Share your success stories with us! Leave a comment to potentially inspire millions of language learners!


In my own success story, I consider all the many friends that I have made around the world, thanks to learning new languages, to be the coolest part by far and the force that drives me to continue and try to share this wonderful experience with as many other learners as I can.

Today I am hoping that as many of you as possible take just a minute or so to drop a comment to share with us and share your success stories!

Seriously, take a couple of minutes right now to write something, even just a short comment! The nature of the two topics of conversation we have open to discussion means that you must have something to say about either one :)

The first post, which is quickly becoming one of the most in-depth references of the blog in terms of covering many aspects of language learning and providing useful links, is about reasons why we don’t succeed in learning languages, and retorts for why we can. If you are a struggling language learner and feel there is something stopping you then you should find a suggestion in that post, or can write a comment on that page to let me know what hasn’t been discussed yet!

In this post however, I am looking for success stories. I want to hear your inspirational stories of overcoming your challenges to learn a second language, how you succeeded, and the wonderful benefits you got from being able to use that language (whether your interest was spoken, or written, or reading etc.). I am especially looking for unique, funny, interesting, special and inspirational stories to help inspire other language learners, but normal everyday Joe stories are quite welcome too!

The reasons I am requesting this are two-fold;

Firstly, others can see your story and vote up their favourites or reply to create mini-discussions. This alone could make the comments on this post one of the most interesting places to visit on this site over the long-term, as many of you have much more interesting stories in language learning than I can possibly write about on my own!

Inspire millions of people with your story!

Secondly, I will take a few of my favourites and either request them as more detailed guest posts on Fluent in 3 months to be read by hundreds of thousands of people, or include them in a much bigger project (hint: related to my as-yet-still super-secret contract in Berlin) to hopefully inspire many millions of language learners around the world.

For one great example, see one comment on the previous post from Julie who is learning several languages despite being deaf and partially blind and getting discouragement from others. Her story is obviously one I want much more people to know about! It’s truly inspirational, and deserves a chance to get through to as many people as possible.

What about you? Learn a language despite being way too poor, being a single mother, starting very late in life, or other challenges that you overcame? Tell us!!

What success means is also relative. It can be giving a speech in the language, reaching fluency, having your first deep conversation, having your first ever basic conversation, understanding what you read or heard or anything else you are proud of.

Make sure that you write an email in the appropriate field or associate your comment with your Facebook account, Disqus account or similar, which has an associated email address I can get in touch with you through. (By default, only I see email addresses in comments, which are hidden from the public). This is only for asking to use your story outside the blog (this site’s ~400,000 visitors per month is nothing compared to what I have planned ;) ) with your permission.

Otherwise, share it here below anyway because even normal stories that many others can relate to can be incredibly inspiring. You could well be the one to inspire many people who are browsing the comments specifically looking for motivation and a story that sounds familiar, or a more familiar story selected for the mega-inspirational project I have in mind.

If you would like to share your story just with me for privacy reasons, without using the comments feature below, you can send me an email (I read all my emails, but can’t reply to them all). I always absolutely love reading your success stories, both in my inbox and on the forum! But I’d like to take this to another level, and make sure as many stories as possible can be read by others, so comments are preferable!

My questions for you as you reply (answer one, some, or as many as you like, or go into other important aspects of your story) are:

  • What challenges did you initially have to overcome when you were getting started with learning your language?
  • Did you always want to learn this language, or where you always good at language learning? Or did you start from scratch as an adult?
  • How did you overcome your biggest challenges?
  • What language learning technique(s) and tools did you use?
  • Who are what inspired you to make the jump?
  • How long did you spend to get to where you are?
  • What wonderful experiences have you had now that you have learned a language to this level?
  • What plans do you have for the future with your target language?

There is no word limit in comments, so write whatever you feel like! Brief replies are also welcome :)

Thanks so much for helping me to inspire other language learners with your wonderful stories! Even if you don’t reply to one, come back to this post later and vote up your favourite replies, and if you have not had success in your language learning, check out the post beside this one for why you have no good reason to not charge forward! ;)

Also, feel free to share this post on Facebook with your friends to get their stories too. Cheers!



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  • Shawn Cooke

    I took three years of Spanish in high school, and another two during my freshman and sophomore years of college. I was always top of my class, and I was quite proud of my abilities… except that any time I was confronted with, you know, an ACTUAL SPANISH SPEAKER I would clam up and pretend I didn’t know any Spanish. It saved embarrassment. It was easier. And it made the last five years of painstaking effort a waste.

    In the summer of 1998, I spent six weeks in an immersion program in Costa Rica. I lived with a host family, took classes at the University of Costa Rica, worked every afternoon in a department store. On the weekends, I traveled around the country. But above all, I used Spanish, every day, all day long.

    By the time I got back, I was fluent. What’s more, the fear was gone. I found that even back in the US where opportunities for constant immersion were harder to come by, I seized the ones that did come along, and sought out others.

    The result? A job in the international department that moved me from Memphis, TN to Long Island, NY and jumpstarted my career. Had it not been for taking the plunge and being willing to subject myself to a bit of anxiety, I’d still be right back where I was.

    The amount of access to other languages that the internet gives us is unprecedented. So now I’m learning French. Although an immersion program helped me back in college, I don’t have that luxury fifteen years later. The luxuries I do have are an internet connection, a computer, local conversation groups,’s willingness to sell me books in French, and a will to interact that is stronger than the fear.

    • Benny Lewis

      The will to interact is more powerful than any other ingredient. Enjoy the adventure of learning French!

      • Bancov Marta

        I´m a bit scared of French because of VERBEs! I don´t know how could I learn it easily! Maybe read?Je suis un peu peur de français parce que des verbes! Je ne sais pas comment je pourrais apprendre facilement! Peut-être lisez?


    Hello everybody!

    Language learning was always something that interested me, but never something that I really applied myself to. As a teenager I always dreamed about speaking another language, especially since I had bilingual friends, but thought that it was never really possible for somebody like me to do. I’m definitely one of those who got better at learning languages as I got older.

    I started learning Spanish at 18 when I went to University. At first I was really, really bad at it and most of my friends thought I was wasting my time instead of taking a business major. The more mistakes I made, the less confident I felt and the more inclined I was to give up the entire thing. I remember starting second year dreading another year of taking a class that was only going to bring my grades down.

    There was only one thing that got me wanting to learn it and get my grades up and that was going to study in Spain. I really think that no matter what language you’re learning, you have to find a way to motivate yourself and connect with the language. Even if it’s over Skype – it’s by far the best way to encourage you to keep going back.

    I spend my third year on Erasmus in Spain and had one of the best years of my life. I made the point of doing language exchanges with natives, as a result of which I really improved. I made lots of great friends who I got to know only through Spanish and I’m still very close to them. While I had good vocabulary, by the time I left I probably spoke at a B2 level as I still had lots of grammar to iron out.

    Anyway, after I finished college my Spanish didn’t really improve. I was surrounded by English speakers and I also hadn’t realised just how many ways there are to maintain your level in whatever your target language is. In fact, while my comprehension was good, I found it harder to speak than before.

    However, in 2012 I set myself the challenge of sitting the DELE C2 exam – of pushing myself way outside my comfort zone to master the language I felt I had been fiddling with for a long time. Everybody had told me that it was impossible and that you really had to be almost bilingual to pass. I really went all out on this challenge, taking classes on italki, doing all the sample papers possible and immersing myself as much as possible. Long story short, last November I sat the exam in my local Instituto Cervantes and in February I found out that I’d passed.

    While I still learn stuff in Spanish everyday and still make mistakes, I do feel like I speak it another language at an advanced level. I guess I’ve focused a lot on the proficiency side in this but remember it’s possible to learn another language, even if you don’t plan on going all the way to C2. One of my best memories was being invited to a wedding of one of my Spanish friends and getting to know all his family while having an all night party. Make it as enjoyable as you can and get ready to make lifelong friends.

    Thank you for reading this.

    • Benny Lewis

      Passing the C2 exam is one hell of an achievement and something definitely worth being proud of. :) I still remember the day I found out that I passed!

  • Robin Loveman Birdwell

    Despite a decade-long off-&-on infatuation with the Japanese language, I’ve never been able to reach the “conversational” mark. I think I’ve long been afraid to let go of my ego and just start speaking, no matter how badly. After a few years’ break, for the past year I’ve had a renewed interest in trying to become conversational. Unfortunately I live in a small town in the southern U.S. with no Japanese population that I knew of. Who on earth could I speak Japanese with!?

    While pondering this question, I decided to pursue another interest I had in learning some Korean and engaging our decent-sized Korean community. I found out about a need for more ESL resources, so I volunteered to teach a *small* class of Korean women at a local library. Now, I am very much an introvert, and not one for teaching group classes, but I just really wanted to offer something to this community. Not only did I have a fantastic time, and make some new Korean friends, but I also had one lone Japanese student in my class! We became friends, and have been regularly meeting together for the past few months for English-Japanese conversation.

    I’m still a bit shy speaking Japanese with her, but she is wonderfully supportive of me. I recently met her family, and was surprised at how comfortable I felt speaking some Japanese with her husband and kids. I’ve really noticed improvement in my Japanese-learning ability and efforts since we started meeting together. And it was this blog that really emphasized to me how important it was to *start speaking*, even if I felt completely inadequate. Now I’m looking for more opportunities to force myself to speak Japanese with her and the rest of the [very small] Japanese community here. ^_^

    • Benny Lewis

      That’s crazy that you met your target language speaker (Japanese) through a Korean community! Just goes to show that we have to get out of the house and just meet people in general and more opportunities will open up!

    • Kieran Maynard

      I met Taiwanese people through a Japanese language club!

  • Brian Kwong

    After taking on the Learn German in 90 days Challenge to speak with my father in law for 15 minutes on day 91 in German (If i fail, i had to watch his toilet and live with him for a week).

    I took on the Learn Basic Thai in 7 days challenge while I was in Thailand. Similar to the mini challenges that Benny has been doing recently. My goal was just to be able to introduce myself, order food, tell the taxi driver where to go and most importantly, to bargain! I did all of those things on video live, including bargaining at the market which was lots of fun! Here is the video:

    As you can see in the video and even in my learn German challenges, I am not always good at language learning (still not very good at it lol) but just because I took it on, not afraid of making mistakes and just want to see how far it can go, I even surprise myself that I can still communicate with the little that I know.

    Few things I learned from my Thai and German challenges:

    1. People are always appreciative if they know that you are trying to learn their native language. Because of this, I met lots of life long friends a long the way that I would not have met if I didn’t try to learn a new language.

    2. You get better at it after learning your first foreign language! Since I had already put in the research and hard work to learn German in 90 days to speak with Papa (my father in law), I improved upon on what I learned and implement what works to my Learn Thai in 7 days challenge. Which made learning Thai, a crazy looking and completely different beast from all the languages that I know, much easier.

    3. Learn and implement from those who came before you, you do not have to reinvent the wheels! Examples, speaking from day 1 completely changed my mindset of learning to speak a language the traditional way. I saw that it works for Benny so many times, so I implemented it and I got awesome result from it.

    One example that I tried it my way and cost me precious time and wasted effort.

    Benny, took on his Arabic mission BEFORE going to Egypt, I followed his mission but I didn’t implement that idea before doing my Thai challenge. Results? I spent loads of precious time studying WHILE i was in Bangkok, rather than having fun and using what I learned in Bangkok.

    I have more examples lol but the bottom-line is, learn from and at least, try out the methods, lessons and ideas of what Benny and other language learners before you tweak and make stuff up on your own. You will save loads of effort, time and MONEYYY!

    I looove loove doing these language challenges because I got so much from it and will continue to do more soon! And if there is a language that you’ve always thought that it would be so cool if you can speak it, take it on and take massive action!

    There is no better feeling than communicating with others in their native language, surprising them AND surprising yourself with it!

  • Zach Resnick

    I’m learning Hebrew at the moment. This blog was truly the reason I began to learn my first second language.

    Some background: I moved to Jerusalem after finishing high school last September to live there for the duration of a school year, with no intention to learn either Hebrew or Arabic. I took Spanish in school for four years, had an Ecuadorian babysitter for the majority of my childhood, and a Mom fluent in Spanish. Although I could conjugate any verb at the end of High School (and actually enjoyed the grammar), I really couldn’t speak the language, and was one of the worst in my class consistently; I thought that I was just doomed with language learning, and that I would focus on other things in life.

    After about two months living in Jerusalem I was beginning to pick up some basic Hebrew phrases, and I actually enjoyed using them to buy things, ask for directions, etc. At that point I never actually studied the language, just picked it up as I went along and made an effort to use it a fair amount. My job was with an Israeli NGO, but everything was in English. I made friends with Israelis and various Europeans as well as Americans, but everything was in English, and I was getting little if any practice in speaking the language in an actual conversation. But all of this was fine with me because speaking the language wasn’t a goal at the time, it was just a fun little thing to do when on the streets.

    All of this changed though when I met a friend who was and still is a fellow ‘disciple’ of fluentinthreemonths. She at the time spoke four languages fluently, and now has been able to add hebrew to her list. We had a long conversation about a multitude of things, and when this blog and method came up it enthralled me to say the least. I dug deeper, and asked her many questions for at least 15 minutes, and of course wrote down the site name to look up later. The next day I began with the most widely read post about the 29 life lessons. 3 hours later I read many more posts and decided then and there I would start trying to make Hebrew a bigger priority for the rest of my time spent in Jerusalem, and more importantly to make language learning a greater priority for the rest of my life. It’s been hard to explain to friends, family, and even myself how dramatic, yet quick this shift in thinking about what I wanted to do with my life was, and it really is mostly because of your fantastic writing on the subject.

    I tried different mini missions, different modes of basic vocab studying, and most importantly ways of convincing Israelis to not switch to English with me; I found the most effective was saying I was from Finland, but that made for funny conversation when I actually ran into a Fin who has lived in Tel Aviv for the last 10 years, but that’s a whole other story. I started to find a groove that worked for me where I saw results every couple of days, if not daily. Eventually as the year went on I started studying more, speaking more, and gaining fluency faster at a quite exponential rate; as I improved the whole process, especially speaking with other people, became more fun and rewarding. But because I came to the region with so many other goals, and my work and social circles were in English, I still didn’t leave fluent. I left with what I would call decent conversational skills, and slightly less than decent reading and writing abilities.

    By the end of my time there I knew I needed to be fluent in the language soon (so I could start my next one!). In less than a month, I will be teaching music to underprivileged Israelis and Palestinians for three months, and I will have there as ‘pure’ as possible in terms of practicing as much as I can 24/7, and using English as little as possible. The goal is to leave the summer satisfied enough with my level of Hebrew that I could move on to another language, and just maintain Hebrew by keeping contact with Israeli friends and maybe returning at some point to live and work there.

    • Benny Lewis

      Except for use of the word ‘disciple’, I really enjoyed reading this, thanks! ;)

      An excellent success story! Keep up the great work with Hebrew!!

  • Will Peach

    Moving to Spain, learning Spanish and immersing myself completely in the culture turned my life upside down and put me on an entirely different trajectory that bought more happiness, time and wealth to my life.

    Conquering something as big as taking on a language and actually seeing results, shows you that anything is possible with discipline and hard work. The initial groundwork when learning a language also gives you one of the greatest lessons in life: that big things get accomplished by breaking things down into smaller, more manageable, steps.


    I’ve taken languages all my life through school: Hebrew, French, German, etc. My gf is Indian and her parents speak Sindhi, but the closest thing Rosetta Stone had was Hindi. I wanted to have a leg-up before I met them, so I studied hard each day. The writing is different, the language is different, and I could hear my friends’ voices in my head saying, “It’s impossible, forget it”. Plus I’m not entirely convinced that I could speak it if a real person were barraging me with the language as opposed to a computer screen with multiple choice pictures. My A-ha moment came at Macy’s when an Indian family was watching the daughter try different dresses for a party. I immediately recognized the Hindi, and I knew my basic colors. When they were all stumped as to which one she should go with, this white American boy told her to ‘wear the blue one’, to resounding smiles and gratitude from the family. Since then, I’ve met my gf’s parents, and while they were impressed by what I had learned, it really didn’t matter as much as I had motivated myself to think it had. The trick is to always make it interesting, and for me that is real life and of course, Bollywood movies and cartoons. Namaste! ~Jordan

    • Kieran Maynard


  • Jenny Mouton

    I grew up in a french-speaking region in south Louisiana in the US, and always studied French in school, but was always too nervous to speak. My abilities were limited to reading. It wasn’t till 5 years ago at the age of 31 that I went to a summer immersion program at the Université Sainte-Anne in Nova Scotia, CA. There, English and any other language other than French was forbidden. This, along with the social aspect of the program got me out of my shell. I stopped judging myself about making mistakes. I realized that mistakes are a gift and a guide—they highlight what I need to work on next. With that mindset, I became fluent in under a year. One of the biggest inspirations to learn were the francophone friends I made. Having a fun reason to speak and hang out in French was a huge driving force for me. It wasn’t about understanding Molière, as nice as that can be, nor was it about knowing how to reserve a hotel; It was about making jokes and laughing and discussing our lives. I started finding French TV shows to follow, started reading French comic books, listening to French radio programs on my commute. I made it a point to do something in French everyday, even if it was only for 10 minutes. I rarely studied grammar on my own, only when I needed to clear something up. What I did was make a google spreadsheet of new phrases and words I would learn and review as I went along. I later began to plug these into the new flashcard apps that started to come out.

    I began to read Fluent in 3 Months when I went to study in Nova Scotia and it helped me with the details that dot a lot of people talk about, such as changing your accent when speaking, or memorizing connectors to be able to speak more fluid conversations. Now, I am beginning to tackle Spanish and I’m absorbing it quickly. Not because of the similarities to French but because I picked up so many tricks along the way thanks to this website.

    • Jill

      I like how you emphasize the social aspect of language learning. That’s what gets lost in school instruction, unfortunately, which leads to so many people thinking language learning is beyond them. I, too, speak French and while I am a veritable Francophile when it comes to French literature, French film, and French cuisine, it’s the connections with actual Francophone people that inspire me to continue learning.

    • Benny Lewis

      That’s fantastic Jenny!! :) Thanks so much for sharing your story! Amazing to see how things can change when we see a language as a living breathing means to experience the world.

      Best of luck with your Spanish!!

  • Aizlyne


    After taking three years of Spanish in High school only to lose it all because of lack of interest/ use, I just gave up on the idea of learning a language. Then after beginning a volunteer job at a Hindu Temple, I became fascinated with Hindi which is spoken predominantly in Northern India. Everyone at the Temple spoke English of course, but I wanted to connect in a new way with my new friends, and I felt awkward interrupting their Hindi conversations with English. So I decided to attempt Hindi. There was so much going against me that I often felt like giving up. Living in the midwest of the United States there were zero opportunities outside Temple for face to face conversations. However, I have always been intensely stubborn and I think that’s one reason I kept going with it. I hated the idea of giving up.

    I had many of the typical fears people have when they start to learn a language.

    “I’m too shy.” and “Everyone will laugh at me.” were the biggest obstacles (And occasionally they continue to challenge me) to overcome.

    I started VERY small. I would go to the Temple and timidly say ” Aap Kaisi hain?” (How are you?) And for a while that was all I said. But something amazing happened when I was brave enough to speak. People were excited for me! They were pleased that I was speaking and were very encouraging. Did people laugh? Sure. But it’s not the kind of laughter that says “We’re mocking you!” It’s a good natured, happy laugh.

    I have been teaching myself Hindi for a little over three months now, with the help of an online tutor (italki!), a book/audio CD combo and a lot of self discipline. While I am still in the infant stages of the language, the biggest change has been my confidence level. I used to be so nervous about speaking that I would become physically ill. I haven’t died and no one has told me I’m a terrible Hindi speaker and that I should give up. Even if I never reach fluency, I am so happy that I have not given up and that I can connect with my friends in their language.

    It’s true that the biggest enemy you’ll have on the road to learning a language is yourself.

    It’s a long road, and sometimes it seems like the goal is too far to reach, but I’ve taught myself to enjoy the process of learning and not just focus on some far away destination. That’s my advice – Enjoy yourself. If you’re not enjoying yourself, what’s the point? Pick a language you’re passionate about and stare low self-esteem in the face and tell it to go to hell.

    – Aizlyne

    • Benny Lewis

      That’s precisely why I put so much effort on this blog to encouraging people to speak from day one – when you do that, so many people are so enthusiastic and encouraging, that in many cases you are able to allow the progress to flow from there ;)

      Great work!

    • Katie Jurek

      This is very inspiring, Aizlyne, thank you! Indeed we must stare low self-esteem in the face and tell it to go to hell, as you so eloquently stated! =)

      • Aizlyne

        I still have to fight the fear of rejection, but since my first few break-throughs it has been getting easier. I’m still trying to find more ways to speak the language more often. What language are you trying to learn, Katie?

        • Katie Jurek

          I am trying to learn Norwegian and Swedish as I am moving to Norway again for three months this summer. I’ve gotten quite adept with both, and also with Dutch when I lived in the Netherlands for a few months, but I haven’t -spoken- much yet. I think it is time, and hearing about how others only encouraged you makes it a lot less daunting! =)

  • Daniel Hunnisett

    Like many English speaking people I had always had a vague interest in learning another language, but never the time or motivation to fully commit to it. When I found the opportunity to spend a few months travelling in latin america I made the decision to really give it a go. I feel lucky that I came across ‘Fluent in Three Months’ just a few days after arriving in Venezuela, as it pushed me into deciding to really focus on speaking only Spanish, even if it was difficult. I had done OK in school in French, but I found GCSE french no use in real life situations. The first couple of months were very tricky and sometimes lonely, but even though I would quickly lose track in conversations I could feel that I was making rapid progress right away thanks to committing completely to speaking Spanish. It helped that the Venezuelans were in the main very friendly, especially big fun family groups on their holidays.

    By about three months into my travels I was able to get by really well, and have simple social conversations. By the time I finished my travels, another three months on, I was really happy with my overall level, able to chat with taxi drivers and new friends pretty comfortably.

    I found that technology was key to my own journey into Spanish – four main things in particular: the Fluent in Three Months blog for inspiration and motivation, an E-Book reader for being able to carry a library of learning materials with me, Duolingo for an easy way to drill vocabulary until it becomes second nature, and (perhaps most importantly) Couchsurfing for meeting people everywhere I went.

    In terms of specific resources, as well as Duolingo I found two books really useful – ‘Practice Makes Perfect – Spanish Verb Tenses’, for getting the hang of the grammar basics – and ‘Beyond Beginner’s Spanish’ for learning about how the language is really spoken. Other techniques I used included
    – flash cards (mainly for studying on long bus journeys)
    – getting a bunch of spanish language songs on my Ipod, and decoding the words
    – learning lyrics of my favourite spanish tracks (I got ‘de donde vengo yo’ by chocquibtown down pretty well!)
    – making up mnemonics for tricky to remember words – there’s a great fluent in three months blog post about this. I had a lovely mnemonic story for all the reflective verbs ending in ‘arse’.
    – trying to ‘self-talk’ as much as possible in Spanish
    – reading children’s books, and practicing reading the same section out loud until it was fast and fluent
    – keeping a dictionary on me at all times
    – making sure that I did at least a little bit of actual studying every single day. Even halfway up Pico Bolivar
    – planning a few interesting questions out before heading to social events
    – translating and learning by heart my brief life story and a couple of anecdotes

    Thanks to the inspiration from Benny, and to the possibilities opened up by couchsurfing, I had some amazing experiences and made some great connections that would otherwise never have been possible. And even after getting back to the UK, speaking Spanish has opened doors to connections that would never have happened before. I have just moved to a new town, and am heading out with a group of Spanish speakers in a couple of days for drinks followed by Salsa dancing!

    • Benny Lewis

      Great to see you found my blog to push you to speak just as you arrived! :)

      Not only that, but a success story for Duolingo! And yes, Couchsurfing is a given :D I’m using it here in Berlin to maintain all my languages ;)

  • Karen Chow

    I originally started learning French in junior high, in a place where nobody spoke French (in Calgary, Alberta, Canada). I studied it for 5 years, and learned a lot of verb tenses and whatnot. But what really helped me was moving to Ottawa, and having friends that spoke French. One of my friends and I would have French hour, where we only spoke French, as we marked Verilog papers (we were in electrical engineering grad school) and drank beer in the pub. My favorite experience with speaking French is traveling to Paris, meeting a guitarist, and having him cook me a meal in his miniscule apartment (and no, he did not hit on me, we just had a super fun evening together). My most unusual French experience was being in a corner store in the Czech Republic, and trying to communicate with an elderly store owner. She has non-existent English and I had non-existent Czech. But I discovered that she knew French a little bit because some of the older generation studied it as a second language. Now I’m working on Spanish, my 4th language.

    • Kieran Maynard

      I met a business man in Seoul who could speak Japanese!

  • Michael Ashley

    I’d like to share the method I used to learn Italian to a professional level in 6 weeks. Maybe it will help others. When I set out to learn Italian several years ago, I got several Anne Rice novels in Italian. She is one of my favorite writers, and I am very familiar with the stories. I put the Italian version up on one side of the screen and the English version up on the other. I would read the Italian until I hit something I didn’t understand, which meant at the beginning I was mostly reading the English and using it to decipher the Italian. It wasn’t long though, before I was mostly reading the Italian. After reading a couple of novels that way, I got ahold of 3 seasons of a science fiction series in Italian and watched that to get oral input. I was at it pretty much all day, every day for 6 weeks, but by the end of that period, I had a very good comprehension of Italian and was able to start offering it as one of the languages I translate from. Admittedly, my prior knowledge of French and Spanish helped a lot, but I was still stunned by how fast this worked to get me up to speed in a new language. It’s a very enjoyable way to learn a new language. If you find something you enjoy and get caught up in the story, it’s very easy to forget that you’re “learning a language”. I highly recommend this method to anyone who wants to learn a new language. I should note that if fluent conversation is your goal, then you will need to practice output as well, but if your goal is attaining a high level of comprehension, I don’t think this method can be beat. This year, I’m going to repeat the process with Portuguese.

    • Benny Lewis

      I’m glad you’re proud of what you’ve achieved. Personally, I wouldn’t call an entirely comprehension based focus (which is always much easier when you have similar languages) “professional level”, achievable within 6 weeks and especially by the method you described.

      Are you really translating? I would only do that in languages that I’ve worked as an engineer or other professional in, with experience using the language in that domain, since interacting with the language gives you things that are simply not possible by reading/listening alone. As long as you are honest about your experience in the language to your clients!

      But if you are doing it for the enjoyment factor then being able to read in other languages will of course allow you to read wonderful books in Portuguese too. Jô Soares is my favourite Brazilian writer, and I can highly recommend “O xangô de Baker Street” as a fun read.

      • Michael Ashley

        Hi Benny. Yes, I am a full-time professional translator. In fact, I am a certified editor for a major translation company (meaning they entrust me to verify, correct, and improve the work of other translators). I am certified by them to edit translations from French, Spanish, and Italian into English.

        For translation, thorough comprehension of the source material is a must, but I find that subject area knowledge, research ability, and above all, the ability to write professional quality prose in your native language is equally important. I have varied interests that I pursue passionately in all of my languages, and I always review the source documents before accepting an assignment to make sure that I’m comfortable translating them, and I stick to subject matter that I know well. (For instance, I would never think of taking on an engineering assignment.)

        It is true, when I first started translating from Italian, it took a lot more work and more research to make sure I had everything right. That meant I had to make sure I had enough time (and, of course, since translators are paid by the word, the amount I made hourly was less, but then again, I was getting paid to improve my language skills). Of course, I have been working in Italian for years now, so I’m very comfortable with this language pair.

        For translation, a high level of comprehension is the key and the ability to express yourself actively in the language is a much less pressing matter, so I find input based methods to be ideal for my needs.

        Thank you for your Portuguese literature recommendations. I will definitely put them on the reading list when I get started learning Portuguese this summer.

    • Dawid

      Hi Michael. I enjoyed your comment :) Your method is very similar to one which famous archeologist called Schliemann used, did You know that? :)

      If I have some contact to You I would ask You to tell me more details of Your experience :)
      Maybe you could just tell right here, what were you doing after that 6 months period? It was just 6 months and so soon you started translating?

      Best wishes in portuguese!.

  • Stef De Langhe

    I am lucky that I live in country with 3 official languages (Belgium = Nederlands + Français + Deutsch) which were also taught in secondary school. And English too of course…

    Nice steps to get into language learning. The bad from my point was that I felt disencouraged by teachers. My grades were not always great, which means I don’t know the language…

    A first turning point for me was when I accepted a job as dispatcher where I had to speak these 4 languages (Dutch, French, English and German). Only speak! In the beginning I had to get used to it because I’ve never spoken these languages so much at the same time. Switching from one to another was also something new.

    After a year of working there. It was totally not a problem to conversate in these languages. Switching from one to another was so easy too!

  • Cynthia Lupo

    What challenges did you initially have to overcome when you were getting started with learning your language?
    The Lithuanian Accent Marks! Not only that, but while Lithuanian is Indo-European, it was so much differemt!
    Did you always want to learn this language, or where you always good at language learning? Or did you start from scratch as an adult?
    Well, I’m not considered an adult, but I feel in love with languages, and they just came along and jumped at me to speak them.
    How did you overcome your biggest challenges?
    My biggest challenges were finding speakers, so I turned to the internet, for help in speaking and Grammar.
    What language learning technique(s) and tools did you use?
    Websites, people I know, and books!
    Who are what inspired you to make the jump?
    My History Day project, as I was representing Lithuania’s role in the Baltic chain, and it showed me so much of their culture and language, I couldn’t help but fall in love.
    How long did you spend to get to where you are?
    This is my 4th month of the T.A.C., and I’m going to push in Summer to go from A1 to at least B1.
    What wonderful experiences have you had now that you have learned a language to this level?
    I confuse people at my church when I speak it to the 4 Lithuanian speakers at my church, and made 2 great friends!
    What plans do you have for the future with your target language?
    I hope to visit Lithuania, work on getting at least B2 certification, and keeping it as a cde language between my friends, because not many people speak it!

  • Helly lucas

    I begin to learn English when i was a kid. I learned it at school and I wasn’t so good in it. A long time has passed, I became an adolescent and i was wishing to be fluent in English, I tried every thing in the book to learn this language, but i failure many many times. Until one day, one English teacher of mine inspired me to learn English, he spoke with me and I could understand at least 80% of what he said, he gave me lots of tips to learn and i fallow his tips until i was able to talk with him. Now I can speak in English, It’s not 100% perfect but it’s ok, now i’m learning Japanese and maybe I’ll be a polyglot. If you have a inspiration it will of course make you commit even more to reach your fluency in every language you’re intending to learn, never give up, don’t forget that one day you’ll get there.

  • Jean Halverson

    In 2009, after teaching myself some German (and making some German friends), in a rather haphazard way, I decided to exit the cube farm and go back to university to study German.
    now it’s 4 years later and i have a BA in RUSSIAN with a minor in German and I am studying French in uni, and Swedish on my own. How fluent can I speak? Well I can read and understand Russian, and I can speak German enough to travel there on my own and not have to resort to English at all. Still working on vocab for French speaking but I can read it with little problem.
    I’m 47 years old. You are never too old to start a new adventure.

  • donghyukyoon

    When I was on a trip to Indiana, where my family lives, from Hawaii, where I live, in December 2011, I somehow got so interested in Chinese language and culture! A few reasons sparked it, and I loved the exciting sense of novelty that Chinese language had about it for me. At that time, I heard about your language mission for Mandarin, Benny. So I followed your blog, and every single day I was checking back. It made my trip to a boring place much more exciting for me! I thought “If this guy can do it, then I know I can learn Mandarin too!”

    So when I returned to Hawaii, I was determined to learn Chinese. I got so many books from the library, with slow progress. My mom’s friend said a place offered Mandarin, but when I went to check, I didn’t see anything at the building, so I decided to seek out a Mandarin teacher. I found a fantastic one of Craigslist! She is still a good friend of mine now and we frequently check up on each other. She was from Taiwan. After a few months, the sense of novelty wore off, but I still loved the language and kept at it. My teacher had gotten a job though, and was passing me off to her friend! I was excited!

    I actually got two new teachers, both from China this time. They grew up during the cultural revolution, and are the most kind hearted people I know, and definitely go out of their way to help me learn Mandarin. I guess they have really taken a liking to me. Both of them, husband and wife, taught at the University of Chicago and a university in Hawaii. So they definitely knew what they were doing. It was great!

    So now, a year later and two months later, I can hold conversations, and we often go to Chinatown together. My teacher forces me to speak Chinese to shop owners and everything. No longer am I shy and I have made immense progress. My next step is a year in Taiwan after I graduate high school (I’m 17) and maybe university there. Who knows? I definitely had break through moments, like my first full conversations, and losing my shyness to speak, and being able to speak with confidence to people by myself. It’s been a great trip so far! I hope I can live with Mandarin for the rest of my life!

    (A lot of my inspiration came from you, Benny. :) )

    • Benny Lewis

      Aw shucks, thanks for the kind words ;)

      That’s amazing how much you’ve really dived into it! You’ll love Taiwan – excellent choice and cool people!

    • Richard

      Strangely, what you just typed made me think over my reasons for learning a language. I suppose there are a few things:

      1) Desire to meet new people.

      2) Desire to tackle anxiety problems and shyness.

      3) To help with confidence.

      Strangely, this comment really inspired me to continue tackling foreign languages, and hopefully learn one. Good luck with everything.

      • donghyukyoon

        Glad I could help! My anxiety was so bad, I couldn’t even order food without being overcome with it. But learning a new language and just getting out there can definitely curb it. I know I don’t have so much anxiety anymore! Wish you luck!

  • Drew Badger

    Greetings, everyone!

    I didn’t speak ANY Japanese before I came to Japan in 2003 to teach English and study Japanese gardening. I had dreams of traveling and meeting new people, but when I finally arrived and couldn’t communicate, I felt so sad and alone. I knew no one in the small town where I lived, had no money to travel and seriously considered returning to America.

    My sadness quickly became depression as I began learning Japanese. I had failed French in high school, and barely passed Spanish in college, so I had very little confidence in myself. I just thought I was one of those people who couldn’t learn another language.

    I tried going to Japanese lessons, but quit after my fourth class. I didn’t understand the teacher and felt too embarrassed to speak. I also studied by myself at home. I bought lots of textbooks, listened to basic Japanese conversations on CDs, and spent WEEKS trying to write vocabulary words on flashcards…

    …But I only seemed to be getting WORSE!

    I couldn’t remember anything I studied, no matter how hard I tried. I also couldn’t understand what people were saying because the textbooks and CDs I bought didn’t teach me conversational Japanese. I was incredibly nervous around native speakers, so I would usually just sit and listen while others talked, wishing I could express myself like they did. When I did try to speak, it took a long time to think about what I wanted to say, and people couldn’t understand my pronunciation. I felt angry, stupid and ashamed.

    Those first few months were painfully frustrating, but I didn’t give up because I remembered how far I had already come. I was finally living in Japan and I knew I would get fluent if I could just figure out how.

    On a walk through a park one day, I wondered what my problem was. I didn’t understand how so many Japanese people could learn the language and I couldn’t. The two-year-old kids playing at the park spoke better than I did, and I have a degree in philosophy!

    As I watched the children speaking with their mothers, I realized that I had been asking the wrong question; Instead of wondering how I should learn Japanese, I should have been asking how Japanese people learn the language. And right there on the playground, from kids still wearing diapers, I discovered the first fluency truth: you must use a language to learn a language.

    You preach the very same thing here on your blog, Benny, so I’ve got much love for you! :)

    Very young children always have a single purpose in mind when they speak. When they see a bird, they say “bird.” When they want something, they ask for it. And in speaking, they learn how to make sentences, develop memory, improve their pronunciation and build fluency. I finally understood that if I wanted to speak fluently and confidently, I would have to get out and use the language, little by little, just like children do.

    I was eager to begin using Japanese, but I didn’t want people to laugh at my mistakes. I wasn’t yet ready to let go of my ego, so I looked for ways to circumvent it. :) I also didn’t want to worry about people introducing conversation topics I didn’t understand.

    I chose to practice speaking at a supermarket because the people who worked there were professional and wouldn’t ask me what I thought about politics or the meaning of life. I would be able to control the conversation by practicing a single phrase, speak confidently as if I really knew the language, and build my fluency naturally.

    My first “fluency mission” was born as I walked around the supermarket saying, “Excuse me. Where is x?” to every worker I could find. They understood my basic Japanese and I was able to find things around the store. I had turned learning into a game and I could actually feel myself improving. I also started to feel excited about Japan again!

    Over the course of many fun practice missions, my pronunciation improved and I developed a strong level of speaking confidence that made me feel amazing. I started looking forward to uncomfortable situations where I wouldn’t know what people would say. I worried less about making mistakes and started making more Japanese friends. Unconsciously, I had come to understand the second fluency truth: you don’t need to be perfect to be fluent (I was finally learning to master my ego!).

    In everyday life, you to try something, fail a few times and then get better with practice. Unfortunately, typical language classes train you to do the exact opposite. From the very first lesson, the pressure to be perfect is very high. Tests measure your ability to remember rules perfectly, and you learn to care more about high scores than actually being able to speak.

    I cared very much about being perfect when I began learning Japanese, but it was only when I STOPPED worrying about perfection that I started making real progress. When I finally spoke Japanese Japanese in front of family and friends at my wedding last year, I definitely was NOT perfect. (You can watch the short video of it here: )

    I made MANY mistakes as I answered unexpected questions from guests. Yet, I was still able to speak confidently and connect with my audience. They understood me and I even made them laugh! Mistakes are natural, and the faster you make them, the faster you get fluent.

    Now that I’ve learned how to become a confident speaker, I’ve made it my mission to help others do the same through online videos (Feel free to check out the channel if you’re an English learner: ).

    The comments here are really inspiring, and I’m proud to share my story with the hope that others will also push themselves to achieve success.

    Keep up the awesome work, Benny! And if there’s anything I can do to help you with your cause, just say the word.

    Drew Badger

    PS: Really hope I get to meet you sometime, Benny. I know there’s a lot I can learn from you.

    • Benny Lewis

      Wow, thanks for opening up your struggles to us Drew! I can certainly relate to a lot of your struggles and frustration (from when I failed at learning Spanish first time round) and loneliness (in my Parisian experience, and my first weeks in Taipei not able to talk about anything non-superficial).

      Persistence always pays off when you stick to it. I’m glad you had your epiphany and it’s all going well for you. Soon you’ll be very confidently speaking it, you wait and see ;)

  • Nicolas Noel

    When I was a student in a French business school, I had the opportunity to take a break year to do an internhip. I knew I wanted to go abroad and the good thing was that my girlfriend wanted the same (we studied at the same place). The languages I had learned at school were English (fluent) and German (pretty basic) while my girlfriend had learned English and Spanish. The obvious choice would have been to go to any English-speaking country, but my girlfriend was *really* attracted by Latin America. I knew a girl who had started learning Spanish with Assimil for fun (I guess she was also attracted by all the latinos in our school), so one night (12th of December, 2007 – one of the best decisions of my life) I decided I could do the same and that I’d just learn Spanish myself and try to go to Colombia with my girlfriend. I must say that luck played a role because we both found an internship in Bogotá, but my dedicated work (every day for 6 months) also helped a lot. Long story short, I landed in Bogotá speaking enough Spanish to keep learning by talking to people I met, without the help of any book. One year later, people would just assume I was Colombian when they heard me talk, and I must say it feels pretty good!

    The cool thing about this story is that my girlfriend did exactly the same for me once we were looking for an end-of-studies intership. It’s been 3 years we live in Germany and that’s another success story for both of us which I could share some other day ;-)

  • emily_horch

    A friend of mine has accused me of being addicted to languages, and if there was a way to shoot verb conjugations directly into my veins for a high I’d do it. I do not think I’m that nuts, but it started with French at age 22 and in the last few years (starting at 38) I’ve been able to shove Italian, Spanish and German into my head. I’ve lurked in the halls of 16 different language schools in 5 countries to get my fix.

    However, I don’t think language schools are the key to language-learning success – though they are a lot of fun. The key for me, especially as an adult, is remembering that it is perfectly ok to look and feel like a complete idiot when learning a language. You will make mistakes. You will flap around and use your hands and body when you don’t know a word. I’ve had times when I’ve just given up on aspects of the language that are blocking me. For a month I decided to just to not use prepositions in Spanish. All German nouns were treated as neutral for a while. Sure, I got some strange looks, but people still understood me, and eventually I got ”de-blocked”. Sometimes you just have to ignore perfectionism and just adopt the credo of “by any means necessary”!

    Now I’m very lucky in that I work in US via internet but live in Europe. I change countries every few months, which keeps my language brain very happy. I’ve let go of formal study and verb charts, even though that idea that there is a ”right” way to learn grammar was really hard to ditch. My best language tool these days is my dog who travels with me. He is big and friendly and everyone wants to meet him. And I will talk to anyone, in any one of my languages. So my vocabulary is heavily canine (”dog cookies”, ”ticks” and ”leash” in 5 languages, anyone?) but improvement is steady nonetheless.

    I’ve been particularly inspired by Benny’s recent project of learning one language while living in another, because I am still hacking away at my German despite currently being in Spain. Last week on a business trip I got to speak a ton of German and was very happy to see that I hadn’t lost much despite being in Italy, France and Spain for the last 6 months. How cool is that? So no matter where you are and what language you want to learn, it is possible!

    • Benny Lewis

      A dog is a way better tool for language learning than the most expensive software or complex grammar book, when it helps you meet people like that ;)

      Great job on realizing the ultimate truth about embracing making mistakes for the sake of getting real progress!

  • Charlie Long

    My first summer of university was spend sitting on a sofa waiting for an operation after breaking my kneecap during my final week, needless to say the following year I thought ‘right, THIS summer I’m going to get out there and DO something with my life’ and after applying and failing to get lots fo jobs I was left with some Aupairing applications.

    Im a native English speaker and after no luck on the job front I put on my CVs and profiles that I spoke ‘basic French & Spanish’ -(in reality I spoke absolutely nothing of either of them) and sent them to families in France and Spain, my logic was that whichever country wanted me I’d just change my online profile, delete one of the two languages and get learning the other! -and thats exactly what happened.

    A German family in Catalunya answered my email, we skyped in English, I bought my tickets and started learning some Spanish basics. I arrived with the super amazing ability of being able to count to twenty, tell someone my name and say hello and goodbye. But over that summer I carried a notebook at all times and just asked people ‘how do you say…?’ and started using these collected words and phrases. The Parents of the family showed me how verb conjugations worked and then I was on my own.

    I returned to England for the year, taking Spanish classes to learn structures and grammar etc. From there I returned to Catalunya for 6 weeks and an Aupair with a different family, this time only speaking English with the children, EVERYTHING else was in spanish when spoken to me, and I was surrounded by Catalan.

    Mentally exhausted I would search for interesting articled on the internet in my free time, just to read SOMETHING in English, and this was when I stumbled upon ‘fluentin3months’ which was a HUGE help to me with loads of great and funny articles, but the best thing was to know that it was not just ME that was doing this sort of thing and finding it hard, I wasnt the only one at family BBQs confusing the words ‘pollo’ and ‘polla’, nodding my head through conversations and desperately trying to catch a verb or a conjugation and guess what was going on.

    I stuck with it, then got a job in Barcelona for the year. After 3 months struggling to really get some practise with Spanish there (I was working in an all Catalan speaking school and living with Catalan families) I thought I’d take the plunge and accept immersion in Catalan for 3 months- I took classes and spoke as much as possible with the constant thought ‘dont break and switch to Spanish, just keep going’ and it worked!

    Im still here working at the school until the end of the year and by dedicating set amounts of time to each language (3 months Catalan, 3 months Spanish etc) ive been able to get around the challenge of learning multipul languages at once.
    Im now working on separating the two languages depending on where I am or who im with -Catalan at work, Spanish at home etc. Its not easy or a perfect situation to learn in, but im just going with it (something which pops up in this blog often)

    So far my Spanish is at the upper intermediate level and my Catalan at a medium/upper basic level. Learning more languages has opened up so many doors for me, new friends, jobs, places to live, things to do etc. Im a completely different person because of it, and I guess part of that has to be down to the support I can get from going online and reading a few things on this blog -‘when the subjunctive gets you down, have a little look on’fluentin3months’ and see who else is going through the same thing!’

    Now of course, thanks to so many people’s stories on here im setting my sights on more languages for the future after getting to a higher level with Spanish and Catalan! a little experiment with Esperanto maybe? then French or Portuguese? who knows! But I now know where I can find people facing and overcoming the same challenges with languages as me- a linguistic ‘hats-off’ to you all!

    • Benny Lewis

      Great job! More people should definitely learn Catalan – it really opens up your experiences and chance to make friendships there!

  • Mia

    Hi everybody :)
    I’m a young teenager and I’m a French native speaker.
    I started learning a new language (English) when I was a baby, my parents were ( and still are ) bilingual and they taught me English when I was very little so it took me a little more time to start speaking than the other children because I needed to assimilate the two languages. Now I am practicly bilingual, I just need to practice my english and I realised that I love languages !! So I started learning Spanish last year and I bough “kits” and I spent about 40-50 € but it didn’t work really. But last summer, something happened to me and it was really not pleasant… I discovered that I had diabetes (type 1) and that I had to do a few injections of insulin each day. I put away my Spanish project and I restarted it this year when I was better. I’m really happy now because I can speak Spanish a little and I’m proud of it, it’s not because I’m diabetic that I can’t do anything !!
    I have Spanish pen pals and I always start the conversation in Spanish with them, I don’t want to speak to them in English or in French !! I’m really proud of myself because I spoke 5 minutes with somebody entirely in Spanish, it was so great :)
    At school, I learn Latin and French Sign Language ( we learn it in a club ), I hope that at the end of the year I’ll have a good level.
    Benny is a real inspiration to me and Tim Doner too !
    You’re really great guys ;)

    Thanks for reading my long story and I hope that my enormous comment will inspire someone (like somebody who’s in the same situation as me, diabetic or other people).

  • Konstantin

    Interesting posts, guys.

    My story maybe has nothing in particular. I’m Russian. I learned english at school, university and during post-graduate course. It was never a passion for me. Then I started to work in an english-oriented company. My level slowly became to increase.

    One usual day I realized I want to learn French. It was very spontaneously. Now I can explain it that in all likelihood there was two main reasons:

    – increase the ability for unhampered journeys and

    – try to understand new language.

    I found some sources and started to learn it once a week on Saturdays. With time I began love it. I gave it more time.

    Then I joined to the Livemocha community and found a lot of friends who helped me to start assimilate. I became to feel myself engaged. I noticed a passion for both English and French languages.

    After 2.5 years of learning French I think I have an A2 level.

    Now I have a big potential to learn languages. Everyday I see videos where well-known polyglots speaking different languages. It is very suggestive. To be honest, recently I wanted to start another language. It is pretty exciting to imagine the Globe and choosing a language. But I decided to improve both current languages instead of expanding their quantity.

    Now I have an aim to improve both up to C1 level. Then maybe I will choose another one.

    It would be interesting for me learning Japanese, Georgian or one of Slavonic languages.

    Keep on learning, guys!

    Thank you Benny for the chance to tell my story.

  • Andrew

    I’m a complete language nerd, I love learning new languages. When I was 12 I started teaching myself French using an old Berlitz book from the ’50s and a Pimsleur French audio course I talked my parents into getting me for my birthday (this was so long ago they were cassette tapes, not CDs) and I loved it, I relished every little bit of progress I gained each day, every new word I learned, and when I finally figured out how to do that oddball French “R” that’s sort of a dry gurgling sound in the back of the throat I was like a kid that just opened a present on Christmas morning and discovered that it was exactly what they wanted. Then I got to high school where I had my first language classes ever, and they were in my beloved French–this was when I got a dose of the nasty, hard reality that are most language classes:

    You know, I USED to really love French, but…memorizing dozens of conjugation charts and vocabulary lists, doing boring exercises for homework from an outdated textbook that taught the sort of French no native speaker would ever use in real life, and almost
    never, ever actually speaking any, you know, French very quickly put an end to that. I somehow plowed my way through four years of that and managed ‘A’s and ‘B’s, but it really turned me off to language-learning for a while.

    I tried Russian in college (you were required to take 4 semesters of a language to graduate) and had the same experience and hated it, which resulted in me rarely doing the homework and simply not being able to pay attention, I just couldn’t learn that way. I have a confession, I told a little white lie above: I didn’t fail Russian per se, I got a D- (the lowest grade above failing, which is an ‘F’, for our non-American readers) only because the professor had a policy of never failing anyone if they came to class, but believe me, I knew my test scores, I failed by any quantifiable measure.

    Then I had a brilliant idea: I know, I’ll take Spanish, it’s supposed to be easy, plus the teacher’s really hot (and a native speaker to boot)!

    A pretty and very nice, young Costa Rican lady was our instructor and she began the course with the sort of enthusiasm that only a novice teacher could: she quickly learned that, despite how she’d like to teach the course, the university required her to teach from the textbook provided and with the method dictated by the language
    department. This, of course, ruined the class and turned it into another dull exercise in how-many-words-can-you-memorize, just like every other language class. I literally watched that poor woman degrade over the weeks to utter resignation and soul-crushing defeat due to the way she was forced to teach and, in particular, the predictably unenthusiastic attitude of the class in response. I dropped it after a month and a half, too late for it not to count, and received an ‘F’.

    Look, this is my passion, and here’s why…

    I have always wanted to travel extensively and not just travel, but actually live (as in, for years at a time) in other countries–you see, I really don’t believe that you can learn very much about another culture, country, and people simply by visiting them as a tourist for a couple of weeks, and it’s even worse if you can’t speak their language. That’s ultimately what really fascinates me, it’s my passion: learning about other cultures and people who are different from me. I could literally spend the rest of my life moving from country to country every 3-5 years and picking up, ooohhh, say a dozen or so languages along the way.

    This brings me to my point about languages: you can not truly understand a people and their culture without speaking their language. Just forget it: if you’re not willing to learn to speak to them in their native tongue, you’ll never really “get” them, I don’t care what else you do. You have to go to their country, actually live there for, at the very least, 6 months or a year, and actually be conversationally fluent in their language before you hit the ground there. This means you’ve got to get fluent on your own, without immersing yourself in-country. Before, without having a local friend who was a native speaker, this would have been nearly impossible. But now we have…THE INTERNET!

    It was a few years after college that I finally scratched the itch I’d always had (I’ve always wanted to be able to speak multiple languages, that desire never left me, it was just some disillusionment there in the middle with how languages are taught in school that temporarily put a hold on things), I decided that since I wanted so much to travel and that I’d probably start with Latin America, I would absolutely, completely, and utterly commit myself to becoming fluent in Spanish: 3 hours a day of study every day, NO let up, I’ll try everything and figure out what works, then I’ll streamline it and apply it to other languages I want to learn. A deep-seated drive to accomplish what was absolutely necessary for me to be able to do what I truly wanted with my life (travel) along with my passion for languages guided me straight to my goal: I was fluent in 6 months.

    Now, to be clear, what I (everybody has their own definition, language-learners actually hate this word with good reason) by “fluent” is “conversationally fluent” as I call it, that is I was able to have a conversation with a native speaker about most everyday subjects (stuff in the news, what’s going on in their or my life, etc.) at a normal conversational rate of speed without having to stop and look things up more than every once and a while (here and there’s not a problem, having to do it every other sentence is a problem).

    I did it via sheer determination and a willingness to try everything, fail most of the time, and keep the few things that really worked for me. I found that my favorite, and most effective technique, for me was to use Spanish-language popular media that I enjoyed (movies, TV shows, books, etc.) in to learn new Spanish and then to really cement it into my memory/vocabulary by applying it to conversations with native speakers I would have via Skype who I had met on language exchange sites like iTalki. That’s what worked for me better than anything, not any sort of formal language program/system or class. I can’t encourage you strongly enough to just go find some type of media in the language you’re learning that you think you might enjoy to some degree and then simply try to understand it by looking up and learning everything necessary in order to do so, and then just take what you learned and apply it to real conversations with native speakers, either written (check out Lang-8 for that) or oral (language exchanges and Skype)–that’s where you’ll learn how to actually correctly use what it is you’ve learned. It’s fantastically effective. Pardon my self-promotion (Benny can take this out later if he decides to use this) but I do have a website about this (using the above technique to learn Spanish) that you can check out by clicking on my name at the top of this comment I believe, if you’re interested.

    Hope that helps someone.


  • Chris Ruddy

    I had (And still do a little) a big problem with shyness. I’ve been learning Japanese for the last 9 months, but I haven’t had much chance to use it until a few months ago. I joined Lang 8 a while ago, and I decided to just stop being so shy, and I messaged someone who seemed friendly. Anyway, since then, I’ve had weekly conversations in Japanese with a lady in Kyoto, and I plan to try the Woofer program next year (A program where you go to help out on an organic farm in exchange for food and accommodation, my friend did it in Italy, he recommends it, but stay away from the sheep, apparently). Anyway, I definitely found my progress to go fastest with a mix of talking regularly enough, mixed with enjoying the media and watching and listening to it frequently. So anyway がんばって with your language learning everyone :) Oh, also, Anki or other SRSs are pretty good for Kanji, I see that question asked a lot.

  • Nicholas

    My success story is how I have reached a level of German that often makes me forget how cool it is to be able to fully integrate into the culture of my new home country. Just the other day I was visiting a friend in a small village in Bayern and was able to take part in a “coffee and cake” birthday party of his 88-year-old Grandmother. I wasn’t an intrusion on the intimate event, but rather just another partaker helping celebrate, able to communicate fully without anyone translating for me. It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized how cool the experience was, and how impossible it would have seemed just a year ago.

  • Theresa W.

    Although I have a minor in Linguistics and love the study of language, I fell into the typical trap of going, “I’m not good at languages.” Four years of French (once a week) in grade school, followed by another four at honors level in high school yielded an ability to say hello, thanks, and where is the bathroom. Comparing myself to others, I constantly told myself I “didn’t have an ear” and that it was my fate to only be able to speak various dialects of English. (I’m an American who’s lived in Wales, England, New Zealand and Australia.)

    It was here in Australia where I fell in love with a German — as you do. After dating for about a year, I decided to take the plunge and start to learn his native tongue. One that’s seen as being “super difficult.” In a country where I speak the native tongue, English.

    But it’s going fine, and I’ve been enjoying it. Why? Because for the past 1.5 years or so, I’ve been lurking on this very blog. Constantly reading how I just have to “speak from day one” and get out there and try has made me enjoy learning German. I took a two-month class in Nov/Dec, and now my teacher gives a weekly private lesson to me and another girl. I use Duolingo, I have flashcards — and I speak in German as much as I can with my boyfriend. I can’t tell you how awesome the feeling is when I manage to have a 10-minute conversation all in German, even if it’s just about cooking implements!

    While I haven’t dedicated myself to learning as much as I could be, I’m progressing more quickly than I thought I would be. It’s all thanks to taking every opportunity to speak German. I’m lucky to be really involved with the CouchSurfing community here, and whenever I meet a German I ask where they’re from and try to converse in my limited Deutsch. Luckily, the CS community has started up fortnightly German conversation courses, so I’m going to start attending them. And I have started to immerse myself in German culture, reading books and watching German films.

    I’ve realised that it’s not about “having an ear” or being brought up bilingual — it’s all about dedication. I want to go to Germany and be able to converse with my boyfriend’s family in their native language. So I’d better get going — there’s some studying to do before my class tonight!

  • Dani Riekwel

    ah merci!

  • Dani Riekwel

    As a highschool student, I studied French. I spent one month in Tahiti at age 14 on an exchange program, and was lucky enough to be put on a remote island in the south with 4 girls who didn’t like me very much. I was the only one of the little group who made Tahitian friends, and ended up skipping a year in highschool French when I got back because of it.

    When I left highschool, I went to the Netherlands to be an Au Pair. Bolstered by my success as a teenager, I decided I could learn Dutch if I only just had the balls to speak from day 1. My host family had bought a dutch book for me to learn from, and after about 30 lessons (out of 50) in three weeks, I decided it wasn’t useful to me anymore. I also read a religious book in Dutch with a dictionary in the evenings. That was my only study. I had a few funny experiences at the markets when I didn’t understand some Dutch sayings, (“anders nog iets?”… “ja?” hahaha) but after a month I was at a pretty decent conversational level. I also spent 5 hours a week at a church, and I refused translation and insisted on trying to speak Dutch. I guess that was my main problem in the beginning – Dutch people like to practice English. But I was persistent, and just replied in Dutch when they spoke English. They got the point. Some “miracles” occurred – in my first week I could understand pretty well, even though I couldn’t say much. So I answered questions in bible class in English but listened in Dutch. After a month I said a prayer in Dutch and many people claimed I had the gift of tongues in wonder. I denied that, I just didn’t try to learn from a book and tried to speak. After a few months I was translating in the church for the English speakers who had been there for years and were too lazy to learn the language.

    Even after living here for 6 years, people claim my Dutch is amazing. I haven’t really worked on it consistently for a few years, but I continue to improve because I am open to correction from my Dutch husband and his family, and my Dutch friends. I do plan on maybe taking the formal exams so that I am more employable here in the future.

    • Benny Lewis

      “Dutch people like to practice English. But I was persistent, and just
      replied in Dutch when they spoke English. They got the point”

      Well said and so true. Persistence wins every time ;)

  • Stuart Edward Hughes

    1. What challenges did you initially have to overcome when you were getting started with learning your language?

    My university course placed a
    premium on being able to read and write Chinese, but gave no systematic way of
    learning them beyond rote memorisation; radicals had to be learned as a
    separate exercise but were thrown at us in the first few weeks as part of a
    classical Chinese class, massively increasing the workload and detracting from
    learning the language as we’d actually be using it. It was very sink or swim –
    fortunately I’d discovered both James Heisig and SRSing before classes started
    so this was a little less rough than it might have been, and by the end of the
    year I was smashing everyone on the character tests, even those with some prior
    experience learning Chinese or Japanese. Coming back to China I see what a
    handicap it is for other Western students who never learned to recognise
    characters properly, let alone write them!

    What really hindered me for much longer was not getting over my fear of speaking! It took much longer to realise that a ready supply of native speakers, both
    in the faculty and student body, was going to be a much more efficient teacher
    than cramming lots of vocabulary without context via flashcards. I’m definitely
    of the opinion now, like you found, that having a grasp of the spoken language
    is vital if you’re really going to have some context for the writing system,
    especially one so divorced from the sounds of the spoken language.

    2. Did you always want to learn this language, or where you always good at language learning? Or did you start from scratch as an adult?

    I always had a curiosity about
    foreign cultures and seemed more comfortable than most to embrace the unfamiliar
    sounds of a new language. My experiences of Spanish and later French in high
    school made others think I was a “natural” or “talented”, but I never really
    saw what the fuss was about – the only factor was interest!

    Chinese was actually a rather impulsive
    choice for university, jumping on the bandwagon at some perceived economic
    benefit “when China takes over the world”. This I found was not enough, and my
    progress suffered for it. These days I’m a lot more curious about China insofar
    as it deals with massive economic and social changes, and this is driving new
    gains in acquiring the language – but I still feel a cultural chasm that would
    mean I could never see myself integrating into Chinese culture in the same way
    I could to Western Europe or another Anglophone country like Canada or
    Australia. One day I’ll find the middle ground that I’m happy in…

    3. How did you overcome your biggest challenges?

    All my barriers to learning are
    social and overcoming this challenge is on-going. Some days I relish the chance
    to soak up lots of interactions with Chinese people around me, while other days
    see me withdrawing to the company of familiar English-speaking friends and English
    media. This reflects more generally on how I’ve interacted with strangers all
    my life, but looking back at myself from only a few years ago I can see just
    how far I’d come. I’m no social butterfly yet, but I’ll happily jump on stage
    in a packed club to dance while everyone’s watching and then go flirt with a
    pretty girl at the bar (and do it sober at that…)

    4. What language learning technique(s) and tools did you use?

    Lots of listening to short passages and lots of SRS sentences to drill basic grammar points was the modus operandi at the start. As I’ve
    become more proficient I do a lot more reading of real texts and have become
    less focused on the SRS flashcards; likewise my listening practise has
    graduated to radio and TV. Most critically, I dare to have lengthy
    conversations with native speakers until I cannot produce more language through
    mental exhaustion. Training to failure!

    5. What inspired you to make the jump?

    I never had trouble jumping on my
    first attempt at bungee, so taking on Chinese wasn’t something I needed a push
    for! More relevant in my case is what inspired me to keep at it, when the
    notion of walking into any job just by virtue of speaking Chinese evaporated
    and the reality of the job market sank in. (It’s a great tool in the box, but
    you can’t build a house or a healthy bank balance with one tool…) What kept me
    going was people, massively displaced
    from me geographically and culturally by chance, but people nonetheless who
    want much the same things in life as me. There is still that palpable gap in
    many ways, but any notions I had in the past of Us vs Them have been well and
    truly obliterated. As the world gets smaller this is only going to be more important.

    6. How long did you spend to get to where you are?

    Four and a half years. Given my
    personal hang-ups there is no reason to kick myself for doing what others have
    accomplished in two years or less, and I know that when I reach C2 level I’ll
    still be young, and I’ll still be to my knowledge the only Welsh kid around
    with this skill set…

    7. What wonderful experiences have you had now that you have learned a language to
    this level?

    I have nothing too exciting to tell
    on this front. All I can say is that there is great satisfaction in those
    moments of fluency where you really do forget you’re speaking another language
    and simply enjoy the interaction with another human being. Stopping to reflect on what just happened is pretty mind-expanding :-)

    8. What plans do you have for the future with your target language?

    I am still intent on reaching a C2
    level and finding some useful business outlet for my language skills. Thee less
    pragmatic but certainly more potent motivator is getting my teeth into some
    real Chinese literature, TV and film. A civilisation which counts one sixth of
    the world as its members isn’t short of creative talent, and I long to be able
    to immerse myself in this world as it really is, and not lost in translation. I
    would have balked at the idea not too long ago, but it would be like someone
    learning English and never getting to enjoy the likes of Stephen Fry or Bill
    Bailey – quite ludicrous!

  • Anna Fodor

    My story is maybe an unusual one that doesn’t apply to many people, but I know I’m not the only one – I have now met several other people who were also in a similar situation. Let me explain.
    I was born and raised in England, but my mother is Czech and my father is Slovak. I know what you’re thinking – I must be bilingual, or even trilingual, right? Well actually, no. Czech was my first language and I spoke it up until the age of four, but my parents told me (I can’t remember because I was too small) that I stopped speaking it when I started going to school, probably because I didn’t want to be different. My mother would talk to me in Czech, and I would reply in English. This went on for a couple of months until, feeling exhausted, defeated and depressed, she gave up, and I spent the rest of my childhood speaking English with my parents. They spoke Czech with each other so I could still understand it, but I never spoke a word.
    This was mainly because I felt so ashamed and guilty that I had forgotten so much of it. I felt like my parents, especially my dad, blamed me for my refusal to speak Czech and like they were angry with me for it. I carried this shame and guilt with me throughout childhood and adolescence and it caused such a psychological stumbling block for me that the one or two times I did attempt to speak Czech (not with my parents, I was too scared to do that, but with other people) I began stuttering, even though I don’t have a stutter in English. I would be so embarrassed that I was stuttering that I would stop talking. I was basically mute in Czech between the ages of four and eighteen, although I could understand most things my parents said to each other. Whenever I tried to talk to my parents about why they hadn’t persevered with making me speak Czech it always just turned into a huge argument with us all blaming each other. In the end I realized that talking endlessly about how it had happened and constantly analyzing it wasn’t getting me anywhere and was only damaging my relationship with my parents further. I had a very difficult relationship with my mother in my teens and I wondered if it at least partly sprang from the fact that I couldn’t talk to her in her native language.
    During my late teens I realized how much the guilt and shame that I had been carrying around with me had had a psychological effect on me, one which had invaded other areas of my life, not just language learning, and I decided to do something about it. During my first year of university I took a beginners Czech course. I really enjoyed it and I
    did very well (obviously, not being a complete beginner) but it also revealed
    to me how much I DIDN’T know. I suppose I’d always thought that my Czech was
    locked away somewhere inside me and all I needed was the key to open it, but taking
    this course made me realize that not speaking a language for fourteen years
    means you forget most of it, especially when I probably hadn’t even finished
    acquiring the grammar and syntax of Czech when I was four. So I realized I
    would still have to do all the hard graft of learning the language that anyone
    else has to do, although I had the advantage of already being able to
    understand some of it.
    After university I moved to Prague with the aim of learning to speak Czech. It was a pretty vague aim to be sure, and at first I was disheartened by how bad my Czech was and I was still too embarrassed and ashamed to speak it with my mum. Whenever she tried speaking to me in Czech my throat would physically close up, I would flush bright red and I could only whisper or stutter one or two word answers. It sounds ridiculous but I think psychological burdens that you carry around with you for that long really do have a physical effect on you. However, pretty shortly after arriving in Prague, I was doing an internet search for advice on learning Czech and I discovered After some initial hesitation it really inspired me to stop making excuses and just SPEAK. Speaking was obviously my problem – I didn’t find learning the grammar or vocabulary difficult, I could already understand a fair amount and although I’d never learnt to read or write Czech as a child that wasn’t difficult either. But I just couldn’t speak – every time I tried, the physical effects that I just described (my throat closing up, strangled or stuttered speech, heavy blushing) took over and I would sink into a depression, and all the childhood guilt and shame would come back and overwhelm me.
    I guess I was looking for some magic cure to solve my problem, but after reading a lot of the blog posts on fi3m and thinking about it a LOT, I concluded that my particular
    problem, although unusual, and although one deeply rooted in family problems, psychological anxieties, and childhood guilt and blame, was still just that – a psychological problem, and therefore I could solve it with the only tool I had – my mind. So one day, I just forced myself to start speaking Czech with my mum.
    It was hard. I won’t say it wasn’t hard. It was. I was so scared that she would criticize me – my mother has always been hyper-critical, the kind of person who if you showed her an essay you wrote at school that you were particularly proud of, she would pick out the one mistake in it – and because I still didn’t really have much confidence speaking Czech and my ego was still so fragile, I didn’t feel like I could take any criticism from her.
    But to my surprise, she didn’t criticize me at all, and one day, after a few weeks of us speaking Czech to each other on Skype she said, ‘Wow, your Czech is almost perfect! This was really amazing, we had a proper fluent conversation together!’
    It wasn’t true that my Czech was perfect – I am still only intermediate level roughly, but it meant so much to hear her say that and I almost cried I was so happy. I finally felt like I had laid all that childhood trauma to rest.
    I have been in Prague a year and a half now and although my Czech still has a long way to go, I feel like in many ways I have already achieved my main aim in coming here, which was to be able to talk to my mum in her native language :)

    • Benny Lewis

      What a heartwarming story!! Thanks so much for sharing it with us :) It can indeed be even more frustrating when the language is one your parents used, and I have heard similar stories to yours in the past, but now I have someone to point them to for inspiration to charge on through :)

      My own mother is very passionate about the Irish language, and was incredibly disappointed when I dropped down to the lower level examination in school and all but told her it was pointless to learn it. I don’t think she’s ever been prouder of me than when I told her I was going to the Gaeltacht to genuinely try to learn it, and then invited her to come with me when I was a little more ready and we would speak in Irish together,

      It’s certainly weird to speak to someone in a language that isn’t the one you have spent your entire life communicating in. I’ll admit that I too felt embarrassed and too ashamed and would switch to English too much initially, but as you say they are overjoyed to hear us use this language that is so important to them. Everyone in a somewhat similar situation should definitely try it and feel that joy of having made mum proud ;)

  • Adam Jones

    Learning languages simply opens up doors to the world. It is not just about connecting with people and making them laugh in their own language, it’s being able to get their jokes by better understanding their culture. My wife and I live overseas and learn Bosnian/Croatian. We have found that though there are many people in our town where we live who speak English, learning the local language allows us to better understand our friends’ ways of thinking. Learning a language has only come by practicing. I can read all the books I want on the Croatian or Bosnian language, but 100 times more is learned over coffee or at the pub.

    I once thought I was a carefree person. That is, until I started going around and speaking with strangers and making a ton of mistakes. I shriveled up faster than a flower left in the sun. I had to train myself to push through the embarrassment of ‘not saying it right’ and choose communication over perfection. I also had to ‘teach’ my friends to help me learn. They couldn’t correct every mistake or else I’d rarely finish a sentence, but I would not allow them to let me learn incorrectly either. It has been fun learning with my friends. I wish I would have been more disciplined in the early months to communicate, even if incorrect. However, now it is great to see friends and strangers treat like one who speaks their language and not just as a foreigner.

    Sure, I will always be a foreigner here, but I am a foreigner who communicates with my friends in their tongue with their jokes and cultural insights. That is so freeing. This blog certainly serves as encouragement to me. Anytime I feel the need to search for better methods to improve my grammar or skills, I go here first to be reminded that speaking, being aware of new words and phrases and asking for correction and/or help is the BEST and quickest way to proficiency. Thanks, Benny!

  • Benny Lewis

    The next language interfering with the first can be frustrating indeed! Like anything, it just takes practice ;) I got used to switching between various languages by going to international parties or seeking out speakers of each language and using both often so that I eventually had the compartmentalisation skills to keep them separate.

    You’ll know exactly what I mean soon enough ;) Great job!

  • Adam Jones

    Learning languages simply opens up doors to the world. It is not just about connecting with people and making them laugh in their own language, it’s being able to get their jokes by better understanding their culture. My wife and I live overseas and learn Bosnian/Croatian. We have found that though there are many people in our town where we live who speak English, learning the local language allows us to better understand our friends’ ways of thinking. Learning a language has only come by practicing. I can read all the books I want on the Croatian or Bosnian language, but 100 times more is learned over coffee or at the pub.

    I once thought I was a carefree person. That is, until I started going around and speaking with strangers and making a ton of mistakes. I shriveled up faster than a flower left in the sun. I had to train myself to push through the embarrassment of ‘not saying it right’ and choose communication over perfection. I also had to ‘teach’ my friends to help me learn. They couldn’t correct every mistake or else I’d rarely finish a sentence, but I would not allow them to let me learn incorrectly either. It has been fun learning with my friends. I wish I would have been more disciplined in the early months to communicate, even if incorrect. However, now it is great to see friends and strangers treat like one who speaks their language and not just as a foreigner.

    Sure, I will always be a foreigner here, but I am a foreigner who communicates with my friends in their tongue with their jokes and cultural insights. That is so freeing. This blog certainly serves as encouragement to me. Anytime I feel the need to search for better methods to improve my grammar or skills, I go here first to be reminded that speaking, being aware of new words and phrases and asking for correction and/or help is the BEST and quickest way to proficiency. Thanks, Benny!

  • Diane Owen

    Learning Welsh wasn’t in my life plan, and I’m still boggled that it’s happened. What’s more, I’m sure it would *not* have happened if a traditional Welsh class had been available to me here in the US.

    I’ve always thought of myself as “good at languages,” but reached middle age with no evidence of that beyond decaying skills with written French. I’m analytical. I like grammar. For years I’ve planned eventually to learn Spanish, and of course to do so through a traditional academic approach.

    Then, in 2009, I decided to go to Wales on vacation. I’d been before, but this time wanted to know how to pronounce place names correctly before going. Because there were no traditional classes available in my city, I poked around for self-teaching resources. Unfortunately, for a small language, Welsh has an appalling range of variation in basic things like how to say ‘he is,’ depending on regional dialect and level of formality. Stitching together pieces from various textbooks, BBC sites, and the like was failing me.

    Then I hit on an online all-audio course, totally focused on speaking from day 1, which seemed entirely unsuited to my style of learning. Guess what? I was wrong about my style of learning.

    It worked. I fell in love with Welsh. I fell in love with Wales. I’ve been back repeatedly, and rented houses with friends I’ve made online through the medium of Welsh. I listen to Welsh music and radio and read Welsh novels. I couldn’t find a Welsh conversation group in my city, so I started one. I’m on the Board of the local Welsh society. I practically tackle anyone who shows the slightest interest in the language. And I’ve never attended a Welsh class.

    Apart from Welsh, what I’ve learned from this experience is how to teach myself a language. Now I’m applying this approach to Spanish, by starting with all-audio resources (Pimsleur, Michel Thomas, talking with anyone who’ll talk to me) and gradually adding stage-appropriate reading material. It feels impossible that I can ever love Spanish as much as I love Welsh, but I know now from experience that it’s within my power to achieve as much as I want through learning on my own, and that I can have a great time in doing it.

  • Angie

    I live in Senegal, West Africa, where, among other things, I have served as a chaplain at a women’s prison. When I first arrived, there were two women teaching through a translator to a small group of women with their eyes glazed over. These teachers were African, but non-Senegalese, and didn’t speak Wolof. I made it my goal to be able to teach them God’s Word in Wolof myself. I prepared for hours, using many of the tips I learned from Benny, and when I came with a message of hope and encouragement in their native languages, the women’s eyes lit up and others who were not part of our group listened from the sidelines because they were so drawn to the truth taught in their heart language. It was such a blast to interact with these dear women in a way that meant so much to them!

  • Nikolas Broman

    On April 22, 2013 Benny made this blog post and I got married. Perfect timing. Because I learned Japanese, I realized the love of my life, married her and couldn’t be happier!

    I went to Japan in the summer of 2009 for three months, because I like video games and video game music. I wanted to learn Japanese, so I went to language school for one month. For two months I traveled and worked on farms. It was all amazing. But I hadn’t studied Japanese at all before the trip. I thought I’d simply absorb it while being there. That’s what people say, right? “You’ll learn the language in a couple of months, if you’re in the country.” Well, I didn’t. I learned some helpful phrases and words, but not enough to hold a conversation.
    – Lesson 1) Traveling is fun!

    I had my first girlfriend during that summer. She was Japanese. I was 19 and she was 32. We spoke English and we there was a language barrier between us. But we had lots of fun and I thought I was in love. After I returned to Finland, I thought about the summer romance and what real love is. “We didn’t really have anything in common anyway, right?”, I thought to myself. “I don’t even know what to say to her in this e-mail I’m writing. What would we ever talk about, if we lived together.”
    – Lesson 2) Love is fun!

    In November 2010, I started reading inspiring blogs, like Fluent In 3 Months. I started eating healthier, living healthier and wanted to continue studying Japanese on my own. I had postponed it for too long. But I was studying abroad in Austria. No way I would study Japanese while having a fun experience abroad, right? After Christmas I went to travel to North America and couldn’t resist it anymore. I wanted to speak Japanese. So I started studying while traveling with Anki on my iPod Touch.
    – Lesson 3) Inspiration is fun!

    I returned to Finland in the spring of 2011 and decided to go to Japan next year. It would be a waste not to be able to speak Japanese. So I studied Japanese every day at least a little bit. I made a photo book of my travels and sent it to my Japanese ex-girlfriend and her parents. Her dad showed it to the chief librarian, who was impressed. “Maybe I should apply for an internship at the library. That way I can go to Japan!”, I thought to myself. I was still in university and had to do an internship anyway. I wrote the best application letter ever and had it professionally translated to Japanese. I wrote in the letter that my Japanese won’t be a problem. I wrote that I’m studying hard and will be able to use Japanese as a workplace language. So I really put myself out there. The chief librarian accepted my job offer. Wohoo!
    – Lesson 4) Really doing it every day is fun!

    I went to Japan in the summer of 2012 for almost five months. I couchsurfed for one month in the Tokyo area. I worked hard on writing all couch requests in Japanese. I wanted to use Japanese from the get-go, because switching from English to Japanese later is hard. So I practiced speaking Japanese for almost every day with natives (and some non-natives). Then I went to Taiwan for a “visa run” and enjoyed the cheap & delicious food over there!
    – Lesson 5) Traveling while speaking the local language is super fun!

    I did my internship at the library in Kyoto for three months. I lived with my ex-girlfirend and her parents. Though after arriving in Kyoto she became my girlfriend again instantly. I used Japanese every day with her, her parents and at the library. Because I knew Japanese, I got to know her better. Almost daily I had a-ha moments about how perfect she is for me. We have similar ideas, similar tastes, similar values. How did I not know this three years ago? I had also grown a lot and knew myself better. So I knew she was the one for me. We are perfect for each other. We both know it. And now I just hope that others are as happy as we are.
    – Lesson 6) Have fun.

    Thank you, the Inspiring Internet.

  • Keith

    I am 52 years old, and I have twice failed to learn a second language.

    Over 35 years ago I was required to take a foreign language when I entered high school, and so I picked French, and I ended up studying French all 4 years in high school, and then took 4 quarters of French in college. Since we did not practice conversation, after my 4th quarter of college French I abandoned completely that language.

    About six years ago I went with a group of friends to visit an orphanage in Russia, and before that trip I decided to take an entry level adult education Russian class. However, again it was based on the study of grammar with no conversational practice, and I quickly lost interest and quit the class before the end of the term.

    Then, about 4 years ago my wife and went to Mexico to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary. When we returned from that trip, I decided to learn Spanish. Why? One reason is that I have always been envious, in a good way, of people who can serve as a translator … people who can go back and forth from one language to the other while helping two people converse who can only speak one language. For example, when we went to Russia we had about 5 translators who were with us at all times, helping us talk back and forth with the orphans we were visiting. I was inspired by the ability of the translators to do that, and I decided that I wanted to be able to do that. Another reason I decided to learn a second language is that I realized it cannot be impossible, I knew that people do it all the time, including people my age, and since I have always thought of myself as a reasonably educated person, I reasoned that I could learn a second language if I went about it the right way. Finally, I decided in particular to learn Spanish because there are so many people who speak Spanish in the southwest of the USA where we live, so I assumed I would have plenty of opportunity to practice it.

    Practice was the key. I knew inside that I failed at French and Russian because I did not practice it, so within one year of starting to learn Spanish I decided to form a Spanish conversation group. I recruited a few friends to join me who were beginners like me, I searched around town for a place to meet (which was a coffee house located in a diverse area that included Latinos), and I also hired a Guatemalan friend of mine to meet with us every week on Tuesday night for that 1 hour of Spanish. I also insisted from the beginning that the entire time be in Spanish, for I had read that immersion was the way to go … thus, I became the English cop (to the consternation of some) and immediately stopped anyone who tried to resort to speaking English when they got stuck. (We learned to soften that rule over time to allow brief clarifications in English). I am proud to say that 3 years later the conversation group that I started continues to meet weekly (although I have since moved to another state), and every week there are at least 5 participants and sometimes more than 20 (depending on the season). Along the way I also became a Spanish coach to many people … sharing with them things I have learned, resources I have found, etc., with the result that many of the people I have helped have thanked me profusely for helping them gain some level of coversational Spanish. The primary goal has always been to converse in Spanish, and to have fun while doing it.

    In the 4 years since I started speaking Spanish, I returned to Mexico once, I spent 2 months in Guatemala in Spanish immersion school, I taught English for 3 months in Ecuador, y por supuesto, was able to improve my Spanish while in Ecuador, and I write this note from Spain where I have been for the last month in Spanish immersion school with plans to be here one more month. Obviously, I can now go to a Spanish speaking and do whatever I need to do while speaking Spanish, and now my wife and I plan to live 6 months of every year in a Spanish speaking country when we retire in 3 years.

    With regard to tips, I have learned that there is no one system for learning a second language that is better than the rest, that there is no magic pill … clearly, some programs are better than others, but really you can be helped by many programs. I have completed all of the following programs: Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, Fluenz, Berlitz, LinguaPhone, etc, as well as various grammar books, and I have also purchased audiobooks in Spanish to listen to on my iPod. I am getting ready to take the Cervantes Institute DELE exam for the first time, and although I think my level is B2 on the CEFR scale, I will be taking the B1 level exam because it cost less and because I don´t really need a DELE certification for anything in particular, I simply want to have the experience of taking the DELE exam.

    Time on task, especially at my age, is important if you want to learn a new language, including daily contact with the language, but I would like to tell my fellow language learners to remember to keep it fun and to focus on becoming conversant in the new language, without worrying about making mistakes (since most of the time you have to be willing to do something poorly before you can do it well), because the goal is to converse in the new language in order to enter into a whole new world. ¡Que le vaya bien!

    • Benny Lewis

      Very inspirational story Keith! You are showing us that it’s not about starting when you’re a teenager or in your twenties. You’ll definitely reach high level fluency in Spanish with this continued passion. Keep it up!!! :)

  • Sara Hillbom Guizani

    I am a child of a mixed marriage, my mother is Danish and my father Tunisian. I grew up in both the US and Denmark. My mother has always been very strict with speaking Danish at home, she insisted on it and in all the years living in the States we spoke Danish at home. It was important for me to be able to both read and speak Danish fluently and correctly in terms of my future in living Denmark. This was not so with Arabic (Tunisian dialect). My father never spoke Arabic to me. Never. To this day I am not sure why. When I was a child it was less important because I could easily play with my cousins when we would visit my Tunsian family in the summer, even without being able to speak the language. But as I grew older (entered into the awkward teenage years) it became more and more difficult, to the point that I decided to stop visiting.

    The feeling of shame that someone has already mentioned is something I can recognize. I was ashamed that I could not speak the language of the country I supposedly originate from. I could not speak to my own grandmother. I never developed a relationship with her because of the language barrier. In Denmark I don’t look like a typical Dane, I look like a Tunisian, with curly brown hair and dark brown eyes, but yet when I was asked about it I felt deep shame in saying I was Tunisian (also).

    And so when I was finishing high school I decided to take a gap year and try to solve the problem. I had not been to Tunisia for 6 years at that point and not had a conversation with anyone from my family. I was very scared. But somehow I knew that I had to do it. In many ways I didn’t want to, but at the same time I could not go on living without coming to terms with this part of my identity.

    So I moved to Tunisia. I moved in with my family who spoke very little English. For those who have tried something similary I am sure they understand how frustrating something like this can be. I started intensive 1-1 classes (nothing else was possible because no one wants to learn Tunisian dialect, no courses are offered other than private lessons). And things moved forward but after 1½ months I became very frustrated. I was annoyed that I couldn’t say what I wanted to say, I was annoyed that it was difficult to read. I felt stupid when speaking. This frustration (there may have been some crying involved) reached a point where I started researching (the internet is always my best friend in this regard) what I could do. I started looking into how long it takes to learn a language typically and I came across this blog.

    Literally your (Benny’s) blog post changed my attitude towards learning language. It was quite simple. “Stop speaking English.” So simple and so true, and as I read the article I realized that I had not been doing this at all. Yes in class. But in interacting with my family I spoke English when I could. Instead of using the Arabic I was learning in class. I was scared to use what I knew because I didn’t want to be wrong, and I didn’t want to pronounce things wrongly. But after reading the post I realized it was neccesary to make a rule that said “no English”. I only allowed myself to use English (or Danish) when talking to my parents on skype or if I needed something translated, otherwise I stuck to the Arabic I knew.

    And I made progress. I am still suprised when I say that on the last day of my visit (I put aside 3 months for this initially) I was sitting with my aunts and cousins and having a full intelligent conversation completly in Arabic. I had to come back again so I arranged another visit of 3 months after where my mother also visited me. She does not speak Arabic. I found myself standing between her and my cousin translating their conversation and having a great time. I was able to see the contrast in my mother’s understanding and mine and so this was probably the moment I realized how much I had learned. I never thought I would be able to do something like this, I had hoped but I did not truly believe it until it happened. I had been learning French for 6 years in school and I was (am still not) fluent in French or have in any way come to terms with the language like Arabic, which I spent 3 months becoming fluent in (then later 3 months where I just improved and practised, but without classes). The difference is quite obviously the attitude and the style of learning.

    Aside from the accomplishment I felt in learning a new language, I gained a family. I have no siblings and no extended family in Denmark, so suddenly having this large group of people and being able to communicate with them was just overwhelmingly fantastic. It is really one of the best things I have ever done in my life. Even when I talk about this experience (usually when I’m trying to convince people that they can learn any language they want haha – and in 3 months no less) I can just feel how happy I am that I have done this and how happy I am that I can speak to my family. There is a certain point in language-learning when things just fall into place and you start seeing the language sort of “from the inside” and this was also just an amazing experience for me. Metaphores and sayings make sense all of a sudden and you start to really understand, and sort of finally make friends with the language. Its just awesome simply put.

    Right now I am working on learning Modern Standard (also known as classical) Arabic which is similar to Tunisian dialect but not the same. I can read and write Arabic but I am still lacking in the understanding of MSA. So I’m working on that and I hope to one day be able to read books and watch the news (this is never done in dialect, only in MSA). I’m taking classes here in Denmark, but these are the traditional kind with a bunch of grammar and different excerises but I’m not taking it too seriously, I’m just having fun with it. I hope that next summer I can go on an intensive Classical Arabic course and “really” learn it. Then I think my journey can finally be complete. As for this summer I am going to Tunisia to lie on the beach and spend time with my family!

    • Benny Lewis

      I absolutely loved this story! :) Yes, we can all feel frustrated even after time in the country genuinely working on the language, but there are still hard choices to be made and I’m glad you made them!

      Congrats on learning your father’s language! I’m sure when you have children of your own you will know to use different languages with them ;)

  • Jorn van Schaïk

    Hey Benny, I’d like to tell you a story how I went from a language nobody to a language somebody in the timespan of two years :) I was inspired by quite a sad event in my life to change many things, and learning languages was one of the ways that I’ve used to deal with a romantic break-up.

    You see, four years ago I fell in love for the first real time of my life, and I dated an uber-multilingual girl who spoke five languages fluently and could more or less read another one. At the time, I hadn’t done badly in school at languages, and spoke fluent Dutch and English (which was part of my upbringing), and had learned German, French and Latin in school, although I didn’t speak the last two well or at all. We always spoke English together, and I never really managed to make any inroads into her francophone friends, because my French was not very good. After two years, I got a chance to move to Belgium for an internship temporarily and spend two months in Brussels. I thought I had it all made, I had subrented an apartment with only French people, I was going to be happy and I had a temp position doing research for a company providing advice to the Flemish government. Halfway, she broke up with me and I was alone in a big city, speaking poor French and having to communicate to my flatmates that I’d just been broken up with and that I was going to go home as soon as I could (all in French, because we didn’t speak English together).

    And that’s when everything changed. Those two months of forced French practice transformed me from a shy language learner into a confident speaker of French. The language came flowing back, although I was still lacking many details, I became a more proficient user in the timespan of a few months.

    After I came home and returned to my life in the Netherlands, I decided that I could do this multilingualism thing better than she could and resolved to learn Russian. (She didn’t speak this language, and it was a decision on a whim). That got the ball rolling. The first months were slow, and for half a year, I couldn’t roll my r (which she’d made a bit of fun of when I tried to pronounce Romanian). However, I stuck with it, and after 9 months I started to see improvements. My beginner class had finished, I had gone beyond the call of duty and was pronouncing and speaking better Russian, although it was still very poor at the time. Then I decided to return to French. I have since gone on to complete the whole B1 level courses of the AF with excellent grades, and I can now read and speak French without trouble (I still make mistakes, but they are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things). I improved my Russian immeasurably and I also speak a fairly decent Russian. I decided I could do even better and learned to speak Swedish in about four months, when I had completed a full-blown detective novel of 650 pages. I went from strength to strength, and resolved to learn the two languages I failed to learn when I was still together; Romanian and Hebrew, so they could take on a different meaning in my life, just as French did, and so I could erase all the ghosts from the past. Along with an endangered Celtic language, Breton, I’ve decided now that I should start and master these languages and change my life.

    I’ve gone from someone who was just okay at languages and transformed my mentality in a few months. I have achieved more success than I could dream of. I’ve revitalised that whole skill, just by seeing someone else do it. It just takes the discipline and courage to follow a dream, and not be knocked out of left field when something bad happens.

    • Benny Lewis

      That’s great that a major blow to your plans didn’t dissuade you from continuing your language learning adventures :)

  • Alx

    Hello out there,

    Nice to read succesful stories from all around the world.
    i would like to share in brief two of my stories too and i hope
    to be able to encourage some people-after i managed encouraging
    my self and being succesful my self at first of course!

    I have learnt till now three foreign languages, to
    an advanced level. Though my priority into my two
    first languages was not speaking, it came along with
    the time. My first foreign language was english so i cannot
    really define how much time i needed in order to speak, because
    i was learning it for years in an academic enviroment(school).
    But if it was not for me practising it, i would
    barely remember anything by now.

    So i will focus in those i learnt my self.

    So let’s speak about… speaking languages!
    For speaking about most of things needed
    as a traveller and be comfortable to speak
    about almost anything with friends, i needed
    around 9 months while learning my second language.

    At that time i had a certificated already B1
    level and was around the 2/3 for my way to B2,
    but cause my emphasis was in reading at most,
    i was not that skillful and confident in speaking
    continuously and engaging in multiply conversations.
    I had even trouble in speaking for simple matters
    with a reasonable speed.

    Advancing my methods of learning and being
    more motivated to active listening and speaking
    while learning my third language, i had a quite
    decent level around in three months while learning
    my third language, which language was a quite different
    from my first and second one and not close related. Still though
    i had to struggle a lot in order to communicate properly.

    At that time, i communicated even better than i did while
    learning my second one, though my level was around the middle of
    A2 and B1. But because i gave a spoken emphasis i managed much
    better speaking and engaging into conversation than in my first
    language, at around 3 times faster!

    But i will continue on that later.
    Now my first story of success for
    encouraging you is not learning those
    two languages already… but it is speaking
    practically near in the same level my third one
    as a turist not in three months but… in three weeks!

    The fourth language i took was for reasons of travelling
    kiswahili (swahili). I wanted to travel to east africa
    and decided to be a respectful turist so even
    if people there speak english i decided to learn
    to communicate with them in them mother tongue instead
    of english.

    I gave it a hard time during first ten days
    taking 2 hours per day lessons from native speaker
    and studying other six hours of my own. But the other
    two weeks i did not had that time, and i studied around
    2 hours per day. So most of job was done at the first
    ten days already. So what i achieved in this period?

    I managed to travel to east africa using almost
    ONLY kiswahili, and dealing with pretty much everything
    needed as a traveller(eating,drinking,going around,giving and
    taking directions, speaking with taxi drivers, speaking about me
    and family and planning of my trip, where i came from, where i
    go, with whom and why, how do i like etc.) and engaging into
    simple everyday conversations talking about me and other people,
    and with using some proper words even some simple short talks
    about politics and cultural matters.

    And guess what… my level is still BELOW A2 level.
    And even that way i managed through changing my attitude
    and learning more sufficient the language to communicate
    much better than with my previous two languages at that time!
    What i struggled to do in second language in 9 months,
    and with third at 3 months, i managed it in just 3 weeks
    in my fourth language!

    Though of course my vocabulary and understanding
    is more weak but who cares! I managed to do my trip,
    speak with enthusiastic people in them mother tongue
    and a new world opened in front of my eyes, which i
    would not be able to reach it without having that attitude!

    Now my second success story:

    Continuing from before, I managed to reach a B2 level at my third language,
    at around 8 months of studying. All those months
    i did not studied almost at all my second language and
    i did not practiced at all speaking, only very rarely
    some reading and listening, but again very rarely.
    So the second language detoriated as it came to my speaking
    skills and the third one took almost it’s place.
    So i forgot forever the previous language and i had again
    no hope to speak it ever again… Right? WRONG.

    Because learning more sufficiently languages at that time
    and having more experience i managed even without almost
    at all practising for ALMOST A YEAR to activate my previous
    one only in some days and guess what…
    A friend of me which has that native tongue came
    to see me after about one year in a foreign country
    studying…. So around at 2-3 days i did some reading,
    listening and speaking my self in order to get prepared
    with the goal to talk with him ONLY in his native tongue.

    And when he finally came we managed to speak 7 hours
    ONLY in his native tongue and the best?

    Why? NO MAGIC GENTLEMEN! It is just that i learnt
    to use MUCH BETTER my language skills even if i lack
    some vocabulary here and there. And though my overall skills
    fell down a bit, i managed to use (actively) my second language
    much better, even without practising for almost a year.

    So my advice is to change your attitude while learning
    a language and be more persistent and ‘aggresive’ while speaking
    your foreign language. See it as a struggle of survival and
    refuse to give up and ease the things for you!

    PS. And a ‘weird’ advice… like when we read texts
    or listen to someone speaking we do not know often
    some words but by association with the whole context of the
    conversation we understand them meaning … do the same you too
    when speaking. Instead of telling ‘ehm’ or ‘um’ just tell the
    word you do not know in that language in your OWN ONE and
    continue talking like nothing happened. It sounds weird but if
    you do not miss WAY TOO MUCH vocabulary, it always is very good
    for keeping up naturally the conversation and you bring the ball in the
    terrain of the other person to understand what you told, without
    feeling uncomfortable your self with your speaking ONLY in his
    language. Just test it!

    If someone managed to read my post i congratulate him
    (and thank him for taking the trouble).

    Hope the best to everyone out there

  • Eytan Levy

    My favorite language stories are the dumb ones that make me look like an idiot. In Russian the words for “breakfast” and “tomorrow” are just one letter apart. So this waiter asked me if I wanted to eat breakfast, and I said no, I want to eat TODAY.

  • Ellie Justice

    I’m 17 years old. My story is not that special. I am currently learning Japanese and Spanish (concurrently). I hope that one day I will be able to speak several languages. My mother language is Arabic. I learned English through watching movies and listening to songs only. I impressed even my parents who formally studies English in high school and college but never managed to talk to foreigners that well.
    When I moved to Canada my English level surprised people, although considering the English we were taught at school back home was horrible, I was always ahead of my English class, although I am not the most academically inclined person in my school. Anyways, when I moved to Canada I was ahead of the rest of my family members. I’ve acquired more vocabulary in the past three years than my cousin who is an English native, and my aunt who has been in Canada for 13 years. people often get surprised when I tell them I’m not an English native speaker.
    If you really want to learn a language, all you need is perseverance, don’t listen to your parents who tell you that learning ‘X’ language is useless, because you will never manage to speak it that well. It does not matter how old you are or that you live thousands of miles away from where that language is spoken, you can always get around it. The discouragements you get from friends or classmates is based on their experience, and should not be relevant to you, because you are not them.
    Languages are the most beautiful things in the world! If only people appreciate it more!

  • Bancov Marta

    Hallo! I have been learning English for 2,5 Years now!I have spoken
    with native speakers after 2 years learning and I was quite fluent! My
    first foreign language was Yugoslavian !After that I came to Germany
    and I figured that I learnt German mostly at home about 2 Years and
    after that I spoke with the people! So I decided to start English I
    reached B1 level !Now I can’t stop with language learning it’s become a
    habit !It´s very good against Alzheimer and depressions! I will learn
    this way French also l!The key is you have to learn every day!The
    reason I write now is I wanted to thank you for motivation you gave me
    during my English studies !Now I think I need to read a lot in English
    this way I can improve my grammar!Besides my mother tongue is Hungarian, and I watched your video in Hungarian I was very happy to see that somebody learn this language as well!Mit freudlichen Grüßen Marta!

    • Teddy Nee

      Hi Bancov Marta, you are amazing! how do you manage the time to speak those languages?

      • Bancov Marta

        I had to learn Yugoslavian when I was a child! When i came to Germany I had to learn German too ! English was my experiment! I was curious if I could(can) learn a language without a teacher ! I started French also because I live at the French border and this way I can speak (learn,improve)with native speakers! I like all languages but it is not so easy ! As for the time you have to learn every day a bit! You have to watch the other Polyglots what they say about the time schedule! How they manage they time! I´m learning every early morning 1,2 hours and on evenings I read my favorite books!

        • Teddy Nee

          yes, it s good to know more than one language.. with the advanced tech nowadays, it has became easier to use the languages on daily life..

  • Ewelina Dziuba

    8 Months Ago, I had just entered into a romantic relationship with a francophone from Quebec. I was living in Poland at the time. I speak Polish and English as my native languages. I decided this was my opportunity to finally learn French.

    I had spent 12 years in school having French as a subject, as I am from Canada, but despite my enthusiasm for the language and having received very high marks in my classes, when I met French people from France for the first time, I …could barely tell them that I was from Canada and studying medicine. What a COMPLETE and utter disappointment.

    Within a few days of embarking on my journey into future francophony, I found one of your videos where you spoke your many languages. I was quite impressed, especially with the one video where you speak to a girl from Quebec. A lightbulb turned on in my head. I want to speak like THAT. Mostly to do with the ease with which you spoke in French.

    See up to that point for those couple of days I had been using what I can only call a Rosetta Stone duplicate. After your video and a few other inspiring reviews from other people, I decided I was going to simply take the jump into learning French. Silly games weren’t going to cut it. I had to be serious about learning this language.

    And so , I started with everything and anything I could get my hands on. Lots of audio tapes for learning French, learned over 2000 words of vocabulary in about a week. Immersed myself with anything and everything that was related to the language. I was excited and extremely motivated.

    Only one thing sort of discouraged me every once in a while. It was my boyfriend. I was too self conscious to even write to him in French at this point without first double checking every single word I wrote in Google translate. Even then I made mistakes! It was kind of hilarious looking back on it, because I simply kept putting off speaking with him until I knew enough to be able to fly. I just assumed, sit up before you crawl, crawl before you walk, walk before you run, and eventually…fly.

    Which is why I allowed French in my head to develop separately from him. It became my thing. Every once in a while I would exchange a text or two in french but it was sort of exhausting to keep that up for too long. Especially with all the checking for errors on Google translate.

    I kept changing my methods. I would get bored of one method and move on to the next, each one leaving me more excited than the next. I would watch the news in French back in Poland, listen to Podcasts, spend an hour trying to figure out the different connotations of a French word and the difference between parfois and des fois and quelque fois. The language simply fascinated me.

    Then came January and for the first time I signed up on to a language exchange site looking for a Skype Partner. After about a week I finally managed a quality one. A guy from France originally who had moved to South America. Our first 10 minutes on Skype were purely in English. Just like those many hours with my boyfriend, I felt not confident enough to switch to French. He was patient though, and slowly led me into it. And suddenly I jumped and I was speaking French. A very slow and slightly grammatically incorrect french in terms of tenses ” I come to Poland as opposed to I came to Poland. But I was doing it! I was speaking in French!! Unfortunately I had slight trouble following him. Every 5th word seemed like a blurb to me. I got the gist of what he said, but I couldn’t say it was all clear.

    It wasn’t the perfect conversation but it showed me exactly what I was lacking. Fast forward 2 months later. I listen to Quebec french radio everytime I drive, and that’s where I find out my news for the day. I had my first Skype conversation with a guy from the south of France last week. It was so pleasant that we spent almost 2 hours talking, only in French, because his English is still rusty and unlike with his other language partners he didn’t have to slow down his speech to be understood by me. Speaking in the language feels almost natural to me. It feels wonderful as it flows off my tongue and I have no qualms about approaching anyone and speaking French to them.

    My accent is becoming smoother, I rarely make errors in writing, unless referring to stylistic errors and even when I do am more than happy to have someone correct me. How else am I to learn? I even write to my boyfriend regularly in French barely noticing I switched to French or getting fatigued.

    The funniest part is that I’m not quite accustomed to my high level of comprehension (nearing c1 at this point) so when I read an article, still find myself putting it through automatic translation after and going ”well that was pointless. I understood all of that before.”

    I’ve only had one very short conversation with my boyfriend in French. It’s not that I don’t have the confidence, it’s just that he is a lot more intimidating that a stranger online. He will have to wait and see the quality of my French when I go meet his unlingual French family in 3 days. I hope I fare well enough and the 100s of hours I spent attuning my ear to Quebec french suffices.

    I plan to master this language. Even if it takes 10 years to do so. I’ve already made the first most humongous step. I can communicate effectively. I can reiterate my thoughts and feelings and ideas.

    • Benny Lewis

      The hardest people to speak a particular language to, are friends and loved ones that we are used to speaking a completely different language with for so long! I’m sure you’ll get over this intimidating feeling soon and be ready to use French more confidently with your boyfriend! :)

      Great job on everything else you’ve achieved! :D

  • Mariola

    Great post! I can say that learning languages changed me perspective on life completely. Now I now what I want to do. It’s one of my biggest passions in life and before I started to take languages seriously I was kinda lost :p currently I’m learning Norwegian and it’s a great expereince! I’m even flying to Olso tomorrow and I’ll be practising there my Norwegian!:) studying languages also helps me to create lots of ideas :)

    • Benny Lewis

      Looking forward to reading how your time in Oslo went ;)


    In 2009, at age 26, nearly 9 years after my last high school Spanish class, I met a 12 year old girl in rural India who spoke Telugu, Kannada, Urdu, Hindi, and English. She was one of my students in the school where I was volunteering. Being an essentially monolingual American, I was shocked and a little bit ashamed. Sure, she was in an environment conducive to multilingual life, but I made a dedication to lose my excuses and try to expand my world a bit more.

    Bit by bit, I started to try to reclaim the Spanish I had lost, and found some encouraging success when I made a Colombian friend whose great English progress (and stubborn refusal to speak it with me very often once she heard about my goal) inspired me and helped me along.

    A few years and an MA in Applied Linguistics later, I’m a fully committed and certified language dork, with an overarching goal: to learn the six United Nations languages (English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian, Mandarin) to a useful (B2 or higher) level by the time I turn 40.

    My first success was In April 2012, I spent two weeks in the Dominican Republic living in a homestay and taking classes, and managed to not speak English outside of the airport. One of my friends from the States put me in contact with her family in Santo Domingo, and I “survived” a whole afternoon of playing dominoes, drinking Presidente, and joking with her uncles.

    But just last September I embarked on a bigger, scarier adventure: taking a job as a high school teacher in Nanjing, China. I had barely touched Mandarin yet, as I had spent most of my study time on Spanish, French, and Arabic before. But the offer was found and made, and so here I am.

    The first few months were confusing and frustrating and hellish, but now, seven months in, I’m starting to see some of the fruits.

    Two weeks ago, I hosted two very sweet university students from another province in China on Couchsurfing. Everything, from my reply to their request to the three nights they stayed here to our text messages to the kind review they left me on my CS profile, was done entirely in Mandarin. Sure, there were some lapses and awkward miscommunications, but I managed to pleasantly host Chinese houseguests in a meaningful way.

    And just last week I had the mother of all “before you’re ready” life tests. My boss informed me that I would be doing an interview for a journalist about the special program we run in our school. It was 3 days away, so I–imagining it being someone with a pencil writing down notes while calmly asking questions in my office (where my coworkers could help me)–said it wasn’t a problem.

    24 hours before the interview, I was informed that, oh wait, actually:

    -It was going to be a recorded panel discussion
    -It was going to be 40 minutes long
    -It was going to be broadcast LIVE on the internet
    -And, oh yeah, it was going to be in Chinese

    While I was pretty irritated at the time, I really only had myself to blame here (in a culture that uses a lot of indirect communication, not asking detailed follow up questions is a recipe for “surprises” like this).

    Once I got off of work, I plunged into frenzied preparation, and crammed like I’ve never crammed before. The next day I was so nervous I couldn’t eat more than a banana and tea, and my hands were shaking as we got into the TV studio. This was *not* what I expected only seven months into my Chinese study!

    I stumbled over my introduction and the first question, but once I stopped freaking out I decided to just mentally SHUT UP AND DEAL and used context to piece together and generally follow the conversation.I was asked a total of four questions during the interview (they went easy on me, I think!) and although each question had two or three words I didn’t know in it and was delivered at more or less full speed, I managed to respond to the best of my ability and made a few semi-intelligent observations about educational expectations between the US and China.

    I used Chinese almost exclusively, only asking my student to translate or confirm 3 or 4 words (i.e. “global citizen”) for me

    The lights went down and we left, and I mopped up the sweat covering every inch of my body and felt my brain drain out of my ears as it relaxed after a 40 minute meltdown. We went to the car and went home.

    Once home, I rushed to the computer, looking for the video online. In my mind I was convinced that I’d find people who watched the video making fun of my pronunciation, or, even worse, saying they couldn’t understand me at all, or that I hadn’t understood the questions asked of me and replied nonsensically.

    There were comments still left under the video by people who’d watched it live. I fired up Perapera and got to sorting out what they were saying:

    “Robert’s Chinese really isn’t bad, it shows that the environment is important when learning a language.”

    “This laowai is really cute, I bet the students all like him. But he does seem a little shy.” (I guess when I’m freaking out, it comes across as shy.)

    And I searched the rest of the comments. The rest were just questions about the program, how much it cost, the tests they prepared for, etc. While I certainly made errors, apparently I didn’t disturb or confuse anyone watching the program enough to warrant commentary…

    A few of my Chinese friends and colleagues that I’d told about it ahead of time texted me and congratulated me and expressed surprise at my performance. While Chinese people are polite and face-saving, I didn’t detected anyone being dishonest.

    I sat back in my chair and took a deep breath. I clicked over the Couchsurfing. I clicked “Edit Profile.”

    Maybe it was premature. Maybe I didn’t know enough hanzi or vocabulary yet.

    But what the hell, I’d earned it.

    I clicked the drop-down menu next to “Mandarin Chinese” on my profile and moved it from “Beginner” to “Intermediate.”

    And then I jumped out of my chair and danced a victory dance in my living room.

    • Benny Lewis

      Wonderful story! :D Fantastic that you were able to hold up in Mandarin under such last-minute stressful live scrutiny. Keep up the excellent work!!

  • Valerie

    To be honest, I have always had a much easier time learning foreign languages than I had with say, learning math, so my language learning ability itself was never particularly an issue. The primary challenge I had starting out was the difficulty of learning a foreign language with the classes that were available to me. I took a six week introductory Spanish course in the 6th grade (I was 11) and fell in love with the language, and then took nearly a full year of very introductory Spanish the next year- the only verb we’d learned was “ser”! Unfortunately I moved near the end of the year and at my new school Spanish was not offered until 9th grade, a year and a half later! And even then, all four years of Spanish in my high school, especially the last year, there was little focus on actually attempting to use the language in day to day conversations, and opportunities to practice were rare in my very small town. My last year of Spanish dissolved into a glorified study hall, but I was determined not to let that diminish my desire to learn the language. So I started watching DVDs of my favorite movies with Spanish subtitles. I started learning more advanced Spanish grammar on my own online. I started getting up early on Saturday mornings to watch a cute time travel adventure show on the only Spanish TV channel we had. And when our teacher assigned us a short book to read in Spanish and everyone else snuck to the library and found a copy in English, I meticulously read it in Spanish, writing down and looking up every single word I didn’t know- I still have the notebook!

    Thanks to my hard work on my own, I tested out of the first year of Spanish for college, spent a semester in Spain in 2008, got a bachelor’s degree in Spanish in 2009, and in a year will have a master’s in Spanish before hopefully starting a career in translation. I think having a classroom setting as a base was good for me to start out with, but it wasn’t enough. You have to see and hear the language in context to really learn it, and you have to be committed to learning it. Even lately I’ve learned a great deal as I’ve only recently started regularly reading books in Spanish thanks to a literature class. It was always a struggle because my instinct is to do what I did for that first book- look up every single word I don’t know- and you can’t read a book that way, really! So I’m expanding my vocabulary and getting better at learning words from context. I’ve been wanting to learn another language for a long time, so after following this blog for a while I’ve picked up a few books on learning French since I’m out of school for the summer. Hoping I can show the same amount of dedication to it that I showed for Spanish 8 years ago!

  • Anna Fodor

    Hi Ashish, I’m happy that my story inspired you! I watched your Youtube video and wrote you an email at the address listed underneath with some ideas for how you could improve your pronunciation. Best of luck!

  • Kieran Maynard

    I learned Japanese and Mandarin to a high level over the last four years. I made a lot of mistakes learning Japanese, but learned Mandarin very quickly. The keys were: a positive attitude, patience and resolve, talking to native speakers, memorizing phrases with Anki, dedication, and healthy habits.


    I was not good at language learning. I was good at memorizing Latin vocabulary, but had no idea how to learn to speak a language. I took night classes in Japanese in high school and studied two semesters in college, then went to Japan as an exchange student. I was not prepared. I couldn’t have a real conversation, understand much, or read anything. I spent four months in morning Japanese class with lots of foreigners reciting business lingo from a textbook. I memorized Japanese words by trying to recall their English equivalent. I had only a few Japanese friends, with most of whom I spoke English. My Japanese improved, but not much.

    I read All Japanese All the Time and went back to Remembering the Kanji. I used the public deck to memorize all of Volume 1 in two weeks. Everything changed. I realized I was not exposing myself to Japanese or trying to use it regularly. I deleted all the Japanese to English cards and started over with sentences from native material. I read a (very short) novel in Japanese. I made friends who didn’t speak English and talked to them every day. After five more months I could make lots of small talk in Japanese. I went back to America and used Anki to memorize thousands of sentences to learn to read kanji. I read Japanese every day and made friends with Japanese students and became a staple of the Japanese Conversation Club. By my last semester I could write poems and papers in Japanese. On the two occasions I returned to Japan I found my conversation ability had greatly improved, but when I sat in on an academic conference my listening comprehension was poor.

    I wrote and recited a speech in Japanese and won a round-trip flight to Japan. I traveled across Japan and could freely converse with everyone I met. One of my CouchSurfing hosts was a cookbook writer for a famous chef, another was a Buddhist ascetic who took me to practice laughter yoga with mentally handicapped children. I met an artist in Osaka whose dream is to have an international exhibition, and a taxi driver who composes classical music.

    Mandarin Chinese

    In learning Japanese, I learned how to learn a language. I started Chinese in late 2010 by trying to chat with my native speaker friends and memorizing characters with the Mastering Chinese Characters deck in Anki. I learned in my spare time (while reading mostly in Japanese for fun and English for classes) for eight months and went to China. I spent two months traveling and speaking very basic Chinese. My feedback was encouraging: you can’t say a lot and you speak really slowly, but what you say sounds so natural. Many Chinese had met foreigners who have “studied Chinese” for years but can’t make full sentences or pronounce words properly.

    I spent the next year learning Chinese characters in my spare time. Once I had learned 4000 sentences (probably about 2000 characters) I could start to read Chinese texts. After coming back from China I jumped into third-year Chinese and found most of the students who majored in Chinese couldn’t speak it. I took one semester of Mandarin, then one semester of Classical Chinese. I (painstakingly) read part of Mo Yan’s “Red Sorghum” for a research project. Partly because my Chinese was (comparatively) good, I got a scholarship to study at Fudan University in Shanghai as a recent graduate.

    Since September 2012, I have studied Chinese literature with Chinese students at Fudan. When I arrived, I had trouble understanding people or making conversation. I couldn’t follow the lectures. I didn’t despair. I knew I would learn quickly. I made lots of Chinese friends, avoided speaking English from the start, and listened carefully in class. I used Pleco to memorize 6000 new words. By the end of the semester, I wrote papers in Chinese and could read literary works . Since then, I have become faster at reading, better at comprehension, and able to converse more naturally and freely. Quite often, Chinese people tell me I speak Chinese better than any foreigner they have ever met, and without an “awkward” accent.


    Some people say I have a “natural gift” for learning languages. In fact, an aptitude test told me I have a natural gift for memorizing discreet pieces of information, but it took me years to translate this into effective language learning (thanks to Anki and AJATT). I was terrible at learning languages until I learned one.


    Learning to read kanji, or Chinese characters, was a challenge. In fact, they are not so hard to learn with Anki, it only takes dedicated effort. You won’t “pick them up” over time. I used Anki and RTK for this.

    Chinese tones were hard to differentiate and pronounce. I graded myself very harshly on Anki for tones. You absolutely must memorize the right tone. Soon, you will learn to tell them apart. Then you can make them yourself. As I am speaking, I sometimes think about what tones I am supposed to use. If I say it wrong, I say it again with the right tone. This is partly for the listener, but mostly for myself. I have to force my mouth and brain to say it the right way. Anyone who tells you tones are impossible or not that important is a charlatan.

    • Kieran Maynard

      PS: Benny’s blog inspired me to learn Esperanto, which I’ve been practicing. Then, Spanish.

      You could sum up my whole experience by saying: Just talk to native speakers and copy them!

  • Samuel Lickiss


  • Marta Bancov


  • Jeremy G. Woods

    I learned French in high school, but for the first two years, I did not do well at all. For Christmas one year, I decided to get a few French movies and CD’s. Once I watched and listened to them, and got a French pen pal, my French started drastically improving. I began studying better not harder. I still did French homework, but I put in more effort outside of class, and it paid off. During French IV in high school, I started Spanish I. After high school, I got a minor in French and audited a Chinese class as well (it allowed me to not even have to pay for the Chinese class). Also after high school, I studied a little Italian on my own. I started realizing that learning languages just through textbooks and classes was not going to work to learn a language. I personally enjoy learning a language in a classroom setting, but it should not be the only way we learn a language.

    I ended up taking another year of Chinese. Eventually, I started listening to Romanian, Dutch, and Norweigan radio stations and started learning Romanian on my own. When I went to Romania in August 2012, I was at a point where I didn’t have to use a dictionary or phrase book to have a conversation. I went into a bookstore and asked the store clerk where to find a Romanian copy of the Bible (using Romanian and no English). They didn’t have the Bible in the way that I wanted it, but he ended up taking me a few stores down to a Christian bookstore that had it. I rarely used English when I was with someone who was Romanian.

    I currently work at a bank and use languages daily. I’ve been learning Polish greetings because I have a few Polish customers. I use some of the Chinese that I remember, as well as some bits of Japanese greetings and phrases. I have also used German, Irish (which I don’t know the pronunciation), and even a little Dutch that I had learned (I was surprised how quickly I remembered the phrases).

    I will be moving to France in September as Communications Coordinator at a company, so I will be continuing use of the French language. I also plan to return to Romania and get to improve my Romanian.

    • Jeremy G. Woods

      I would say the only languages that I am fluent in are my native language (English), French, and Romanian. Romanian is iffy on fluency, but I am definitely improving it constantly.

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  • Yonghan

    Hi Benny,

    I read your blog with most interest but really keen to know how you did Mandarin. I have studied for about a year and probably at the same level as you so you did 4 times faster. I think though that this is the hardest language to learn. I also picked up Spanish in about 2 months but took 12 to get to the same level of Mandarin. Your thoughts and what do you reckon is the trick to progress with the language that has some many idioms where what is said is not acutally what is meant.






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  • JenBetweenDots

    I went to teach English in Georgia – where most people speak Georgian, and the older generation speaks Russian (neither of which I know)! I had gone to French immersion school for 12 years and had previously learned Spanish while living and teaching English in Central America, so I have a decent grasp of language learning. However, Georgian is a WHOLE new ballgame. The alphabet is its own, and not used for any other language in the world,and it’s in a language family of its own as well: kartvelian.

    The first week, all of the new teachers (100 of us!) had intensive language classes to learn the alphabet and basic sayings/greetings. We were all pleased as punch when we could finally say hello properly to the shopkeeper next door. I bet he gets a lot of us trainees garbling at him. Anyway, I didn’t actually know very much of the language until I was sent to my home-stay, way in the country with nary a single English speaker for miles. If I wanted anything I had to communicate in Georgian as my host dad spoke less than 5 words of English (one of those being “baby”, and another being “sit”). Even the “English teachers” at the school didn’t really speak English. So yeah, it was pretty tough at first but I learned WAY more Georgian than a lot of the teachers who were placed in the big cities so it was a great way to learn the language!


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  • Benny Lewis

    Great story! It just goes to show that even after years of being exposed to languages and not succeeding, we can ALWAYS reboot our efforts ;)