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!)

How to Hack Language Like a Lumberjack (or: What's Your Hacking Hobby?)

As a linguist it's not part of my job to criticize and begrudge the evolving use of language. When words like "selfie" enter the dictionary and half the country of Britain starts calling things awesome, I'm right there. Both teaching and describing language are more about being aware of the words that we use every day and documenting how people communicate. And today I wanted to dive into the deeper meaning of a word that seems to have completely transformed its meaning over recent years. It's language-related, and learning-related too. And to me, it's become about mindset. I often find myself rolling my eyes at this one, but read on to find out more about the original meaning of the word that won't go away: hacking.

From Rough Cuts to Life Tips

Here's what the original meaning of the word hack would have looked like:

Logger

Back in the 20th century, hacking wasn't much more than making tough cuts into wood or meat to take it apart. The word's meaning started its transformation in the 1960s at MIT, first describing different study styles and later taking on the "computer hacker" meaning we all think of these days. As a German speaker, the word "Hack(fleisch)" also evokes a relation to the English "hash"..in the food context), not what you might have been thinking!

The figurative meaning is about disruption and about destroying existing structures. You go in with rough power and take something apart to gain access to what's underneath. In computing, this is how hacking (strictly speaking "password hacking") came to mean cutting through the defences of a network to get at the information protected within.

These days though, it's clear that the idea of hacking has struck a chord with so many people that the word has entered common usage for many of us. You can "hack" anything, with a vague association of "making it easier without too much effort".

The leading examples of stuff that can be hacked seem to be IKEA, life and..language! Here are just a few references

  • To start with the obvious, at least for readers of Fluent, there is the Language Hacking Guide, an ebook by Benny Lewis all about quick ways to learn and use languages
  • There is IKEA Hacking, a practice of taking your tools to flatpack furniture from IKEA in order to make it into the furniture of your dreams
  • Travel Hacking promises to open up the world of travel for people without making them spend a lot of money through the use of airmiles and credit cards.
  • And you may have also seen websites like Lifehacker, sharing tips of varying usefulness about any aspect of making living a little bit easier (here's a classic unnecessary "hack")

Here is a diagram from Google Trends showing how the last three years in particular have been the time of the hacks. In addition to the four leading terms, I did try to add some minor terms as well such as "career hacking", "diet hacking" and "future hacking", but those pale in comparison next to these big things that might need to be hacked:

So, About the Language Hacking Context

The original definition of the term "hack" is an inelegant but effective solution to a specific computing problem.

With this definition in mind, the idea of language hacking will appeal to learners who want to cut time spent studying and maximize time spent talking. We all love bridging a gap with the least effort required. Where the idea of "hacking" in the language context can make sense is when it comes to getting out of books and classroom. I particularly like the idea of making the "language hack" a subversion of what you remember from your own language lessons in school. This is not about repeating pitch-perfect phrases in order to hit a grade, but about going out and making a mistake in order to learn. The thing you're hacking is not the learning method, but the mindset.

While "language hacking" certainly doesn't mean that you'll start uncovering magic secrets of language learning, the attention-grabbing title gives you an idea of taking the unconventional approach. Learning by doing and following an individual path in learning, that's a super valuable message. Maybe it should be called "study hacking", since you're not actually doing much to the language itself.

What Do You Hack?

Personally, I have always thought that the word "hack" is plain ugly. I can't help associating it with axes, pain and brutality, so you're unlikely to see any Fluent Hacking products coming any time soon. And yes, here we can see the stereotypical masculine associations again, right? "Hacking" originates in the tech world (which we know is totally a man's world, even in the 21st century!) and is a word used to demonstrate power and force. The side of me that enjoys the idea of subverting and playing with existing rules rejoices at every life, language and travel hack that I see out there. In other words, I don't like "hacking", but I love creativity.

Some other perspectives: * The Faux Hackers who Hacked the Word Hacking on Vasco * Where Does the Word Hacking Come From? on English Stackexchange

What about you? Ever hacked a language?