First month in Berlin & 8 language 6 dialect tour of my flat

It’s been a month since I arrived in Berlin, so it’s about time for a mission update! To make it more interesting, I’ve decided to include this multilingual video tour of my flat.

I also made (just English) videos to show my home in Prague and Rio, since I host Couchsurfers most of the time and I’d like them to see where they’ll be sleeping before they come.

However, this is the first time I’ve tried to make a single video with multiple languages, i.e. the whole video is one unedited (other than adding graphics like flags & subtitles) take. I really prefer to use my languages to talk to people rather than my camera, since it feels very artificial. On top of that it’s hard to switch between languages so quickly, so I made a few mistakes, but otherwise you can hear me speak the languages I have good command over, one after the other, and I even included German so you can hear how I’m more-or-less speaking it after a month!

First month

The reason that video is relevant to my first month in Berlin is because that flat is basically where I’ve spent most of my time since I got here! I prefer to spend more time outside, but before the summer weather got here I wanted to make sure I did as much of my indoor stuff as possible, to get it out of the way.

After the first week, I was translating double-time again and this gave me very little time to do anything else. So I decided to block translation work for the rest of the month, and most of my day has been devoted to writing the language hacking guide so that I can describe in great detail the process involved that helps me learn languages quickly.

I’ve made great progress in writing a huge amount already, and interviewing some amazing people to include audio in the guide. I’m hoping to release it mid-May!! (For more info on that, join the language hacking league by entering your e-mail on the right).

Progress in German

The first week was the most crucial, since I had already gotten into the rhythm of not speaking English. I made enough progress to be able to even spend several hours a day speaking just in German, using my usual tricks! Since that week, my level has definitely improved, but a lot less in its spoken aspect than what I usually prefer, simply because I’m not being social enough.

This month I’ve been implementing the ‘input experiment’ – a title I got to like less and less, since I find this concept of input vs output to be silly for language learning and totally ignores important inherent human aspects. I’m not a robot thank you very much!!

Anyway, this new approach has gone reasonably well as I discover which non-social systems work (at least for me) for learning languages. Certain ones are useful for reading and listening comprehension, and other ones (like SRS, which I’ll explain soon) have revolutionised how I previously learned vocabulary.

I’ll continue to share my thoughts on what I have found useful, and elaborate on them more over the coming weeks. These methods can help people with no access to other learners or natives in their town, although if you live in a major city and are learning a major language you have a lot less excuses for not being able to practise with people.

Chances of success?

I’m way off being able to reduce my accent to be non-foreign, but I’m told that without knowing it in advance, most people have not guessed that I’m a native-English speaker based on how I speak German. This is mostly because I worked hard in other languages to get rid of my English accent. This is less likely in in a video like the above one, because of the very artificial nature of switching from other languages so quickly and basically talking to myself. I speak better than that in conversations.

I still have an accent in all of my languages, but not having the English ‘r’ and other things have been hugely helpful in making sure conversations don’t slip into English. Even if my level is quite low, the lack of a very strong accent actually makes it seem like I’m speaking better than another foreigner who would actually have way more command over the language than I have, but with a very noticeable accent. This has been a big help to make sure that conversations don’t slip into English.

I still haven’t reached fluency (as I define it), but I’m confident that I’ll do this in May so my last weeks can be focused on reducing my accent and better emulating Germans. Remember, completely eliminating my accent isn’t quite what I’m aiming for – I want people to think that I’m German for about 30 seconds into our first conversation. This means that I can make some minor mistakes, as long as they are subtle enough not to raise any alarm bells!

In most casual conversations, people wouldn’t notice minor mistakes. Some readers seem to be confused about what I was aiming for. I never aim for perfection and I think it would be ridiculous to ever try. But what I’m aiming for is still realistic (depending on how devoted I am) and should be thought about in a social context. To me, speaking a language isn’t about how much I know, but how well I can communicate. There is a big difference that I’ll go into in more detail another time.

With regards the C2 exam – I decided to get a private lesson from a Goethe Institut instructor (very familiar with the exam) and asked her what she thought my chances are. She said that it is perhaps possible, despite my current level, if I keep up the rate of progress that I have so far. However, based on her evaluation of my writing I will have to work really hard for that important aspect of it to be passable. She reminded me how ridiculously hard the exam is to make sure I was aware of the very likely chance of me not passing.

The fact that she didn’t laugh / roll her eyes at my suggestion of doing the C2 exam is definitely encouraging! I now only have two months left before I plan to sit it!

Life in Berlin

Hopefully in the next update I can tell you more about life in Berlin itself. I have only been out to socialise a couple of times a week and I can say that so far I’ve found Berliners to be very friendly, and I quite like the city!

It’s one of the quietest major cities I’ve ever lived in. I have been in certain central areas that definitely don’t seem shady, and sometimes I don’t even see other people/cars for a few minutes. Usually capitals are chaotic and filled with traffic jams etc., but I find it quite peaceful here!

I think this will change soon because summer is upon us – warm weather came quicker than I was expecting, so I imagine the city will explode into life soon! I look forward to getting out to enjoy it!!

So I hope you enjoyed the video and this update! As always, I look forward to your comments :)



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  • SanneT

    Auch ich schreibe Dir auf Deutsch, jede Unterstützung hilft. Ein gelungenes, unterhaltsames Video (obwohl ich meine Gleitsichtbrille abnehmen musste). Dein ‘deutscher’ Akkzent gefällt mir und dank der Untertitel habe ich sogar Irish Gaelic verstanden, bei den anderen Sprachen hatte ich keine Probleme und brauchte die Untertitel nicht. Mach’ weiter so!

  • Hans-Peter

    Great video, Benny! I like your positive attitude, and you seem to have a nice place to live in Berlin. I understand only your English, French and German. You are right: you have to improve your German, but I am sure you will improve in the next weeks! And forget about the accent(s)! “Der Weg ist das Ziel!”

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks Hans-Peter!
    Glad you enjoyed the video – I always make sure that my living arragements are good, since that's where I tend to spend most of my time considering I work from home. Although, I always haggle too, to make sure I'm paying a fair price ;)

  • Quokka

    As a German I didn't find the German part of the video all too bad. You managed to bury your linguistic origin very well by avoiding common mistakes. But I had the impression that after a while you allowed some habits of native English speakers to slip through. Especially the letter 'a' sounded “ungerman” to me.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks! I'm totally expecting to sound ungerman considering I've only been immersed for a month :P I think at the end I had more Englishy sounds – I was already getting distracted by getting ready to change to Spanish. Normally I can keep up the sound of the start for most of the conversation, as I said, the video is quite an unnatural speaking environment!! :P

  • James

    Feel dizzy! lol. But good stuff. I have been reading your blog for a couple of months now – around the time you started the Thai mission. I think this latest entry of yours is the best I have seen and, for me, this latest mission is well conceived because you have set yourself an objective test in this C2 exam. Exams aren't everything but if you can pass it – or get close thats a big deal. I would love to see you try the same thing completely from scratch in a future mission. Maybe tis would require a different, perhaps more modest goal but if its an objective measurement then who can argue? You're right about this input vs output debate, its non-sensical – laissez tomber… That said, I have read your posts and I don't have a clear idea about what your method is – I know you want to keep a fair amount under wraps – when you say you spend 'several hours speaking german' how do you manage this? You say its social but how do you consistently engage people (strangers?) in a way that, essentially, involves them teaching you their language…?

  • Vera

    Hallo Benny,
    da Du ja gerade Deutsch lernst, schreibe ich Dir in Deutsch ;-)
    Danke für das Video. Ich finde es gelungen und es hat mich gefreut zu sehen wie Du wohnst. Couchsurfing ist ein interessantes Konzept. Vielleicht sollte ich auch einmal darüber nachdenken.
    Ich wünsche Dir weiter viel Erfolg beim Sprachenlernen.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks James!
    I think I may be starting from scratch and aiming for nothing other than “fluency” (precisely as I've defined it) in my next mission. But still have to decide where I'm going etc.
    The reason I'm writing the guide is to be very clear about my method. I give away a lot of information on this site, but of course I think perhaps I should charge people a little if they want it spelled out to them so clearly (hey, a guy has to get out of debt some way!! :P )

    • James

      Sure. Fair enough. As far as the blog is concerned though, it would be great to see a series of conversation videos that track your progress in a mission..Not sure how practical this is would terms of filming but it would certainly be interesting to see your ideas in practice along with the theory that you’ll provide in the book. Anyway good luck with it.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Danke Vera!! :) Du kannst deine Sprachen persönlich üben, wenn Du Couchsurfer bei dir beherberge! Tschüss!

  • Jeff Lindqvist

    Good evening!

    Maith thú! J'ai bien aimé regarder ton vidéo. Lo siento no hablo italiano ni portugués pero entendí la mayoría. Ĉu vi havas multajn eblojn paroli Esperanton en Berlino?

    Ich hoffe, daß du deine Muttersprache nicht vergisst. ;)

  • Fiona Verschoor

    Hey Benny,

    I love the video, can't judge accents because I'm not fluent in any of those (Spanish sounded pretty good though ;) ), but best of luck with your German goal – I'm sure you'll improve leaps and bounds, just like all your other missions.

    Nice place too, by the way… seems like a nice environment to live/work in.

  • Annette

    It’s interesting to me what you say about people not guessing that you are a native English speaker based on the way you speak German. I have been told that when I speak Italian, I have a German accent! So funny! But I’m actually quite pleased: if I’m going to have an accent not native to the language I’m learning, at least I’d prefer it not to be an Anglophone accent!

    I liked your video! It was interesting to me that you had both French from France and from Quebec! I didn't realize that you could do both. I hardly know any French so I wouldn't know the difference!

    By the way, it sounds like your German is coming along quite nicely! I'm glad that the lady you talked to didn't “roll her eyes” at you, either :) Whether you manage to pass the C2 or not, it will be an interesting experience and you will have learned a lot.

  • Katrin

    Very nice video! Love hearing all those languages. It’s so inspirational.
    And I’m glad to read (in the comments) that this different accent thing isn’t something too special. My teacher once said that when I’m speaking french it sounds like I’m from some east-european country even though I’m German. Puzzled me xD

  • Steve

    Excellent video. This is a great blog but the one thing I sometimes felt was missing was off the cuff videos in your languages (like Moses Mccormick does), so this was very refreshing. Long may they continue!
    In my opinion yours is the best language blog I've found (and I know quite a few good ones) and these types of videos push you even further ahead.

  • hektorkarl

    I always enjoy watching polyglots. Exciting video.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Danke Sanne, also Du sprichts auch québécois, carioquês und porteño??? :)

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Go raibh maith a'at!!
    Jes! Judith kaj Chuck Smith loĝas en Berlino, do mi povus paroli Esperanton kiam mi volas :) Sed mi plej ŝatas paroli la germanan ĉi tie ;)

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks!! Actually the Spanish one is the one I'm least happy with – I usually speak less fragmented (Spanish part) and I mumbled in the Argentine part. The idea of doing the whole thing over from scratch gave me a headache, so I'll just leave it as it is :P
    Yeah, getting a good place is really important for me considering how much time I spend here!!

  • Melissa

    Hi Benny, that video was really impressive! Okay, I got a bit dizzy too, but I understand how hard it can be to switch languages so rapidly (no time to get into the rhythm of each one) while basically talking to yourself instead of being in natural conversation. I thought you did a fantastic job with the accents and you’ve not only developed convincing non-Anglo pronunciation in each language, you’ve also managed to pick up patterns of intonation at the phrasal level. Well done, I admire you!

  • Stabi

    Wow! Ich bin sehr beeindruckt von deinem Deutsch! Das hätte ich wirklich nicht erwartet…
    Weiter so!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Hi Annette! Before I even got back into learning German, in the first part of my time in Rio most people guessed I was German strangely enough :P
    The difference is, French from Quebec is more fun – you can see that I cheered up for that part of the video :D
    Glad you are enjoying this little story of mine :)

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    I'll make another one-take video in a couple of weeks but it won't be a regular thing for me. I really don't like talking to the camera like that, I make way more mistakes than I would in a natural conversation!
    Glad you think my blog is good! Hope you'll keep coming back even if off-the-cuff videos aren't so frequent! – I'm actually going to be interviewing Moses McCormick tomorrow (for inclusion in the guide!) Very much looking forward to it, I always enjoy his videos!

  • SanneT

    No, I am just good at guessing (and reading subtitles without being aware of doing it, I guess).

  • caitoceallaigh

    Very cool!

  • Annette

    I just watched your video again and you're right! You do noticeably perk up when you start speaking Quebecois French… but is it because you like the dialect better or because you would rather talk about a pool table than about a kitchen? lol :p

  • Randy

    You're weak. In the time it took you to make this, Steve Kauffman learned two more languages. :)

    Actually, I found it interesting to watch the tortured look on your face. Switching through several languages like that is indeed very unnatural, but you handled it well! I don't mind saying, I'm a little jealous.

  • GlobalButterfly

    I've been waiting for this video for a long time now, loved it daring! I think you sounded fantastic in all of the languages. I can't believe you've only been studying German for a month, wow!!! Congrats on your progress and I have no doubt you'll ace your exam and complete your mission. :)

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    I love not sounding like an English speaker a lot of the time – gives me that extra edge :P

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Yeah, I feel like a slight motivation to make this video (apart from showing my flat to non-English-speaking Couchsurfers) was to answer all the annoying taunts of people saying that the “real” polyglots make multilingual videos. The point of being a polyglot isn't to use all your languages at once :P Hope people realise that!! I'll make one more video like this in a few weeks to promote the guide, but then I'll stick to monolingual videos! Way less stressful :)

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    YOU got dizzy? Imagine how I felt! :P
    Glad you enjoyed it though :D Despite not speaking as well as I could have at times, I'm overall happy with the flow of the video.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks luv, but don't be too confident for me!! Chances of not passing are quite high :) I'll try my best though!

  • Sean

    “I still have an accent in all of my languages, but not having the English ‘r’ and other things have been hugely helpful in making sure conversations don’t slip into English.”

    One correction, you do have an English ‘r’ in Irish, instead of the correct alveolar tap or trill. ;) But, great article and great video, was very cool to watch.

  • djc463

    J'adore ce genre de video ou on parle en plusiers langues. Oui, ce n'est peut-etre pas practique pour la vrai vie, mais c'est amusant quand meme.

    Mucho suerte en tus estudios mi amigo. Tango tanto celos de todos tus opportunidades! Quiza un dia pueda estar cerca a tu nivel en los idiomas!

  • Randy

    Yeah, I agree. I find these show-off videos from internet polyglots to be a tiny bit impressive, and mostly pointless. I learn languages for the purpose of talking to other people, not to a camera! :)

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Hi Sean! Well, since Irish has two r's, a slender one and a broad one, technically I'm only messing up the slender one, which is indeed quite different. Such as in Éireannach. However, I said it right (as an English 'r') in other words like rud, dorais, etc. I was quite distracted in the video, normally I would get back into the rhythm and start speaking each language right, but a video like this has to be somewhat artificial and incur a few mistakes!
    Glad you enjoyed it :)

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks – people had sent me that link before, it's extremely useful! I'll have to include it in a summary post specifically about German later. Glad to see you've been getting good use out of it!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    As well as that, I find what they are talking about to be really dull, even if their language skills are way more impressive than mine. You watch the video just to be in awe of those language skills rather than to appreciate the content of what they are saying. They use their languages to just talk about their languages… WTF?? Other than apologise for my German, I am actually genuinely giving a tour of my apartment (i.e. using a language to talk about something other than bloody languages…) and this video is directed at my Couchsurfers and I think that makes it at least slightly more interesting to watch.

    Nearly every other polyglot video I've ever seen would have worked just as well as a podcast or on the radio.

    I'd be happier to watch more polyglot youtube videos if they were dancing or juggling monkeys or doing ANYTHING but sitting still giving a biography.

  • Niko87

    Also echt, Benny, dein Akzent ist auch jetzt schon ziemlich schwach und behindert das Verständnis gar nicht; die Aussprache ist gut und was du noch verbessern musst sind Feinheiten. Die letzte Stufe ist ja die Sprachmelodie richtig hinzubekommen und sobald du das schaffst kannst du auch Deutsche überzeugen zu wärest einer von ihnen :) Viel fehlt nicht!
    Meine Tipps: 1) Vokale etwas länger ziehen
    - das “a” bei arbeite /normalerweise: “hier aa(r)beite ich” , “normaalerweise”
    - das “u” bei “Buuch”

    2) Betonung: “momEnt mal”

    Mach weiter so!

    Viele Grüße aus Heidelberg,

  • Sean

    You are right about there being a broad and slender <r>, but both are still trills, there is no approximant at all in Irish. There may be special places where it is used, like the retroflex approximant in Scottish Gaelic <-rd> – /ɻʃt/, but nowhere in correct pronunciation is the approximant /ɹ/ or /ɻ/ used, it is only because of native speakers of English that it is used in Irish. I'm not trying to insult you or make you feel bad or anything, it's just that it irks me when I see minority groups or language being taken over by the majority, whether I can help it or not. But, hopefully after reading this, you'll fix that little error, and maybe get other speakers to follow in your footsteps too! ;D

    Congratulations on your German journey, it seems to be going great so far. Keep it up!

    On a side note, my life goal is to be fluent in all 6 of the Celtic languages, and I am already on the path to fluency in my first one, Cornish. :) Your blog has helped me quite a lot with my learning abilities, and defining my goals and such; keep it up!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    My understanding is that the broad <r> is to be pronounced as in English. I am sure this is of course due to outside influences, but the “majority” of people I have come across speak this way. Even a few natives in the Gaeltacht. Perhaps it's something new in recent decades, but as far as I know it's the most frequently heard version, even if it's technically incorrect. I searched a bit on Google and got both as being suggested (two non-English <r>s as you say in some sources, and one thrilled, one English in others).

    I'm not trying to insult you either, I'm just saying that based on my experience “incorrect pronunciation” (depends on your point of view) is way more common :P I don't look at it as minority languages being overtaken by majority ones. It's just the natural evolution of all languages. German has lots of English words in recent decades, English got an influx of French words after the Norman conquest etc. You can't keep a language pure, it has to be influenced by other ones :) German nasalises ends of words like Restaurant to make them sound very French – I could be a purist and say this isn't German enough, but I think it's better to just go with the flow.

    Sorry, but I don't plan on fixing the error for the broad <r>! I'm not a purist, I try to speak languages as most people do. If you study Celtic languages I'm sure you appreciate the uniqueness of each of them, but my focus is always on attempting to speak like most people. This means that I'd also tend to use certain English words in Irish, even if there were some obscure translation, simply because that's what most people would do. To me, influx of outer influences is just a natural feature of a living language.

    However I will try to be aware and say the slender <r> next time I make a video, since that is definitely wrong of me no matter what way you look at it. Thanks again for the reminder!

    Good luck with your Celtic languages!!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Danke Niko!! Ich wusste nicht, dass die Betonung des Worts “Moment” in der zweite Silbe lag!
    Ja, ich habe viele Arbeit, meine Vokale zu verbessern!! Sehen wir, wenn ich das in nur 2 Monaten machen kann….
    Ich danke dich für die Tipps :)

  • Wilson Usman

    Hey benny that's pretty amazing man can you do (eh parce como no vas a saber el hacento Colombiano pues hombre). Just messing with you brother I am totally impressed and I think its an amazing skill. I am glad for you. Right now me and my girl are trying to learn italian, I am thinking I am going for portuguese next I really like how they speak.

    Hey keep having a ton of fun in Berlin I hope to meet you soon too. I see how fast your blog is growing, keep it up!

  • Randy

    Indeed. As I like to say: The goal isn't the language, and it isn't even the ability to speak the language… it's what you say.

    It's easy to be irrelevant in any number of languages. It's much harder to say something meaningful — even in just one language.

  • Jessica

    Great video!! I LOLed at the Quebec french because it was great and reminded me of home! :D

  • Lorenzo

    Hi Benny! In the video you speak flawless Italian. Congratulations! By the way, in your speech the word “alemão” sounds exactly the same as it does in Continental (i.e. European) Portuguese. Amazing! Keep up the good work.

  • Bruno Diniz

    The portuguese (please I´m brazilian and my mother language is portuguese: not brazilian – portuguese! It is all at the same language with regional diference only ) part was amazing, but it seem very closest to “paulista” accent instead carioca accent or “carioquês”. When you started with portuguese do you say: (1:15) “Hey man!” wich its sounds Ei! Meu! this is very used in “paulista” accent.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Bruno, did you see the caption for the flag? I was intentionally trying to speak paulistano for the first part – I changed to carioquês half way through the Portuguese part and showed that with the flat ;)
    Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks Lorenzo!!!

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    haha, yeah the Quebec French part was fun :D

  • manuela

    It's so funny! :-) I'm quite a polyglot, too, I would say that I'm fluent in 4 languages and I understand and basically speak other 2, but for me it's so difficult to switch from one language to another … it takes me so long to do it!
    Please, come to visit my bilingual blog (Esperanto/Italiano) and, if you want, write me (in Esperanto, Italian, English, French, Spanish or Slovak, as you prefer!).

  • Alexander Ververis

    Hello! This is the first article I read on your blog. I just found you while checking out other people devoted to learning languages. I read ajatt's from articles on the subject, but I am looking for more information.

    After seeing the video, I decided to subscribe to your feed and try to get to know your system a bit. I am impressed!

    As for myself, I am a German American with Greek roots studying Chinese. Languages are a big part of my life, as well.

    Ich studiere chinesisch an der Fu – Berlin, also sind wir ja sowas wie Nachbarn. Wenn du Lust hast und Zeit hast, wuerde ich gerne mit dir einen Kaffee trinken gehen um einerseits eine beruehmte (Internet-)Persoenlichkeit kennen zu lernen :-) und andererseits mich ein wenig mit dir ueber Sprachen – das Lernen dieser – unterhalten.

    I'm not really sure what I can offer you to make you actually want to meet up with me for a drink and a round of interrogation except my German – which is worth close to nothing since you live in Berlin. I guess I'll take up the bill :-)

  • nXqd

    It's really weird that the last word you say in spanish ( I don't know spanish ) is “Chao” , it's very alike to Vietnamese which is good bye .de
    I'm Vietnamese :)

  • Dougal

    Hey Benny. I know some people have said that polyglot videos aren't impressive. That's bullshit! This was totally impressive! And charming to boot. How sweet that you invited us into your home. I think you'd make a great host. Kudos too to all the multilingual comments you're getting. Best of luck with the rest of your German studies.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    It’s like learning a different accent. I’d be surprised if you weren’t exposed to European French in some way while learning Quebec French to be honest. Many movies and TV shows come from France. Otherwise the accent isn’t so hard to understand.
    In my case, coming from France to Quebec, it was learning a different accent. There were some challenges, but never any major issues.