3 Month Mission To Get To Know My Father-In-Law Through German: 3 Lessons Learned


Today I’m happy to share a language learning success story, from active Fluent in 3 months forum contributor Brian Kwong.

He wanted to genuinely talk to his Austrian father-in-law, who doesn’t speak any English. Rather than go about it haphazardly with a “some day” attitude, he gave himself 3 months to intensively and intentionally work on his German, applying some of my own tips, including making constant video updates for public accountability, as well as his own good ideas, and we follow him through up to the moment he has a nice chat and gets to know his own family better.

It’s a great story with a happy ending of being able to interact with his father-in-law, which you can see embedded here on video, that I hope inspires many of you to try something similar! Over to you Brian!

Beep Beep Beep Beep *My alarm goes off*


It is already Day 79 of my “Learn German in 90 Days Challenge” and I am still struggling to form a sentence in German!”

On Day 91, which is in ONLY 12 days away, I will have to face Papa, my father-in-law who can’t speak a word of English and have a 15 minute conversation in German with him on video.

What am I going to do?

Not only that I will look realllllly bad in the video – if I don’t get a pass from Papa, his wife Gabi and my wife Julia, I will have to live with Papa and do house work such as cleaning his toilet or shoveling snow for a whole week!

How Did I Get Myself Into This?

79 days ago, I could not speak or understand any German, because I had been resisting learning the language for a year and a half while living in Austria.

I just never had the passion nor the interest to learn German, until my beautiful wife Julia, Papa and I went on an EPIC 8 day hiking trip through the Austrian Alps.

Hiking in Austria

It was an amazzzzzing trip.

But Julia had to translate for me the whole time and I just thought that it was not very cool on my part.

Touture museum welcome

Even though Papa took me to a torture museum when I first met him 8 years ago (this was the actual picture that we took), despite the gruesome picture of me and Papa, he welcomed me into his traditional Austrian family with open arms without any hesitation.

After the hiking trip I decided to learn German, for practical reasons while living in a German speaking country, for connecting and communicating with Papa and to make Julia happy.

OK Brian, just grind it out. Let’s just follow the schedule and put in the work.

I said to myself as I got out of bed on Day 79.

My Schedule On Day 79

9 am – Learn and memorize 30 German phrases with Genius on my Mac for 2 hours.

2 pm – Take a 15 minutes train ride to the nearby city, Innsbruck, to meet with 2 high school students to practice speaking German for an hour and a half.

6 pm – Practice speaking German with my language partner on Google+ Hangout for an hour.

Did I work this hard consistently for the past 79 days in my challenge?

Heck no and I was kicking myself for not studying harder. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be panicking.

The ONLY thing that I have been consistently doing throughout the challenge was speaking from Day 1, starting with Julia, which was inspired by Benny Lewis.

On Day 9, I got my first language partner from Germany and since then, I practiced speaking German with my language partners on Skype between 2-5 hours a week.

And eventually, I managed to get myself to consistently learn and memorize 30 German phrases from Day 68 onward.

How? I stuffed myself with some public accountability by broad casting my memorization routine LIVE at 9 am every morning including Sat and Sun!

My Struggles and Breakthrough on Day 79

Is all this hard work that I am putting in even worth it?

I thought to myself after melting my brain for 2 hours, learning and memorizing 30 German phrases.

Well, I don’t have time for questioning. I got to eat lunch, walk the dog and catch the train to meet with the students in Innsbruck now as it is already 12 pm.

These awesome students were organized by my friend Monika, who is a German teacher.

After watching my video on why I took on the Learn German in 3 Months Challenge, she made all her students watch my video in class.

They loved the video, so they created a project to support me by practicing German with me twice a week for the last month of the challenge.

After one and a half hours of German speaking struggle, my brain melted for the second time in a day.

Does all of this even work?” I thought to myself as I was walking back toward the train station.

No time for this Brian. I better catch the train, my language partner is waiting for me at 6 pm.

(This was the hardest day that I worked since the start of my challenge, with all the traveling, dog pulling on the leash and back to back brain melting)

When I came home, I was exhausted both physically and mentally.

15 minutes before meeting with my language partner Simon, I thought to myself, “Should I cancel the meeting and move it to tomorrow? I am REALLY tired.”

And thankfully, I stuck with my schedule =)

The magic of a Language partner

We started the conversation as usual.

“Wie gehts?” (How are you?)

“Wie war dein Tag?” (How was your day?)

But something was different in this conversation, as I was explaining how my day was and what I did that day.

I noticed that I was not struggling to string the words together nor was I struggling to speak the words after I put them together in my head.

Deutsch kommt aus meine Mund gefließen!” (German is flowing out of my mouth!)

What the hell?

WOW! I couldn’t believe I said that.

My grammar and pronunciation are still not 100% correct or perfect and it was not REALLY flowing like a river, but my struggle disappeared and Simon understood what I said.

It was an amazing feeling, especially when I was struggling to speak German for the past 79 days.

Then I realized the answer to all the questions that I was asking myself all day:

Yes, all the hard work is totally worth it and yes, Speaking from Day 1 works.

Everything finally came together and clicked on Day 79 of my Learn German in 90 Days Challenge.

My German is not fluent but I managed to have an entertaining conversation with Papa on Day 91.

For someone who couldn’t understand or speak a word of German and for someone who had NEVER ever ever ever had any interest of learning German before the challenge in his life, I am proud of what I accomplished in 90 days:

And if I can do this, you can definitely learn and speak the language you have always wanted to speak in 90 days too =)

3 Lessons Learned From My Learn German in 90 Days Challenge

1. Challenge Conventional Wisdom

Tim Ferriss language learning

In Tim Ferriss’ book “The Four-Hour Chef”, there is a section on “Meta Learning” which lays out how to become world-class in just about anything in six months or less.

He showed many case studies on how some of the best in the world, specifically people who were not naturally gifted, learned and trained themselves to become the best.

An interesting finding and it is consistent no matter what field or topic: Sometimes doing the exact opposite of what conventional wisdom suggests is how extraordinary results are generated.

After reading the “Meta Learning” section, what came to my mind is the method of Speaking from Day 1.

It is the opposite from the traditional language learning method taught in school with the mindset of “Learn enough then eventually you can speak some day”.

Every single one of the 12 students who helped me with my German, acknowledged that I can speak more German in 90 days compared to how much Italian or French they can speak after learning for more than 6 years in school.

Speaking from Day 1 is not the ONLY method of learning a new language. But if your goal is to speak and communicate in a new language ASAP, after trying it out myself, I can confidently say that it works.

We know for most people, the traditional way of learning a language (like in school) doesn’t work FOR SURE or only very SLOWLY. Let’s then give unconventional ways of learning a language a chance.

2. The Unforeseeable 100X

Although I resisted learning German and never had the passion for it, I really enjoyed learning the language only after I took on the challenge.

I learned a lot about myself and there are many benefits that I got throughout the challenge that I could never have imagined if I didn’t take this on.

When the locals heard me speaking German for the first time after living in a small town for almost 2 years (I am the only Chinese dude living here with a dog), their faces light up like a Christmas tree.

No words can explain how good it feels when you can connect and communicate with people in their native language.

And I am so thankful to the people who contributed to my learning and friends I met along the way.

One of these people includes Baron Jon, who I met in the Fluent in 3 months forum, and who inspired me with his own challenge to learn Chinese in three months, and you can see us chat here:

Taking on the Learn German in 90 Days Challenge enabled me to connect and communicate with Papa, Julia and the people living in Austria, which opened up a whole new world for me.

If there is a language that you have always always wanted to speak, but you are totally overwhelmed by the work it takes to learn it, I totally understand and I invite you to try on that the benefits of learning a language will outweigh the time and work that you put in by 100X.

You just can’t see all the 100x benefits at the moment, but it is there if you go through the process of learning a new language.

Take on a language challenge in 2013, so you can speak the language you have always wanted to speak and you can get your 100x goodness ASAP.

3. The ONLY Thing You Need To Create a Breakthrough

When you are learning a language, there are going to be ups and downs, just like in life no matter how good your plan is.

There are going to be times that you feel like you are on the top of the world when you can say something or understand something.

And there are going to be times when you doubt yourself, wonder if what you are doing works or if all the hard work is worth it, like I did.

You can’t go wrong by putting your head down and just continue to put in the work.

You will never know when your breakthrough is going to come. There is no calendar or schedule for when it will show up.

You will never know when everything is going to click and come together. You can never predict or control it.

What you CAN control is your choice to stick with it and continue to put in the work consistently.

Everything will come together and click for you, as long as you do this no matter what happens.

And when it does, you will experience happiness, confidence and the key to connect and communicate with a new world of people for the rest of your life.

Over To You!

What did you get out of this post? And what language goal or challenge will you conquer in 2013?

Let us know in the comments below!

About Brian

Brian is now running the Add1Challenge, where language learners around the world, learn a language together so you can share your victories, struggles together and never feel alone again while learning your target language.  To learn more about the Add1Challenge, click here.




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  • Peter Rowan

    Really good read, and well done on making so much progress in such a short space of time. I just wanted to ask about Genius though, what advantages does it have over something like Anki or Memrise? Why would I want to use one over the other? Also have you got lists of the phrases that you were memorising? I know the lists of phrases you wanted to learn will be somewhat specific to you, but I assume a great deal of them would be useful to all German learners. Thanks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

      Thanks Peter! Great questions too!

      For me, the biggest difference between Genius and Anki is that Genius is an active learning SRS memorization software vs Anki is a passive learning SRS memorization software.

      Genius is active learning because it forces me to recall my memory by making me type in the answer, at the same time, SRS is running in the background determined by the answers that I input.

      For Anki, I can easily say, “oh ya that was easy” but I may only have a vague memory of it and instead of focusing on recalling what I am learning, I am thinking about which button – “Again”, “Hard”, “Good”, “Easy” to choose.

      If you have a Mac, you can try it out, I did not develop Genius. I just find it effective, fell in love with it, thats why I am making an iPad and iPhone version.

      With Memrise, the material is very slow for me, which is why I like to create my own phrases on Genius.

      Yes, I have a list of German phrases to learn now and I will be happy to send them to you if you give me your email address or you can sign up for beta testing on DaGeniusLab.com, you will get an email from me, just hit reply, let me know you are Peter and I will send you some lists of German phrases that will keep you busy for awhile!

      • Peter Rowan

        Yea sounds good. I just downloaded it for my mac, and I’ll have to give it a try when I get a chance. I just signed up for the beta testing and have replied to your email, so if you could send me the list of German phrases that would be fantastic! Thanks again.


        • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

          Awesome! Just sent you 9 Genius file. Not sure what your level is so I started from the basic.
          Enjoy Peter =)

          • Peter Rowan

            Hi thanks for sending me them. Do you recommend making my own lists? How long do you think you spent on average creating lists? When did you make them, did you make up the list that you were going to learn that day or the day before? Or did you do them in batches, making up the lists for each day of the coming week? Or just make them up whenever without too much of a plan?

            Also reading someone else’s lists seems to give you an unusual insight into how they think:

            Day 8 – “Kannst du bitte aufhören den Stuhl zu treten?”

          • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

            lol no one was kicking my chair. I wanted to learn how to say “Can you please stop…” and just thought of “stop kicking the chair” as an example.

            And thats how I recommend looking at these phrases. Pay attention to the structure so as your vocab increase, you can use these structure for other things.

            Most of these phrases came from a speaking session with my language partner but I do not recommend it. Next time, I will prepare the phrases of what I want to learn, memorize them and then practice with my language partner.

            You can make your own or you just try these out. My plan was to learn and memorize 30 a day for 3 months during my challenge that is why each deck has around 30 phrases.

            But I recommend you just create 15 max. as 30 is too much. If its too much and you dont’ do it consistently, it doesnt’ work. Less phrases with more consistency will definitely produce a better outcome. Great questions Peter I hope this helps!

  • http://nekesu04.wordpress.com Aaron Pasqual Hart

    I have decided to start learning German this year, and your post has given me inspiration. Right now I’m only using Pimsleur but I should be doing a lot more, its easier too find a Spanish speaking partner where I am, I can just step outside. But German is another story, guess I’ll look online.

  • http://www.stefannilsson.com/ Stefan Nilsson

    Would love to know where you got the phrases from. I’ve managed to build a decent vocabulary (mostly thanks to the similarities with Swedish) but I’ve problem with forming sentences outside the present tense using words such as hatten, werden, würden, hätten, wäre, waren, sollten, wurden and gewesen.

    • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

      I got most of my phrases from speaking with my language partners on skype. I just ask them, “how do you say this? Can you type it?” Then I copy and paste it into Genius or whatever memorization software you use.

      If I want to study grammar with a flashcard or memorization software, I use this technique I learned from Benny and I just made a video on it since people were asking.

      Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tz0-GGZgFpg

      I hope this helps and let me know if you have any other question!

  • http://www.facebook.com/simon.schwab.963 Simon Schwab

    Hey brian, I really enjoyed having this conversations with you, practicing your german and of course noticing your progress every week ;). We should totally meet up sometime or just hang around at google plus. Hope youre doing fine. Greets, Simon

    Awesome post btw. ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

      Too bad we didn’t record our conversation on video! That would have been awesome in this post =) Thank you for all your support and practicing German with me for so many weeks Simon and sure lets hang soon!

  • Colin Johnstone

    Hi Brian, It is a real shame that I have not been following the forum on here for very long because I basically missed all of your posts and now have to read through them all now. I was very impressed by your level of German after only 90 days. I have also been learning German in Austria for a very short time. I started a month before you did and since about the beginning of December, have almost entirely been learning using methods I learned from Benny.

    Btw, I have been using Anki heavily for a few months now and would be interested in Beta testing your Genius app. I have all of the required equipment (i.e. a pile of touchscreen iJunk).

    • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

      Awesome! Are you close by us? Thats a lot of post for you to catch up on and I hope they are helpful for you =)

      Happy to hear that you are interested in helping us beta test Genius+! You can sign up for beta here http://dageniuslab.com/ and talk to you soon =)

      • Colin Johnstone

        I am not close. I live in Vienna. It is good because I get a lot of ankiing done while on the U-Bahn. I am always looking to try out new methods though and Genius would not really replace Anki since I can’t really do much typing on the underground.

        • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

          Ah, Love Vienna! It’s ok, try it out, if it works for you great, if it doesn’t, its ok too =)

    • Colin Johnstone

      p.s. although I really like The Benny Method, I do think the The Kwong Method (i.e. marry an Austrian woman) would suit me quite well too.

      • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

        haha thanks for dubbing The Kwong Method!

        Its not my, I learned a lot from Benny and many others. I will continue to tweak this as I do more language challenge.

        Here is an updated version and what we will follow in our next 90 days challenge =)


        • Colin Johnstone

          Julia will be learning Mandarin in Austria starting in April? Great! But I was planning on doing the exact same thing (probably starting a couple of months later).

          • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

            Yes! I hope she won’t back out =D You can watch her before you do yours or better yet, start with her!

          • Colin Johnstone

            That might be a good idea. I planned to start 12 months after I started German, which I now realize was two months before you. My aim will be advanced fluency in Mandarin (the spoken language at least) in 12 without spending any money.

          • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

            So are you about 6 months into learning German? You can be fluent in less than 12 months for Mandarin, have you seen my interview with Baron Jon? He is not fluent after 3 months but pretty damn good for starting from scratch and working 40+ hours a week.

          • Colin Johnstone

            I just went and watched it. It is interesting to hear some of the ways in which he hs been learning. I am always trying out new ways to learn. I have something to add to your discussion near the end when Baron Jon was talking about how he should have listened to the same podcasts over and over to improve his understanding. I have recently improved my understanding of German a lot by listening to the same short discussions (~8 minutes) over and over while also reading them and using Anki to learn the vocabulary. I think it is great to read and listen at the same time, but also to listen to things after reading them in detail. (I am not here to advertise LingQ, but I do think it is great.)

            Regarding Chinese, I have learned a bit in the past, so I would not be starting from zero. Has Julia any experience with the language? In my limited experience, I think it is easier to speak than German.

          • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

            Thanks for sharing what works for you =) Julia took maybe one semester of Mandarin ages ago, so she is pretty much starting from scratch =)

          • Colin Johnstone

            I did approximately the same, but it was only a year and a half ago.

          • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

            Well, since you already signed up for updates we will keep you updated when she will start =)

  • Danilo

    Brian, compliments for your success! The poetry below the toughing moments when you could interact with your Father-in-Law really counterbalances all the efforts you’ve put in!!
    I’m too in a similar challenge, as I know very little of German (started with Busuu a few months ago) but I want to get a B2 working certification in 3 months, and I’m starting now with Benny’s Plan (just bought today his Study Pack, I’m eager to put it into practice!)
    I’ve also opened a blog to record my daily progress. I have a technical question for you: which software do you suggest to record Skype calls and video-chats? I guess you’ve been working on a Mac, while I’m on a PC with the support of an iPod and an iPad…
    Let’s keep in touch, and compliments again! ;)
    Danilo, from Italy

    • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

      Thanks Danilo! And you can definitely do B2 in 3 months, even though my goal to talk to my father in law for 15 min was easier =)

      Yes, I am on a Mac so I can’t really recommend whats good on a PC. I just did a quick google search, you can check out this thread and see which one you like to try out. http://community.skype.com/t5/Video-on-Windows/How-to-record-Skype-video-calls-on-windows-PC/td-p/250

      I personally use http://www.ecamm.com/mac/callrecorder/ for Mac in case you ever switch to a Mac =)

      • Danilo

        Vielen Danke Brian für deine Ratschläge! :)
        In the meanwhile I’ve also been looking for applications in mobility, since I’ve realized that I’m not always at home and I can’t always bring my laptop (ehehe yes, it’s not light as your Mac Air ;D ) with me. I’ve tried some apps, but it seems that on iPod (5th gen) and iPad (1st gen) you can use the audio channel only one app per time. So, I’ll go for simplicity: Skype (with loudspeakers on) on one device, plain audio recordings on the other one. I’ll go on experimenting, and keep you informed!
        Thank you again! Tschüss! ;D

        • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

          Sounds like you are quite creative, whatever works right =)

  • Guest

    awesome post! Brian, I’ve been following your journey, and it’s been very inspirational! Shooting you an email for the list of german words. Starting my own challenge, fluent in German in a semester (since I’m still in college lol)

    • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

      Thank you =) Just sent you 10 files and looking forward to see your updates!

  • Crno Srce

    Well done, Brian. You’ve obviously inspired a lot of people from the looks of the comments here :-)

    What do you do for a living that gives you so much available time in the day? Not that it matters much of course because Baron Jon managed an almost insane 7-8 hours per day on top of his 8-5 job.

    Congratulations on having the guts to show your video result. My guess at your spoken level is that you’re a very enthusiastic A2 or maybe even B1. It seemed at times that about a quarter of what you said was just english, but all that will improve with practice. I get the feeling that your method needs some refining considering that you didn’t seem to be able to use the past tense at all, and that you said things like “ich bin studieren” (or something similar – I didn’t make notes), but in a traditional learning environment your teacher might only just have decided to introduce the concept of the past tense for fear of scaring the students, boring them all to death in the meantime :-)

    Overall, though, I am very confident that the vast majority of german students who have either spent just 3 months in classes or even the same number of total hours would probably have difficulty in mustering up as much enthusiasm and, especially, confidence in a conversation that helped to make it “flow” better than making no mistakes at all would have. I can really see that if you push on the english-ness of your german will fade, and your speed will only increase. I look forward to checking out some of your future video updates!

    • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

      Thank you for your support, I know my German is far far from perfect, I am just happy to be able to communicate and connect with papa for the first time =) I will keep it up!

  • Martynas Stepukonis

    Wow! Well done! We need more of stories like this to inspire the masses of negativity!

    • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

      Thanks Martynas =) What language are you learning? You could be the next language learning story for Benny =)

      • Martynas Stepukonis

        Hey, I’m learning Chinese/mandarin but it’s no easy task ;p Compared to Japanese (which I don’t speak) it is really hard to memorise words (and of course pronounce) but it is fun :) I’m just starting, but I don’t think I would be a good example for Benny, since I plan on moving to Shanghai in about a month to study Chinese in an intensive class. Of course I will try to apply all of his tips in real life scenarios, but time and effort will tell. :)
        Once again, congratulations! You learned German and papa allowed you to keep your head ;D

        • http://www.facebook.com/418brian Brian Kwong

          lol ya, i thought he wanted a hug after our conversation but he just wanted to headlock me again lol
          Its possible to do Mandarin in 90 days, just look at Baron Jon! He started from scratch too, but the challenge is fun. I wish you all the best in Shanghai and keep up learning Mandarin, it’s going to be totally worth it =)

  • g.

    Congrats on the challenge! I’m brazilian and I’m living in Berlin to learn german, and now I got really inspired! I know it might be a pain in the ass, but can you please share your phrases? I just downloaded Genius. :) Thank you so much and congrats again!