Why studying will never help you speak a language

Why studying will never help you speak a language

Benny

This post has been a long time coming.

Teachers and linguists are going to hate me for this, but it has to be said:

You can never speak a language by just studying it, no matter how much you study

Yes, you read that right. Studying is the wrong thing to do if you want to speak a language. I’m totally serious.

Last night I ran into some English speakers and heard the same thing I’ve heard thousands of times about other languages: they have been studying German for years and don’t speak it yet, even though they now live in Berlin.

Every day, I get dozens of e-mails from aspiring language hackers sharing their tales of woe with me; they’ve spent a small fortune on workbooks, CD audio courses etc. and have spent probably thousands of hours locked up in their rooms studying tables of rules and vocabulary lists. And they still can’t say anything.

Most people think the reason that this happens is because the material/teacher isn’t good enough. Or perhaps the language really is impossible and it’s the “hardest one in the world”.

I get asked all the time what my study method is, and precisely what books I buy. If our study materials were better then surely we’d finally speak!?

No.

There is only one thing study is good for

The purpose of this post isn’t to tell the world to stop studying. However, you have to realise that studying a language has a very specific purpose and if you are not aware of this then you may end up stuck in the vicious circle of never speaking: Studying will never help you speak a language, but (as long as you do it right) studying will help you speak a language better.

Most people don’t see the difference here. That one crucial word changes absolutely everything you need to take into consideration.

If you already speak but your conjugations aren’t great or you need to quickly increase your store of vocabulary about a specific topic, then by all means study. Need to pass a test in school? Sure, study for it. When the goal is to pass a test or improve your grasp on something specific, then study is the way to go.

But if you don’t speak the language confidently right now, then it’s time someone broke this news to you: studying is not the way to get this confidence!

But I’m almost ready!

When you study, you acquire vocabulary, you improve your grammar and you do exercises. Logically enough, your level improves. With time, your potential increases and you can understand more and you can theoretically join in on a wider scope of conversations. “One day”, when you’re ready, you can finally start speaking confidently. Not today though – maybe you just need to study a little bit more.

Theoretically & Maybe.

Based on my experience and accounts from thousands of learners I’ve met who need their language in the real world (not tests), “theoretically and maybe” translate to never. The academic system seems to have drilled into us that studying is the way to speak a language. Studying helps you improve (and to pass a test you do indeed need to know your grammar/vocab better… because that’s what the test is usually about) but it is an artificial means of acquiring or improving the language. Some artificial ways are quite useful, but they are still artificial.

When you look at a language the same way you look at geography or history or other subjects in school that can be tested, then you simply don’t know what a language actually is.

Stop looking at conversations with human beings as a test that you have to pass (so, every time you make a mistake you get a big red X and if you make a certain amount of them, then you fail). It doesn’t work like that!!

A language is a means of communication. It’s not a table of grammar rules in some dusty old book, or a piece of paper that you have to spread ink across in the right way for your teacher to be happy. German isn’t a rough sounding collection of Datives and Accusatives, it’s families sharing what they did that day. Czech isn’t a frustrating collection of consonant clusters, it’s young couples flirting with one another and someone buying his morning bread.

These are not things that you can put under a microscope. They are people living their lives and sharing experiences with one another. That is what a language is for. When you are locked away in your room you are avoiding this contact and that’s why so many people never speak. They still think about everything they don’t know and see the world that speaks their target language as one big test that they are doomed to fail.

How do you learn to speak then?

So, if studying isn’t how you learn to speak a language, then what is? I’ll tell you, and it’s going to blow your mind.

Are you ready?

Are you sitting down? Brace yourself!

You have to speak it! Yes, I know – it sounds absolutely crazy, doesn’t it! To speak a language you have to actually speak it.

It will be hard at first – you won’t know how to say things, it will be embarrassing, you’ll hesitate a lot and feel frustrated that you can’t say things precisely the way you want to. This will happen even if you study for decades. Until you actually use the language in its natural context (or at least in a course that gets you to speak to people) you will always have this barrier to get through. You simply have to break through it. If you practise often enough and enthusiastically enough you will get to the other side quite quickly. You can do this in person if there are natives or other learners close by, or over the Internet with millions of natives.

However, you can’t study to get this confidence. Confidence isn’t hidden somewhere on page 182, it’s getting into an actual conversation and proving to yourself (Obama style) yes you can.

Too many people study to gain confidence – this is an oblique way of going about it. You have to simply get used to speaking the language. Know how it feels to have the words come out of you rather than in an artificial test in which you have several minutes to think about things.

Last night with the English speakers I had the almost magic ability to turn them into German speakers with nothing more than a 5 minute pep-talk to boost their confidence and give them some language hacks. I didn’t teach them any actual German or tell them to study in a particular way. They had the potential to speak the entire time, no matter what their level was.

You haven’t learned enough to say anything yet? Hogwash! In many European languages you have thousands of words before you even start. In all languages you can study for a couple of hours (rather than years) to get basic phrases and then use them. Use what you know and go from there. Then you will see what you do need to work on (usually it will be something very specific and relevant to your situation rather than “chapters 1 to 7″), and then very specific study will help you improve how you are speaking so you will be able to express yourself a little better. But you already have the ability to say something right now.

There are a LOT of ways you can speak a language in the first weeks even if you didn’t study it much yet. So many ways that I had to write 30,000 words to describe them.

So what do you think? Picking on the academic system is such an easy target because it does such a miserable job in so many places and wastes the time of millions of people when it comes to language conversing ability. There are exceptions, and there are great courses to take, but that is usually because they have students converse in as natural a way as possible. Once the focus changes from studying to actually using the language to communicate with people then the road to speaking well, and doing it quickly, is opened up.

Don’t have this attitude of Leave me alone! Can’t you see I’m learning your language?

A language is a social tool and being locked up in your room studying it is, frankly, antisocial. You can’t avoid studying to improve your language skills, but if you want to speak then stop studying and just speak already!! :)

————

Of course, I wrote in depth about how I learn to speak languages with as little study as possible in the Language Hacking Guide. If you are a blogger check out information about becoming an affiliate.

I’m sure you can all understand how passionate I am to get this message out there – speaking a language does not have to be a chore! When I hear so many people complain about grammar I feel like they are looking at their language wrong and focusing on the wrong things. Stop complaining about it and just start speaking! You’ll make mistakes, but you will get over the barrier and start on the path to fluency :)

Looking forward to your comments! Feel free to call me crazy (as always…), but offensive or irrelevant comments will be eaten up by the Smoke Monster from Lost.

This post has been a long time coming. Teachers and linguists are going to hate me for this, but it has to be said: You can never speak a language by just studying it, no matter how much you study Yes, you read that right. Studying is the wrong thing to do if you want […]

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  • http://www.rentier-blog.pl Marcin

    Epic post! I agree with everything you wrote. Learning a new language is not a rocket science and it doesn’t mean reading super boring handbooks and waiting for the “right moment”. If you want to speak a new language, then go and speak it. Learning from mistakes is the best.

  • http://www.ndoherty.com Niall Doherty

    Great post, and point well made. My favorite part: “It will be hard at first – you won’t know how to say things, it will be embarrassing, you’ll hesitate a lot and feel frustrated that you can’t say things precisely the way you want to.”

    That reminded me of one of my favorite quotes, from Douglas Engelbart: “The rate at which a person can mature is directly proportional to the embarrassment he can tolerate.”

    I’ve experienced that first-hand learning to become a better public speaker at Toastmasters, and I can see how the same applies to many areas of life, including language learning.

    Keep up the good work. I’ll be giving your ebook a look when I travel to Italy in a couple of weeks.

  • http://www.neverendingvoyage.com Erin

    Completley agree! I learnt a lot of grammar in Spanish school but still didn’t have the confidence to speak it. After reading your guide it sunk in that it’s all about the communication – as long as I get my message across, it doesn’t matter if I make mistakes. People actually really don’t mind! This change of mentality helped me to just go for it and I started speaking a lot more fluently (although incorrectly) and had much more enjoyable conversations.

    It’s scarier this way but it’s the only way to make progress.

  • JoelRunyon

    I loved what you said here:

    “A language is a social tool and being locked up in your room studying it is, frankly, antisocial. You can’t avoid studying to improve your language skills, but if you want to speak then stop studying and just speak already!!”

    This happens with everything, but ESPECIALLY languages. We get so caught up in the HOW that we never actually DO. If you want to do something, then DO it! Good Stuff. =)

  • http://www.streetsmartlanguagelearning.com/ Street-Smart Language Learning

    While I recommend a little bit of focused grammar studying at the front end, I think your point meshes well with my earlier post on striking a balance between reading/listening and writing/speaking.

    Chronic studiers are doing a lot of reading typically, and mostly boring, slowly progressing stuff. To put that in the context of the graphic on my earlier post, their reading circle is expanding (probably slowly) while their speaking circle isn't expanding at all. To get some sense of proportion, I'd have to draw a little dot in the graphic to show their speaking skills. That's not a process to get you speaking.

    So your mind-blowing advice is sound: speak.

  • http://www.streetsmartlanguagelearning.com/ Street-Smart Language Learning

    By the way, nice pic. I feel the panic.

  • Alexander Ververis

    Very true! But I don't think that teachers or linguists are probably going to hunt you down for this. The best teachers actually say the same thing. My teacher, 毛老师 (Mrs. Mao), tells us to study the vocabulary and grammar of the lessons of course but, and I quote: “Wir lernen hier nicht so viel Chinesisch; Chinesisch lernen viel besser mit viel sprechen; immer sprechen sprechen sprechen! Ganz viel!” (We don't learn very much Chinese here; Chinese learning much better with much talking; always talk talk talk! Very much! (Note: I tried to mimic her German in the English translation)) I think the only people that will get mad, are the sub par teachers that are only after money – the ones that promise to teach you a language in 30 days or promise you results after taking 1 hour sessions twice a month.

    But you can not stress immersion enough. I'm constantly hunting down Chinese people and engaging them in conversations – I am even babysitting a 7 year old Chinese boy. I seriously believe that kid taught me more Chinese than any textbook ever could! Another tactic I use to learn the writing system is documenting my life in a small notebook I keep in my back pocket. I woke up at 6:30. 我六点半起床. I cooked lunch. 我做饭了. I need to go to the bathroom. 我得去厕所. You are obviously going to try to use more and more complicated sentences as you go. If you can write something down without thinking how to, you don't have to write it :-)

    What it all boils down to is passion. You are not going to have to tell anybody that really wants to learn a language, that he actually has to do things in that language. Do it, or don't. I strongly believe that you can do anything if you put the effort. They say it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert on anything. Go for it. Your Berliner challenge in numbers compared to that: Let's say the average month has 730.5 hours. We are going to subtract 46 hours of sleep a week from that (6 hours on weekdays and 8 on Sat. and Sun.), so we have 566.5 hours, during which you are awake ,left. Let's subtract another 2h a day for activities you don't try to learn as much German as possible, like writing blog posts, tweeting, talking to English speaking people, etc. That leaves 506.5 hours a month the avid learner can use to learn. Mind you, the learner is not studying with books, but living, just in German. So you have about 1500 in three months. Thats more than a tenth of your expert time. 1/10 of an expert can surely convince people that he is a real expert for 30 seconds, no problem. Passion makes it possible.

    I see your passion and I am a fan. I love what you are doing; it is people like you that prove you can actually do stuff, you just have to want it.

    Congratulations on your ebook sales, btw.

  • http://www.fluenteveryyear.com/ Randy (@Yearlyglot)

    “The rate at which a person can mature is directly proportional to the embarrassment he can tolerate.”

    I can vouch for this!

  • http://www.fluenteveryyear.com/ Randy (@Yearlyglot)

    “and see the world that speaks their target language as one big test that they are doomed to fail.”

    Brilliantly summed it up right there, Benny. This is a keen observation.

    I think all of us who speak another language will instantly agree with you on this whole post — since we can all, no doubt, remember and relate to situations where we've kicked ourselves, cursing “But I know this! Why can't I understand?” or, “Why can I say it fine when I'm talking to my friend, but I freeze up when talking to someone else?”

    It's not a test. And the points are assigned based on the value of what you say, not on the grammar you use to say it.

    Great stuff. I'm sure we're about to see 100 new video blogs whining about everything that's wrong with this plan…

  • http://englishharmony.com/blog/ Robby Kukurs

    Benny – I was experiencing the issue you describe in this blog post for long, long years. I was drilling through grammar exercises, memorized huge English word lists, achieved a complete fluency when reading – but still couldn’t speak English fluently!

    As weird as it may seem, but I couldn’t see the obvious – like thousands of other foreign language learners on the planet. The ONLY thing that I was focusing on was IMPROVING the language, and quite naturally I was following the general consensus – improving grammar, improving writing, reading a lot, and so on and on…

    Now when I look back it’s hard to understand that it took me so long to realize that in order to improve my English I actually had to focus on the spoken language. The traditional way of learning languages – using textbooks and hammering grammar into your head – has been accepted worldwide as an axiom, and I just didn’t dare to look outside the box!

    And it’s a petty that so many people are losing out on wonderful experiences speaking foreign languages because of this mindset.

    Cultural integration would happen a hundred times easier if emigrant language classes would focus 90% on speaking. I remember my wife attending English classes for foreign nationals – all they did was writing in their copies off the whiteboard. All those efforts didn’t contribute into her English fluency at all; most of English she speaks has been picked up from her work colleagues.

    Students would stop hating studying mandatory languages at school if it was more about speaking rather than writing, writing, and more writing.

    A good example is Irish – to be honest with you, Benny, kids hate learning Irish at school. Well, at least my daughters and their classmates share this sentiment, and most of parents probably think the same. But the language would have so much more survival chances if they’d be focusing on speaking at school rather than following Education Department’s curriculum which stipulates that children have to be bombarded with massive amount of Irish spoken by the teacher in front of class.

    The most commonly used 50 Irish phrases would prove a hundred times more useful in real life situations than 4 years spent sitting in the classroom and writing in the copy – I’m convinced of it, and so it goes with any other language.

    But you know what? Something just occurred to me. What if the old academics and professors are simply jealous of new students who’d speak the language better than themselves if they start preaching the new language learning methods? Maybe that’s why the whole English teaching industry revolves around textbooks and writing – so that language students wouldn’t become too arrogant!

    Of course, that was a joke, but to finish off on a serious note – I’m so glad that you, Benny, are promoting language learning as something that’s fun and easy!

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

    Glad you enjoyed it! A lot of this is “obvious” stuff, but I hope newbie language learners will get the idea :)

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

    Definitely. Long live mistakes! :)

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

    Thanks Niall – glad people see the importance of embarrassment. It can't be avoided – all the studying in the world won't get rid of it.

    I hope you enjoy the Guide :)

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

    That's how I always look when I'm forced to study :P

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

    You wait and see, they are coming with their torches and pitchforks… I can almost hear them!
    Glad to see how active you are with your Chinese! Kids are really great teachers :D
    Hopefully passion will continue to help me achieve a lot in these missions :)
    E-book sales can still go in either direction… I am very happy with the sales of the first 2 days, but I need it to continue a wee bit more if I want to cancel this debt. I'll be passionate about getting it out there, as I am passionate about learning languages and it will all work out I'm sure :)

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

    Definitely value of what you say is more important. I can talk to anyone I like a few weeks into learning a language just by applying some Irish charm :P No grammar required :D

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/dgryski Damian

    I really noticed this when I took my first “real” French course. I was definitely better than the average in terms of grammar, vocab and even accent. But everybody else could just get up and _speak_. I was totally unprepared for the fear of public speaking. I don't have it in English, being an extrovert and having done theater in high school. I think studying just seems to much easier for many people.

    A quote: (from http://www.sey7.com/2010/03/anxiety-in-learning… )

    “Many students are afraid of being evaluated negatively. They are afraid of making mistakes while pronouncing a word. As they are sensitive to such assessments they choose not to speak in front of their peers. Furthermore, they compare their speaking ability with other students, teachers and native speakers.”

    This was certainly the case with my French. I'm working very hard to make sure it doesn't happen with my Dutch.

  • http://focuslanguage.com/blog Jean-Paul Setlak

    I like your courageous, fun, spontaneous approach. You definitely need to go out and speak, play with a language to get deep fluency.

    AND..

    Some of us really love studying and we are very good at it. I am French but fluent in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi, Punjabi and Italian. If you know HOW to study it makes you a powerful language machine. If you use study as a martial artist practices forms to fight better.

    I do view language as a martial art. I prepare myself. I hone my accent until it is very good. I develop my comprehension and my capacity to speak. I make sense out of the grammar of the new language. I make sure I feel comfortable when I am expressing myself beyond the first 2 sentences. I am eating, breathing and drinking it, making it mine.

    I do this to save time and to be ready. If you do not know a word or how to express something, no amount of courage will allow you to express yourself. And, very often, natives are – unintentionally – not helpful. So what will allow me to keep going: knowledge! I know how to say something in the past and I know how to say “bliss' if that's the word I need. I don't get flustered, because I know how to “'move”, and I have enough background to understand what I hear.

    So studying is not something less than: far from it. It is – to me – vital, powerful and incredibly fun. It is the food that sustains me in my interactions. Without it my language knowledge has no depth.

    By studying, I mean a wide variety of activities: watching videos, movies, listening to podcasts with and without transcripts,SRS flashcards, studying texts, studying formal grammar, honing my accent, talking to myself, reading articles online, translating, watching music videos. I want to understand more, remember more, penetrate deeper.

    Input- understanding others – is a neutral pursuit. I either understand someone or I don't. Live or on a Youtube interview. I find that CONTROL allows me to grow my comprehension faster. I can slow down the recording (Audacity software), replay it, hop online and get a quick word translation while listening, read a transcript, absorb the new words, learn the intonation. When dealing with a very different language – say Mandarin – it is far more efficient that trying to make sense out of the wall of sound which will leave you stunned and wondering when you encounter it.

    When I know what I am doing – up to a point! – I love to go and play with the natives. I love to find out about their lives, get compliments on my fluency, get into the flow of real language which is what I think Benny sees as so valuable and enjoys doing immediately. It is the reward and eventually replaces all other activities.

    So I think whether you like “formal study” or not is actually a personality issue. Great for some and awful for other. The mana of life or the banshee song of death. Use if you like. Not if you don't. But it has real juice too.

    edit : I may have posted twice. I lost my first write. Apologies.

  • http://www.streetsmartlanguagelearning.com/ Street-Smart Language Learning

    A journal in your target language is definitely something I recommend! I did just that when I was here in Japan in high school, but because I couldn't get my computer to type in Japanese I ended up using all my other languages, which means that, if I feel nostalgic now and want to read about my adventures in Japan during high school, I have to do it using a bunch of languages. (I also helped myself by making lists of the words I needed to look up, so that means it's a relatively quick read.

    And even if the journal starts with simple things like “我六点半起床”, before long you'll be not only writing that you got up at 6:30, but you'll be writing how well you slept, what you dreamt about, etc.

    I'd also recommend tossing those through Lang-8 or the like. Or, heck, just do it there directly.

  • http://www.streetsmartlanguagelearning.com/ Street-Smart Language Learning

    Agreed! Dominating a word definitely means that you'll understand it better when you come across it during input. Going back again to the chart I made earlier showing the relationship between input and output, you'll maximize the growth of both circles by paying sufficient attention to the smaller one!

    By the way, whatever you're doing, it's clearly working! Your English is excellent!

    • http://www.facebook.com/bella.luve Bella Luve

      I am consistently learning each day for the past 2 months
      I can only hold a brief introduction. I know the basic greetings and general conversations nailed just by studying everyday.My Japanese speaking is at maybe a 5%-10% rate. I still am determined to learn this language.

      • http://www.streetsmartlanguagelearning.com/ Street-Smart Language Learning

        Keep at it! You’ll get there.

  • Quokka

    It is impressive how old you look on this post's picture. :-p

  • Quokka

    Not just newbies. Intellectually you conserve the idea that your method described above is the way to go. But unfortunately it is so easy to loose perspective and thus forget about the true meaning behind those simple truths.

  • http://twitter.com/tetrisruso Darya Shashkova

    great post, Benny! but, what should I do if i don't live in the native speaking country??? for example, I live in Spain and now I'm studying romanian. :) an d I don't want to pay much money to private teacher.
    so??
    anyway, I can speak to myself but it will make me loca :D

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

    Hi Darya!
    As I said in the article, you can use the Internet ;) There are a bunch of great sites for practising online and you can definitely find Romanian speakers who would be happy to help you for free if you help them with Spanish!
    Also, you live in MADRID. If you were in a small town you'd have a good excuse, but in a capital city it's very easy to find natives of almost any language! Put up an advertisement on loquo.com and in universities that you would like to do a tandem exchange and you can meet these people in person. If you search hard enough you WILL find natives who will be happy to help you in person, I'm sure of it.

  • http://hooshotjr-russian.blogspot.com Jennifer

    All right Benny (by the way, just found your site the other day–brilliant!), when are you going to get around to learning Russian? I know, I know, you just started on German…but really, Russian’s next, right? :) I’ve been “studying” for 5 years on and off (fail!) and “speaking” as much as I can for about a year and a half, ever since I went to Russia for a few weeks (not on holiday–long story) and made a ton of friends. Unfortunately, most of my “speaking” has been typing on vKontakte, but immersion is definitely the way to go. My friend Marsel keeps asking me if I’ve been studying (I haven’t–much) because I’m continuously getting better. Нужен мне говорить с моих сестру, но её не хочет говорить по-русски, только по-англиски! ((

    Ну…всё могу сказать…ты будешь любить русский язык!

  • http://jetsetcitizen.com John Bardos – JetSetCitizen

    I completely agree, “A language is a means of communication.” I believe that if you want to learn to communicate, then you need to communicate. The same is true for reading, running, or anything for that matter. Studying is fine tuning. Doing is learning.

    I think language teachers should also follow this advice. So much focus is put on memorizing vocabulary and grammar. I have seen so many teachers plan detailed lessons with no real communicative purpose.

    Unfortunately, the language industry is still largely textbook focused so the studying bias will still take a long time to extinguish.

  • ryanlayman

    I'm a teacher, and even I approve this message.

    No, seriously. Good points all around. Traditional testing is an awful and inauthentic means of evaluating peoples skills, and in fact encourages the wrong behavior, I agree.

    I only disagree on the speaking-specific focus, but that's because I'm a pro-input dude. More importantly, I think that we need to focus on all applicable language skills, speaking included. But really, any attempt to grasp with authentic language, in any skill, is critical.

    Love the blog. Thanks for saying what I've been saying since I've been in the profession.

  • http://www.poeticfairy.etsy.com lilmissdisney

    True! Though, studying will help you to understand reading and some speaking. I can read and also understand some speaking from just all my years of studying. But me being able to speak myself is not really happening, though that is of my own fault. 98 percent of the time I just have no one to practice with but the other 2% I just didn't take the opputunity to try.

    Yes, I agree there will be embarassment when you first start trying to speak, no matter how long you have studied, and the only way to get over that embarassment is to tackle it. Here's hoping for the oppurtunity to embarass myself ;o).

  • http://twitter.com/tetrisruso Darya Shashkova

    yeah, sure. you're right! i think my problem here is that i didn't start searching yet ;) that's why there's no reason to complain :)

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

    Thanks for the quote! I hope you are taking this post to heart and speaking Dutch immediately :)

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

    Glad to see teachers are starting to agree with me on this :)

    I think the focus depends on what your end-goals are. For example, I have little interest in writing anything and don't read so much. Even listening to podcasts isn't my thing. I genuinely want to converse with natives as often as possible. The only listening I do in the real world that I wouldn't contribute to are brief announcements on the U-Bahn for example. I prefer interaction. For professional and academic purposes “all applicable language skills” come into play, but for socialising speaking/conversation is everything.

    I can see that for many people more input would be beneficial since they have other focuses. However, I stand by the title of the post. Studying and input won't help you *speak* ;)

    Glad you are enjoying the blog!!

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

    Hi Jennifer! :)

    Welcome to the site! Russian is definitely on my shortlist, and I am currently considering where to go next after this German mission. The problem is, I choose my languages based way more on how my life would be in the destination, rather than on language families and most useful languages or easiest/hardest to learn etc. The social aspect is everything to me.

    I was thinking about Russian, but I would want to live in Moscow (lots going on, international crowd, touristy so I'd be able to host plenty of Couchsurfers to maintain my other languages etc.) and it is just waaay too expensive. Unless I sell a thousand copies of my Language Hacking Guide or something, that would be out of my budget… (still have to pay off debts unfortunately!) The idea of other cities doesn't interest me so much. I guess I could learn Russian in the Ukraine, but it would be confusing to have both languages at once.

    If you have any suggestions, I'm all ears :) Otherwise I'll continue with plan B!

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

    Well said! This advice is universal. People who learn how to play instruments don't spend years hearing theory, they start it from day one :)

    Thanks for the comment! Here's hoping that the language industry takes a turn for the better some time soon! With the open available means of free Internet communication, I think the “industry” is going to be taken over by the people themselves ;) Let's cut out the middleman and hear the languages from the natives themselves :D

  • http://languagebubble.com/ Andee

    Just a minor disagreement… I'm a teacher and a linguist…. And I agree that you to speak you have to speak ;)

  • Paul Rees

    I fee that studying is certainly the main reason cannot speak my target language much. I've been learning German, slowly at my own pace, for three years and can barely talk. My head is filled with complex grammar rules and by the time I've processed those… well nothing comes out of my mouth. I've stopped taking classes and I'm going to Berlin in June for some “on the ground” practice. However, I worry that I don't know how to stop thinking about the grammar and just speak. The damage is done I'm afraid.

  • http://vagaben.com VagaBen

    Words of truth! I had spanish for 6 years during my school years. At the end I could barrily present myself in the language. After 4 weeks in South America at a language school I could speak the language at a basic level! At the moment you forget about the fear of making an ass out of yourself, and just try speaking it, your learning curve will explode!

  • ryanlayman

    Hi Benny,

    Thanks for taking the time to reply! For your stated intent, I don't disagree at all. Speaking is the only way to get better at speaking. However, I think our linguistic background is influencing our attitudes, as well. I work in an academic environment, and the host culture language has a different script than my own language. Illiteracy is a common ailment for many foreigners here, and like illiteracy in any culture, people tend to get treated with kid gloves if they can't participate in that fashion. I think that's probably why our goals and purposes are different. I totally agree that for socializing with natives, you must only speak.

    I think we could have a pretty interesting discussion about “interaction” sometime. It seems the way that we use the word is different in a way that could tease some things to light. I, for example, use the word even for things like reading.

    Anyways, I will probably be living in Japan here for some time, so when you're ready to come over here and learn this one, give me a ring! I have no idea where it's at on your presumably very long list!

    Peace,
    Ryan

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

    The desire to go to Japan is high, but it's in the list of will-go-when-I-can-afford it, since living in Tokyo is a must for me (for social purposes) and it is dreadfully expensive from what I hear. If I get this website to really take off with more people clicking through and potentially more sales of the guide, then earning more would bring Japan way up as a priority for me :)

    The same goes for Russian since I'd like to do that in Moscow. How my life would be in the most interesting city of a country that speaks that language is a huge influence of what encourages me to prioritise it in my list :) So for the moment I have to consider cheap cities – Berlin is one of Europe's cheapest capital cities so it was a no brainer to come here and finally get my German up to scratch!

    • Gaijin

      Hi Benny,

      Tokyo is not expensive, unless you want to go clubbing a few times a week in Shibuya or Roppongi. I have been to Tokyo twice. For an average stay of 2.5 months I need around 3,500 euro. Is it much compared to Dublin (!), London or Paris?

      Gaijin

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

        Really? I’ve heard things like accommodation really are quite expensive. I’m sure I could easily rough it for a reasonable amount of money, but I was hoping to maintain the level of comfort I’ve had in other cities.

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

    So you actually agree with the entire article except for the part of me saying that you are likely to disagree with me :P Glad to hear it :D

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

    Nah, don't think of it like that ;) You've got a decent head start! Use what you know and just don't think too much. You'll make mistakes no matter what – once you accept that the flow comes much easier :)

  • Max

    You might want to be wary of advice of people who speak a language like your teacher speaks German. BTW, FYI, it ought to be 上厕所, not 去厕所.

  • Katie

    I'd been learning French the past few months using input only (Assimil, LingQ, Yabla.com and so on) on a daily basis. My passive understanding is “okay.” I thought I'd up the stakes and meet with a tutor once a week, if only to motivate myself to work that much harder. I told Steve at LingQ on his blog that I was going to do this, and he mentioned me in his next video, dismissing my thought, I took it, saying that you can't speak your way to fluency. First of all, how can you speak if you don't know any words, he says. That does make some sense.

    Well, the first lesson was disastrous, in terms of having any ability to converse whatsoever. I could understand my tutor/conversation partner moderately well, but I could not make the words come out of my mouth.

    My first thought was, “Wow, Steve's right, you can't speak your way to fluency.”

    I decided I'd give it a go one more time before giving up, and used the next week to learn even more words and hope for the best. I was surprised by how much better it went. Like, I could even express thoughts I had.

    I have no idea how this is, but my thought is knowing that I'm going to have to say something once a week gets my brain into active mode. I truly do not know. I only know that I know next time will continue to be awkward, but I'm not going to give up on learning and practicing vocabulary, and I feel very positive about this.

  • Sean

    No I have to disagree with you there, mistakes are bad. By speaking mistakes you only serve to reinforce them in your mind and make it more difficult for yourself in the future. You should really make an effort to speak correctly at all time, even if that means limiting what you try to say in the early stages. Think of it this way – what do you ever achieve by guessing a sentence? Best case scenario is someone with proficiency corrects you, in which case why don't you ask them first? Worst case, nobody corrects you (they are either too polite or not proficient themselves) and your either misunderstood or they figure out what you mean (likely if you are speaking with another learner who would likely make the same guesses as you and thus understand what you may have wanted to say) and you go off believing what you said was correct. I agree with the sentiment of go out and practice speaking people (especially people who speak better than you or even better natives) – definitely do that! But listen to what they say (i.e. get input) and only say what you know to be grammatically correct sentences. Yes you will still make some errors but your attitude should be to avoid them. In this way you will maximise your long term learning.

    • Daniel Pardo

      It’s okay to make mistakes as long as native speakers correct you on them and you actually play attention to them.

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

    Glad to hear it Katie :) As I say, we can't avoid studying, it's part of most people's language learning journey. But without the context to speak it in we can potentially study it for years and get nowhere. Your weekly lessons are an excellent motivator and something to work towards.

    Great that you made that first step! You'll feel the pressure, it will be annoying, but you are getting forced to improve quicker because of it :) You are getting over the barrier :D Now that study can really help drive you to fluency! Congrats!!

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

    Mistakes are bad. But making NO mistakes is worse. Speaking correctly all the time is unrealistic and that very attitude is what holds millions of people back from ever trying.
    What do you achieve by guessing a sentence? Communication!! Haven't I stressed that word enough? What do you achieve by saying a perfect 100% sentence with zero errors? Very little more than you would if the sentence had mistakes in it but was still understandable. But that's something to aim for after you reach intermediate when you want to refine your skills.
    The priority should always be communication. Then when someone is ready they can study hard to iron out their mistakes.
    Don't avoid making mistakes in the short-term. This should only be a long-term endeavour when you are comfortable speaking.

  • Sean

    Okay if the aim is communciation then saying the equivalent of “now water want” will work great, but lets not pretend we are “learning from mistakes” when we do that. There are plenty of people who never get past that stage exactly because it is possible to communicate pretty well in a language whilst not making correct sentences. If your aim is purely communication then thats fine, but its totally the wrong approach if you want to speak well and correctly.

    “What do you achieve by saying a perfect 100% sentence with zero errors?”

    You reinforce in your mind what you have learnt by studying (whether that be reading, listening to input from natives etc) and gain confidence in speaking. That's the part of your post I agree with, go out and speak and gain confidence. But make sure it's what you have already learnt – don't put the cart before the horse.

    “Then when someone is ready they can study hard to iron out their mistakes.”

    So once they have developed their own version of the language (incorrect grammar and all) and are communicating through it, they should then unlearn that and relearn the correct way through study?

    • Daniel Pardo

      A baby doesn’t speak 100% correctly at first. It learns from corrections of people around it and does accordingly. That’s the natural way of learning a language and is exactly what he has been talking about.

  • Anth

    Hey Benny loving the site and about to purchase your ebook after this brew :) I have studied Spanish and French at university since October and oh boy oh boy you couldn't be any more right! I do think grammar reading is useful though but can I just add http://www.conversationexchange.com is excellent. It's a simple free website that gets you in touch with native speakers via MSN, Skype, of face to face should you find any in your local area. I have found this very helpful, and have already made friends for when I go to live in Buenos Aires next year :)

    I hope you don't mind me mentioning other sites, it's merely a contact database for people but I understand if you delete this post, no offence meant.
    p.s. I can teach you Geordie if you wish :P
    Anth

  • http://corcaighist.blogspot.com Corcaighist

    I don't understand why you say that linguists and teachers are going to disagree with you when you say “to speak a language you must speak a language”. I am a linguist and a teacher and I totally agree with this message. Any teacher and linguist worth their salt, and all the good ones that I have met, do also agree with this. I don't know where is this angry rable of academics that are going to charge in and denounce this message.

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

    I wish I was meeting the teachers and linguists YOU were :)
    Even if they don't disagree that you need to speak, the feeling is that all they ever promote is study. Study study study and your conversation skills will improve. Even if they “think” differently, I've rarely met linguists or teachers who would phrase it they way I have here. There is more of an attitude of “yeah sure, speak when you can, but focus on studying!” The focus is very rarely on the actual conversation.
    Glad you are of the sane-camp though :D

  • http://www.pimsleurdirect.com/blogs/pimsleur?page=1 Larisa

    Excellent points, awesome post! You've really got to step outside yourself and embrace the culture and the language in its most natural form to gain a true understanding of it. Live it, breath it, think it and speak it. Thats how you learn a language!

  • http://floury.wordpress.com floury

    I´ll throw in my two cents. I mostly agree with Benny- getting into the habit and rhythm of regular communication is more important than flawless speech. Communication and confidence are two sides of the same coin- You will only speak when you have confidence, and confidence will only come as a result of speaking. Therefore, one should both get confidence and start speaking pronto!!! And when I say confidence, it doesn´t necessarily have to be a confidence in your ability to speak perfectly-it can be a confidence in your ability to say *something,* to share and practice what you know (be it currently very little), and to share your fabulous self (your knowledge, your interests and talents, your quirky personality) with others. A confidence that you´re comfortable enough in your own skin and secure enough that others will respect your effort and extend you grace even IF/WHEN you (are bound to) make frequent mistakes.

    Basically, a very humble confidence- insistent on practicing what you´re learning with native speakers so that those concepts can stick and cement themselves in your mind. But concurrently not letting ANYTHING permanently stick until it has been confirmed by native speakers. You have to be realistic about your level and recognize that all of what you have learned and *think* you understand is still tentative. You must confirm that you understand the nuances, how and when to apply it, the exceptions, the context and feel of the word/phrase/construction, and this will really only be confirmed by using the things you´re learning in conversation with natives, and absolutely INSISTING/begging that they correct your errors. If you have friends that are worth having, they will be eager to assist you. They will also be as insistent that you start speaking NOW and not just sit passively and quietly, not participating because you elegantly refrain to trouble them with your imperfect language skills, ever so afraid that your mistakes might stick and then you will doom yourself to error-filled language forever, and, oh my, look how it´s getting late, I really ought to be getting home and cuddling up with my dictionary. No, that´s just fear and pride. The pride that if you´re going to do something, you´re going to do it perfectly or not at all. If that´s your attitude, unfortunately, you´ll be forced to stick to a very limited skill set all your life. Think of it as being like learning how to dance- there are just some things in life you CANNOT teach yourself. And even if you could, it´s way more efficient , practical, and fun to let others help you in the meantime.

    I have two good friends who are native Spanish speakers and speak high levels of English. When we are together, we will often have long discussions on the minutiae of the respective languages we are studying, and it´s the perfect time to ask questions and nitpick each other´s grammar and vocabulary. However… in normal social contexts (where most people do NOT speak English and have no need/use for a language lesson in the middle of normal conversation—I live in Colombia), it is *not* ideal to be doing these kinds of interrogating and language lessons. The fact is, the conversation and fun and spirit of the group just move too quickly, and if I want to be a part of it (and I do), I have to (temporarily) get over my obsession with speaking perfectly and just do my best, knowing that what I say has many errors, *because there are still so many topics I haven´t covered/learned.* I KNOW that I´m making mistakes (I might not know exactly where the errors are, but I know which concepts I have down, and which I don´t, so it´s easy to guess where my probable mistakes are), and I WILL eventually find out the right way to say them (because I´m a highly motivated learner…obviously if one doesn´t even have the goal of perfection they are almost certainly never going to attain it, nor even realize how far-off the mark they are), but, in the moment, imperfect communication is far more important than sitting mute because if I can´t say something perfectly, I´m not going to say it at all. With this kind of thinking, I would be limited to the most basic of sentences. Sure, you should make an effort to speak as correctly *as you know how* and this knowledge should constantly be increasing as a result of 1. having people correct your mistakes, and 2. self-study. Like you said, you will be limited in the early stages. But also in the advanced stages! As your proficiency increases, so will your confidence and desire to speak about more complex topics—leading yourself into territories with even more mines and potential for mistakes. Humble confidence is still key. But the more you learn and inch closer to fluency, the more you will realize that there is so much to learn, more than you ever realized in the beginning. And, next thing you know, you repeat that you´re STILL not ready to speak.

    I´ve realized that I previously, over a period of several years, had trained myself to not be able to speak because… I never spoke. That is a habit that is difficult to unlearn. If I refuse to speak because I am aware of how distant fluency is and in the meantime sit passively, don´t participate with the group (or worse, don´t even go out but stay alone in my apt.), and believe that I have nothing to say/contribute because I have nothing that I can say flawlessly…I am drilling those attitudes into my head and I will continue to believe them!! Even if that day finally comes and I know everything there is to know about Spanish in my head… I´m almost certain I still wouldn´t be able to speak it, seeing as I had accustomed myself to 1. feeling bad about my Spanish, 2. feeling bad about myself, 3. being known as the silent, pensive one, and 4. staying in my safe cocoon of self where I didn´t have to practice the back-and-forth and surprises of authentic speech. Plus, I believe that, linguistically speaking, our tongue is a muscle and it takes a lot of practice to loosen it and get it to work at the same rate as our mind (one or the other is always wanting to be faster).

    I make mistakes, but I don´t see it as having to unlearn them, because I never learn them in the first place. Sure, I make them in the moment out of necessity, but I know that I will later/soon set to learning the right way to say them. In the meantime, they´re a stand-in. I have a very high level…I know a lot, relatively speaking. But if I were to only use what I´ve already learned… I STILL couldn´t say very much, at the end of the day, because language is so vast, as is the world of ideas and expression and all the nuances I wish to convey.

    (two cents obviously takes you quite far these days… :p)

  • Katie

    Making mistakes only reinforces them so long as you make no effort on your own to continue learning. That is, if your only contact with the language are day-to-day conversations, with no reading, no attempt to boost your vocabulary, no attempt to really learn the grammar, then yes, you'll develop you're own pidgin style of speaking, and everyone around you will be forced to adapt. But just because you may speak badly “now,” it doesn't mean that that can't change.

    I just know too many people who've learned English as a second language. It's not that those who learned well just held off on speaking. It's that they never stopped striving. And it's pretty easy to distinguish between those who continue to work at it, and those who give up, feeling they've reached their desired level.

    I just do not buy that these mistakes become hardwired into our brains, because as adults, we're learning much too late for that. That is one advantage, if any, to learning as an adult.

    • Stania

      Hi there,

      I must say that I learn from mistakes because I want to. I am now trying to learn Urdu. And the problem I had was that there were no people arround I could talk to, because in my town and I would say a distctrict too, there were no Hindus or Pakistanis. So – I found some on the Internet (well, it took me some time, but I did succeed after all) :-). I already knew some phrases so I started learning them and then using them. And I asked my “teacher” to correct me every time I say something wrong. Well, God bless him for his patience, but to my surprise it was a great fun. Manytimes I have said unwillingly something funny or wierd, but we laughed over it once he explained the meaning. Then I wrote it down the right way and I remembered it because of what had happened :-) It´s no point trying to be perfect. I know that to learn the language will take me a long time – and so what? I dont want to learn it because I must – I want to learn it because I want. And that is also, I believe, the reason which helps me to move forward…

      Anyhow, just wanted to share my opinion :-)

      Stania (from the Czech Republic)

  • http://livingintransit.com Jen

    I'll definitely be looking for this next time I hit the bookstore. My method, which I hope is working (seems like it is) is learning the alphabet and sounds of characters, so learning how to read and speak at the same time. We'll see if it does work.

  • http://commspanish.com espanol mi amor

    I absolutely agree… I remember a few years ago, I had to study japanese because it was a requirement in my school. I didn't learn much from the classroom, where my teacher would teach us vocabulary and stuff. I've learned to speak Japanese by talking to my classmates, who used to live in Japan, and are of course very fluent in the language. I sounded very awkward at first, but with their help, I was able to speak the language in no time.

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

    Glad you agree Larisa :)

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

    Looking for what in the bookstore? :) If you mean my Language Hacking Guide, you can just download it right now :P I won't be publishing it for at least a year, and only if sales go really well in the mean time.
    Best of luck with your method :)

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

    In the end one of the only advantage of learning in some courses is talking with those also taking the course – the HUMAN aspect – rather than the course material itself ;)
    Glad you were successful with Japanese and got over that awkward stage! :D

  • http://www.getintoenglish.com David

    Hi I've just downloaded your book – you're an inspiration learning these languages so well!

    HOWEVER I disagree about what you say above – I've been teaching English for over 10 years and I can assure you that today's major certificates and diplomas from Cambridge encourage teachers to organise lessons that get real results. ALL the teachers I know encourage real world speaking in their classes, along with a focus on what they need personally (eg emailing for work).

    If you look at the latest coursebooks, some of them are quite forward-thinking when it comes to promoting conversational English. Yep, 'just speak speak speak' is important – but you also need language input. For some folk, a book helps (of course for others it can be a massive dreary hindrance).

    Yep, there's still a little too much 'traditional teaching' or learning out there – but this is changing.

    Despite what I've just said, I really do admire you for what you've done, and hope your book will have some tips for me on how to improve my Czech! I also agree that it's really improve to delay til tomorrow what you can do today – and also that each person's confidence and 'inner game' is really important.

    Best wishes

    David

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

    Thanks David – glad you are enjoying the Guide :)

    I have to say, no matter how accurate the coursebooks are, they are useless if not actually applied. Knowing all the information doesn't mean the student can actually use it.

    If teachers from Cambridge get results then I imagine it's because they get the students to actually speak. Self-study or academic courses that encourage no interaction are what I am attacking in this post, not efficiently run courses that lead to actual conversation within the courses. If they do, then there is no disagreement – they combine conversation with studies. As I said in the post, courses that encourage speaking are great, and studying will help the student make progress… as long as they are speaking too ;)

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Jen

    Many years ago when I was studying French at high school a new student came who was fluent in French because her family lived in a French speaking African country. It was then I realised what we were doing was not really related to a proficency in the language because my nerdy friends and I (who could always remember to make sure our adjectives were the right gender etc) regularly got higher marks than her.

  • Hexlingual

    hahahahahaha!

    This is such bullshit! I've learned six languages using study and been to the countries where they speak them. It's taken me twelve years but I know speak Spanish, Italian, French, German, Portuguese, and Dutch. I went on a kind of Grand Tour last year. I went to Spain, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, Portugal and Germany. And it seems that they thought I spoke perfectly.

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

    Not sure what you are getting at, but your comment proves the worth of this post perfectly.

    Exams are made for people good at exams. Because of that even natives can't do as well as people who spend their time learning tables. If the point of learning a language is nothing more than to pass an exam, then all you have to do is study.

    But of course that student would have likely had spoken French at some level and been way better off than the rest of you in a natural conversation that didn't involve talking about subjunctives etc. ;) Just because you can explain the correct adjective endings doesn't mean you can talk about where you'll go to party this weekend…

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

    Most people don't worry about speaking a large number of languages, they are quite happy with just one to start with. You seem to be ignoring crucial information. Right now, I too could study my way to fluency if I wanted (although I don't, because it's boring and antisocial).

    But the point is, you would have gotten over the inability to converse in one language and the frustration of that and THEN been able to take on other languages easier. This barrier has to be gotten over and once you do it one time then it's way easier after that if you take on other languages.

    If you honestly believe what they said about you speaking “perfectly”, you're deluded. Mastering a language takes a lot more than what you see it taking.

    You met nice people who complimented your level. I'm sure you were speaking well and getting your point across. If you enjoy studying a language, keep it up. But your comments do nothing to disprove what I said here for people taking on their first foreign language.

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

    Thanks for the link Anth ;) Hope you are enjoying your copy of the Guide :)

  • Kyrene

    I was lucky to have a good French teacher in high school. For the first two years the classes were almost entirely speaking. It wasn't until our third year that we got a textbook. He thinks that input is essential to being able to speak, but he says that you get that input from hearing the language rather than reading through a textbook.
    After taking his class real conversations were easy to get used to because I already knew how to speak. My spelling is terrible though, but I've never been in a situation where I need to spell French correctly.

  • Cainntear

    I think you've gone a step too far.

    Studying will help you speak a language. “Help”.
    Studying will not make you speak a language.

    The “speak” vs “speak better” distinction is a red herring.

    A lot of language study falls into the category of “reception learning” as defined by Ausubel. “Reception learning” is learning by having the material explained to you, as opposed to “rote learning” which is just memorising facts (or words, phrases and sentences, in the case of language learning) and “discovery learning” which is working everything out for yourself.

    But “telling is not teaching”, as I always say, so why am I in favour of reception learning? Reception learning theory agrees with this and says that we only genuinely learn through use, application and manipulation of the new knowledge. Discovery learning theory claims that the discovery process is part of the learning process, but reception learning claims that we don't actually start the learning until we have the facts in our possession, so the discovery period is little more than wasted time.

    So I believe that study is of immense help in learning a language because it puts the mechanics of the language into your hands to use.

    But of course, you have to get out and use it to learn it as you say, and reception theory says the same.

    The “not ready yet” thing is self-perpetuating, as you say.

    As I read through the article, it seemed to me you agree with this, but by being so strong in your title and opening paragraphs, you risk misleading the reader.

  • Traci

    I'm currently taking Japanese in college, aiming for a degree in the language. I've managed to get straight A's in the class but still cannot speak very well. Read and write? Sure. I have a very limited vocabulary since it's not very important to my teacher but this summer I'm taking a conversation class. I speak with my friends in Japanese and can explain myself very basically in Japanese but for some reason in class I cannot do it. I have learned languages before (French, Spanish and German) but don't recall a lot in any of the three or I somehow combine them… I was lucky to have been able to live in two of the three countries in Europe those languages are spoken so I had no choice but to learn them! I was an exchange student in France for 6 months and became fluent enough that when I returned to the USA, I was technically in French 3 but doing French 6/7 work (which was considered fluent since there was no English in the book at all). I lived in Germany for 4 years and can still remember when I arrived there how foreign the language looked. I look at it now and can figure out (usually) what people are saying. Spanish I get to use at work as I have several co-workers who are native speakers and boy have I said some embarrasing things… apparently in Spanish, saying caliente means you want to have sex! I now know not to say that… :D
    Anyways, this has been a very long comment (sorry!), but I wanted to let you know you've helped me get over the fear of speaking and even though I forget a lot of the time what I want to say, I'm speaking Spanish fluently (ish) at work, speaking French fluently to two of my co-workers who are native and attempting to speak Japanese to anyone who will listen. So thanks for posting all the things you have!

  • TMFproject

    Your post reinforces a sociocultural framework for language learning, which emphasizes the supreme importance of CONTEXT, and that language cannot be separated from context, and when it is, is rendered meanngless…..over the cognitive framework that argues that language learning is primarily a function of the mind, and happens in predictable patterns.

    What I dig about you is your ability to relay valuable language information, while at the same time providing a shit ton of motivation, where your passion comes through. On top of that, you're hilarious.

    Well done!

  • La Chachalaca

    I am a foreign language teacher and I don't hate you for this post. I agree. Studying the language (worksheets, conjugation charts, etc.) has its place, but we should be giving students opportunities to actually SPEAK in the target language on a daily basis. Give students phrases on the very first day of school so that they can start speaking on day one! Many teachers (particularly in the U.S.) are criticized for using total immersion and pressuring their students into actually speaking in the target language every day…but it's the only way they're actually going to acquire the language!! The teachers that are going to hate you are the ones who are simply too afraid to challenge their students or just don't care if their students acquire the language.

  • Andrey A.

    Hey, Benny, it's great you'tr interested in Russian! But I personally would suggest you consider studying Russian in the Russian speaking part of Ukrainian, because I find the accent of Moscow ridiculous – a bizzare combination of harshness and stereotypical gayness; and it's not even the standard pronunciation! I suggest you do accent comparison between different Russian-speaking areas before you decide to move anywhere to study Russian.

  • pohli

    You're right in that learning to play an instrument is quite similar to learning a language. But the similarity goes even further:
    I know of many people that once learned an instrument, went to lessons for years and still can't play much more than one or two favorite pieces. This is studying music.
    Others learn a few chords and then go out and play together with their friends. This is conversation.
    I don't want to say that the years of piano lessons I had were useless, there certainly is much to it, like technique (grammar), but only because I soon started playing with others, now I speak the piano language. And the guitar language I learned a little later without any teacher's advice. There are certainly some that speak it more fluently, but I get into a conversation with my band easily, even on songs I don't know yet ;-)

  • Chad

    I'm not sure which teachers and linguists you have met, but I agree with Corcaighist completely. I wouldn't be able to find ONE professor or TA in the whole modern languages department where I work that would disagree about the importance of speaking. NONE of them stress studying as more important than actually speaking the language. Every single one of them (and our department) stresses the importance of speaking in the classroom and try to use a student-centered approach, which allows the students to utilize everything. This situation was exactly the same during my undergraduate studies, my graduate studies, and my time studying abroad.

    I don't understand why “polyglots” with these “learn X languages in X amount of time” claims always attempt to attack academia and try to paint it as a group of people merely trying to force their students to study and never use what they have learned. It's completely absurd. I think it's an easy target and ridiculous to lay all blame on professors and claim that they are constantly unsuccessful in assisting a student in acquiring the ability to converse in the target language. Having learned a language through both speaking and “studying”, and having taught courses in which immersion and conversation are very stressed, I find it preposterous to ignore the faults of some of the students themselves.

    Keep in mind that most introductory language courses are filled with students who have little to no desire to learn the language. Many of them are forced to take the course due to general education requirements and simply need to pass the courses. We always asked our students why they were taking our courses, and 90% of them generally said that. Of course that does not mean that I, or others, will simply just lackadaisically go about teaching since they don't want to learn. A teacher can create an atmosphere where speaking is encouraged and only the target language is used, but they cannot force students to speak…no matter how many times you tell them that it's ok to make mistakes…everyone makes mistakes. I even correct my own mistakes in front of my students to show that that even I, as the teacher, can make mistakes. Those students who do make an effort to participate are the ones who are generally the most successful in both learning and speaking. Teaching and modern language associations also highly promote research that stresses the importance of teaching and utilizing the language, even if mistakes are made.

    I agree with most of what you said. I simply disagree with this need to paint academia as “failing”, “useless”, “never focused on utilizing”, etc.

  • Chad

    “If you honestly believe what they said about you speaking “perfectly”, you're deluded. Mastering a language takes a lot more than what you see it taking. “

    And how exactly is he deluded? It is very much possible that he simply met people who thought it was nice that he spoke their language, so they wanted to compliment him. It is also possible that he was good enough in at least one of the languages to have someone seriously mean he spoke “perfectly”. I know people who taught themselves languages with textbooks, videos, movies, etc and have near perfect pronunciation and grammar when it comes to conversational situations. I know a girl like that who taught herself German. Neither my boyfriend nor I can hear an accent or a mistake unless we wait a long time. She does in fact speak “perfectly” in conversational situations.

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

    Chad, teachers never say “don't speak”, but those in schools etc. focus entirely on the content of the language rather than it's social implications. Focusing on studying and dull exercises is as good as actively avoiding conversations as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps other (more expensive) courses are different, but this has been my experience, and many many people share my experiences.

    If the course you give is different and focuses on conversation as the priority over tables of grammar and standardised exercises that aren't relevant to the learner, then that's great, but that would be an exception rather than the norm.

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

    Thanks Traci – it's always nice to read comments like yours that help me see I am helping people :)

  • Chad

    And I know many, many people who share my experiences as well. You cannot simply portray your experiences as some sort of fact and basis for attacking academia as you have.

    You do realize that your whole approach focuses solely on conversational skills? The purpose of a classroom is not to only teach conversational skills. You need to focus on writing and reading skills as well. You may be of the opinion that many of the exercises are dull and irrelevant, but I personally find that opinion to be complete BS and truly uninformed.

    Teaching and promoting conversational skills is very important, however, doing so at the expense of the other skills is doing the students a disservice. You seem to incorrectly assume that each person learns in a similar way. You do realize that there are different ways of learning? Not all students can simply pick up the correct grammar through speaking. I know students I studied abroad with who spoke German every day and yet rarely improved in their grammar. Sure they were able to get their point across in simplistic situations, but they sometimes spoke in broken sentences, and failed to even make the verb and subject agree. Perfect grammar is not something somoene should obsess over…they will never speak it PERFECTLY. However, the importance of learning the grammar and structure of the language in a classroom is not something that one can ignore. A good teacher will utilize both conversational activities and those grammar tables that you seem to find so tedious to assist their students in grasping the language.

  • Katie

    I agree with a lot of both Chad and Benny say here. Reflecting on my own school experience, no one really wanted to learn Spanish. But it can be so chicken and egg as well. Did they not want to learn because it was taught so badly? Or was it taught badly because the course had to cater to those who didn't want to learn? In any language class, junior high, high school and in college, regardless of who taught the class, we studied straight from a text book. It was commonly said that you couldn't even begin to think of having a conversation until maybe your fourth year. It would take that long to learn all the grammar.

    I remember one time, a friend and I had a sort of pidgin conversation with what we knew from Spanish. This was after two years maybe? Two years, and we could barely put together sentences.

    In my early twenties, I moved to Prague as a part of that now infamous ex-pat scene. I made a huge effort to learn Czech, and spent a lot of time studying. I worked very hard at it and reached a certain level after one year that I felt good about, at least for having made the effort. But I can't deny that there were some Americans I knew who didn't try so hard, but who were at the same time quite cocky from my vantage point, who'd jump right in and just talk, very badly, but their comprehension was much higher than mine, in certain social settings, at a certain point. There's a give and take; we were all beginners. I was about to say “hack”, but that's taken on a new meaning now. :) But after a year there, I felt like I was starting to really get it, and my cocky American friends were quite adept at ordering beers. But they “believed” they were quite good.

    Slightly off topic, I just want to point out that at least (a lot of) Americans tried. I can't say as much for (several of the) ex-pats from other countries. Maybe we were all embarassed about the stereotypes against monolingual Americans, but I met quite a few polyglots from France, Germany, Holland and so on who just couldn't be bothered with Czech, claiming it was impossible.

    I think Benny's headings are intended to be provocative, because while he says studying will never help you, he does spend time studying the language. It must help, or he wouldn't be doing it. But I think he's trying to take jabs at people who say that to learn a language you don't have to speak it, which is also an intentionally provocative point of view, because when pressed, these same people will say, Yes, of course, conversation is important.

    Can we be real for a second? Aren't we all passionate about learning languages? I know I love arguing about it. Don't we all? Isn't that what this is all about? Nothing wrong with it. It keeps me going!

  • http://thefutureisred.com Leigh Shulman

    I come to this discussion from a slightly different perspective.

    As someone who best learns languages the way you do, I obviously agree with your method. But as someone who is now about to begin teaching English to a group of students who live in a city where very few people speak the target language, I face other obstacles.

    We're setting up our classroom as an English only space, and the goal of the classroom — from the student's perspective — is not to learn English, but another subject altogether. At the end of the quatrimestre (funny how it turns out to also be three months), we have to prove improved English facility.

    So we're using an immersion model while being tested by the old study grammar model.

    Should be interesting to see how it turns out.

  • http://www.lemonlu.com/ Luana

    Completely agree with you. I decided to take two years learning Mandarin in Beijing rather than going to an expensive academy in my hometown; being there I was able to connect and talk to locals all day, every day! I also went to university there to learn, but the only way to put all those expressions and new vocab I learnt in class to use was to go out there and talk my head off with any willing stranger/cab driver. I think locals in general are happy (or atleast find it interesting) that foreigners are making such an effort with their language, that when I said anything wrong they just corrected me and let out a little chuckle, but no ridicule (despite the fact that I may in fact have butchered their language).
    Great post!

  • http://acooper.org/ Alex

    Brilliantly put, Benny.

    And when you speak, people speak back. Pretty handy for learning a language. :-)

  • Animesh

    Definitely some good points there, but saying that studying doesn't help you speak is gobbledygook that might be swallowed by someone learning their first foreign language, and might get you enough eyeballs and sales from people who are making no progress in their studies.
    I've done it with three languages and there is no better way to it. Study, get the basics sorted, go out and talk/listen for a few weeks then hit the books again. Repeat.
    I had respect for your blog but now it seems you're just saying stuff to get eyeballs and make money.

  • jimmy hinkson

    spot on-i realised this myself-my confidence explodes when i speak and it encourages me to study more-my beef is that books can't teach the real everyday speech(there are a few exceptions) but nothing beats learning from what ordinary people say!

  • Ylcnfatih

    This isn't something different from what linguistics usually say. They call it “exposure”. In order to use the language, you need to be exposed to. However, this doesn't often work in a foreign language class. The teacher sets the rule “No native language”, always “target language”, but later it is the teacher who uses it somehow.
    The other thing you claim is called “language learning barrier”. Suggestopedia (a language teaching method) says when the barriers are on, the learning doesn't take place because the learner fells uncomfortable. For this reason, the teacher should set an environment where the learner could express himself clearly without fearing of making mistakes.
    Another point is that Stephen Krashen (a famous linguist) claims there is an effective filter, which is close to the method's above mentioned claims more or less.

    What I mean is, what you are saying isn't different, what is different is you have the ability to put it into practice, rather than lecture topic.

  • Henry Lester

    What if you don't have someone to talk to except like on text based chat? Does that still count as speaking (without the voice). Will it help you in a sense of speaking and not so much of just studying? The Language I am learning it's on the other side of the world. But planning to visit next year.

    But as of right now I currently only have a way to speak is to myself and via text based applications. Would it hinder me?

  • Satoko

    thank you for posting this comment.

    I'm Japanese and I've been studying English for over 10 years and I am now studying Nursing at uni in Australia. But I didn't have confidence with my English BEFORE I read this. And it has been my biggest concern, I couldn't say what I wanted to say.

    I realised that I had been studying English with sitting at the desk all the time to get enough confidence to talk to people. Now I know that's all wrong.

    Tommorrow, my new tutorials are starting. My mission is to find somebody to talk!!

    Thanks Benny!!

  • Will Masters

    i have to say hand on heart i completely disagree with you when you say that it should be used to help you improve as opposed to anything else. yes, obviously it will help you improve if you arent brilliant in a given aspect of the language, that goes without saying, but i;m living proof that studying a language can make you speak it without too much difficulty. last year i went to portugal to see my girlfriend and her family, who are all native portuguese. before going, i speant a month looking at vocab, learning it, reading how to pronounce the words correctly. i sat and memorised all the grammar rules and exceptions i could find and finally at the end of the month i flew out there. when i got out there i was able to speak clearly and concisely by applying the rules of grammar to the vocab i had learnt. naturally i wasnt able to speak like a native and it was obvious i wasnt one, but i was still able to communicate without a problem and and make myself completel understood by everyone i came into contact with, and all this was without ever having heard a word of the language spoken by a native. today, after having spent the past year speaking nothin but portuguese with my girlfriend i am now completely fluent with a good accent. there are very few things that i am unsure how to say in the language, and as much as it will never be as good as my native obviously, i recon that with time then it will come pretty close if it continues the way its goin
    i have read alot of your posts and think they are very good, but have to admit that you do generalise alot, and forget that like rules of language, there are exceptions to the rules to with people and the ways they study and learn.

  • Anonymous

    I found after going from the use your limited language to doing what some called “a silent period” that my accent became ruined not only in the language I was doing it in but also Italian and French as well! It was ridiculously boring also.

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

      Use in real situations is more stressful sometimes, but definitely not boring :)

      • Anonymous

        Sorry, what I meant was I bought into the hype of the silent period, input and LingQ. Originally I was saying random phrases whenever I could and tried to make them make sense but then saw an article saying reading and listening is better. I tried it and it just dragged me down, ruining what was once a fine accent. Now though, I’ve gone back to speaking because it is helping the accent. In essence, what I meant to say, studying has long term, detrimental effects. Merry Christmas!

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

    Yep, teach a man a few words and he’ll say a few words. Teach him how to learn and develop his language, and he’ll speak it fluently ;) It’s like the fishing metaphor…

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

    For 3 days??? That’s what I do too – there’s no disagreement. Please don’t accuse me of being dogmatic if you are nitpicking about such ridiculous silly details. And please read the post properly – I was arguing against approached based on pure study over the long term.

    I’ve defined fluency here: http://www.fluentin3months.com/defining-fluency-to-achieve-fluency/

    Please read the posts properly before giving me your bones. ;)

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

    For 3 days??? That’s what I do too – there’s no disagreement. Please don’t accuse me of being dogmatic if you are nitpicking about such ridiculous silly details. And please read the post properly – I was arguing against approached based on pure study over the long term.

    I’ve defined fluency here: http://www.fluentin3months.com/defining-fluency-to-achieve-fluency/

    Please read the posts properly before giving me your bones. ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.maurer Arthur Maurer

    Studying might not help you actually speak a language, but it will definitely improve your reading and writing skills in that given language, which, to my mind, is equally important–especially in an age where communication is increasingly being limited to the computer and cellphone screen. Also, some people are not by nature verbal communicators–even in their native tongue–and so for them the best method of communication would be writing. But really, what’s needed is not one method or the other, but both, so that you can speak and write in a language. You make a good point in saying that studying a language will never help you speak it, and I completely agree–you have to be immersed in, surrounded by, that language; you have to experience it. However, if you want to be able to write in that language without any guesswork, then studying is important. So I guess what I’m saying is, like pretty much everything in life, we have to strike a balance between the two.

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

      In my mind writing is NOT equally important to being able to communicate face to face with a human being. It should always come second.

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

      In my mind writing is NOT equally important to being able to communicate face to face with a human being. It should always come second.

  • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.maurer Arthur Maurer

    Studying might not help you actually speak a language, but it will definitely improve your reading and writing skills in that given language, which, to my mind, is equally important–especially in an age where communication is increasingly being limited to the computer and cellphone screen. Also, some people are not by nature verbal communicators–even in their native tongue–and so for them the best method of communication would be writing. But really, what’s needed is not one method or the other, but both, so that you can speak and write in a language. You make a good point in saying that studying a language will never help you speak it, and I completely agree–you have to be immersed in, surrounded by, that language; you have to experience it. However, if you want to be able to write in that language without any guesswork, then studying is important. So I guess what I’m saying is, like pretty much everything in life, we have to strike a balance between the two.

  • Danny Cortés

    this just made my day, i was studying to learn french (cuz i already am a native speaker in english and spanish so i really wanted to learn french. it didnt work out cuz i just filled up a book with notes… i tried talking and i was actually able to learn a few things. im still far away from learning this language well but this  made me want to try learning in a new way. Thank you so much!

  • http://lindsayenespana.blogspot.com/ Lindsay

    This is exactly what I needed to read this week.  I recently moved to Spain and I am currently learning Spanish… I would consider myself to have a basic level.  I really just want to get to the point where I can carry on conversations in Spanish, and I think you’re 100% right that the only way to do that is to speak.  While I’m really outgoing speaking English, I become shy and nervous when I speak Spanish.  I keep telling myself that once I study a few more grammar principles and build just a little more vocabulary, I will be ready to start speaking.  I’m now realizing that I CAN speak, just not very well.. but I need to just push through the uncomfortable and embarrassing moments!  I’m going to look for some language exchange partners so that I can practice speaking in an environment where it’s okay to stop and make corrections and ask questions.  Anyways, thank you again.  Keep up the great posts!

  • http://lindsayenespana.blogspot.com/ Lindsay

    This is exactly what I needed to read this week.  I recently moved to Spain and I am currently learning Spanish… I would consider myself to have a basic level.  I really just want to get to the point where I can carry on conversations in Spanish, and I think you’re 100% right that the only way to do that is to speak.  While I’m really outgoing speaking English, I become shy and nervous when I speak Spanish.  I keep telling myself that once I study a few more grammar principles and build just a little more vocabulary, I will be ready to start speaking.  I’m now realizing that I CAN speak, just not very well.. but I need to just push through the uncomfortable and embarrassing moments!  I’m going to look for some language exchange partners so that I can practice speaking in an environment where it’s okay to stop and make corrections and ask questions.  Anyways, thank you again.  Keep up the great posts!

  • http://lindsayenespana.blogspot.com/ Lindsay

    This is exactly what I needed to read this week.  I recently moved to Spain and I am currently learning Spanish… I would consider myself to have a basic level.  I really just want to get to the point where I can carry on conversations in Spanish, and I think you’re 100% right that the only way to do that is to speak.  While I’m really outgoing speaking English, I become shy and nervous when I speak Spanish.  I keep telling myself that once I study a few more grammar principles and build just a little more vocabulary, I will be ready to start speaking.  I’m now realizing that I CAN speak, just not very well.. but I need to just push through the uncomfortable and embarrassing moments!  I’m going to look for some language exchange partners so that I can practice speaking in an environment where it’s okay to stop and make corrections and ask questions.  Anyways, thank you again.  Keep up the great posts!

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

    The only issue you seem to have, as you repeated it, is that the other person “is willing to…” or not.

    Please read these posts:

    http://fi3m.com/how-to-convince-natives-to-speak-to-you-in-their-language/

    http://fi3m.com/battle/

    Also, NO you will not find me humbled by other scripts. It took me a few hours to learn the Thai script: http://fi3m.com/phonetic-script-can-be-learned-quickly/ Easy peasy. The only thing that will be much more time consuming as I see it are non phonetic scripts, most of which you listed are NOT.

    There is no good excuse.

  • Rafaelinrio

    Man, I gotta agree with what you said like 100%….here’s my story, my parents are Brazilian but I was born and grew up in Canada…but they would always use English to talk to me, and they spoke in portuguese to each other…I could understand most of what they said but I couldn’t speak because I never tried and I was afraid of making mistakes, one day my father was tranfered back to Brazil, I was 16 back then and then I had to go to school there…I was amazed of how much I could talk in only one month there, just because I was trying…in around 6 month I could communicate in portuguese as well as I could in English…. so you’re right when you say that if u wanna speak a language you have to speak it, no matter how wrong or stupid you might sound, that’s the only way.

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

    Uh huh. I’d like to see you survive in a party after all those books. Passing an exam is not the same as being really fluent.

    You are either lying, or you used books AND PEOPLE. Reaching fluency by being locked up in a room with dusty paper is impossible.

    • Gary Barker Johnson

      I beg to differ. One just requires the right dusty paper of the original language we already speak in common, that we did not know how to question due to our own separatist method of mind that is in our language(s). Currebtly our current is meaningless without meaning to tone. Meaning what we say, saying what we mean, and being exact in that. This is the healing of mankind. This will be given to those that give up on our current language to begin a new current of language to run in that gives us bellies of flowing waters of language that connect us to earth and the stars. What do you think? My deaf ears and blind eyes are ready to stop the separatist languages we speak. Are you?

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

    “And she wonders how my Finnish improves so much faster than hers does.” – let me guess – she says you’re a genius with the language gene? All the hard work of avoiding English and trying to use the language for real as much as possible is discarded? :P

    You are right that it’s so much more powerful to have a grammatical feature enforced in the real world. Certain words and ways of speaking have been burned into my mind quicker than any memory technique would ever let them, because I was embarrassed by using it incorrectly and getting shown the right way.

  • http://www.internetgeeks.org/ Internet Geeks

    Awesomoe advice. To learn a language you have to speak it!!

    On the target.

  • http://twitter.com/DianaShalabY Pharonna

    Hi, Nice article! I have a question. why are you learning ( Egyptian) Arabic? it makes me happy to see ppl learn/speak in my dialect :)

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

      Because I’m going to Egypt, very simply.

  • disqus_w3yK8svLMd

    What to do if I want to speak English but have sociophobia? It’s when you are afraid of people and dealing with them.

  • ame

    I totally agree not just with language courses but most university education does not prepare you for working life how sad its just a means to keep you busy and in the rat race. As for language its impossible to learn from a book. The only way to learn a language is from a person you LIVE with. I have learnt Urdu from living with my husband who taught are children. Before this I studied books on the language and can honestly say I didn’t understand a word he was speaking and that’s months and months of hard book work audio work etc. Now he speaks Urdu to me and I u understand people in the street who walk by lol. I’m no longer stressed trying to learn robotic phases in fact I don’t do any work at all it comes naturally like to a baby. So easy no books no lectures no audio just conversation.

    This is the only way that works which is stress free and fun. I have not found a single book which writes Urdu as its spoken. Not to mention finding any regualry used Urdu. For example at home we say in English to our children Gunna get u Gunna get you tikke tikke tikke. Now you tell me where and what book teaches that in another language. Precisely my point it dosnt. 80% of things I would say to my baby or kids you just can’t find in a book. I will give you a few examples:
    1. Knock the stackey cups down
    2. Push the buttons
    3. No scratching, biting, hitting
    4. Do standing
    5. Walk to dada
    6. Be good girl
    7. Do wee
    8. Good girl u doing wee wee
    9. You eating sweetpea
    10. Where’s it gone, your socky fell off
    What sound does a doggie make
    11. You Gunna get a hiding stop it.
    12. If you don’t clean this mess up your going on time out.
    13. Why you not listening
    These are just a few but there are millions more.

  • ame

    I just wanted to add another point here. Many people believe that learning a language starts with talking about hobbies or their interests. This is just robotic. The best way is to have someone speak to you continuously in the choosen language and eventually you’ll start speaking words however this only comes after hearing the language spoken directly to yourself. If you can u understand a language and how it sounds and connect actions with the words spoken to you directly you will automatically speak and respond naturally rather than robotically trying to transfer English to Urdu etc.

    I can’t think of anything more boring tha learning phases such as:
    1. What time does the train leave
    2. Where is the nearest bank
    3. Is the shop walking distance
    Language is spoken at home vastly and the home phases are very important. most phases in books teach you to I interact with people you don’t know in order to get directions. How ridiculous I can’t remember that last time I used any book type phases in my own language let alone learn them for another language. Hello my name is…. And my hobbies are…..where is the bank….nice to meet you…..id like a hotel room for 2 people please…..etc etc etc. Boring robotic rarely used. Never spoken at home.

  • george12345

    In Egypt, I met a lot of American friends who speak English as their native tongue but deficient in their spellings. Yet, they are college graduates in the United States!

  • Jacob

    What about reading out loud in a different language? There are not many native Germans where I live so I started reading out loud to myself and it seems to be doing a good job, what do you think?

  • kur za teb

    Fuck off,

  • http://www.facebook.com/bella.luve Bella Luve

    It’s impossible to fluently speak without knowing any Japanese words

  • Allen Uribes

    Thank you for these encouraging words. I have slowly come to realize this with speaking Spanish. I grew up around it (for a few years), but never in it. I learned the accent, but never the language.

    I was very shy and embarrassed to begin speaking it a couple years ago when I began contemplating learning to become fluent. Many people expect me to speak it since I look like I would speak it and I have the accent down quite well.

    Again, thanks for the motivation to just speak it! :)

  • Tatiana Araujo

    Obrigada pelo artigo. Eu concordo com voce, Eu estudo ingles desde criança e nunca consegui ser fluente ou manter um dialogo por mais de 20 segundos sem me desculpar pelo meu nivel fraco e terminar a conversa. hahaha Eu sou timida e medrosa, meu nivel sempre se manteve basico. Ja tentei ter contato com pessoas pela internet (paypals) mas so apareceram pervertidos… e acabei praticamente desistindo de aprender outras linguas. Espero um dia viajar e passar um tempo no pais para ver se assim eu finalmente venço meus medos e ganho alguma fluencia. :)

  • Alistair Morris

    Studying.. immersion, trying to speak… nothing worked. Still English and being English cringingly monolingual…

  • felipe

    I totally agree with this. I went to England as an exchange student and thought I was able to to keep a fluent conversation with anyone as of the day I arrived but having not been able to speak english on a dayly basis made me realise how bad I was at speaking. Although I recall getting told by several americans and British that my Englsh was very good my mind was telling me another thing as I used to speak very slow and sometimes couldn’t make my point across or someone had to help me finish a sentence. I had been learning English since early childhood and the fact that I was hasitating and mumbling when speaking was what struck me most. I felt embarrassed all the time but moreover dissapointed on myself. Regardless of my mistakes, I was determined to making the most of my days in England and commited to improving my speaking and pronunciation skills by talking as much as I could. I was impressed 2 months after I got to England when a friend of mine from the states said that my English had improved a lot compared to the time when I first talked to her. All the sudden I could go to a store and ask anything without hesitating and I was able to understand everything they were saying to me. By the end of my experience I can say I’ve gained much confidence and I am a lot better at speaking than when I came to England. Although sometimes I need to ask someone to repeat what they just said I don’t have to do that as many times as I had before. Speaking is the best way to learn a language properly and the best way to do so is going abroad, to any country where people speak the language you want to learn.

  • Sarah Crizelle

    Hi! I enjoyed this post so much that I wanted to share it on my facebook account.
    thank you so much for posting this, it is indeed an encouragement.
    very enlightening ;]

  • mini

    Hey, hi, I think whatever you said in ur post is extremely right and I completely agree to it, thanks for this …..

  • rumyana dimitrova

    What do you think about different types of people? I am the nerd type and to me it’s a lot easier to study first and then speak. Of course, speaking is crucial (I couldn’t speak a word of Korean after 3 years of studying it because we never practised it – only after I made some Korean friends). But to me, speaking or listening first just doesn’t work – I need to see it written. Well, I was a weird kid – I loved reading and I loved grammar. I used to read Bulgarian and English grammar books (theoretical) for fun, it was like a hobby. My spelling in Bulgarian was always perfect – and all the teachers noticed that because I was the exception. I will always prefer to read the script than to listen to the video. I don’t watch a lot of movies (that is why for many years my listening skills in English were so bad and my reading skills so good). I read very fast but I have problems with listening. So I learn to listen through reading. I hope you get my point.
    I used to teach English so I know that I had to teach vocabulary and grammar, but they were not enough – I had to focus on the 4 language skills – reading, listening, writing, speaking. No matter how great your grasp of grammar is you need wo work on those skills seperately. For me, speaking comes last. For many people it comes first. But if you want to be good at reading, you need to read, if you want to be good at writing you need to write, if you want to be good at listening, you need to listen and yes, if you want to be good at speaking, you need to speak :) So what I’m saying is that speaking is just the one of the necessary skills in a language. And it is practised at school, maybe not at your school though :)

  • Witney Jimenez

    What you say is real and I strongly support the part where you mention one needs to study to improve and make corrections.

    I studied English all my live at school. Really good student, could understand very well but I used to speak SLOW. Took a conversational course after finishing school, everything changed :) However, I still need to study specific things about grammar (specially prepositions) but I do that when things show up and I’m not sure how to use them.

    If you don’t dare to speak, what do you need that language for? Languages are for communication!

  • Sandra

    I just LOVE What you said before ,I been here in USA 3 years ago & I learned English not perfect tho , I’m still trying to learn it , I know the basic , but I have a accent because I’m Hispanic , I know that the secret of learning it is practicing it , I watch everything in English , I just need the communication , I tried but sometimes I’m ashamed of people laugh of me of how I pronounce the words wrong , I’m 16 tho .
    But thanks I really appreciate your tip .

  • Jonknight

    English teacher here, and it’s not clear what you mean by ‘studying’. More didactic methodologies (like memorizing grammar rules) were left behind a long time ago by ESL schools. Studying at school now mostly involves being introduced to particular functions or situations – for example, renting a car – and having students practice the communication involved under the supervision of the teacher.

    The best qualities a new language learner can have are the confidence to try and experiment, and make mistakes. Be creative and treat the language as an interesting set of tools- not a minefield. And go out and get real practice in social settings. But this works best in combination with some kind of study program with a teacher who is willing to correct your errors and give you specific direction.

    If you forego studying entirely as you seem to suggest, then you may not learn as quickly, and you might form a fair few bad habits that non-teachers are unwilling or incapable to help you correct.

  • John Rivera

    Another asinine article… grow the fuck up, posers. Let some mature wisdom filled intellectuals make these articles. Stop picking up every stand-up comedian shithead taken from the internet’s b board.

    ”You have to talk to somebody to learn his language” No shit Sherlock. Too bad you’re so dumb you didn’t even realize you made it feel one sided – implying exercising alone is all you need. Knowledge together with practicing makes you learn new things. How about I throw you in Japan with absolutely no translator? You wouldn’t even be able to buy a ticket plane or order food. You’d end up learning the very basics like dogs at animal contests.

  • Konstantin

    Yeah, everything what u had to say here is correct, and I absolutely agree, no doubt, but u are judging from your tower, from your point of view, your own perspective. If u are a US or EU citizen, you can afford traveling from one country to another improving your spoken language abilities without actually studying it, but what about people who cant do it, I mean like people in the ex Soviet Union, China….you name it There are not that many foreigners there and most of they cant travel freely.

  • Konstantin

    I also loved the words “A language is a social tool and being locked up in your room studying
    it is, frankly, antisocial. You can’t avoid studying to improve your
    language skills, but if you want to speak then stop studying and just
    speak already!!”
    Now I’m gonna use it as my slogan, axiom. I can speak German, Russian, English and I dont care if I make mistakes or not. I just speak it, that’s it.

  • Konstantin

    But most important is not to ask people if they can speak one or another language. What matters is if you can actually understand it. If you understand what u are told, you can at least answer someth and in some way, but if you don’t understand, that’s the problem. I know people who study a language and can speak it in a decent way, but they hardly understand anything when they are spoken to and it’s embarrassing.

  • Ana

    You´re right!!

    Actually I am learning English and my teacher always say me this:

    “If you want to speak English,… SPEAK ENGLISH!!!!!! Do no translate.
    SPEAK ENGLISH using ENGLISH RULES. ENGLISH isn´t SPANISH. Think about
    WHAT YOU KNOW. Do not think about WHAT YOU DON´T KNOW. Don´t worry about
    MAKING MISTAKES. You learn from your MISTAKES.SPEAK ENGLISH without
    SHAME.” –

    :) My teacher is right.

  • helly lucas

    Benny, I agree 100% with you, But i think that even studying the stuff that we learn at school is wrong. I mean, when you study hard for a test and got a brilliant grade, on the next day you already forgot what you’ve been studying. I think everything that needs to be learned, needs to be learned in action, living that thing. So I think that the concept of “studying” is wrong. When I’m “studying” I try as much as possible to live what i’m learning, to put it in action. it works the same when it comes to languages, as you already wrote on this post. So, to Put your knowledge in action is the actual “studying” act.

  • Brian Black

    The memorization only method goes off the fool’s assumption that rote memorization is the best, something drilled into our heads. This problem also arises in most people when they reach advanced subjects requiring comprehension rather then memorization, where reasoning from knowledge and application is necessary because there is simply too much information to expect your brain to handle it, with examples being like biotechnology and advanced accounting. Listen to speaking in the other language and reciprocate after learning vocabulary for at least as long as you learn new words, and then only practice speaking and writing in a setup where you force yourself to after the vocabulary is acquired. Implicit memory is your friend, in fact, the part of your mind that memorizes concept rather than strict fact is more likely to pick up on speech it has heard before and remember it.
    Mindlessly listing off facts cannot apply to language because you actually have to make sense. I knew a girl who wasted her intelligence like this, when I was talking about metabolite transport via albumin, she said what and responded by saying albumin was a protein highly found in egg whites. This is not an argument, explanation or illustration, its basically saying X is Y because spoon, it is incomprehensible. People, I have noticed, apply the same to language. Fluid intelligence is what IQ is based on for a reason. Anyone can memorize.

  • Robert

    Weird because my father’s ant fluently spoke 7 languages she learnt through books and never had any practice since she could not go out of the country (Estonia) because it was occupied by the Nazi Germany and at some time by the soviets. At some point she managed to escape to USA and she actually became a translator at the White House soon after. That was the first time she had the chance to actually utilise the languages she had learnt. And I speak fluent Russian, French, Finnish, Estonian and English. And I’ve only ACTUALLY utilised in a conversation English and my mother tongue Estonian. The rest of the languages, I’ve self taught myself and I know I am fluent because I could write a book in any of those languages. You can really learn anything if you actually make it clear to yourself that you will learn it and put 150% into the learning process and have regular repetition.

  • sarphifish

    This post is really useful! I’m a GCSE student studying German, and although I’m lucky enough to be going on an exchange, I don’t get to use the language a lot. What I like to do is speak to my family in German, it confuses them no end, but it’s great practise for me!

  • Tarek Aziz Telailia

    you can put it , you can omit it, optionnal

  • Wescley

    Thanks Benny, you are my Hero!

  • Joanne Whitlock

    So glad that somebody else is saying this! I too get lots of people saying that one day they will feel ready – this is often after ten years plus of studying English.

    As someone who didn’t like to speak in my first language when I was younger – let alone making mistakes in a second – I have had to learn the slow and hard way that the only way to improve your speaking is by speaking.

    Eventually I found help for myself through learning public speaking skills. Which probably sounds mad – but it really helped me build up my confidence slowly. With the key being to focus on the other persons needs rather than my own feelings of insecurity.

    I did a TEDx talk on this in Almaty recently – although I am not sure I persuaded my audience! It’s a shame that public speaking training is so associated with big fancy presentations and not building your confidence in your own speaking skills.

    If there is someone reading looking for a step by step way to build confidence I can highly recommend Toastmasters International (a non-profit organisation with clubs all around the world). Even working in your first language will give you an insight as to how to build your confidence and how to be a better speaker. And you may be surprised at how transferable the skills are.

    Alternatively look for speaking tips on public speaking websites, there are a million out there, and someone somewhere will resonate with you.

  • roben

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  • Alan

    It makes me laugh the fact that I would have been very grateful of taking into account your piece of advice before I had started to study English but the problem was that I couldn’t understand you because I hadn’t done it yet. Lol.

  • Bellatjie

    What you are saying is perfectly correct. Any tips on how to just get over the fear of speaking though?

  • wan

    I agree for this post, because i already learned about english long time a go but still not very well, I hope I can speak like u told. practice make perfect! hope can get english person to teach me how to talk and I will learn when they talk..

  • Nota Moron

    Everyone who is believing this guy is a moron. I dare you to go and just start speaking Japanese. It’s not gonna happen. Studying is the key to learning a language. Don’t even try speaking it until you have at least a basic knowledge of how sentences are formed in that dialect and a fair few key words. Seriously, if you buy into this guys scam then you may as well throw your money in the bin. No matter what language you learn you will not be fluent in 3 months. How many of you can even speak your own language fluently? I doubt as many of you as you think. Do surround yourself with fluent speakers. That should be obvious because if not you’re presuming how words should be pronounced and likely learning an over complicated format of that language that no one native would speak, but don’t think that you can spend three months around them and shazam you’re gonna know the language. Take my advice, I can speak four languages, five including my native language, I taught myself to read, write and speak Japanese. I couldn’t have done any of those without YEARS of studying. Why else do you think he would be selling his product on a badly made site that probably makes most of it’s money via advertisements for other websites huh? Be smarter than that people. If you decide not to buy this product, give yourself a pat on the back. If you go ahead with the purchase, scald your parents for raising a moron.

    • Nota Moron

      To top all of this off he has to promote himself via affiliate advertisement. Can’t afford a real ad campaign huh buddy? Stop conning the stupid you greedy prick the only person who will gain any value from this is yourself.

  • Zeeshan Mahmud

    So true. I had 3 or so years of formal education in French and STILL I cannot say: “Do you need ride?” to random people in street. :-|

  • Gabrielle Walter

    Thank you so much :)

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  • Seiki

    good!

  • Dauren

    What You have written is true!
    Thank you!
    I gained some tips

  • Daniel Pardo

    Hallelujah! At last! My friend, you have read my mind and put it into writing! Every one of your sentences reflected the way I think of language learning. And here I thought I was the only one who is like this.

  • Jenny

    You did hit a soft spot here Benny. English is only my third language but as a translator, I found out that actually using it in real life has developed my confidence way more than years of studying at school ever did. I loved what you said about German because I am facing the same obstacles about not being able to actually speak the language! This being said, I have been studying Syriac for religious/curiosity reasons. It is a dead language I’m afraid, so apart from my teacher and a few classmates and priests in my entourage, practice opportunities are rather scarce. Any tips here?

  • Allie L.

    I’m so glad I found this post. I have been studying Spanish for a couple years and quite frankly can’t carry a conversation. I recently moved to Austin TX where there are a lot of Spanish speakers and I’m a bit overwhelmed because I’m shy, like genuinely an anxiety ridden panicky diagnosed shy that should probably be medicated (hey that might make this whole learning another language thing easier) and already have trouble communicating verbally in English. I’ve found a couple people willing to help me though and I want to get over those fears because I know I can do it. I can read quite a bit in four different languages and understand most of what’s being said around me in Spanish and German but I just haven’t been able to bring myself to go forth and make said mistakes. I think now I’ll try to take the plunge.

  • Iván Wait For-it Gordillo Cost

    I’m sorry, I’ve seen that this is an old article but I totally enjoyed it !

    I totally agree with you that you need to speak a language to learn it, and I talk from my own experience. My last lessons were on high school, I’m a good student now, but not back then. Even with that, I remember my thoughts after my first English class ever, when I was 8 (I’m 26 right now), I found that language much easier than catalan and spanish (wich are my native languages, I am Catalan, I always lived near Barcelona), except for the pronunciation, where Spanish is the easiest and English the hardest, That being said, after high school I started to work, so I didn’t want to study (yes, I really didn’t want to, I was a stupid [so I am now xD]) but, in my spare time, I decided to introduce myself in that lenguage that several years ago have shocked me, not with online teachers or something, but reading things in English and use a translator, play games in English, watch TV series in O.V. with subs and that kind of things to learn it on my own way. In fact, I was not studying English, just learning it direct from the source.

    I had the opportunity to practise it when I started to work in the Port de Barcelona, with the cruises, and yes, I was one of those men that helps you with your luggage to find a taxi or your bus xD And at that point, I realized that same thing, that you need to speak and be spoken to practise it and improve your language skills by making mistakes and seeing them, because if you don’t see your mistakes (or anyone else says to you) you can’t fix them. Ever back since, I made profit, or try it, to improve my skills in my English.

    The last year I did a course to get my high school degree, and English was one of the asignatures, of course. So, with the knowledge that I already had and the English lessons I think that I did a big step forward on my laguage skills. Although, they are far away from perfect (perfecttion is not a thing, is a fairy tale), but I really think that I would be able to live in the UK or in the USA with my current skills.

    My English teacher was amazed by my skills, and sometimes I talk to her completely in English, but i don’t do it all the time just because I hold myself back, don’t ask me why (I know, it’s foolish). Actually, today I’ve started a new course to get the acces to the university, and one class has been English, she’s started to speak in English and I totally understand her. A few months ago I started to see some videos of physics in youtube in English, and I was able to understand allmost everything, but for some words that avoids me, maybe for the pronunciation or beacause I have some serious troubles inside my head xD

    And with that, I’m going to finish, and let you to rate my current language skills. But I’m not leaving until I say that: if you want something, go for it, if you want to speak a lenguage, speak it, no matter how bad you are on it, everytime is a good time to learn something or even improve it.

    Salut !