Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the Worldby Published 11 Mar 2014
|Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World.pdf|
Benny Lewis, who speaks over ten languages—all self-taught—runs the largest language-learning blog in the world, Fluent In 3 Months. Lewis is a full-time "language hacker," someone who devotes all of his time to finding better, faster, and more efficient ways to learn languages. Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World is a new blueprint for fast language learning. Lewis argues that you don't need a great memory or "the language gene" to learn a language quickly, and debunks a number of long-held beliefs, such as adults not being as good of language learners as children.
"Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World" Reviews
One of my friends here in GR has recently made manifest being “extremely skeptical” about this book, and, very specifically, about the possibility of learning any language in 3 months.
I really don’t agree. Benny Lewis may prove right in some cases, for some languages. He’s a living proof, that, though not a talented (endowed with the “gene”, one could say), a natural-born Polyglot, he became a self-made one. That’s why I’m offering the content (main lines) of his presentation in Ted X under the title:” Hacking language learning”.
Benny Lewis found himself at the age of 21 with a degree in Electronics Engineering and no other language learnt, apart from his English. Then he moved to Spain, in the hope of learning Spanish. But it really didn’t work out.
Anyway, there, he met with a polyglot; and that fact made him change his whole attitude towards the languages learning issue. He concluded also that one of the reasons he wasn’t learning any language at all (beyond his native English) was that he wasn’t (deeply) motivated (passionate about). He thought of himself as already “too old” and fearing “embarrassing” the native speakers.
His analysis of several polyglots (some, you can easily find them on YouTube) made him think that all these people are “passionate about the literature…and movies” of the languages at stake.
His own experience [ “now” learning his 12th language--Egyptian Arabic--] made him consider several obstacles most people have regarding learning another (new) language. They are:
(1) The idea that you’re not talented; or have the gene.
(2) You’re too old; but there are cases of learners at the age of 60 (plus) who made it.
(3) You cannot travel; yet we’re living in a global space, travelling is a lot easier nowadays.
(4) You have bad memory; yet there are helpful techniques to circumvent the limitations on this field; like spaced-repetition or mental imagery/association.
(5) You’re going to frustrate the native speakers, when in fact “mistakes” should be welcome; it’s part of the process: as Lewis said: “you should embrace the beginning stage”.
Lewis worked as a professional of translation… and now travels the world around to learn new languages. The Ted X recording shows some of his dialogues with friends he’s gotten in such places such as the Sahara desert or... the Ohio, USA…or in the inner/middle Brazil .In the latter spot: to meet someone, to have the chance to learn Egyptian Arabic.[!]
Once you overcome (at least some of) those obstacles you can start/try a new language. Logic says so.
Once I’ve watched the case of a 16 year old American polyglot (Tim*) being interviewed by one reporter from the British magazine The Economist. At a certain point, the interviewer asked Tim something like: adding new languages, wouldn’t that turn the process more difficult. Tim was quite peremptory: the more languages he knew, the easier was becoming, learning new ones.
Yet….some languages… for some people, make me wonder.
Adventures of a Teenage Polyglot
I don't think I had ever called a non-fiction book perfect but this one deserves it. While it's primarily aimed at a slightly different demographic to mine (namely, monolingual adults who had either not been successful so far in learning a second language or had not even tried to do so), I think this made me appreciate the advice that Benny Lewis gives even more.
A little bit about my background - my mother tongue is Polish and it had been my primary language for the first 19 years of my life. I started learning English as a second language around the age of 4 or 5 and ultimately became bilingual at 20 when I moved abroad to study at an English speaking university. Since then, for the past 8 years, English has been my primary language. I've been also learning French and German and I'm at about B2/C1 and B1/B2 level in those respectively. I picked up Fi3M after falling into a bit of a slump in my language learning as I wanted to rekindle my passion for it and luckily the publication of the book coincided with my starting a 90-day (so 3 months, hah! ;) ) "Add 1 Challenge" to learn Italian.
One thing that struck me immediately is that Benny's approach to language learning is something that I had spontaneously accidentally tried for the first time just a few weeks before I picked up the book. Until that time I had always followed the "default" structured approach of taking language classes either in school or privately and to be honest it suited me just fine. But due to a series of events I was suddenly put in a situation where I had to talk in Italian at a Language Exchange event with pretty much no prior knowledge of the language (I had had 4 or 5 informal classes in it some 15 years ago and had played a few rounds of an Italian course on Memrise for fun). Relying hugely on body language and my French vocabulary I was greatly surprised how far it got me. So when Benny talked in his book about how people often give the "I'm not ready to start speaking the language" excuse but really should just go ahead and try, I was vigorously nodding in approval.
In fact, the whole chapter dedicated to language learning myths was one of the highlights of the book for me. I remember how as an eager teenager I was learning 3 foreign languages and was making good progress in all of them but around me I had people who barely knew a second language but would offer a ton of pseudoadvice based on those myths. In retrospect I can see that it was not even advice at all but quite a malicious way to bring others down and excuse themselves for not trying to learn. One of my "favourites" had been a mix of Benny's 11 - Perfect Mastery Is Impossible and 14 - I'll Always Have an Accent. It was almost cathartic to read these two passages (emphasis mine):
When people think that speaking a language means nothing less than being able to debate Kantian philosophy, with no accent or hesitations, then it can indeed feel like it would take decades to be able to say that you can actually speak a language. (...) I don't now about you, but my English isn't perfect. I hesitate when I'm nervous, I forget precisely the right word every now and again, and there are plenty of topics I'm uncomfortable talking about. Applying higher standards to your target language than you would to your native language is overkill
Way too much emphasis is put on speaking with no accent, as if being a spy is the ultimate point of your language project rather than communicating with other human beings
I don't think I ever believed in either of those "arguments" myself but I had had them thrown at me so many times by others that I wish I had had the clarity of mind to respond in the way Benny does. As much as I wish I had the language skills of a writer or an orator, I do not. And, frankly, I don't even want it enough to be willing to put in work to acquire them in any language, including Polish, although I do always strive to improve, even when reaching mastery level.
Regarding the accent, two things should be mentioned. One is exactly what Benny says - becoming a spy is rarely the reason people learn the language so there's no need to be discouraged by an imperfect accent; but also - it's not impossible. One other profession where accent could be detrimental is acting and as an amateur actress myself I have put considerable effort into reducing my accent in English with very good results. Not quite perfect yet but I actually know people who had started learning a language as an adult and do not have an accent so I'm not discouraged by this and keep on working as it is an important skill for me to achieve. Also, just think about the diversity of English accents and all the actors who can convincingly play a different nationality (an example that immediately jumps to my mind is Hugh Laurie - a British actor who played Dr House) - learning a completely different accent is definitely within human capabilities.
Also, although at one point Benny quotes Richard Simcott saying that he has "never met someone who has learned a language as an adult who could pass as a native speaker all of the time, even though the person definitely could some of the time." I'd like to say that I'm not entirely sure I'd be able to pass for a native Polish speaker all the time (and if you think I'm exaggerating or saying it just for a laugh - ask my husband who is Polish and keeps correcting my language all the time) - and we're back to the argument about applying higher standards for the target language.
I have elaborated on this one point but the book is full of little observations and pieces of advice that are true gems and I could write a similar essay on each of them. For the sake of brevity I won't (yeah, don't laugh, I do realise how long this review is already) but to give you a little bit more of the taste of the book I'll just quickly mention a few other highlights:
- Benny's spot-on response to the ubiquitous "Aren’t Adult Language Learners at a Disadvantage?" which is another of my pet peeves (no, you actually get better at learning languages with experience and "[a]lso, keep in mind that babies and young children effectively have full-time teachers—their parents—who laugh at their mistakes (thinking they are cute), have almost infinite patience, and are overjoyed at every success. Imagine if an adult could find a native speaker so motivated to help!")
- the question of fluency vs mastery - it's been covered in many other reviews so I won't dwell on it but there are some very interesting points made there
- hyperpolyglotism and how to achieve it, complete with a discussion on why you shouldn't aim for it
- plus a ton of advice on the actual learning process.
All in all, I cannot recommend this book enough!
Disclaimer: The book title is not a promise – it's a challenge. And I really enjoy that.
It's a book on learning languages. It's a relatively short one and an easy one to read. It does not make any outlandish claims. Here are my main takeaways:
* Your age does not affect learning a language that much. You may not be able to nail the accent, but you can still learn a new language fluently above 20.
* There is no language gene – everybody can learn a language if they want to.
* You need to be passionate about learning a language. It won't work any other way.
* Speak from day one. Reading and listening is all fine, but you should not feel embarrassed to try using what you've learned – native speakers will not mind; even better – they will really enjoy you trying and they will go out of their way to help you.
* Hard work is required. There are no shortcuts and no "spend 15 minutes every day".
The book is full of practical advice how to pick up a new language. It has many tricks that might or might not work for you, but that are useful to learn. I had the opportunity to try a few of those while I was abroad for a couple of days and I was really pleased.
If nothing else, the writing is very enthusiastic and it's a great book to get you excited about picking up a new language.
I'm probably just not the target audience for this work, but then this is probably because the title is overselling the content so much. A better fitting title would be "How any couchsurfer at any age can learn to speak any language from anywhere in the world by doing couchsurfing".
Lewis focusses a good deal on how important it is to start practicing to speak right away and that reading and writing aren't that important. Which might work well if you have lots of spare time to do couchsurfing all over the globe. He also mentions that you can do it in your home country by finding other speakers or setting up Skype calls.
But that also requires you to be able to plan your spare time for those sorts of things in more detail than I'm able to. I often find myself spontaneously having 30 minutes or so unoccupied, but that won't help me in setting up trips or even dates with speakers of the language. And as I'm not watching TV at all and don't go out partying I also can't cut time there, thanks for the tip though… So reading at my own pace is definitely more the way to go for me. And for this he offers very little.
I also think it kind of shows that the book is more or less a collection of blog posts which I felt are only somewhat stringed together. I guess the main message "everyone at any age can learn a language" is a great one and he repeats it often enough that people will hopefully believe him, but the methods he presents will probably only work if you at least have somewhat similar circumstances then Lewis.
I was in two minds about reading this one. I have an acceptable knowledge of a smattering of languages most of which certainly seem to come back to me once I am forced to use them on holiday or whatever. I certainly find that I can hold decent conversations in German, French, Spanish and Italian as well as make myself understood in a handful of other languages. However with a holiday coming up I was keen to brush up some language skills and thought I'd give this a quick read first to see if I could pick up any tips. I am glad that I did. Quite a large proportion of this book covers the need to put oneself into situations where language skills can be used, the author argues that even the most basic skills can be improved if you are forced to make yourself understood from an early stage. He also makes the case that learning endless verb tables and the minutae of sentance structure will actually hinder the ability to use language in real situations. There are plenty of tips her for ways to imerse yourself in the language of choice, everything from listening to the radio to watching films dubbed into the chosen language. I found this to be a very interesting book, with a fair few tips that seem sensible. I hope that some of these will help to get languages to stick in my mind a little more firmly, but only time will tell on that score. The point is made that it is the attitude of the person learning the language that plays the biggest role in ability here, so fingers crossed!