AMA: Benny Lewis (Fluent in 3 Months)
Jul 3, Benny Lewis (Fluent in 3 Months)
National Geographic Traveller of the Year, Irish Language Ambassador for the EU, author of the international best-selling book Fluent in 3 Months, and speaker of 11 languages at A2 through C2 levels, despite only speaking English at the age of 21, Benny Lewis, or The Irish Polyglot, has made it his mission to inspire as many adults as possible to get into language learning.
As for Esperanto, he wrote an influential blog post called Just 2 weeks learning Esperanto can get you months ahead in your target language in which he argues that even if there was only one other Esperanto speaker, it would be worth learning the basics of Esperanto to learn your target language faster. To prove this, he coached his monoglot girlfriend Lauren to learn Esperanto in six weeks.
Benny is accepting questions in English and Esperanto.
Thanks everyone for participating!
48 Comments This discussion is locked.
Hey Duolingo! Thanks a million for your great questions! I enjoyed popping in and I hope you find my answers useful. Check out the links Chuck gave to learn more about me, and otherwise be sure to subscribe to my Youtube channel for a ton of new videos I'm making this summer, and to my email list for all other news and language learning encouragement.
Keep on learning, and thanks again to the Duolingo team and to the Esperanto team especially for spreading free language learning! Good night to you all!
Ok, I've been waiting for this AMA for months! I am your biggest fan and have watched all your videos, you are truly inspiring!!
I have a couple questions for you.
Besides English, what would your next strongest language be? (and would you mind listing every language you know in order of fluent to beginner?)
What language would you consider doing next?
What is this? XD
Can you reveal anything yet about it?
4 I really love this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITzFRlVhMVs , would you ever do a part 2 to that?
5 What would you tell someone who is on the point of giving up on their language?
Sorry if it's too many questions, I hope you can get around to answering all of them :) Thank you for your time, I'm honored to meet you! I'll be the first to watch your new video when it comes out XD
Great to hear from you and thanks for following along all these years!
(Edit - I had tried to post this in one reply, but it didn't work, so I'm really glad I wrote it in Evernote to copy and paste back in. I'll try to paste in for each of your questions ;) )
- My next strongest language would be Spanish. To not make this answer to long (you do have several parts to it ;) ), I've already tackled this question on Quora if you search for "What languages does Benny Lewis speak and at what levels of fluency"
Writing my first book, going on tour for it, and now writing FOUR new books over the last year has taken a considerable amount of my time, so I'm not getting nearly enough practice in my languages, and am going to do what it takes to manage my time better and get back into consistent practice and uploading videos in all those languages again asap ;)
Question 2. Since my focus for the last 3 years has been to get an encouraging message out to others through publishing books, I haven't been able to tackle new language projects (I started Japanese, but after 2 months I had to stop it because of book launch preparations), and have been wanting to seriously boost and maintain my current languages so they don't slip.
Once I am on top of my schedule I want to truly have that one entire year of focusing on my current languages, that I've been meaning to have for the last 3 years but never achieved because of book publishing taking up all my time (it's considerably more work than I ever imagined it would be). After that year of focusing on my current languages, then I'll be able to take on my next new language :D As with my previous language projects, it will be based on factors like visiting the country and getting to know the culture, rather than for linguistic reasons, like which one would be the furthest away from the ones I know, or have some grammatical features that could be a "good challenge". If I am not passionate about genuinely using the language, then I simply won't learn it ;)
I am getting on top of organizing myself on my various channels better, now that I have finished writing them, but essentially I am publishing four books with John Murray Learning who run the Teach Yourself series, and own the rights to the Michel Thomas audio learning courses. These will be under the title "Language Hacking x" where x is Spanish, French, German and Italian to start with. Once we prove that there is interest in the series, we can branch out to smaller languages, like Irish, languages people find especially hard like Chinese, English as a second language, tailor made for various audiences, and maybe even Esperanto! To see a preview and for links to Amazon for pre-orders, check out languagehacking.com
I haven't announced it on Youtube yet (sorry about that!) since I wanted to get a good video ready for it, but make sure to join my email list on the homepage of the blog to get the latest news. Working on those 4 books was the secret project
Question 4 Yeah, that was fun and a total surprise, as I originally didn't plan on recording a video with Moses when I happened to be passing through Columbus (crazy in hindsight!) - my book tour brought me through Ohio 2 years ago and I got in touch to potentially record part 2 but he wasn't around then.
You'll see me show on Youtube that I have some super cool resources for making videos, so I want to make a follow-up not only to that video, but also to the "Skype me maybe" one, and will work on the logistics of it just after we launch the Language Hacking series with Teach Yourself.
I look forward to making another level up video with Moses!
If someone was about to give up, it would depend on so many factors. Some people need some encouragement, and others need to feel like they can be related to. I find that just a cheery "Atta boy, you can do it, just believe in yourself!" is not going to work if someone is at the point of giving up.
For instance, if someone feels that they sound stupid whenever they start to speak a language, rather than talk to them like their mother and say that they don't sound stupid, and that they are a very clever boy etc., I'd tell them about the many times I felt stupid, or refer them to any of multiple videos I have in my initial attempts to use a language, where I was barely able to communicate, but tried anyway. There are many issues holding people back that I can't relate to, but I do know stories of people who have overcome pretty much all issues, so I'd share those stories with them, or refer them to other polyglots they can relate to.
Ultimately, I think we feel like giving up because a task feels impossible, or we give in to the fact that other people are simply smarter/better than us at them. So find a way to show them it's not true, not by arguing against them (pure logic isn't actually that convincing if someone is feeling down), but by using real world examples that show them they can do it too!
Thanks for the questions, and lots of really cool videos are on the way real soon
Merci beaucoup pour les réponses! I had to calm myself down from the excitement before replying :) I'm going to check out the books and I may even buy the French one. I'm looking forward to the new youtube videos! Thanks again for responding :D You are my inspiration, thank you.
This is tricky because when you get to higher numbers, you have no choice but to accept that you can only ever put so many hours of your day into keeping up your languages and that is going to limit how high you can go. But there are ways you can make it more possible in higher numbers!
For instance, one thing I have never done is learn two languages at once. I don't think I could manage it, even if some others may be able to. I focus on one single language only, and keep at it until I get it up to upper intermediate level at the least. Once you do that, then losing it is very hard. I've learned a bunch of languages to upper beginner or lower intermediate and find that it's very easy for my level to slip and even for me to forget the majority of the language. And as I start off in new languages, I find it's easier to mix them up!
So stick to one language only, get it up to a really good level, and then take a "break" from learning new languages and maintain that one and the other ones. My pattern for several years was to spend 3 months intensively attempting to learn a language to fluency (hence the name of the blog), but NINE months a year maintaining that language and my other languages, rather than learning a new one. To maintain it, you simply live your live in that language as often as you can - socialize in it, Skype in it, play video games in it etc. I try to do this one language per day, but you start to run out of days in a week :D Doing it in a structured way is tricky, and I'm still trying to find the right balance!
Mi ne uzas ĝin en mia ĉiutaga vivo, sed mi tre ofte parolas kaj skribas la lingvon. Ekzemple, mi hodiaû mi skribas al vi esperante! ;)
Sed mi kutime ricevas retpoŝtojn aû twitter-ajn mesaĝojn en esperanto kaj respondas en esperanto. Mi ankaû ofte iras al esperantaj aranĝoj kie mi pasigas la tutan tagon kun esperantistoj. Mi eble parolis en la internacia lingvo dum pli ol 8 semajnoj (sen uzi alia lingvo for la aligatorejo) en la lasta jardeko.
Mi lastatempe estis okupitega, sed esperas uzi ĝin pli en Novjorko! Kiam mi parolas esperanton, estas preskaû ĉiam por paroli kun geamikoj :)
Back in 2007, I had already been travelling for 5 years and had picked up 4 romance languages (Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese), and wanted to start branching out.
I was living in Montreal to perfect my French as I was getting my initial training as a professional translator, and the house I was living in was one of the most active Couchsurfing hosting houses in the city. I lived in that very house precisely to continue to be a good host as I enjoyed being an active host on the site so much and my flatmates had already been hosting there.
One of our guests from France started talking about language learning and what I had been up to in recent years, and asked me if I had learned Esperanto yet.
To be honest, I had no idea what it was - I am not sure if I had ever even heard of the language before. But she explained its history to me and that there is a fun and active community behind it.
The idea of learning it piqued my interest - if only to be able to add a new language to my list very easily, as all my languages at the time definitely would have helped. I learned just enough to start uploading videos to Youtube reading an Esperanto script that I had others mostly help me prepare, and then the next summer, I went to the Summer Esperanto Study in Slovakia.
It was initially just part of a "temporary" experiment, and I was expecting myself to not maintain it long term, but that week showed me how strong the community was and encouraged me to check out more events, which got me into using the language socially. That was enough to show me the merit in keeping it up long term!
So even if I started learning it for a "quick and easy" way to add another language to my list, I stuck with it because of the people in the community and how much I enjoy hanging out with them :)
My favourite language is a toss-up between Brazilian Portuguese because it's a culture I feel most at home with and hearing it reminds me of that, and American Sign Language because of how expressive it is. This is a very personal thing - for instance, I don't know other sign languages, and others wouldn't like Portuguese for the same reason as me.
I'm not sure - I want to clear the workload associated with launching my next 4 books in September, and then spend one year focusing on getting my current languages up several notches. So maybe late 2017 or so, I'll know of a culture I want to investigate or a country I want to explore and pick a language based on that ;)
Someone beat you to this one, so see another answer I had to the 3rd question. Thanks!
I studied electronic engineering in university, and it was a very demanding degree. So when it was finished, I figured I "deserved" a break, and a summer in Spain sounded perfect for that. I moved to Spain and casually glanced over a phrasebook on the plane, and had wide-eyed dreams of confidently speaking it in no time. That didn't happen - I gravitated towards other English speakers, and pretty much learned no Spanish, despite living there.
I did enjoy the pace of life though, so I decided to stay. But even 6 months later, I still wasn't able to ask the simplest of questions. And I was genuinely trying too! I went to group classes, I studied, I tried to read a book in Spanish etc., but no luck. So the motivation was simply to try to truly live in Spain, I had to speak its language. I wanted to make local friends besides the very few who happened to speak really good English.
I was close to giving up, but what changed for me was the realization that the one thing I was NOT doing, was actually speaking Spanish. I would give up almost immediately once I realized I didn't know a word or got my grammar wrong. So I decided to speak "Tarzan Spanish", and be OK with making mistakes, and focus on communication. Before I knew it, I was able to interact, even using my butchered Spanish! This meant I had more opportunities to practise, and got better and better. Ever since then, I start my language projects by speaking that target language from day one and it changed everything :D
I read many times that everybody can learn languages with the same "easiness". I know very well that this is not the case. What traits or health problems can make this more difficult? My biggest problem is my ear that cannot hear all sound-details, also memory is lacking ... what else? English was very difficult for me. My first language is Spanish, Esperanto is the second.
My memory is also pretty terrible. I forget people's names, where I leave the keys etc. and about 3 times a day I walk into a room not having a clue why I went in there. So you're not alone.
I think that some people do find it easier to learn languages for sure, but why this happens is not simple. It's easy to just shrug it all off to luck/genetics, but I've tried my best to ignore all of that and focus on what I can change.
For instance, with bad memory, you can still learn how to use mnemonics. I found that I forgot Spanish words almost immediately after hearing them, and this kept me back for months. But once I tried to make simple stories associated with a word, then it was way easier. You can see a ton of these on memrise.com.
Note that if you simply can't hear the differences in English, this is likely not a hearing problem, but just a familiarity problem. Listen to English learning podcasts! They spend entire episodes explaining the intricate differences and you slowly but surely start to make sense of it. This has helped me a lot in languages where I couldn't tell the difference.
There are lots of things to try! Rather than focus on your weaknesses, see how you can realistically solve each problem
Bonvolu legi mian antaûan respondon en la angla por via unua demando ;)
Lauren multe laboras kun mi en miaj Teach-Yourself-aj libroj, do ŝi ankaû ne havis multan tempon lastatempe. Sed ŝi skribas al kelkaj geamikoj Facebook-e en esperanto kaj mi volas iri al Esperanta aranĝo kun ŝi venontjare, do ŝi certe plibonigos ŝian esperanto antaû ĝin kaj ni parolos esperanton kune
Mi pensas ke la lingvo estos plej grava interrete, kaj la komunumo fortiĝos :) Pli da homoj malkovros la avantaĝojn kaj eble ĝi havos specialan statuson en Eûropo. Ni vidos filmojn, retejon, pli da aranĝojn ktp - do laû mi, ĉio bona venos! :)
Sed bedaûrinde, mi ankaû devas esti realisto. Do mi rekonas ke la komerca pizicio de la angla aû la aliaj grandaj lingvoj ne povas ŝanĝi simple. Eĉ se esperanto estus plej ideala lingvo inter negocistoj, mi ne povas imagi kiel grandaj firmaoj iĝus tiel idealistoj ĉar ili perdus monon. En la franca oni diras ke "la kliento estas reĝo" kaj sen esperantistaj klientoj (aû multaj esperantistaj ĉefuloj), ne estus bona mona decido uzi esperanton kiel ĉefa lingvo aû eĉ dua lingvo se alia merkato pagus pli. La esperanta komunumo estas fortega... sed ne riĉega...
Eble, sed mi pensas ke ne. Mi bedaûras! Mi esperas ke mi estas tro skeptika kaj mi malpravos :)
Hi Benny. thanks for answering. i love your work so keep it up :d. 1. Have you ever been to Iran ? my country :) 2. do you see a good future for Esperanto in writing scientific articles ? because in my opinion comparing to English, Esperanto still needs a lot of work in science, and all the scientific materials are in En. thanks a lot.
I haven't been to Iran yet, but you can be sure I'll make it there some day :) And I see huge potential for Esperanto to be used for Scientific articles. The problem will be to get widespread acceptance, which will be harder. But I hope it does have a chance! I don't think it needs any "work" though - terms in Esperanto are very easy to come up with or likely already exist :)
Esperanto for Chinese nationals if that's feasible because there's a surprising amount of interest in China for Esperanto, and a great tool to learn it for free could give the Esperanto community a huge boost of speakers :)
Otherwise Esperanto for Portuguese speakers, both because it could be easier to port from the one for Spanish speakers, and also because Brazilians are super fast to take advantage of great online tools, and definitely also have an extra interest in Esperanto compared to other places I've been to.
Saluton, mi lastan semajnon denove spektis vian intervjuon kun la buddhisma monaĥo. Mi ĝuis ke iu el la tuta por mi nekonata mondo simple rakontis pri sia vivo. Tio estas laŭ mi eĉ pli aŭtenta ol la intervjuoj farataj de grandaj televidfirmaoj. Do, vi fakte ĉiam vojaĝas kaj vidas tre multe kio okazas en la mondo. Mi tre ŝatus vidi pli da intervjuojn kun iaj hazardaj homoj, kiuj montras al ni kiel ili vivas. M kompreneble preferindus tion en Esperanto, sed ne nepre (la e-a komunumo ĉiam povas traduki subtitolojn). Vi elektu mem kion ajn vi faru kaj kio estis tre impresa dum via vojaĝo. Kion vi pensas pri tio?
Mi konsentas :D Vi povas vidi en miaj aliaj respondoj ke mi ne havis multan tempon en la lastaj 3 jaroj pro miaj libroj, sed ĉi-somero mi komencos registri filmeton por mia Jutuba kanalo ĉiun semajnon, kaj mi certe intervjuos multajn homojn pri multaj temoj en multaj lingvoj ;) Spektu kaj vi vidos baldaû.
I know you've written articles on this stuff before, but what would you recommend to improve my Spanish listening comprehension? My Spanish speaking and writing are fairly good, but I still struggle with listening. I can have a conversation perfectly fine, however. It's things like movies, news, etc. that I struggle with. I recently started listening to more Spanish music and youtube videos, which I'm hoping may help out a little.
Also, I am trying to read my first novel in Spanish. Was it very difficult for you to read your first Spanish novel? I didn't expect to read through it without any problems, but I also didn't expect to have to look up 15 words per page. Would you say it's fairly common to have this much trouble reading your first novel?
Thanks in advanced for your response, and I look forward to hearing about your future projects.
For listening comprehension, I always recommend either having a patient teacher who you talk to, who speaks to you slowly (this is more affordable than people think thanks to Skype lessons), or to listen to a podcast made for Spanish learners. Spanish spoken at regular speed, especially certain dialects like those from most of Spain, can be incredibly intimidating. To get around this, you need to ease yourself in. I also found Spanish extremely difficult to understand at first, until I found people who spoke it with me slowly (in my case, this involved hanging out with Erasmus students in Spain a lot of the time, as they were also learning like I was).
But since you are already able to have those basic conversations, what you need is focused listening. I made a huge mistake in one of my language projects that simply "hearing" the language a lot would get me up to advanced level, but nothing could be further from the truth. You are already used to the sound of the language, so you need to get used to using it in more complex situations. So start listening to news programs and such - but REALLY listen to it! Try to understand every sentence, and play it back. If you tend to do something specific or listen to specific people, then ask them if you can record it and use a tool like Audacity to play it back slower and repeat until you understand each word. This way you can get used to what is being said in that super fast speech. Podcasts for learners do this well, and there are several that are good for pushing you up to a higher level of understanding and that break up the fast speech into slower parts. I've also found that preparing for the listening component of CEFRL exams, like the DELE Superior, and even just doing mock papers of it you can find online, can be a huge help to see your greatest weaknesses to fix them better!
With reading, I had exactly the same problem and took on the far too ambitious task of reading El señor de los anillos (Lord of the rings) in Spanish as my first novel. I also had to look up way too many words and it was actually detremental to my Spanish, because I lost a lot of confidence every time I tried. What works better for reading is to take something that you have already read in your mother tongue and try reading it again in Spanish. Or even better - read comic books or manga in Spanish! These give you visuals that help a lot. You can also read children's books, but I don't have the patience for that myself. Like anything, lots of practice gets you better, so don't give up if you haven't made a lot of progress after doing it just a few days. I did this "lower level reading" for a couple of years, and only then took on the challenge of reading my first novel in Spanish, and made sure it was original Spanish rather than a translation for a more immersive experience and truly enjoyed it, rather than made it about forced learning and overuse of a dictionary. Also, the Kindle is great as it has loads of books in Spanish and you don't lose time with a dictionary as you just tap a word and get a translation if you set it up that way.
Kiel ĉiutage (ekzemple, sur la strato aŭ en la buso) oni signifus ke si deziras praktiki iun lingvon? Certe estas verda stelo por Esperanto, sed kiu por la hispanan, kiu ŝtatano flago povas konfuzi?
En via "Level Up" videoj vi ŝajnas elekti homojn kiuj aspektas ke ili parolas iun lingvon. Tamen, mi mem aspektas kiel Aziulo... sen kontekso, homoj eble ne provus paroli Eŭropajn lingvojn (krom la anglan) kun mi.
Mdr - Moses pli koraĝas ol mi. Mi neniam elektas homojn kiuj aspektas ke ili parolas iun lingvon, sed se mi aûdas la lingvon en buso/festo/ktp kial ne diri "Saluton"? :) Mi ankaû havas t-ĉemizon kiu diras "Bonvolu paroli esperanton kun mi" kaj similaj frazoj en aliaj lingvoj, kiu tre utilas! Eble vi bezonas la saman t-ĉemizon :)
Kutime mi parolas miajn lingvojn en aranĝoj en kiuj mi jam scias kiun lingvon paroli ;)