How I turned my guerilla-style language-learning method into a course you’ll find in bookshops around the world
I learned my first foreign language, Spanish, mostly by hanging out with Erasmus students during the gap year I spent in Valencia, Spain. In other words, I learned Spanish through speaking it.
My second language project was Italian. And I learned it quickly — surprisingly quickly — in just a few months while I worked at a Youth Hostel in Rome. I learned Italian through speaking it.
Then with French, I hit a wall. For a year, I let myself get caught in the English-speaking bubble. But when I swallowed my insecurities and forced myself to talk with my co-workers in my bad French, I learned the language. (And now, it’s one of my best!). I learned French through speaking it.
Can you see where this is going?
Traditional language learning methods failed me.
I studied German at school for five years and could barely speak a word of it in conversation. I attended Spanish classes for six months in Spain, and still struggled to even order food in Spanish.
Yet when I ditched the courses and started to learn through speaking, conversations and ordering food came naturally.
I started seeing language courses as “dusty old books” — and I stayed as far away as I could, focusing my efforts on other approaches. Where language courses failed me, speaking succeeded.
That’s why for my entire career, I’ve never created a course. Instead, I’ve always shared strategies and techniques for learning a new language. I’ve aimed to encourage and inspire people. I want to show everyone that “yes, you CAN learn a language, too.” Anyone can speak a language – even if that means sounding like Tarzan to start with.
I believe the best way to learn a new language is to speak the language
I never dreamed I’d make a language course – in large part because I disagreed with the idea that you needed a course to learn a language, particularly as a beginner. I also believed that creating an effective beginner’s course was an almost impossible task.
It’s incredibly difficult to create a language course that works for a wide range of people. Why? Because everyone’s different. What I need to learn a new language is different to what Billy needs. And Billy’s needs are different to Stephanie’s. And so on.
On top of that, I’ve discovered that the best way to learn a language is to speak from day one. What’s the point of learning a language if it’s not about having real conversations with real people?
Real conversations are messy and human. They don’t fit neatly into a course. The things that I need to say in a conversation are completely different from the things you might need to say.
Here’s a simple example: whenever I meet someone new, one of the first things I’d want to say is “I’m Benny. I’m a blogger from Ireland.”
But the words “blogger” and often even “Ireland” are not likely to be found in many beginner courses.
My view was that language course methods have their place. They work for some people, and that’s great. But they’re only one small tool in the language learner’s toolbox.
This hasn’t changed.
But my beliefs about language courses have changed.
Teach Yourself asked me on a date
For most of my language learning journey, I’ve not spent much time on language courses.
And when I did use them, there were only a few that I thought were reliable (and that I recommended here on the blog). One of those has always been Teach Yourself.
So when Teach Yourself approached me and suggested I partner with them for a Teach Yourself branded language course, I knew I had to think about it.
Even better, Teach Yourself wanted to combine their decades of experience publishing language courses with my unique approach to language learning. Together, we decided to create a course that would help language learners:
- Speak from day one
- Embrace mistakes
- Focus on spoken (not written) language
- Postpone most grammar
- Learn only what they need
- Use hacks to remember what they learn
- Change their mindset to communicate confidently and effectively
Nothing like this has ever been done before, and I had the option to do it with a big name in the language learning space.
But as with any new relationship, I was cautiously optimistic…
How I Played Hard to Get with Teach Yourself
I didn’t make it easy for them. My views on learning a language are far from traditional. Speak from day one! Embrace Tarzan Speak!
And I believed that Teach Yourself was, at heart, like other traditional publishers. The brand is 75 years old, and the publisher that owns the brand is over 250 years old. They’re so old in fact that they are the same people who published Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Seriously.
Here’s how I imagined our conversations would go:
Benny: I want the learner to speak the language right away.
Stodgy Old Publisher: Sure, we can have them repeat after the audio.
Benny: No no. I mean, the learner has to use the phrases right away. Like, in a conversation with another person.
Stodgy Old Publisher: … … … *blank stare*
But when I met with Teach Yourself, here’s how it actually went:
Benny: I mean, the learner has to use the phrases right away. Like, in a conversation with another person.
Teach Yourself: … We can do that. We could even partner with a service like italki to help learners find people to have conversations with in their new language.
Benny: … … … *blank stare*
Here’s the great thing about teaming up with an established brand like Teach Yourself: they have the resources to bring all of my mad-scientist ideas to life.
Teach Yourself broke all the stereotypes I believed were true for traditional publishers.
They even listened when I explained that I wanted the freedom to tell learners that it's OK to say things WRONG.
Here’s how I imagined that conversation might go:
Benny: You know, in real life, French people say “Je sais pas”, not “Je ne sais pas”, so we should teach that.
Stodgy Old Publisher: … but “je ne sais pas” is the grammatically correct form.
Benny: Right, I know, but that’s not how people actually speak.
Stodgy Old Publisher: … but “je ne sais pas” is the grammatically correct form.
But Teach Yourself got it. While many publishers might balk at the thought of encouraging learners to say things that aren’t grammatically perfect, they worked with me, and helped me create a course that places the highest priority on giving students practical, relevant, and extremely useful phrases.
They were even on board with me telling readers what vocab to avoid learning right away, because it’s just not that useful. Language hacking and time wasting just do not go together.
Our partnership worked out so well, we eventually decided to create four Teach Yourself Language Hacking courses (to start). These are:
Finally, a language course that's flexible enough for anyone
There are a hundred reasons why the Language Hacking courses are (ACTUALLY) different from anything that’s been created before. But probably my favourite is that the courses are designed so that…
You can choose your own adventure.
Throughout the course you have opportunities to find and use the language that's specific for you. You can personalise it to suit your situation, and go beyond the usual stock answers like “I’m single” or “I’m married.” Most people’s lives aren’t so cut and dry. You might want to say, “It’s complicated”, or “I met my partner online”, or “I’m a disaster in relationships!” instead. Language Hacking prepares you for these real-life conversations.
The same way you may have read through those “choose your own adventure” books when you were a kid, excited each time to read it again and create a totally different story — that’s how we built the Language Hacking courses. You can revisit the course again and again, and each time you go through it, you’ll learn new phrases that prepare you for different life experiences that you choose for yourself.
You can complete the course ten different times and learn ten different sets of vocabulary, depending on what your goals are for that adventure. Because who knows where your language journey may take you or what you may need to say. These are not your typical language courses. You can never really “complete” the course, because you can always revisit it to build on your vocabulary in ways that are completely you-specific.
So here’s how these courses have changed what it means to be a language hacker
Language hacking has always been about learning powerful strategies and techniques to learn new languages faster on your own at home.
I didn’t want to – I couldn’t – make just another course that teaches you standard, one-size-fits-all phrases.
I wanted to create a new kind of course that teaches you how to use what you learn to continuously build new phrases on your own.
It’s language hacking in practice. Language Hacking courses equip you with useful, versatile, relevant phrases you will absolutely need to know. They arm you with the strategies to learn on your own what no course can teach: the vocabulary and phrases that YOU need in YOUR conversations. This way, you’re learning only what you definitely need to know, and not wasting your time studying the endless possibilities of what you “might” need to know.
And I worked with Teach Yourself to create these courses. What could be more fitting?
… perhaps that we’ve also collaborated with italki to make sure you’re using the language, actually speaking it with real people, right from Unit 1.
… and that I’ve created audio-based flashcards through Anki to accompany the course. And I’m giving them to you for free.
Why would I do such a thing? Because I don’t want my course to stop living after you’ve closed the book. And since someone else will probably do it anyway, I want to make sure what’s out there is really good quality. So I’m making it myself with the help of an FI3M team member who’s a huge Anki nerd (Hi, Joseph!)
I set out with Teach Yourself to create a new series of language courses that would get learners actually speaking a new language, quickly, with real people.
And you know what? I’m proud to say that we nailed it.
How to get your Teach Yourself Language Hacking course
Click here to pre-order your Teach Yourself Language Hacking course now.
Be sure to save your email receipt – my team and I have put together an incredible bundle of bonuses for everyone who pre-orders.
(If you’re still not sure that Teach Yourself Language Hacking is right for you, click here, select your language, and enter your email to receive the first chapter of your chosen course, free.)