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Learning set phrases is essential for beginners on the road to fluency, not just for tourists


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Here's the week 2 update to this crazy project! Subtitles in English, Portuguese and Arabic as always!

Unlike in last week's first video, where I was reading, this time I have no script to refer to and recite the entire seven minute script from memory. There are a LOT of mistakes, but I like to think I am at least coming across as a bit more confident than the previous week!

Of course, this is not in the least bit spontaneous (that will come later), but I'd like to greatly encourage other beginner learners of any language to focus on learning off PHRASES as soon as possible!

In my first month, I'll be by myself and all videos will have scripts that are prepared in advance, and in my second month I'll start having spontaneous conversations with native speakers about basic topics and in my third month about more complex topics.

You simply cannot just burst into fluency on some magic day when you've “learned enough”. You need to transition into it, and in the beginning stages, having a learned off a bunch of phrases can be an excellent way to get started speaking.

Learning phrases off is more than just for tourists

The problem is that we tend to go about language learning in this long-term must-know-all-the-grammar-and-all-the-words-to-be-able-to-converse approach.

Standing from fluency and looking back at a beginner, it seems like the thing separating you from them is the kind of things that are covered in course books about the structure of how the language works and building up vocabulary very gradually until you are ready.

I say hurry-the-hell-up. And this is not just because I'm impatient, or genuinely NEED to speak the language as soon as possible due to being in the country (or in this case, a looming arrival date in January), it's because I see a speak from day 1 approach as vastly more efficient.

It's easy to look down on someone producing phrases and dismiss them as “nothing but a tourist” or a “glorified parrot” other such drivel, that I have gotten when referring to my video uploads in my weaker stages of language learning. But this is a necessary stepping stone on the path to speaking the language as I see it. The input-only roadmap is greatly flawed and you need to start saying things if you want to get into conversations.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to what can you actually do? In this supposed “input only approach” you can effectively do NOTHING. You only have “potential”.

If you are following a more studious approach, then if a native comes up to you right now you simply can't interact with them in ANY way, other than explain how their verb conjugations work to them in your language, not theirs. Open your damn mouth and say something!

Learn off some phrases and you can at least ask some basic questions, tell them a little about yourself, and find out some information if what they say was also covered by what you learned. No, you aren't discussing the economic impacts of water tank production in Yemen, but you have something you can improve upon and expand communication through. When you say nothing, you can't do this. Zero can't be expanded.

I don't see language learning as this all-or-nothing endeavor, and this project is NOT about leading up to one video at precisely the 90-day point. Every single point in the language learning process to me must have me genuinely doing something better than the previous point, and getting use out of my language in some way, such as attempting to make a somewhat interesting video today.

So grab a phrasebook, learn some conversational connectors, and then make sounds come out of that hole in your face! Eloquent? No. Replacing “potential” with actually doing something tangible in the real world? Yes.

author headshot

Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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