Benny Lewis Has a New Language Hacking Series: Here's My Review

In today's review, I'm excited to bring you guys my first impressions of Language Hacking German - A Conversation Course, the new book by Benny Lewis.

In this series, you can also get books for learning Spanish, French and Italian.

TL;DR: I'm impressed with the design, structure and method used by these books.

They're awesome, if you're anywhere between A1 and A2 pick up a copy and use it to practice. Also looks like a good potential Christmas present.

Benny.. Who Dat?

If you read language articles on the internet, you've probably come across Benny Lewis. He runs the website Fluent in 3 Months and has been blogging and learning languages for over 10 years. Benny has previously published a book with a real publisher, which is an inspiring thing for all of us language bloggers.

More importantly, he brings a more modern approach to language learning into book shops. I'm very much on board with that!

This particular series, "Language Hacking", is a collaboration with Teach Yourself, whose materials have always been language learner favourites. I've checked these courses out and used them, and they're definitely one of the best brands for self-teaching materials on anything.

"Language Hacking is a state of mind. It's about positivity and an approach that puts everything you're learning into practice immediately." - Benny Lewis

Advantages of The Language Hacking Book

My first impression was that this book is really good-looking! It's got a nice size to it, the design throughout is engaging and interesting, and it just feels very nice to hold in your hands. You can see straight away that they're trying to make #languagehacking into a thing, so the message is clear: This book is for 21st century learners.

The Structure

The structure of the book follows that of a traditional self-teaching language book, so it's not trying to overthrow everything good in the system. The design is lively and engaging, with vocab delivered in sentence structures, culture tips, conversation examples and exercises. It's a great "complete package".

What's different here is that this focuses very much on conversation as the goals and "learning outcomes". The book avoids mentioning grammar concepts in favour of setting the learner a mission with every unit. What I really liked is that each unit clearly sets out the mission as a use case, describing what kind of situation you would find yourself in when you will use what you are learning.

In each mission you learn some new stuff, and there are exercises so you can test that you learnt it correctly. The #languagehacking system adds in Benny's "Conversation Countdown" methods of building a script and sharing it immediately with a dedicated web area sponsored by italki.

The design is all about making language learning less intimidating. I hardly saw any grammar terms mentioned, with focus on descriptions like "slingshot words" instead of "subordinating conjunctions". In fact, this style combined with the mission and scripts system feels perfect for new learners, but also for experienced learners as they'll be able to breeze through this and create sentences quicker.

You're In Good Hands

£11.89

The brand "Benny Lewis" is present throughout the book, and that worked really well for me. As you work your way through it, you get to feel as if someone is on the journey with you and guiding you through this course. The quotes and images of Benny were a fun addition - I'm not a fan girl, but as a structure this worked very well for me.

Each mission mentions a small #Languagehacking tip in the introduction - a great concept. As you're learning your new language, I can imagine how much these little tips will help you build more confidence and feel ready to speak quickly.

Anything Else You Need To Know?

The book doesn't solve a key problem of language learning, which is the idea of being too busy. It's written with "conversations with natives" in mind, so if you're learning languages without immediate travel plans you may feel cut off from many of the examples. The scripts system is also nice, although I would prefer to make my own -- this is because I'm experienced and relatively "fearless" as a language learner, not because the idea itself is bad.

If you're a very long-standing Fluent reader, you'll have read my thoughts on the use of the word "hacking" in the context of language learning. I'm not a fan of the name of this series, but the "language hacking" brand is what Benny Lewis has used for years.

The tiny things are exactly what makes this so good for more inexperienced language learners. They were nitpicks, really - overall this is an impressive product.

Audio Access

At first I grumbled that there is no CD with this book, but I quickly remembered that we live in the 21st century and all the audio is downloadable. So it does come with audio, and the example sentences I heard were very good and match the book scripts excellently. You can get the audio from www.teachyourself.com/languagehacking.

Conclusion

Overall, this is one of the most impressive versions of a language course I've seen in a while. The way that it incorporates "hacking" ideas (I'll just call them shortcuts) into a traditional self-teaching book design was fantastic.

These Language Hacking courses are an incredible addition to the bookshelves of any language learner, but particularly for those that are new to the language.

Overall, a clear 5/5 - kudos to Benny Lewis and Teach Yourself. This is not a grade I give readily at all, so you can trust that this course is well worth your investment if you want to learn a new language. I hope they publish more versions soon.

How To Get This Book For Yourself

£12.28

The links below are affiliate links, so you'll be supporting Fluent at no extra cost to yourself. Go ahead and click to take a look!

On Amazon

Click here to go directly to Language Hacking on Amazon.com

And click here if you're buying in the UK

Having seen the printed copy of this book (but not the kindle version), my feeling is that you are best served by investing in the print. The prices are currently very similar, and you'll be able to take notes and write in your book, take it everywhere and share it easily.

Yes, I'm analogue girl. (You can write me a postcard to tell me what you think of that!)

Conversation Countdown by Benny Lewis: Can You Start Any Language In A Week?

benny lewis countdown

If you're a regular Fluent reader, you'll know that my advice to any language learner is always to find a routine that feels steady and joyful. I've previously shared my own Welsh learning routine, which is designed for learning a language for life, not just for right now.

But every now and then, it's time to step it up and see what can be done when you start from zero.

A High Speed Language Fling

I'm currently speeding my way through the basics of a new language with with Icelandic, because next month I'll be spending 4 days in Reykjavik. You might say that 4 days of travel is hardly worth the effort. But for me, this is a lifelong daydream becoming reality. Before I even moved to England, I spent hours in my college room listening to Sigur Rós and staring at pics in this travel calendar.

When you learn a language for an upcoming trip, the purpose is not just to "look a little more polite as you meet the locals". Researcher Elizabeth Dunn has found that language learning for travel can boost your happiness when you make it part of anticipating your trip.

So when it comes to my little high-speed language adventure, the point is way more than just being able to ask where the Hallgrímskirkja is. This is about getting excited for the trip. The more Icelandic I play with right now, the more I can feel as if I'm already in the country. And once I get there, it's going to pay off.

Start A New Language In 5 Days

To get myself started, I went ahead and researched some tips from the main voice in speedy language: Benny Lewis. He offers a little course called Conversation Countdown, which I used to get added inspiration beyond what I would normally do.

I feel like I got to a nice little routine for "survival Icelandic" in just a few hours of work. I did not complete every action within the seven days suggested, but overall it felt like a realistic course with very well-produced videos.

Here are the actions I did take in Week 1:

Day 1

I got myself over to Omniglot, picked out a few polite phrases in the language and filmed yourself speaking immediately.

For me personally, the "immediately" aspect didn't feel as important as the course made it out to be. I'm confident speaking a language, no matter how little I know. But if you're a language learner just starting out, the effect is not just that you've got a nice thing to share online. This is also about your commitment to really doing this thing - invaluable!

So here is the result of day 1:

Yes, that's a dragon necklace.

Day 2

This day was about kicking into gear and creating vocabulary that will be relevant to my own situation. So instead of handy phrases from the phrasebook, the Conversation Countdown way sends you off to the dictionary.

Benny's instructions revolve around getting a great personal introduction onto paper. To be honest, I wish that I had also had a phrasebook available to pick up important travel patterns like Could I have a..., Excuse me, where is the.. and things like that. They are not so specific to me, but will allow me to navigate the typical situations with more comfort.

The selection of dictionaries I found for Icelandic didn't quite live up to my usual standards - it was Google Translate to the rescue. Here are the basics I decided to use:

Eg er fra Tyskaland --German
tungumál ithöfundur - language writer
I like learning languages - Mer líkar laera tungumál
fara í raektina - Going to the Gym
gera zumba - doing zumba
Ég eins og ferðalag - I like travel
elda - cooking
ég by i öðru landi - living in another country
sjónvarp i netflix - television and netflix
ég er gift - married
grænmetisæta - vegetarian
Eg hef by i Norður England i 2003 --- I've lived in England since 2003

How To Pronounce New Words?

Icelandic doesn't seem like a "say what you see" language, so I used Forvo where I could find the relevant words. For me personally, that was not really enough. This is one step in Benny's plan that didn't work so well for me - it didn't make me comfortable. I am better at picking up a language when I can spend 20 minutes on learning its sounds (guess that's why I created a German pronunciation course!). I ended up wishing I had a little dictionary with annotations and a phrasebook, and will be adding the Wikivoyage page to Forvo for future practice.

Day 3

After getting quite a few words of Icelandic onto paper, there's no more reason to wait. The Conversation Countdown course recommends getting out there with a native speaker.

If you are at the stage where you've said a few things in your new language to yourself only, there is no more reason to wait. Find yourself someone who will be happy to take half an hour to let you loose on them with that list of phrases, as this really will do wonders for your confidence.

Since I can't think of any friends who know the language, I hopped on italki and booked a trial lesson with an Icelandic tutor. Big props to italki there for its variety of native speakers in languages as rare as this one. My lesson was booked in just a few minutes, and Óskar sent me a message within minutes.

I sent him my vocab list from Day 2 - trust me when I say I got 85% of it somewhat wrong, but he still understood what I was trying to say.

Another great resource you should use for connecting with helpful native speakers is Hello Talk, which is the best free smartphone app for language learning.

Day 4 -> Day 6

I admit it - at day 4 in Benny's course, my daily responsibilities took over and Icelandic dropped off the radar for a short while. This is a great time to fast forward to the lesson he includes at Day 6 - just practice what you are learning and find what is fun for you.

This lesson is crucial. You're never going to learn a language if all you do is follow someone else's roadmap, so go ahead and make your own. Out of the suggested tips, a few were downright silly but I gravitated to what felt perfect for me: learning Icelandic through music. I dug out one of my favourite albums, Ágætis byrjun, and studied the lyrics to "smash hit" Svefn-g-englar.

Now I just have to work out who will want to listen to my poetry recital about childbirth.

Day 7

In this course which is totally focused on pushing learners to speak to a native speaker or tutor in 7 days, this day is obviously the highlight. And if that is the goal you have set yourself by signing up, I think you're going to be both awesome and ready. Benny emphasized how scary the whole experience is going to be - that cannot be avoided, right? But it's as scary as it is rewarding.

In Icelandic, I'm booked in for my first live class in 7 days. Cheating? No! Read on to find out what I think of that word.

Conversation Countdown: Yay or Nay?

Benny Lewis's course is completely and utterly focused on conversation. It instils a significant amount of bravado and holds you to your promise to yourself throughout, making language about being outgoing and connecting quickly with other people. He provides a lot of scripts and specific steps, and the pacing of daily emails is a nice way to move learners along.

What I didn't like so much was this idea of cheating in another language. When you come out and speak badly, there is no need to be ashamed.

In the course, he does provide some excellent sentences that you totally know you're going to need (things like Can you say this slower please? It's my first day.).

So if you set yourself up for stock phrases and practice a conversation that is somewhat predictable, you are not cheating. You're learning just as much, no need to pretend that you're a fluent genius of fluency.

If what you're after is this remarkable feeling of conversing in another language, feeling proud of yourself and having a breakthrough, then go and sign yourself up to Conversation Countdown. It's a good place to get started and deliver that early success experience.

If talking to a native speaker is not on your immediate to-do list right now, the steps are still useful and fun, but you may feel a little bit of pressure to do that conversation thing throughout.

Have You Had A Conversation Countdown?

If you have ever pushed yourself to learn a new language and speak to a native speaker in a very short time, how did you get on? Which other tips do you have for me in my mini Icelandic project?

Let me know in the comments below!

Episode 33: Future You is The Best You, with Irish Polyglot Benny Lewis

Welcome to the Creative Language Learning Podcast.

This episode is all about being inspired by other people and their achievements. We decided to invite a guest well-known language learning hero to many: Benny Lewis from Fluent in 3 Months.

"The people around us are the ones that can inspire us even more than those YouTube superstars."

future you is the best you

Benny has done a lot for the promotion of language learning, and these days he gets hundreds of emails from his fans.

In our interview, you'll find out:

  • How does it feel to be the big language author and influencer man?
  • Who is the mystery man that got Benny excited about language learning?
  • Does "Benny the Irish Polyglot" want people to say that he is impressive?
  • How can we share the love of language and stop people from asking us how many languages we speak?
  • What is the most important difference Benny thinks he's made in the lives of language learners?
  • Which polyglots and community members have made an impact to Benny?
  • What did Barbie, Shakira and Beyoncé do to get us where we are today?

You also get to find out a lot about how Benny is keen to be promoting many others in the community, and how even a speaker of over 10 languages can be thrown when they're "hit with another language".

benny lewis

And what about being someone who runs their own business and travels the whole world learning languages? Benny is a pioneer, but knowing the real situation is a different story.

We hope you enjoy this awesome interview with Benny. Tell us what you think as well! Hashtag #cllp on Twitter, or simply comment below and let's chat about our heroes!

Great Language-Loving People Mentioned In This Show

Why not see them all at once in the fun Skype Me Maybe video!

Top Links From This Episode

Language Linkfest: December 2014

Wow, we're at the end of the year! I really hope that you have enjoyed a wonderful holiday break, and are beginning to put together first plans for the new year.

Fluent's 2014

fluency

2014 was huge for Fluent Language Tuition, because I published not one, but two books. If you are among the wonderful supporters who have read and rated these, I want to let you know how awesome you are. You can continue to get those books of course - here are some Amazon links:

Fluency Made Achievable in the US Store

Fluency Made Achievable in the UK Store

The Vocab Cookbook in the US Store

The Vocab Cookbook in the UK Store

The Audiobook on Audible

I recently blogged about having to close my online store, but if you do want to get a PDF/epub format, or even the popular Combo Pack (a box set of both books plus the audiobook), then email me and I can sell it manually. I'll find a way to bring the store back next year, promise!

My language learning in 2014 has ceded to building up my new business as a coach for other world-changers, but I did revive my French and continue to make progress in Russian in the earlier half of the year. For 2015, I'm considering committing more time to Russian by taking the next italki Language Challenge. I've also found a great new book, Russian Step by Step. Have you tried the challenge or the book?

fluent-best2014

Best Language Articles, December 2014

New Things to Purchase!

You may remember Jade Joddle? She was my podcast guest in April and spoke about introversion and speaking challenges. Jade has just released her first full online course, over at Udemy. Check out the Introvert Cure.

Flashsticks now do box sets!

Have a WONDERFUL start into the new year, everyone! I'm going to be spending two weeks in Germany over the holidays, with a flying visit to Stuttgart to eat as many Spätzle as I possibly can.

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent, the Language Learning Blog. If you are feeling stuck right now, why not subscribe to Fluent and check out our language book shop.

New Podcast! Episode 9 Benny Lewis from Fluent in 3 Months and The Growth Mindset

Welcome to episode 9, where I'm featuring an AMAZING article of the week and an interview with Benny Lewis from Fluent in 3 Months.

In this interview you'll be finding out about

  • The single one problem that's stopping everyone from language learning
  • Why the "Learn my language, I won't learn yours" is NOT just an English world view
  • Confidence vs Discipline: Which one is more important?
  • What you should focus on when you start learning a new language
  • How important it is to personalize your learning experience
  • How to be a creative language learner with very limited vocabulary
  • Where Benny is going to live next!
  • Top tips for travelling the world on a budget
  • How to create a virtual immersion environment without travelling even a single mile

"The fun part is at the end of a lesson when I realise I've made some progress."

benny lewis interviewed

You can hear that Benny and I had some debate on the following issues - what do you think of this:

  1. Textbooks and Group Classes - Are they useless?

  2. If it really is all that important to take the personal approach, why is the mass approach of Duolingo so popular?

Article of the Week

Why The Growth Mindset is the Only Way to Learn on Edudemic

Very Highly Recommended!

Tips of the Week

Out of the following fabulous three tips, Benny chose number 1 as his Tip of the Week! He stated that he loves working with Mini-Missions and assessing his progress continuously as he goes a long.

1) System of Milestones and Post-mortems  

2) Tutor a fellow learner

3) HiNative

Tips and Links from this Podcast

Tune In Radio

Wikipedia, accessible in hundreds of languages

Meetup.com, where you can find local language friends

Couchsurfing.com, for affordable travel

My take on "Speak from Day 1" by the Irish Polyglot (Plus: What I do on Day 1)

If you are a frequent internet visitor to the homes of language learning writers, you may have come across Mr Benny Lewis. Dubbing himself the Irish polyglot from Fluent in 3 months, Benny writes about his way of studying new languages and travelling the world. One of the important mantras to take away from his work is a dedication to using newly acquired language in conversation straight away. Benny calls it speaking from day 1, and today I thought I'll give you my take on it.

Here's what I do on day 1

In the practice of language learning, speaking from day 1 is something that all of us do. Approach any new language with an appreciation for its sounds, but also the spellings and characters that transcribe each sound. To me, the early language learning experience - that first lesson - is filled with excitement and the desire to get involved and start speaking. As a learner, I live out this desire through writing new words and listening and copying all the new sounds. It gives me a little kick when I can think that I am sounding as Russian/French/Italian/Spanish as I can. Later on, this dedication to learning sounds and letters also comes in handy because it helps me spell a lot better. As a tutor, I maintain the same technique for my students. I try and gently introduce beginners to their new foreign language by showing new letters, demonstrating sounds and challenging them a bit (tongue twisters anyone?).

Recently, I started a German class by practicing a soft and pretty pronunciation of "Schmetterling", "Naturwissenschaften" and "Flugzeug". Then I played this Youtube video - the point was to combat this stubborn idea that German sounds harsh. (It actually sounds how you make it sound.)

What I learnt on day 1 of Russian

What I learnt on day 1 of Russian

Athletic Mindsets

Now, Benny takes the definition of speaking one step further. He actually means you're supposed to have a conversation (recent example: Japanese)! Like an athlete in training, the idea here is to push through any resistance in order to achieve new goals. When you are determined to run two miles, you don't give up after 200 metres even if it hurts already. Equally, the early conversations of a language learner are difficult and uncomfortable by definition. And on this point, I believe that Benny's recommendations are extremely laudable. He leads by example and gets right in there, doesn't care if he sounds like an idiot and films himself as he halts conversations for 30 seconds to look something up in a dictionary. So what if I'm using a dictionary! So what if I don't know many words! So effing what if you think this isn't appropriate, this is my thing and I do it as well as I can.

How to use these polyglot techniques for yourself

In my opinion, learners should take away the following two points from the Speak from Day 1 philosophy:

  • Set your own standards. No one should be able to tell you what level you are supposed to be on after 3 months. Should a class progress too quickly for you, don't worry and just drop the level and study it again. Standards can be helpful guide posts and help you with goal setting, but for most adult learners the foreign language is studied out of interest and the desire to achieve. So achieve, don't fail, and don't fall into the "I should be able to.." trap. Stop comparing yourself, start building on your strengths and know that failing is when you decide you are failing. [Click here to tweet about this right away].(http://burst.to/aZF)

  • Reaching for achievable, but ambitious goals. You are free to progress at your own speed. However, you are not supposed to rest on your laurels or do only what is comfortable. The Irish polyglot brand of difficult conversations with native speakers on Skype is a great challenge to set yourself, but by no means the only one. At this point, language learners can find that bringing in a personal tutor is the best thing that ever happened, simply because they can always see what's next for you, they offer an external perspective and keep pushing you gently but consistently. No more excuses!

  • Combining classic and modern methods of language study. You'll notice that Benny does not rely on e-learning as his only tool, and he advocates the use of grammar, and he listens, reads, speaks and writes. I agree very much with all of those methods because they set you up for sustainable, ongoing success. Get your phone loaded up with apps like Duolingo or go for the full package of questions and answers with Rosetta, but remember that it is important to learn why structures and endings are right or wrong, not just how to answer the questions your iPhone asks you. Self-direction also requires a level of discipline that has a tendency to fade after a few months, so be risk-aware and get some external structure in place (a group class, study group or set date for Skype conversations for example).

Please let me tell you how much I appreciate your visit and you reading this. It's an honour to be trusted to help you out in your language learning project. If you're into this article and interested in hearing from me by email, please consider signing up to my newsletter or following me on Twitter or liking my page on Facebook.

Four Secret Weapons of Practice

Ah, learning, so hardwired into us and yet so difficult! The OED tells us that there are three ways to learn: by study, experience, or being taught. I think there's one thing that they've forgotten. The key ingredient to any new knowledge and skill: practice.

Gets you fit if nothing else.

Gets you fit if nothing else.

I hope that the word "practice" doesn't sound disheartening to you. You're not meant to feel like you are rolling that rock back up the hill endlessly like Sysiphos. To me, effective practice means finding a safe environment to try something you've not tried before and then repeating your new trick until it feels effortless. No doubt this can become more than a bit tedious, but you can cut down on boredom by using a few smart techniques

1) Respect Frustration

Sorry! Hope you didn't think I was going to pretend there's a technique that eliminates irritation. Frustration is an unavoidable part of getting better. If you want to succeed, you need to become very aware of points at which you are frustrated. Perhaps make a little note of what it was that really made you feel stuck. Frustration can be such a killjoy that it's caused more than one great learner to just quit the whole endeavour, and no one really wants that! You have to respect that annoying feeling enough to know when it's not worth fighting against a setback.

No need to abandon the practice session, but you can minimise disappointment by repeating the things you're good at. Just give it a day or two and settle the foundations of what you have learnt, and you will find that problem you were facing before has shifted into perspective while you were away. Take a fresh look at things, perhaps get an expert's view or a new demo to bring back the inspiration, and hopefully you'll be right back on your way. And sometimes, there's nothing but a day off that will help you back onto your tracks.

2) Surprise Yourself

Morning! Time for être in the conditionnel, come on!

Morning! Time for être in the conditionnel, come on!

Mastering a new skill is about becoming so familiar with it that you could do it "in your sleep". I remember our French teacher always talking about how she wants us to be able to rattle down those verb tables even if she wakes us up at 2 in the morning. It's got to get into the head somehow, so make sure that you are really surrounded by your learning material. The easiest way of making this happen in language learning is to write a sentence or two on a sticky note, make 10 copies and stick them everywhere. My favourite places are in the shower (with a plastic wallet), on the bathroom mirror, on the door of your washing machine, in the chocolate drawer and right in the middle of the cork board.

3) Find the Rhythm

The link between music and learning has been explored by researchers and polyglots alike. Music is a very popular teaching tool in kids at primary/nursery school age, but you can also exploit it for your own benefits. If you build a few songs into your learning routine, you'll very soon realise how much more fun it makes it. Don't laugh, but I learnt at least 3 new Russian words from this. You can find examples of musical practice online, for example through Fluency MC or a language hack advocated by Benny Lewis. There are so many advantages to putting music in your learning, for example it makes it more fun, brings you closer to real life use of the target language, helps you remember things through melodies and rhythms and sticks in your head.

4) Get Physical

Movement is another great memory aid because it engages more than one part of your brain. The easiest way you can build this into your learning is to simply sit down with pen and paper (remember my love of the notebook..) and write out those verb tables and vocabulary lists. Maybe write the difficult ones in a different colour, or in capitals. If you want to take it a bit further, why not try and associate the word or sentence with a gesture, like in sign language? It works from "If you're happy and you know it.." to acting out whole bits of dialogue in your book or favourite show.

Get started with really easy exclamations, for example what would you do to illustrate these French expressions:

Au secours!

Je m'écrie! (Je chuchote.)

Je marche.

All of these ideas are designed to help you repeat what it is that you are practising without getting too bored. You may not find that each method works for you, but hopefully you'll have a laugh along the way. It would be great to hear if you guys have found any other ways of building fun repetitions into your learning.

For some other ideas and thoughts, you could these links.

*note use of speechmarks here because I have no clue how that even works