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.
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.
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!
(Memorizing phrases starts at 9 min 49 sec)
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 =)
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
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 and Julia
Brian and Julia are developing Genius+, an iOS memorization app based on Genius, the Mac software which helped Brian to learn and memorize German phrases in his 3 months challenge. If you would like to help Brian and Julia beta test Genius+ , you can sign up here
Enter your email in the top right of the site to subscribe to the Language Hacking League e-mail list for way more tips sent directly to your inbox!
If you enjoyed this post, you will love my TEDx talk! You can get much better details of how I recommend learning a language if you watch it here.
This article was written by Benny Lewis
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