Analyse your mistakes: An honest look at what I did wrong these 3 months

As you all know, there are countless ways to go about learning a language.

I have a general plan of action that I like to apply myself, but there’s no such thing as a “perfect” way to learn a language. Perfection is not something that humans need to concern themselves with in anything outside the realm of mathematics and the like, as the real world has too many variables to make such a pipedream worth pursuing. However, it is important to tweak and improve what you do to get the best possible results.

You absolutely must try to see how you can improve your approach to achieving something you deem important, such as learning a language. While it’s easy to shift the blame to your environment/circumstances, and say that it’s lack of time, working too much, being too old, the language is too hard, not having the “best” learning materials, and all sorts of other rubbish (where millions with the same setback but succeeding prove you wrong), the reason you learned slower than you could have is very simple:


Stop blaming everything/everyone else – you are your own worst enemy.

With that in mind, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and demonstrate this critical analysis, by looking at what I could have done to have noticeably improved the result of these 3 months learning Mandarin.

Mistakes are good! It’s all part of the learning process

As proud of the result of these 3 months as I may be, I’m still a few weeks off what I would call “fluency”. While some were hoping that I’d finally break, and “admit” that Mandarin is an oh-my-gawd-super-duper-hard-language, my conclusion is quite far from that. I’ve got so much to say about Mandarin that I’ll get to soon enough.

Actually, all the mistakes I’ve made that are worthy of really looking at, are approach/technique mistakes that I’d apply equally to learning any language. This post isn’t going to be some linguistic analysis (remember, I’m not a linguist, I’m an engineer) where I’d say things like

“I should have learned syntax before morphology, as well as applied semantic lexicons within accusative nominals in reference to indefinite conditional subordinating predicates.”

[This is what most linguistic texts look like to me]

Actually, everything I’ll mention here is something that will be extremely applicable to the next time I attempt to learn a language as intensively, whether that language be Swahili, Icelandic or Lithuanian. With this in mind, analysing my mistakes is essential, and even though I was off target, this has actually been an excellent learning experience! That’s forgetting the actual practical applications of why I learned the language in the first place.

It will also help me as I continue to improve my Mandarin. So I have no regrets at all – the only way I could come to these conclusions (or at least truly appreciated them even when they are logical enough) was by experimenting. Get your hands dirty because simply reading about it is not enough – you learn by doing!

So, here are my biggest mistakes that I’m really glad to have put the time into figuring out:

Biggest mistake: All work and no play make Benny a bad language learner

The biggest mistake I made by far, which took several weeks out of my potential to improve, will sound counter-intuitive when you first read it: I was working on my Mandarin too hard.

While I still have part-time online work, I am “lucky” enough to have had a lot of time to invest in this project. The logical course of action is to pour as much as you possibly can into it and work damn hard. The more time you put in, the better the results will be!

I think it’s clear enough that I was doing this, as I had to make a lot of sacrifices, and would have a headache many days.

I want it to be clear that I think the vast majority of this work is the reason that I progressed as quickly as I did, and I will continue to encourage a “no pain no gain” approach to language learning, over a have-fun-all-the-time! one that too many people promote.

If your goals are different to mine, then a mostly enjoyable approach could work wonders, but if you need to learn something as quickly as possible, then it’s way less effective than buckling down and doing things you don’t want to do most of the time. Embracing the fact that I dislike language learning has worked to my advantage, as I don’t waste much time on fun-games that don’t push me out of my comfort zone.

One of my worst weeks in terms of morale, was the week where I decided to up my game and spend 3 hours a day in Mandarin-only language lessons. It was a really rough week, and I felt absolutely terrible, but it was by far one of the smartest decisions I made in the entire 3 months as it forced me to improve very fast and get over a huge plateau of being able to start participating in long conversations.

However, the problem I want to focus on in this post, is this:

I would improve very quickly for three weeks and then I’d reach a saturation point. The entire last week of every month had no major jumps to another level, and I’d barely be able to focus enough to even study in less pressured situations. My energy was totally dissipated and I made very little progress in those weeks, apart from learning a bit of vocabulary or some grammar rules.

But I kept at it nonetheless and tried to force the Mandarin into my head. It just wasn’t happening, so I eventually (and reluctantly) gave in and would watch some silly Hollywood movie, give myself an “English break” and allow myself my official once-a-month English night-out, get a massage or something else that would finally make me feel better.

While I was doing all of these I still felt guilty because I was breaking my Mandarin-only rule, but I got my mojo back and would dive in even stronger. After easing off a bit during that first bad stretch, the last week of January, I was in a good enough frame of mind at the start of February to attempt the best decision of the mission I mentioned above.

No matter how hard I tried, I ran into the same problem at the end of February, and wasted an entire week again. And in March, I was actually working extra hard in the days leading up to my last video update, so after that I reached saturation point earlier and learned a lot slower in the entire last two weeks of March. I was so exhausted from working up to the day I recorded that video, that I slept for 14 hours straight the day after I recorded it.

This ultimately means that out of the 12 or so weeks that I devoted to this project, an entire four involved me learning at a dramatically slower rate than I could have.

So, what I’m ultimately getting to is this: we all have our own saturation points, where we just can’t squeeze anything else in, no matter how hard we try, and we need to just let our hair down. Your saturation point may be very different to mine, but I now know that my limit is 3 weeks, working very hard every single day 7 days a week, (and a little less if I push myself to an unhealthy sleep deprived limit).

Don't work yourself too hard, or you'll get grey hair!

With this in mind, next time I attempt a 3 month project, I will specifically set aside an entire weekend every 3 weeks to do anything but work on the project. Go to a night club with cheesy American pop songs, read a novel in English, speak other languages, watch silly action movies, travel, catch up on online episodes of the “Big Bang Theory”, buy and play with some silly electronic gadget that I don’t need and will just end up selling before I travel again, or whatever else looks like fun.

While a 3 month target to travel in China was what I was looking at to make it all worthwhile, that is too far off in the distance to seem real and you lose sight of it quickly. As well as my one-week mini-missions to focus on, in future I will have my major time-off always within a maximum of 3 weeks to work towards. This way the time I “waste”, actually recharges my batteries and gives me that extra boost. Rather than waste four weeks as I did this time, I’d “waste” just one overall, and be a lot less wound up in the process, since my pauses this time were sporadic, unorganised and riddled with guilt. Such a better frame of mind would make the remaining weeks work all the better.

Keep in mind that while I consider this a mistake, I absolutely do not regret this experience, because this process has revealed to me what my limits are and opened my mind up to how I can better learn intensive projects for the rest of my life! This idea will not be new to many of you – I know that the “4 hour body” book for example has a “cheat day” in its restricted diet program.

This concept of working hard most of the time and letting yourself take it easy once in a while at a very specific and planned time is a very powerful psychological tool to keep us at our best. Working hard all the time is actually a very bad strategy.

If you attempt something similar yourself, try to see what your limit is and give yourself a real break once you reach that limit. Once-a-week is a good starting point. So you could socialise with that English-only expat group I always warn against, as long as you limit them only to Saturday for example, and no other days under any circumstances. But ideally, I’d see if you are a 3-week person like me, or if you can handle an entire month!

Kill every single black hole of time immediately

This one isn’t quite a new lesson to me, but is one I do need to improve upon and apply more universally.

I have killed major black-holes of time in the past, such as TV (I’ve pressed the on button on a TV remote control literally about 5 times in the entire last 12 months, despite devoting several hours a day to it when I was younger), and speaking English when you should be speaking the target language, and anything else you really shouldn’t be doing, but a new one that crops up needs to be treated with equal vigilance, or every other leech you’ve squashed was for nothing.

One obvious one (that people have been telling me to ditch right from the start, so it hardly takes a genius to figure it out) was to not give time to the fact that “someone is wrong on the Internet“. I’ve grown thicker skin in the last few months from dealing with a particularly annoying wave of criticism that comes with the kind of exposure this blog gets. While the advice to ignore people who just want to argue with me is obvious, the immense stress I was (putting myself) under made it harder to follow through, and I made things worse by engaging with them without a clear head whenever I did.

While such a lesson is hardly useful to the vast majority of people, how I solved the problem is.

Many of us have a habit of wasting time on websites that really do not contribute in any positive ways to our lives. If you spend considerable time on any site on a daily basis that is not helping your life’s projects, then you need to seriously consider putting a cap on it – that includes Facebook and Youtube.

One excellent way to do this for the weak willed among us, is to install a leechblocker plugin for your browser – there are various grades of them too – so you can allow yourself 10 minutes on Facebook a day to catch up with your family or update your status, but no more, and no more than 30 minutes on Youtube a week – or whatever else seems most logical to you.

If you use Firefox, install Leechblock right now and fill out the sites that are sucking away your time and either block them entirely so that you can never give in to temptation, or block them for work-periods so you can waste time on them only when you are supposed to. In Chrome, install the equally effective (and in some ways more versatile) StayFocusd, and in Safari use WasteNoTime. (If you use Internet Explorer, first download any of these three browsers by typing their name into a search engine, install the associated plugin and then uninstall Internet Explorer. :) )

So I blocked all sites that I knew would drag me into endless discussions, deleted messages sent to me from people who clearly wanted to pick a fight, and made it clear that troll comments would not be approved on my Youtube channel. The second month I wasted way less time because of this. If I had done this from the start, then I’d not only have had much more hours free, but I’d have been less frustrated and distracted for when I was trying to focus.

Make important gradual and deliberate habit changes BEFORE you attempt an intensive project

Last year I was slown down immensely by health issues during the summer. Since then I’ve been slowly improving many things I let get away, such as by eating healthier and sleeping better. Although my time in the states knocked the healthy eating out of whack and I had to start over again in Peru.

I had been much better in Taiwan, but there was still plenty of room for improvement; in fact, enough to make me low on energy too often. I kind of had this idea that I’d just go to Taiwan and automatically eat healthier and sleep better from the start. Unfortunately, doing this and trying to take on the immense challenge of learning a new language simultaneously was a lot to juggle!

Something that Scott Young brought up when I interviewed him about his fast progress in learning French, as part of the audio for LHG+SFD1, (which I’ll be updating in a couple of months with everything I’ve learned in the last 2 years – that will be a free update) which he himself was inspired by from the impressive and immense habits blog, Zenhabits (my guest post on that blog here), was of the importance of focusing on one major habit to change at a time, usually just one per month!

It’s tempting to try to turn your entire life around ridiculously quickly, but this hardly ever sticks. I couldn’t quite switch to my most ideal healthy way of living as quickly as I had wanted, but am on the way and will change particular habits gradually over the coming months so that I don’t have to worry about them in time for my next project.

More specifically, I would eat too much heavy and unhealthy foods, especially since western-style desserts are plentiful in Taiwan, and I’d “treat myself” to Italian food a couple of times a week, despite eating with chopsticks the rest of the time. Putting on weight wasn’t as much of an issue as feeling groggy after eating too much, and this slowed me down for studying over the next hours, or focusing during a conversation.

You may also remember that I joined a gym at the start of my time in Taiwan! This was fantastic, as I went to great dance lessons and got an affordable personal trainer to help me get into a good rhythm and use the equipment correctly. My only issue is that I didn’t go as regularly as I should have – sometimes just once or twice a week.

When I did go, I’d feel so energised and learn much more efficiently as a result, but many days I’d say that I “don’t have the time” and should focus on the language. This was a terrible idea. I’m sure you have all heard many times before about the mental capacity benefits of regular exercise. My own experience has confirmed this, so I need to exercise more regularly, even if just a little every day, not just for the long term benefits, but also for the immediate ones!

If I had been eating more healthily and working out more regularly I’d have had way more energy and be able to focus much better when studying, and not lose track of conversations so easily when trying to take part in one. Energy levels are incredibly important, (when not-so-energetic, even sitting for hours studying would get me nowhere) so trying to solve these will be a continued priority for me over the coming months. By the time I take on a fluent-in-3-months language learning project again this issue should not pose the same problems. This month I’ve already gotten a major start on some poor eating habits that I’ve had to fix for a while.

With this in mind, if you ever feel like attempting an intensive learning project like this one yourself, then you need to fix any such health problems that may otherwise leave you low on energy and start changing your habits efficiently right now, while doing it in such a way as to make the habit stick. This way, when you do attempt it, you’ll be so much better prepared! Don’t even think about trying for “get fluent AND get fit in 3 months”!! :)

For further inspiration to live a healthier life, check out my good friend Steve Kamb’s blog NerdFitness. I’ve personally had great success from exercise and food tracking apps, especially Noom on Android (although it’s expensive). Counting calories can be so time consuming, but simply tracking anything is a great psychological reinforcement to remind you of whether what you are doing is healthy or not, and I like Noom’s very quick ballpark input.

To improve your sleep, consider giving siestas a try, and once again, a sleep tracking app can help you wake up at a better time to be more energetic. I was sleeping WAY better than I was last summer (I’ll never again live in such a poorly lit apartment as I did in Istanbul), but still far less efficiently than I could have. On the days when I slept and ate well, I learned way more and excelled in my conversations, forgetting almost no words that I had previously learned. If most of my days were like this, the progress would have been immense in comparison!

Many other things that I did wrong

I made several other mistakes during these 3 months, but will be going into some in detail in other posts, where it’s more relevant. Actually what I mentioned above really is 95% of my most important problems in this time. Any minor language related problems were only small tweaks I’d make if recommending an approach to others.

Overall, I am very happy with this time! Any mistakes I made were excellent learning opportunities for me to do it better next time, and I’m happy to share the story with the world on this blog. In fact, the video updates themselves were so essential as milestones to force me to improve that I’ll probably switch to one every week next time I do this.

What I didn’t do wrong

Just so we’re clear, the following are a few things people suggested that I’d be regretting by the end of this experience, and I just want it to be clear that that’s not the case :)

  • Aiming for C1 was a fantastic idea.

It forced me out of my comfort zone and pressured me to go beyond what I would have done if I was simply “working hard”, since I was trying to stick to the road map that would somehow get me there. In the “Aim for the moon; even if you miss you’ll still be amongst the stars!” philosophy, there is obviously no “drifting off aimlessly into space” – anything between the earth and the moon is useful, so you should aim as high as humanly possible and don’t be a crybaby about “failure” on the highest target being a real option.

People really need to aim higher than they “should” – it’s how great things have been achieved throughout history. Prudence has never produced greatness in the same way as taking risks has.

If I can manage to fix the major issues I mentioned in this post, I think C1 in a language from scratch may still be a possibility in this short a time, so you can bet I’ll be aiming for it again in another totally unrelated language some time later :)

  • Confidence is VERY effective.

I’ll continue to encourage people to dive into their languages with the same spirit. Humility is an important personal quality, but a terrible one (in my opinion) when taking on a project that you want to get results out of quickly, as a completely positive mentality is the best way to make strides forward.

I am very humble when speaking Chinese in person and constantly apologize for how terrible it is. In fact, if someone asks me how long I’ve been learning Mandarin, I prefer to say “it feels like years”, to avoid compliments that I’m speaking better than I should after such a short time.

Doing anything but at least acting humble would be a huge cultural mistake, especially in China. But I will continue to start my day with an upbeat attitude, aim high and ignore advice that I see as doing nothing but slowing me down. More about why you shouldn’t be “humbled” by Chinese (at least no more so than what you should be for any other language) in future posts.

I’m very glad to say that now I’m much more relaxed than I was in the last 3 months, and am finally truly enjoying the language, so all this hard work has indeed paid off :) Last night I was out socialising all evening, visiting a food market, and eating dinner with some locals, [Note that such regular travel updates will be shared frequently in detail on my Facebook page] and today I shared some of the frustrations I’ve written about in this post, with someone in person, in Mandarin.

That’s actually been one of my sources of stress – that for three entire months, I haven’t been able to open up (offline) to people apart from that once-a-month English meeting. This is quickly becoming less and less true.

It feels so great to be at this level, so despite some mistakes, and despite 3 very rough months filled with frustration, some of which I now know I didn’t really have to go through as badly, I am able to use the language in a truly useful way. I’ll continue to improve on this, and will share videos so you can see me continue to improve, but when I hit the road (actually, train tracks) and can do what I need without any English, then it will all have been worth it!

Hopefully you liked this further glimpse into the approach I took and the major problems and lessons learned. I know there are still plenty of questions more relevant to Mandarin etc., but don’t worry I’ll get to them!

Thanks for reading, and let me know your thoughts below!



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  • Simon J

    – Avoid burnout
    – Don’t procrastinate
    – Make difficult lifestyle changes gradually

    Sound about right? I don’t mean to be flippant – summarising helps me to understand the whole. In general a good article, I think. These are all lessons that most people will never fully learn in their lifetimes. I’m constantly struggling with all of them. (Especially the second one. I’m supposed to be doing other work just now.)

    I have my own thoughts on burnout. I’ve discovered in my own profession (computer science research) that there are two types of researcher:
    – those with passion for the subject matter
    – those pushed into the work by circumstance (usually overbearing parents)

    Now, the latter of these can be incredibly hard-working, and one extreme such member of my lab has authored half a dozen conference/journal papers in the first 6 months of his PhD! He never leaves his desk except to eat or sleep – probably pulls 80-100 hour weeks. (Are you at all surprised that this man is Chinese?) But he hates the work. From what I gather, he sees himself as entirely unsuited to science, and yet forced to by his culture. Therefore, the work he produces is derivative, uninspired, and of little interest to the general scientific community. He relies entirely on his supervisor for research direction, and shows little initiative outside of this.

    If you compare that to many interested researchers in my research field, they do it because they *love* it. They rarely get tired of their work, and are constantly thinking about research because they want to – not because they feel compelled by others to work hard. These are the researchers who produce great works, who influence and drive the field. 

    It seems to me then that when one treats something as a chore rather than an interest, it impedes progress, even if you’re putting in the same hours. Of course, some hard work can never be avoided, but could it be that enjoyment of the process and the efficiency of that process are actually related to one another? Could focusing more on the methods you enjoy more, make you learn faster?

    • Benny Lewis

      Sorry, but I disagree. Unlike your friend I have very good motivation to work hard. I am absolutely convinced that my greatest strides in progress in these 3 months were from certain very important decisions to get out of my comfort zone. I don’t see this as being possible with a mostly-enjoyable learning approach.

      But without my time pressure, such an approach could indeed be effective, although learning over a longer period to get to the same point doesn’t interest me much.

    • Vanessa C

      With regards to the two types of researchers, do they both generally put in the same number of hours?

       Here’s my thoughts…  The people who can put in 60, 80, 100+ hours a week focusing  on one subject are abnormal.  I’m not going to say they have Aspergers, but their personalities probably lean to something like INTJ or something.

      Most of us have social, physical, and emotional needs that need to be met.  We need to eat, sleep, exercise, spend time with our loved ones, etc.  For most of us, our passion(s) can’t and therefore shouldn’t be the sole supplier of those needs.

      This line about once we know our true passion, then it becomes effortless to always be focused on it, is harmful to the rest of us who come to constantly doubt that what we’re doing in life is what we’re really meant to be doing.  There’s a grass is greener on the other side, if only I were doing something else.  You think, wow, if only I could paint all day because I love painting and I don’t have the time to do as much of it as I want because of this stupid job that I hate but it paints the bills and painting doesn’t.  But in reality, if a normal person tried to paint 60+ hours a week they would hate it just as much.

      Your friend might be a whole different person if he were not pulling 80-100 hours a week.  Maybe he only has passion for the subject for 30 hours a week.  If he had creative original thoughts just 30 hours a week, wouldn’t that be better than the 80-100 derivative hours he puts in?  He’ll need like a month to recover from the burnout he has accumulated, and then what if the creative, original ideas still don’t materialize?  What then?  Its a scary jump to take.

      But the point is to be the best individual we can be, not to use others as a measuring stick because we will always come up short.  There is always someone better looking, stronger, taller, smarter, creative, more eloquent/persuasive, more ADD/less ADD. 

      This is long winded enough, and since I’m not as passionate about the topic of procrastination I’ll leave off here and go do something more worth my time ^_^
      But maybe you’ll find some of the info here useful:

  • BillP

    Hey Benny.  Great Post!  You are absolutely right about the first mistake.  I am in month 3 of learning German and the same thing happens to me if I don’t allow myself to step away from vocab, books, flashcards, etc.  I have found that I really need to just take a break and not look at anything German for at least one day a week.  this usually recharges my batteries and keeps me moving.  I wasn’t sure if anyone else had the same issues, but obviously they do.

    Keep it up and I’m looking forward to the next post.

    Bill P

  • Veronica

    Great post Benny! Very helpful.
    Lately I have been thinking about exercising and eating better, but was honestly not motivated. Reading your post made me realize that I’d get a lot more learning done if I did change those things. My first inclination was to jump in and change both at once, but then you said change one thing at a time, I was like, “exercise it is!” :D Funny thing is, I KNOW exercise helps your mental abilities. I guess I’m just lazy. Time to kick that in the pants! So thank you for an incredibly motivating post! I always look forward to your posts and emails! :)

    Also, can you seriously uninstall IE? Can I do that from the Uninstall Devices/Programs window? That would be amazing…

    • Benny Lewis

      Great choice – in the list of priorities, a healthier lifestyle needs to be focused on before something like language learning. It will ultimately benefit the language learning when you get to it ;)

      You can uninstall IE, but it depends on your version of IE and of Windows. Google the numbers and there should be instructions, even if they are annoyingly technical for older versions.

  • SusannaZaraysky

    Benny, I appreciate your honesty here in admitting your mistakes. Unfortunately, the nature of the Internet polyglot world does not lend itself to one being able to be vulnerable publicly without fear of attacks, nasty comments and the like. In being open about your mistakes, you may help others publish their  “lessons learned” posts or videos and also open up about their errors. Thank you.

    You are totally right about letting yourself have fun and temporarily walking away from studies. That’s why I focus so much on learning languages via music and entertainment. But more importantly, your brain needs time to recharge. I had to stop salsa dancing for a while because of health reasons but I kept listening to salsa and imagining myself dancing well. Many months after my hiatus, I went to a salsa dance club and danced better than I had ever remembered dancing in my life. I am not kidding! The break was worth it. I didn’t lose my steps. I actually improved.

    Those links to sites that cap Internet time waste are well appreciated. 

  • WC

    I’ll be interested to hear if your weekend-every-3-weeks plan works out.  I have a feeling that you’ll find you were already pushing things about as far as they’d go, and that you were putting 4 weeks of work into 3 weeks.  In other words, I don’t think you were wasting much time, if any.  It just seemed like it because look!  There’s a whole week!  You touched on it a few times in the article though:  You need downtime.

     I once stayed awake for 72 hours straight.  Afterwards, I slept for 24 hours straight.  Yup, that’s 8 hours per day.  I didn’t really gain time, and I was awful tired for a large portion of it.

    But as I said, I’ll be interested in seeing what really happens.  The above is just my theory, and isn’t tested in any way, shape or form yet.

    Even though my methods and pace are completely different than yours, you continue to be an interesting read and great motivator.

    • Benny Lewis

      I did waste time – it was a whole week where I was neither properly enjoying myself, nor properly learning. Intensive and specific planned downtime would have been more efficient, and let me get back to work better.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  • balou67

    OMG, that’s just so… *GIANT WARM HUG*
    Any advice about “loosing” less time on fi3m, apart from improving my reading speed? :D
    How many blogs do you follow on a regular basis? How long and how often?
    Thanks for that huge share!

    (You’re gonna think I’m monitoring your code, but once again, I genuinely get interrested in linked posts… try ctrl+F [ =”www ], there are 2 of’em, sorry…)

    • Benny Lewis

      I subscribe to a lot of blogs, and check out their RSS feed sporadicly, but only follow certain people’s Facebook page or twitter to read what they write more regularly. Keeping up with every bog would be a full time job in itself :)

  • Carmel James

    Good on you Benny, I really appreciate the honesty and sincerity in your writing. And, you continue to inspire me in my study. A giant thank you!

  • John Fotheringham

    Love the honesty man (I am reading “Radical Honesty” right now and I am starting to be hyper aware of how phony so many people are, and very appreciative of those who tell the truth (especially about themselves).

    When I first started Japanese, I know that perfectionism, fear of looking stupid, and wanting to “wait until I am ready” to start communicating were the biggest mistakes. I still fall back into these bad habits occasionally with new languages, but I continue to strive for a good balance between 改善 (constant improvement), and “good enough”.


  • Richard

    wow – grey hair. I respect your effort.
    Did a past mission ever effect your health like this? 

    • Benny Lewis

      That photo is actually in the middle of Burning Man – my hair is filled with playa dust, which makes it look grey. My hair has never (yet) actually turned grey – I’m pretty sure that’s permanent :)

  • Judith Meyer

    Really good post, Benny!

    I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about the usefulness of setting an impossible goal. I believe B2 would have been a better choice: still unrealistic in a language like Mandarin, but more interesting to work towards. Constantly missing goals is not everybody’s cup of tea. If I know that I’m going to miss a goal by a long shot, I find it hard to motivate myself to go all-out, particularly towards the end when it becomes clear how far I still have to go. However, if the goal is only unrealistic but not impossible, it’s an exciting challenge and I can keep going fast. This was the idea behind choosing A2 as a goal for Finnish after one month of limited-time study.

    I hope you’ll enjoy your tour of China. The PRC has a lot to offer. And are you seriously thinking about studying Swahili? That would be so cool!    

    • Benny Lewis

      Judith, I’m glad that you liked my post, but I find it sad that you’ve missed the point of what we actually disagree on in the first place. I’m not going to explain it to you again, so let’s just leave it at that.

      The mention of Swahili was just an example, I’m not thinking about future languages at the moment, only China. But I still remember the non-Disney Hakuna Matata song you taught me ;)

      • Judith Meyer

        We disagree on many issues, but here I wanted to talk about the goal issue. You always say it’s good to aim for the stars, but research suggests that it’s best to have a goal that is almost reachable, because people make faster progress and are happier while they’re within sight of their goal.  I have read about this at many times in many different places, but today I came across it again at ; academic references can also be found there.

        • Benny Lewis

          How about looking into “academic references” on great achievements and not playing it safe? How about studies that are actually relevant to language learning AND ambition?

          People playing with cards doesn’t interest me. If psychologists feel they can extrapolate human behaviour from that, that’s their prerogative, but it won’t convince me. A million studies with coffee cards means nothing to me as a language learner, and it means much LESS to me as someone who needs to learn Chinese quickly for a genuine purpose.

          Aiming lower and being “happier” for 3 months would have been a cowardly cop-out and made these following months much less enjoyable. I see no practical applications whatsoever to lack of ambition, so I’m not interested in it.

  • Sharoff Hardy


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  • Benny Lewis

    You’ll be waiting a while! I’m focused on travelling at the moment, and will only be thinking about Chinese for a while as my main language. But yes, whenever I do get around to that next language, I’ll be that extra bit more efficient ;)

    Glad you’re enjoying the blog!

  • Linas

    I won’t write a treatise on this but I consider it to be hence established that C1 in Chinese is unattainable in the time-frame suggested despite your statements to the opposite effect.

    Good idea on analyzing your mistakes, though, there seems to be evidence emerging that such analysis helps one learn in the future. Your mistakes, as summarized by Simon J, seem to be a little bit general and I agree with his statement that these are things that people are always going to keep on making but then I think analyzing them might still be valuable.

    Me too, I will be learning a language during this summer (and I have started now), but then I want to aim at something that can be achieved. B2 will do. :)

    • Benny Lewis

      “hence established”… as your opinion. Feel free to write that treatise on your site, but discussing theory is not something I care much for, so let’s agree to disagree as endless disagreement in comments is something I find tedious.

      Good luck with your B2 mission.

      • Linas

        Well, I find it a bit unhelpful that first you were interested in talking about this and only asked me to defer discussion on this until after the end of your project and now that it’s over, you just want to avoid it altogether because it’s “not something you care much for”.

        Thank you.

  • Benny Lewis

    My VPN program gives me a foreign IP address.

    • Jessie Hernandez

      Which begs the question: which VPN program did you use? I found one that’s supposedly great in China, but you need to pay a monthly fee to use.

  • Benny Lewis

    Posts on written Chinese coming up later.

  • Benny Lewis

    Both (from the limited amount I know – more on that in a future post).

  • PaulLambeth

    Happy to see you’re an XKCD fan.

    Changing one major thing about yourself every month is an excellent idea. For example, for the last month or so I’ve tried to eat many more vegetables than before, and I’ve felt much better for it. Next? Who knows?

  • Benny Lewis

    Yes, throw yourself into it. Passively is as inefficient as you can learn ;) Give it your all!

  • Benny Lewis

    No, I’d rather stop JUST before reaching saturation point, take an intentional break for a couple of days and then get back in full force. Going less hard for several weeks would not be as efficient, and is only an intentional version of what happened anyway.

    Although your suggestion is excellent for a longer-term approach, but my next intensive project will also be 3 months, so I’ll have to adjust my current plan rather than apply a long-term one ;)

  • Benny Lewis

    Follow my Facebook page to see when I get to Beijing, in about a month’s time, as I’ll be arranging a reader meet up there.

    I don’t drink by the way.

  • My Travelo


    Truly inspiring.

    thanks for share with us.


  • Benny Lewis

    “But, as far as I’m aware, Mandarin is your first non-European language?”
    I’ve learned Hungarian, Turkish (non Indo European languages), American Sign Language, Quechua and Tagalog. All of which I’ve blogged about in detail. The rest of your reply is voided because of this presumption.

    Look at my video with John Pasden to see my level after about 3 months.