Benny Lewis Teaches How To Learn A Language in 3 Months

Benny Lewis is one of the most popular language teachers on the web. He’s running the “Fluent in 3 months” website, where he sells a $97 course on how to learn a language fast. He himself speaks 11 languages, which he learned over the course of the past 11 years.

In this TedX talk, he’s sharing the fundamentals of his language learning system, and he makes really excellent points.

It’s mostly about the mindset of successful language learners.

What’s Your Motivation To Learn A New Language?

He talks about the importance of having the right kind of motivation for learning a language. In his own case, he wanted to learn Spanish in order to impress others, and this didn’t really work for him. A lot of people want to learn a foreign language to pass an exam, or to advance their career.

But what he found was that those who are really good at language learning learn a language because they enjoy learning about the language, the country, the culture, the people. They have an interest in the literature of the country, or the music, the food. For them, learning the language isn’t just a means to an end.

Do You Think You’re Too Old To Learn A New Language?

A lot of people also think that they are too old to learn a new language. Interestingly, he mentioned a study which proved that adults can learn a new language faster than children, if they use the right methods to learn the language.

He also has lots of anecdotal evidence, of people who were in their 60’s and still learned new languages. So unless you’re going to die in the next 3 months, you probably aren’t too old to learn a new language.

Your Memory Is Too Bad To Learn A New Language?

Sure, learning a new language requires a lot of memorization. New words that must be learned, new grammatical structures, the right pronounciation and intonation…

For this, Benny Lewis gives you two pieces of advice:

  1. spaced repetition and
  2. mnemotechniques (especially associating words with images)

Spaced repetition means that you repeat vocabulary with a certain frequency. This is based on the Ebbinghaus “forgetting curve”, which basically shows that the more time passes between the time when you first learned something, and the time when you recall it, the more you tend to forget.

But if you repeat a certain piece of information (e.g. a word from another language), at just the right point – which is just before forgetting it – and then repeat it again at just the right time after that (which is again just before forgetting it), and do this repeatedly, then you get maximum memorization efficiency. Benny Lewis himself has described spaced repetition pretty good in this blog post.

Associating words with images is an ancient memorization technique. If you first try it, you will find that it’s quiet cumbersome, but the more often you do it, the better you will get at it, and the more helpful you will find it to be.

Not Enough Money To Learn A Language?

If you think you need money to learn a foreign language, he’s got solutions for that too. You can travel to another country for very low prices nowadays, but even if you don’t have that kind of money – the internet is a great place to find native speakers with whom you can do a language exchange for free via skype and email. Or you can just go to a nearby city or airport, where you will find lots of people from different countries, and you can just practice speaking a language with them there.

Why Even With Modern Translation Software, It’s Still Worth Learning A Foreign Language

You might think that we don’t really need to put all the effort in to learn a foreign language anymore, because, well… computers are going to do all the translating in a couple of years, right?

Keep in mind that your brain is a lot more reliable though.

Look what happened when a Chinese business owner had his business name translated into English:


Learning With Flashcards: Spaced Repetition – Skipping Mistakes?

Flashcards are a great vacabulary learning system, because you get to quiz yourself. Studies have shown that recalling information from memory is actually (a lot) more effective if you want to memorize something than reading it.

You’re probably familiar with the concept of spaced repetition – it means that you repeat a given piece of information you want to learn after a certain amount of time, and is largely based on the pioneering memory research of Ebbinghaus.

Want2LearnThai recently made an interesting point regarding how he(? I’m just assuming the author is male based on my sexist stereotyping after reading his post) thinks flashcards & spaced repetition is often used wrongly:

[…] when you spend heaps of time going over the words you got wrong.  Every system is different, but many will keep putting the cards you got wrong that day back in the review list for that day till you get it right.  Don’t think that sounds bad?  At first it isn’t, but then the more of these you have, the more they back up and delay you seeing or reviewing the cards you do know.  The idea is to simmer as many words as possible and not to burn one side of the pot before heating the other.

While I like his metaphor of simmering words, I think this is misguided.

Studies have shown that the best way to master a new skill is to fix errors as soon as possible.

Let me give you an example:

learning to play an instrument. A couple of years back, researchers recruited a bunch of musicians to learn to play a challenging piece of music. They had a certain amount of time (so and so many days). The researchers kept track of how and how much the musicians practiced. Afterwards, their mastery of playing this song was rated.

Interestingly one of the traits that separated those who played the song best from those who played the song worst was this: the best performers corrected mistakes immediately. Meaning, they played a song, and when they hit the wrong note somewhere, they stopped, played the last segment again and again until they played it well. Whereas the worst performers just kept playing the song even when they made a mistake.

When I first read about this, I was actually quite surprised. I always preferred the latter method, because it seemed a more holistic approach (and now that you already know about my sexist stereotyping habit, you can also know that I have a tendency to think of holistic everythings [ideas, methods, approaches, etc.] as superior to partialized everythings). I figured you learn the “big thing” first, and then from that you gradually zoom in to the smaller details and straighten them out.

Turns out my idea was wrong.

And that’s why I find Want2LearnThai’s assumption so interesting, because it’s kind of headed in the same direction.

But in my opinion, repeatedly quizzing yourself about vocabulary you couldn’t recall (or recalled incorrectly) until you know it is the right way to use spaced repetition when learning vocabulary.

Of course he’s right that if you don’t review cards which you’ve just freshly imprinted into your memory, there’s a risk that you’ll forget those words again.

But in a case were you get stuck in a backlog of flashcards you didn’t get right, I’d say the issue is more that you’ve got too many cards in the deck.

So my personal recommendation would be not to change the default settings of most flashcard programs/apps when they repeat flashcards you got wrong. Ironing out mistakes as soon as possible is a good way to learn.

Too Old To Learn A New Language? This 86 Year Old Man Proves You Can Do It

If you wnt to learn a new language, but you think you’re too old for it – well, think again. A 86 year old student from Sheffield proves that you’re never too old to learn a new language.

What’s more – he’s not a very educated man. He was a failure in school, and left school at age 13.

You can read the whole story here.

Language Learning Trick: Don’t Focus Too Much On Pronunciation

As a language learner, what should you focus on the master a language the fastest? Vocabulary? Grammar? Phrases? Pronounciation? Reading? Speaking? Listening? Writing?

There are many choices

New research has shown that you learn a language faster if you abandon the attempt to perfect your accent.

Murray J. Munro, a professor of linguistics at Simon Fraser University in Canada, says that we shouldn’t focus our language learning efforts on trying to sound like a native. Practicing pronunciation is still important, but not in order to sound like a native, but in order to be understood clearly. In fact, you can speak with a heavy foreign accent but still have a very comprehensible pronounciation. Think for example of German immigrants with a heavy German accent – but oftentimes you can understand them clearly.

As Annie Murphy Paul wrote in the article How To Speak Like A Native – The surprising truth about learning a foreign language: accent isn’t the most important thing:

[You should] focus less attention on individual vowels and consonants, and more attention to the “macro” aspects of language, such as general speaking habits, volume, stress, and rhythm.A study by Derwing and colleagues showed that this approach can work. The investigators divided subjects into three groups: the first received foreign language instruction with no particular focus on pronunciation; the second received instruction with a focus on pronouncing the individual segments of language; and the third received “global” pronunciation instruction on the general way the foreign tongue should sound. After 12 weeks of classes, the students were asked to tell a story in their new language, and their efforts were rated by native-speaking listeners. Only the global group, the listeners reported, showed significant improvement in comprehensibility and fluency.

The intelligibility principle may be behind the acknowledged effectiveness of immersion-learning programs: when we immerse ourselves in a foreign language, particularly as spoken by natives, we’re picking up more than specific vocabulary words: we’re getting the gist of how the language is spoken, and our own attempts reflect this expansive awareness. Few of us have the time or money to engage in complete immersion, but a good tip is to limit your conversational practice with other native English speakers. The speech of second language learners, research shows, tends to “converge” toward a version of the foreign tongue that is more like the speakers’ native language. Instead, seek out someone who grew up talking the way you want to talk, and practice, practice, practice. You won’t sound perfectly like a native, but the natives will understand you perfectly well.


Learn Mandarin With Sexy Female Teachers

If you want to learn mandarin but can’t muster up the motivation to do so, then these sexy female teachers might just be what you need.

Now some people think this is disturbing, others think it’s funny, but I think it’s really brilliant. If you are upset about the way women are “objectified” in this video, then push that aside for a moment – the way the lessons are structures is actually really well. And the sex appeal creates an emotional engagement that helps to increase learning.

You can check out their free lessons on their website.

Language Learning Android App: Listen & Speak

There are many ways to learn a language – and that’s an awesome thing. Technology enabled language learning opens up so many opportunities, and one of the greatest of them all is without a doubt learning on your mobile phone.

One of the hottest language learning apps for your smartphone right now is Listen & Speak. Android Authority has written a great review of the app.

In addition to all the things you want from a good language learning app, there are also some nifty cool extras:

Listen & Speak also has a Learning tab, which provides a variety of topics that you wish to study. English proverbs? Basic Spanish phrases? English quotes? Common medical terms? Routine conversation bits? All of these are readily available in the app. Of course, you have the luxury to see the translation of the test material for better understanding.

Immerse Yourself In A New Language By Browsing The Web

Google Chrome has come up with a neat extension that allows you to learn a foreign language just by browsing the web. Here’s how it works:

  1. You install the extension.
  2. You choose the language you want to learn.
  3. You choose the level of difficulty (e.g. beginner, intermediate, advanced)
  4. You browse to a website where you read a text you want to read, and the extention will replace some words or phases of the original English text with words or phrases of your target language.

Watch the video to check this out for yourself:

It surely isn’t a way to completely learn a language, but might be a great way to get deeper into a language you are already learning!

Here’s the original description of the extension:

Experience a new language while you browse the web.
Language Immersion for Chrome is an experimental extension that aims to simulate the experience of being immersed in a foreign language. By switching certain words and phrases from English into a language of your choice, the websites you already visit can provide a way to experience the world from a different perspective.


- Choose from all 64 languages currently supported by Google Translate.

- Novice-to-fluent skill settings let you immerse at your own pace.

- Click on a translated word to switch it back to English.

- Roll-over a translated word to hear it pronounced.

Note: Language Immersion for Chrome is very much an experiment. That means the translations won’t always  be 100% accurate, and it probably won’t turn you into a language genius overnight. That being said, we think it’s pretty cool to be able see the web from a different perspective, and we’re excited for everyone to give it a try.

Thinking in a Foreign Language Makes Decisions More Rational

There is a cool article in Wired titled Thinking in a Foreign Language Makes Decisions More Rational.

To judge a risk more clearly, it may help to consider it in a foreign language.

A series of experiments on more than 300 people from the U.S. and Korea found that thinking in a second language reduced deep-seated, misleading biases that unduly influence how risks and benefits are perceived.

One more reason to ramp up your language skills 😉