhaps, (at least for us as our main concern is raising a fluent-as-a-native trilingual/triliterate in Mandarin/Spanish/English as monolingual parents) there are times that slower learning and deep repeated immersion has value along with fast, impatient learning.

    Our child was fluent in Spanish ( since we started in the womb) when we arrived in Spain when she was 5, but spending time there and going to a school there for extended stays for these last 6 years has made a HUGE difference.

    We find that Mandarin is greatly enhanced by reading and writing in it and that takes time and lots of practice.

    Yes, we got a lot out of just 3 months of attending a local school in Spain where no one spoke English and my child did “dictado” daily etc, but we found we got a LOT more out of returning to that school every winter for four years.

    For our child, it’s very helpful not only to be in and speak in an all Spanish or Mandarin environment or school, but to learn the language…reading, writing, vocab, grammar..etc just  like the local school kids do ( repeated years).  It gives her an amazing foundation that is much deeper than most get and wonderful cultural immersion as well. AND it also allows us to travel as we do this and immerse deeply in more than one language.

    There are just always different levels of fluency and that also changes by how much the speaker is using the language. Thus impatience helps on one level, but also patience can also be a virtue in fluent language learning in my humble opinion and experience.

    Really enjoying reading about your Mandarin experiences!! ;)

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

      Long term maintenance is very important and I’ve never negated that. But the most important part of learning will be the first part, especially when learning intensively.

  • Randybvain

    When I read your articles I am always in awe. I don’t know anybody who has such incredible brain capabilities like retaining words and using language at such speed. People pray for enlightenment, that somehow, when they want to speak in foreign language, their brain would work for them and wouldn’t block and leave them with blank face and the aftermath “but I memorised it and learn so many times…” That’s why they are so slow and can’t understand that others like you may do it faster.
    But they want to learn a language, not necessarily to use it purposefully. You have different approach because of different goals. You want to go to a country and speak with natives, leave it, go to another country, learn another language, speak with other natives… etc. You have written so, yet you write:
    “The slow traditional academic approach is for impractical perfectionists”
    But why learning language in order to read a book or get the knowledge of the grammar, syntax, etc. is impractical? It is perfectly practical for a person with such a goal. I can’t see anything wrong or negative with this.

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

      Then if it is isn’t clear enough, I mean it’s impractical for using the language with people. They could just as easily say all my advice and social approaches are impractical for reading and they’d be right.

    • Peter Sipes

      You could re-write this post aiming at the written word as well. Last summer I was impatient to read Herodotus in Ancient Greek. I did exactly what Benny did, just with a book and not people. Make no mistake: I still had to pay attention to all the moving pars, but there was no reason to learn their names.

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

        Well said – any goal needs with achievable targets will lead to faster progress. I’m sure Ancient Greek is a monster task, but if you waited until you knew it all perfectly you’d never be able to get into some material right now. Keep up the good work!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/MVCKF27OJW7KOYY7Q2JHI6L65Q David

    Good for you Benny. You got food to eat, you found out some information about the lantern festival for us (waiting for a pub quiz so I can use those tit bits!), and you memorised an entire script when showing us around your room. That was some feat!
    For a moment I thought, blimey that was quick! But I was well impressed!

  • http://www.facebook.com/leesean Lee-Sean Huang

    Thanks again for another insightful post.
    Your 3 month timeline for language proficiency reminds me of the productivity “life-hacking” technique of time blocking as a way to get things accomplished.  There are plenty of resources about time blocking online, but here are a couple I recommend.
    http://www.fastcompany.com/article/work-smart-avoid-office-distractions-with-time-blocking
    http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/scheduling-time-blocks.html

    As it applies to language learning, besides the “macro” time block of 3 months for achieving fluency, language learners can also use “micro” time blocks, such as learning as many new vocab words as possible in an hour, or as much back and forth conversation in a target language as possible in a given period of time.

  • David Cheney

    Here’s to impatient language learners!  I have a different lifestyle than you, but with the help of an attitude gained from following your blog for about a year, 4 weeks in Mexico brought my Spanish from survival Spanish to almost fluent.  2 weeks in China brought my Mandarin from knowing a few basic phrases to being able to have small talk with friendly and patient native speakers.  Study at home is not as concentrated, but centered on finding and speaking with fluent speakers at conversation tables at least 1 or 2 hours a week.  Not that hard to find, even here in Northern Minnesota.  The main strategy is to prepare for and set goals for the very next conversation you have with a fluent speaker.

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

      Great job! Some excellent achievements there! You definitely have the right attitude – I’m amazed when people think that they need to have exactly my situation to learn a language as quickly as they can.

  • http://twitter.com/pippocode emiliano anichini

    “Why impatience is a virtue and taking your time is wasting your time”. Very bad opinion in a wrong context. Your time is not a slow time, it’s your time. How should measure my time? On your ruler?
    The message of the post, i think, want to be: “be smatter rather than deep”. Yes, the quantity over the quality works very good in communication (and fail in relashionships).

    My opinion is “Do what you want and take your time”. The length of your time reflects your interest on what you want do.

  • Victor Berrjod

    I agree that the academic approach sucks. That is, the kind you find in schools, not necessarily studying on your own, which you can do as fast or as slow as you want to. I also agree that the method you use should depend on what your goal is; in your case speaking a foreign language with locals as soon as you can.

     The method I’m using is this: http://huliganov.tv/goldlist-eu/ (the Goldlist method). It’s based on the same principles as Anki, but with more of a pure focus on the long-term memory. Obviously, you wouldn’t use it in order to speak as fast as possible, but it is very flexible and makes sure the time you do spend studying is spent efficiently, since you’re always moving forward, never backwards.

    The goldlist builds passive vocabulary, which is easily turned into active vocabulary by speaking with people and using what you know. I used it last year to learn about 1000 words in – coincidentally – Mandarin. Whenever I meet Chinese people on the metro, I’m surprised both at how much you can do with just 1000 words, and how easy it actually is to communicate with people after only about 70 hours (effective time) of studying vocabulary. That’s including learning to read those words in 汉子 as well.

    I checked the Chinese language course schedule for a local university; only two semesters add up to a total of about 180 hours of classes, and then you have homework and preparation for exams on top of that. I actually used the same material that they’re using in this course, and I finished it in well under 100 with the goldlist, which I’d say is time well spent. However, I do owe Heisig, since he taught me so many 漢字 for Japanese, meaning I had an easier time learning more of them in Chinese as well.

    Just learning a little bit at a time and otherwise go on with my daily life, yet achieving results, is the way I like to learn.

  • http://twitter.com/MrScotchpie Andrew

    I know I’ve asked you this question in the past on Twitter so its nice to read a full explanation of your reasons for going so fast.

    Reading the comments here though I felt I had to write something for those of us who like to take things a litter slower as I think some people have the wrong idea about us.

    We are not all naysayers.  I for one take a lot of encouragement from Benny’s travels, but for me it would be out of the question learning a language so fast as I just haven’t the time.

    I have a demanding career for which I am still studying for my professional qualifications in accounting and actuary.  This requires one to two hours a night – every night.  My job is not the usual 9 -5 but more like 12 hour days, taking work home with me.  Annually I get about three weeks off work, plus the 8 public holidays.

    As such I rarely see my wife and child during the week (1hr 15mins a night to be exact) so the weekends are dedicated to them.

    Therefore, taking the slow route is not a decision as such, just necessity, as it will be for many who take their time.

    So I hope this has cleared things up from this side of the fence, or at least for me.  We’re not all naysayers, we’re not all seeking perfection before we speak, we’re not striving for native level fluency.  Some of us just don’t have the time nor the opportunities you have, not to mention that learning languages, for me at least, is just a hobby to distract me from my studies when things are getting tough.

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

      “I have a demanding career” etc. are the “I don’t have time” arguments, which has nothing to do with this post. In this post I’m arguing against people who learn slower intentionally. Complaining about lack of time is something I’ve dealt with many times before, like here: http://www.fluentin3months.com/how-to-make-time-if-you-are-too-busy/

      These arguments may seem like I deserve them when I’m investing more time than others can into a language right now, but I’ve worked jobs with MORE than 12 hour days in the past and still managed to make the time to efficiently force myself to improve as quickly as I could. When I was in Italy, I worked a job with 12 hour shifts a day EVERY SINGLE DAY (i.e., I didn’t even have weekends) and I still found a way to improve my Italian very quickly.

      I have many things I could complain about even now – I have to spend so much time on cultural adjustment, travelling, settling in, getting to know a new city, trying to make friends and many other problems that take time away from language learning that you and others may never fully understand or appreciate. But I deal with it. Complaining about how others have it easier is such a poor way to live life.

      A woe-is-me attitude is not going to get you far. “Some of us just don’t have the time nor opportunities…” is a really weak argument. I didn’t have the time, talent, opportunities, star-alignment, lucky shoe or many other things in the past and I did what I could despite that. Figure out the best possible way you can learn given your circumstances and do it – complaining that others have it easier than you helps nobody.

      Speed is relative – I’d say you are learning fast if you use the little time you have as efficiently as possible. You are definitely on on “this side of the fence”. Please re-read the post if you are not clear about who I’m criticising.

      • Gus Mueller

        I generally discount out of hand any statement that someone works 12 hours a day or 90 hours a week or whatever. Usually people mean they’re out of the house for that length of time.

        I’m sure I’ll find a description on this site somewhere a post about the 84 hour a week job in Italy and I will suspend judgement until then.

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

    “The slower I learn, the slower I forget” <– There is a fallacy here. If you were to learn quickly and THEN maintain it slowly you will never forget. The only reason you would forget is if you stop working entirely. This is not a fault of fast learning, but a fault of lack of any investment at all, that at least slow learning puts a bit into.

    So the problem with your Serbian may simply be lack of practice, NOT that you learned it so such a good level so quickly. It takes more effort to find exposure to a language like Serbain than it does French, so whether you reached a good level in a few months or a year doesn't matter much – it's how you maintain it AFTER this that counts.

    Yes I agree that we're all different, but I have to be outspoken on this blog because frankly the perfectionist learners are incredibly imposing on other learners, and at a way greater extent than I ever can be. Remember, I'm just sharing my thoughts here. People can unsubscribe if they like. You can't "unsubscribe" from the perfectionist teacher teaching you the language if they are everywhere in your books and courses.

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

    Because the purpose of those exams was initially to impress potential employers, nothing more. My Spanish C2 diploma has no worth at all when I need to speak with natives – my actual abilities are what matters, and whether I had the diploma or not wouldn’t change that when I’m in social situations.

    I sat a German C2 exam too, but that was only to give myself a solid target to aim for. Not passing it wasn’t a big deal, since it forced me to push my learning up a notch – and this goes against the pass or fail mentality that most exams exist for in the first place. So even when I sat that German exam, as you phrased it I was “not learning a language to pass an exam”.

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

    I should make it a rule that you are only allowed to take a dump on my videos if you have also uploaded a video of your first few weeks ever speaking a language. That would shut some of these naysayers up… if they had the courtesy to actually respect my request :P

    I’m just going to turn off commenting on my next Youtube video. It’s the simplest solution by far since people are being more civil in comments here and on Facebook.

  • http://twitter.com/rooshv Roosh

    I don’t believe that people are taking the time to hate on you for trying to learn a language quickly. Fuck ‘em.

  • http://www.crushalanguage.com/ Roger Easlick

    I’m with you that impatience is a virtue when it comes to learning to speak a language…and to getting more out of life in general.  

    Your writing is full of impatient detail, which creates expectations, anticipation and the desire to  see you triumph or fail, depending on the perspective of the spectator.

    Everybody likes a good show, a good horse race. If the story or the race is compelling, we identify with the fate of the characters.

    “How did it turn out?”,  we ask impatiently. “Take your time later, but show us results now,” we say.

    You inspire me because you’re willing to risk public failure while seeking personal triumph over your own limitations. Your bet against yourself becomes your readers’ adventure.

    The impatience you express in the pursuit of your goals, along with your eagerness to share the little difficulties and successes along the way, moves me to be more public and more impatient with my own limitations and to strive to overcome more of my own obstacles in less time.

    Oh, and it helps me learn languages faster, too.

  • http://twitter.com/ntenzz Enstein Widodo

    The condition is, you can’t go to ‘target’ country yet and hardly meet a native in your country. So, you’ll make a stepping stone by posting in Youtube about you practice speaking in a vlog format on that language spontaneously and consecutively upload in a given time. Would that works the same as posted above? As you not really use that language to converse in a real (face 2 face) communication.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thatlumberjack Joel Zellers

    When I came to Korea, I could barely buy food, let alone ask for help in selecting something.  But now I can do all of the required daily tasks without significant problems.  However, it’s hard to find motivation to go deeper, to strive for true fluency or the vocabulary needed for deeper conversations. 

    In the span of 3 months, I know simply having a conversation while understanding the other person and being understood yourself is something I also strived for.  After gaining that, what keeps you motivated for higher fluency?

  • http://www.japaneseruleof7.com/ Ken Seeroi

    There’s  a lot of synergy that happens when you concentrate on something and try to do it quickly.  Connections and reinforcements happen more rapidly, and your results compound.  It’s the snowball effect.  Going slower increases the time between hearing a word for the first time and then hearing it again, so you’re more likely to forget it.  The more you can keep information coming at you from all sides, the quicker you’re going to absorb it.

    The brain is also a little too efficient at filtering out information that it views as non-essential.  By creating a sense of urgency, you send the message that the information is not optional.  It becomes a survival essential, and is therefore retained better.  You gotta make it real.

  • http://www.milfordplaza.com/ milford plaza hotels

    Completely acknowledge with you WC.  Also keep up the video clips Benny cause I really like them!  Individuals who create adverse feedback clearly don’t know the purpose why you publish these video clips.  For me, it gives a actual comprehension of where you are and also thoughts to try out in my own voyage.  Keep up the excellent work!

  • Judith Meyer

    My reply to the ideas in this post got long; it can be found at 
    http://www.learnlangs.com/blog/2012/02/20/the-controversy-on-learning-fast-and-slowly/  

    If 3 months work for you, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, just do your thing. On the other hand, don’t assume that it’s going to be the magical solution for everyone. If you have a hammer, all problems look like nails.

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

      This is my story that I’m sharing, and people take inspiration in the way they see fit.

      Your post just demonstrates continued lack of ability to read what I write carefully. I never tell anyone “how long it takes them to learn a language”. My point is always to try to learn faster IF you have plans or a need to use the language, and my target happens to be 3 months. In the entire history of the blog I’ve never once suggested this is the magic number for everyone.

      I don’t write this blog for language enthusiasts and I think I’ve made that clear in recent posts. For some people, taking their time is not an option. If taking your time IS an option, then there’s no need to follow my intensive advice. Your claim that I think I have the “magical solution for everyone” is silly nonsense from someone who needs to read my blog more carefully, OR stop reading it entirely.

      I tell people all the time based on their emails to me saying that they have a reading focus or are passionate about languages in general to ignore my blog and direct them to other sources.

      It would be like me saying that you claim that six weeks is the magic number – you never say that, but it happens to be what your current project is. False conclusions can be drawn if people don’t read what you do or what you are about carefully.

      This makes most of your post directed at me irrelevant ranting for things I’ve never claimed, because I happen to voice my particular approach confidently for me and people who want to learn like I do and how much perfectionists annoy me strongly.

      Recently YOU have been the hammer and I have been the nail. Hopefully you’ll change this approach some time.

  • Alan

    On the specific point about teachers not understanding pupils I whole heartedly agree with. This is an inherent problem with the whole schooling system. While some kids flourish, most suffer in the prison they call class.

    However, we are grown up now, and I think with professional language teachers their ability to teach can often be the fault of the pupil as much as the teacher. When I started learning Italian, I was brutally honest with my teacher about how my brain works, how I learn, why school was literally I GIGANTIC waste of time. I suspected she was going to go the orthodox route of learning with me at the start, but it’s part of learners JOB in teach the teachers :) 

    Sometimes they don’t know what’s going on in your head… because you’ve failed to communicate to them how you learn.

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

      Very true. I have to stop my teachers asap if they go down a path I know doesn’t work for me. Too many people presume the teacher knows best overall, which can’t work if you let them teach you in a generic way. Working WITH our teachers is the best way forward.

      I’ll be writing a post specifically about how I work best with teachers (rather than just blaming them for all of our problems) soon enough.

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

    Well said Mae, and thanks for the kind words :)

  • Gus Mueller

    Benny, this is long after your Mandarin experiment, but…

    I had two years of Chinese in college and got A’s and B’s. Ten years later I went to Taiwan (alone) and was able to function quite well using only Chinese. Coming from that experience, I see nothing whatsoever wrong with your approach (except as you noted you paid a price for your refusal to socialize in the first month).

    Come to thing about it we used the State Departments Standard Chinese: a Modular Approach for first year and it was five days a week in the language lab, speaking from day one.

  • Gus Mueller

    Wow, what’s your native language that you think French and Italian have complex grammar?

  • Holly Bathgate

    I’m not so sure about this post and feel like there is a lot of ‘reverse snobbery’ running through this blog. I know a lot of people who would fit into the ‘perfectionist’ category, having learned languages in an academic context and/or formally studied them in terms of linguistics. Firstly, most of them spent time in the country during their studies and agree that practical usage in a real context was what really sealed their fluency. Secondly, I don’t think any of them would have started correcting you during a conversation in the way that you mention in the post. In a formal teaching situation, then yes, but not anywhere else.

    I just think that most people aren’t going to be in a situation like yours and, although setting short term goals is definitely a really important part of learning any skill, for most of us it isn’t a waste of time to take our time! When I lived in Spain I did something similar to you and crammed in as much as I possibly could but now I’m back in the UK I just dedicate a few hours a week to keeping up my Spanish and another few hours doing intercambios when I can fit it in. I guess we just have different priorities!