12 Rules for Learning Foreign Languages in Record Time — The Only Post You'll Ever Need

Preface by Tim Ferriss

I’ve written about how I learned to speak, read, and write Japanese, Mandarin, and Spanish. I’ve also covered my experiments with German, Indonesian, Arabic, Norwegian, Turkish, and perhaps a dozen others.

There are only few language learners who dazzle me, and Benny Lewis is one of them.

This definitive guest post by Benny will teach you:

  • How to speak your target language today.
  • How to reach fluency and exceed it within a few months.
  • How to pass yourself off as a native speaker.
  • And finally, how to tackle multiple languages to become a “polyglot”—all within a few years, perhaps as little as 1-2.

It contains TONS of amazing resources I never even knew existed, including the best free apps and websites for becoming fluent in record time. Want to find a native speaker to help you for $5 per hour? Free resources and memory tricks? It’s all here.

This is a post you all requested, so I hope you enjoy it!

Enter Benny

You are either born with the language-learning gene, or you aren’t. Luck of the draw, right?  At least, that’s what most people believe.

I think you can stack the deck in your favor. Years ago, I was a language learning dud. The worst in my German class in school, only able to speak English into my twenties, and even after six entire months living in Spain, I could barely muster up the courage to ask where the bathroom was in Spanish.

But this is about the point when I had an epiphany, changed my approach, and then succeeded not only in learning Spanish, but in getting a C2 (Mastery) diploma from the Instituto Cervantes, working as a professional translator in the language, and even being interviewed on the radio in Spanish to give travel tips. Since then, I moved on to other languages, and I can now speak more than a dozen languages to varying degrees between conversational and mastery.

It turns out, there is no language-learning gene, but there are tools and tricks for faster learning…

As a “polyglot”—someone who speaks multiple languages—my world has opened up. I have gained access to people and places that I never otherwise could have reached. I’ve made friends on a train in China through Mandarin, discussed politics with a desert dweller in Egyptian Arabic, discovered the wonders of deaf culture through ASL, invited the (female) president of Ireland to dance in Irish (Gaeilge) and talked about it on live Irish radio, interviewed Peruvian fabric makers about how they work in Quechua, interpreted between Hungarian and Portuguese at a social event… and well, had an extremely interesting decade traveling the world.

Such wonderful experiences are well within the reach of many of you.

Since you may be starting from a similar position to where I was (monolingual adult, checkered history with language learning, no idea where to start), I’m going to outline the tips that worked best for me as I went from zero to polyglot.

This very detailed post should give you everything you need to know.

So, let’s get started!

#1 – Learn the right words, the right way.

Starting a new language means learning new words. Lots of them.

Of course, many people cite a bad memory for learning new vocab, so they quit before even getting started.

But–here’s the key–you absolutely do not need to know all the words of a language to speak it (and in fact, you don’t know all the words of your mother tongue either).

As Tim pointed out in his own post on learning any language in 3 months, you can take advantage of the Pareto principle here, and realize that 20% of the effort you spend on acquiring new vocab could ultimately give you 80% comprehension in a language—for instance, in English just 300 words make up 65% of all written material. We use those words a lot, and that’s the case in every other language as well.

You can find pre-made flash card “decks” of these most frequent words (or words themed for a subject you are more likely to talk about) for studying on the Anki app (available for all computer platforms and smartphones) that you can download instantly. Good flashcard methods implement a spaced repetition system (SRS), which Anki automates. This means that rather than go through the same list of vocabulary in the same order every time, you see words at strategically spaced intervals, just before you would forget them.

Tim himself likes to use color-coded physical flashcards; some he purchases from Vis-Ed, others he makes himself. He showed me an example when I interviewed him about how he learns languages in the below video.

Though this entire video can give you great insight into Tim’s language learning approach, the part relevant to this point is at 27:40 (full transcript here).


#2 – Learn cognates: your friend in every single language.

Believe it or not, you already—right now—have a huge head start in your target language. With language learning you always know at least some words before you ever begin. Starting a language “from scratch” is essentially impossible because of the vast amount of words you know already through cognates.

Cognates are “true friends” of words you recognize from your native language that mean the same thing in another language.

For instance, Romance languages like French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and others have many words in common with English. English initially “borrowed them” from the Norman conquest of England, which lasted several hundreds of years. Action, nation, precipitation, solution, frustration, tradition, communication, extinction, and thousands of other -tion words are spelled exactly the same in French, and you can quickly get used to the different pronunciation. Change that -tion to a -ción and you have the same words in Spanish. Italian is -zione and Portuguese is -ção.

Many languages also have words that share a common (Greek/Latin or other) root, which can be spelled slightly differently, but that you’d have to try hard not to recognize, such as exemple, hélicoptère (Fr), porto, capitano (Italian) astronomía, and Saturno (Spanish). German goes a step further and has many words from English’s past that it shares.

To find common words with the language you are learning, simply search for “[language name] cognates” or “[language name] English loan words” to see words they borrowed from us, and finally “[language name] words in English” to see words we borrowed from them.

That’s all well and good for European languages, but what about more distant ones?…

Well, it turns out that even languages as different as Japanese can have heaps of very familiar vocabulary. To show you what I mean, have a listen to this song (to the tune of Animaniac’s “Nations of the World”), which is sung entirely in Japanese, and yet you should understand pretty much everything that I and the other Japanese learners are singing:


This is because many languages simply borrow English words and integrate them into the new language with altered pronunciation or stress.

So to make my life easy when I start learning a language, one of the first word lists I try to consume is a list of “cognates,” or “English loan words,” which can be found quickly for pretty much any language.

#3 – Interact in your language daily without traveling.

Another reason (or excuse, depending on how you look at it) people cite for not learning languages is that they can’t visit a country where it’s a native language.  No time, no money, etc.

Take it from me—there is nothing “in the air” in another country that will magically make you able to speak their language.  I’ve done a lot of experiments to prove this (e.g. learning Arabic while living in Brazil).

I’ve met countless expats who lived abroad for years without learning the local language. Living abroad and being immersed is not the same thing. If you need to hear and use a language consistently to be immersed, can’t virtual immersion be just as effective? Of course. Technology makes it possible for immersion to come to you, and you don’t even have to buy a plane ticket.

To hear the language consistently spoken, you can check out TuneIn.com for a vast selection of live-streamed radio from your country of choice. The app (free) also has a list of streamed radio stations ordered by language.

To watch the language consistently, see what’s trending on Youtube in that country right now. Go to that country’s equivalent URL for Amazon or Ebay (amazon.es, amazon.fr, amazon.co.jp, etc.) and buy your favorite TV series dubbed in that language, or get a local equivalent by seeing what’s on the top charts. You may be able to save shipping costs if you can find one locally that includes dubbing in the appropriate language. Various news stations also have plenty of video content online in specific languages, such as France24, Deutsche Welle, CNN Español, and many others.

To read the language consistently, in addition to the news sites listed above, you can find cool blogs and other popular sites on Alexa’s ranking of top sites per country.

And if full-on immersion isn’t your thing yet, there’s even a plugin for Chrome that eases you into the language by translating some parts of the sites you normally read in English, to sprinkle the odd word into your otherwise English reading.

#4 – Skype today for daily spoken practice.

So you’ve been listening to, watching, and even reading in your target language—and all in the comfort of your own home. Now it’s time for the big one: speaking it live with a native.

One of my more controversial pieces of advice, but one that I absolutely insist on when I advise beginners, is that you must speak the language right away if your goals in the target language involve speaking it.

Most traditional approaches or language systems don’t work this way, and I think that’s where they let their students down.  I say, there are seven days in a week and “some day” is not one of them.

Here’s what I suggest instead:

Use the pointers I’ve given above to learn some basic vocabulary, and be aware of some words you already know. Do this for a few hours, and then set up an exchange with a native speaker—someone who has spoken that language their whole life. You only have to learn a little for your first conversation, but if you use it immediately, you’ll see what’s missing and can add on from there. You can’t study in isolation until you are vaguely “ready” for interaction.

In those first few hours, I’d recommend learning some pleasantries such as “Hello,” “Thank you,” “Could you repeat that?” or “I don’t understand,” many of which you will find listed out here for most languages.

But wait—where do you find a native speaker if you aren’t in the country that speaks that language?

No problem! Thousands of native speakers are ready and waiting for you to talk to them right now. You can get private lessons for peanuts by taking advantage of currency differences. My favorite site for finding natives is italki.com (connect with my profile here), where I’ve gotten both Chinese and Japanese one-on-one Skype-based lessons for just $5 an hour.

If you still think you wouldn’t be ready on day one, then consider this: starting on Skype allows you to ease yourself in gently by having another window (or application, like Word) open during your conversation, already loaded with key words that you can use for quick reference until you internalize them. You can even reference Google Translate or a dictionary for that language while you chat, so you can learn new words as you go, when you need them.

Is this “cheating”? No. The goal is to learn to be functional, not to imitate old traditional methods. I’ve used the above shortcuts myself, and after learning Polish for just one hour for a trip to Warsaw to speak at TEDx about language learning, I was able to hold up a conversation (incredibly basic as it was) in Polish for an entire half hour.

I consider that a win.


#5 – Save your money. The best resources are free.

Other than paying for the undivided attention of a native speaker, I don’t see why you’d need to spend hundreds of dollars on anything in language learning. I’ve tried Rosetta Stone myself and wasn’t impressed.

But there is great stuff out there. A wonderful and completely free course that keeps getting better is DuoLingo – which I highly recommend for its selection of European languages currently on offer, with more on the way. To really get you started on the many options available to help you learn your language without spending a penny, let me offer plenty of other (good) alternatives:

You really do have plenty of options when it comes to free resources, so I suggest you try out several and see which ones work well for you. The aforementioned italki is great for language exchanges and lessons, but My Language Exchange and Interpals are two other options. You can take it offline and see about language related meet-ups in your city through The Polyglot Club, or the meet-ups pages on Couchsurfing, meetup.com, and Internations. These meet-ups are also great opportunities to meet an international crowd of fellow language learning enthusiasts, as well as native speakers of your target language, for practice.

But wait, there’s more. You can get further completely free language help on:

  • The huge database on Forvo, to hear any word or small expression in many languages read aloud by a native of the language
  • Rhinospike to make requests of specific phrases you’d like to hear pronounced by a native speaker. If you can’t find something on either of these sites, Google Translate has a text-to-speech option for many languages.
  • Lang 8 to receive free written corrections.

The possibilities for free practice are endless.

#6 – Realize that adults are actually better language learners than kids.

Now that you’re armed with a ton of resources to get started, let’s tackle the biggest problem. Not grammar, not vocabulary, not a lack of resources, but handicapping misconceptions about your own learning potential.

The most common “I give up” misconception is: I’m too old to become fluent.

I’m glad to be the bearer of good news and tell you that research has confirmed that adults can be better language learners than kids. This study at the University of Haifa has found that under the right circumstances, adults show an intuition for unexplained grammar rules better than their younger counterparts. [Note from Tim: This is corroborated by the book In Other Words and work by Hakuta.]

Also, no study has ever shown any direct correlation between reduced language acquisition skill and increased age. There is only a general downward trend in language acquisition in adults, which is probably more dependent on environmental factors that can be changed (e.g. long job hours that crowd out study time). Something my friend Khatzumoto (alljapaneseallthetime.com) once said that I liked was, “Babies aren’t better language learners than you; they just have no escape routes.”

As adults, the good news is that we can emulate the immersion environment without having to travel, spend a lot of money, or revert back to childhood.

#7 – Expand your vocabulary with mnemonics.

Rote repetition isn’t enough.

And while it’s true that repeated exposure sometimes burns a word into your memory, it can be frustrating to forget a word that you’ve already heard a dozen times.

For this, I suggest coming up with mnemonics about your target word, which helps glue the word to your memory way more effectively. Basically, you tell yourself a funny, silly, or otherwise memorable story to associate with a particular word. You can come up with the mnemonic yourself, but a wonderful (and free) resource that I highly recommend is memrise.com.

For instance, let’s say you are learning Spanish and can’t seem to remember that “caber” means “to fit,” no matter how many times you see it. Why not come up with a clever association like the following one I found on Memrise:

This [caber -> cab, bear -> fitting a bear in a cab] association makes remembering the word a cinch.

It may sound like a lengthy process, but try it a few times, and you’ll quickly realize why it’s so effective. And you’ll only need to recall this hook a couple of times, and then you can ditch it when the word becomes a natural part of your ability to use the language quickly.

#8 – Embrace mistakes.

Over half of the planet speaks more than one language.

This means that monolingualism is a cultural, not a biological, consequence. So when adults (at least in the English speaking world) fail at language learning, it’s not because they don’t have the right genes or other such nonsense. It’s because the system they have used to learn languages is broken.

Traditional teaching methods treat language learning just like any other academic subject, based on an approach that has barely changed since the days when Charles Dickens was learning Latin. The differences between your native language (L1) and your target language (L2) are presented as vocabulary and grammar rules to memorize. The traditional idea: know them “all” and you know the language. It seems logical enough, right?

The problem is that you can’t ever truly “learn” a language, you get used to it. It’s not a thing that you know or don’t know; it’s a means of communication between human beings. Languages should not be acquired by rote alone—they need to be used.

The way you do this as a beginner is to use everything you do know with emphasis on communication rather than on perfection. This is the pivotal difference. Sure, you could wait until you are ready to say “Excuse me kind sir, could you direct me to the nearest bathroom?” but “Bathroom where?” actually conveys the same essential information, only removing superfluous pleasantries. You will be forgiven for this directness, because it’s always obvious that you are a learner.

Don’t worry about upsetting native speakers for being so “bold” as to speak to them in their own language.

One of the best things you can do in the initial stages is not to try to get everything perfect, but to embrace making mistakes. I go out of my way to make at least 200 mistakes a day! This way I know I am truly using and practicing the language.

[TIM: I actually view part of my role as that of comedian or court jester–to make native speakers chuckle at my Tarzan speak. If you make people smile, it will make you popular, which will make you enthusiastic to continue.]

#9 – Create SMART goals.

Another failing of most learning approaches is a poorly defined end-goal.

We tend to have New Year’s Resolutions along the lines of “Learn Spanish,” but how do you know when you’ve succeeded? If this is your goal, how can you know when you’ve reached it?

Vague end goals like this are endless pits (e.g. “I’m not ready yet, because I haven’t learned the entire language”).

S.M.A.R.T. goals on the other hand are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

To start developing your SMART goal in a language, I highly recommend you become somewhat familiar with the European Common Framework that defines language levels. This framework provides you with a way of setting specific language goals and measuring your own progress.

In brief, A means beginner, B means intermediate, and C means advanced, and each level is broken up into lower (1) and upper (2) categories. So an upper beginner speaker is A2, and a lower advanced speaker is C1. As well as being Specific, these levels are absolutely Measurable because officially recognized institutions can test you on them and provide diplomas (no course enrollment necessary) in German, French, Spanish, Irish, and each other official European language. While the same scale is not used, you can also get tested in a similar way in Chinese and Japanese.

So what do you aim for? And what do words like “fluency” and “mastery” mean on a practical level?

I’ve talked to many people to try to pinpoint the never-agreed-upon understanding of “fluency,” and I’ve found that it tends to average out around the B2 level (upper intermediate). This effectively means that you have “social equivalency” with your native language, which means that you can live in your target language in social situations in much the same way that you would in your native language, such as casual chats with friends in a bar, asking what people did over the weekend, sharing your aspirations and relating to people.

Since we are being specific, it’s also important to point out that this does not require that you can work professionally in a language (in my case, as an engineer or public speaker, for instance). That would be mastery level (generally C2).

Though I’ve reached the C2 stage myself in French, Spanish and am close to it in other languages, realistically I only really need to be socially equivalent in a language I want to communicate in. I don’t need to work in other languages.  It’s essential that you keep your priorities clear to avoid frustration.  Most of the time, just target B2.

To make your specific goal Attainable, you can break it down further. For example, I’ve found that the fluency (B2) level can be achieved in a matter of months, as long as you are focused on the spoken aspect.

In phonetic languages (like most European ones), you can actually learn to read along with speaking, so you get this effectively for free. But realistically, we tend to write emails and text messages—not essays—on a day-to-day basis (unless you are a writer by trade, and you may not have those goals with your L2). Focusing on speaking and listening (and maybe reading) makes fluency in a few months much more realistic.

Finally, to make your project Time-bound, I highly recommend a short end-point of a few months.

Keeping it a year or more away is far too distant, and your plans may as well be unbound at that point. Three months has worked great for me, but 6 weeks or 4 months could be your ideal point. Pick a definite point in the not too distant future (summer vacation, your birthday, when a family member will visit), aim to reach your target by this time, and work your ass off to make it happen.

To help you be smarter with your goals, make sure to track your progress and use an app like Lift to track completing daily essential tasks.

You can join the Lift plan for language learning that I wrote for their users here.

#10 – Jump from Conversational (B1) to Mastery (C2).

The way I reach spoken fluency quickly is to get a hell of a lot of spoken practice.

From day one to day 90 (and beyond), I speak at least an hour a day in my L2, and my study time is tailored around the spoken sessions to make sure that my conversation is what’s improving—not just my “general language skills” through some vague list of words I may never use.

So, for instance, I may start a session by asking what my native friend or teacher did over the weekend, and tell them what I did. Then I will share something that is on my mind lately and attempt to express my opinion on it, or allow the native speaker to introduce a new topic. It’s important to take an active role and make sure you are having varied conversations. Have a list of topics you would like to discuss and bring them up (your hobbies, hopes for the future, dislikes, what you will do on your vacation etc.) and make sure the conversation is constantly progressing.

Lots of practice and study to improve those spoken sessions tends to get me to lower intermediate (B1) level, which means I can understand the other person speaking to me fine as long as they are willing to speak clearly and adjust to my level and mistakes. It’s a LOT of work, mind you! On typical learning days I can be filled with frustration or feel like my brain is melting when–in fact–I’m truly making a lot of progress.

But the work is totally worth it when you have your first successful conversation with a native speaker. You’ll be thrilled beyond belief.

To see what this B1 level looks like, check out these videos of me chatting to a native in Arabic (in person with my italki teacher!), and in Mandarin with my friend Yangyang about how she got into working as a TV show host:



At this level, I still make plenty of mistakes of course, but they don’t hinder communication too much.

But to get over that plateau of just “good enough,” this is the point where I tend to return to academic material and grammar books, to tidy up what I have. I find I understand the grammar much better once I’m already speaking the language. This approach really works for me, but there is no one best language-learning approach. For instance, Tim has had great success by grammatically deconstructing a language right from the start. Your approach will depend entirely on your personality.

After lots of exercises to tidy up my mistakes at the B1 level, I find that I can break into B2.

At the B2 stage you can really have fun in the language! You can socialize and have any typical conversation that you’d like.

To get into the mastery C1/C2 levels though, the requirements are very different. You’ll have to start reading newspapers, technical blog posts, or other articles that won’t exactly be “light reading.”

To get this high-level practice, I’ve subscribed to newspapers on my Kindle that I try to read every day from various major news outlets around the world. Here are the top newspapers in Europe, South America and Asia. After reading up on various topics, I like to get an experienced professional (and ideally pedantic) teacher to grill me on the topic, to force me out of my comfort zone, and make sure I’m using precisely the right words, rather than simply making myself understood.

To show you what a higher level looks like, here is a chat I had with my Quebec Couchsurfer about the fascinating cultural and linguistic differences between Quebec and France (I would have been at a C1 level at this stage):


Reaching the C2 level can be extremely difficult.

For instance, I sat a C2 exam in German, and managed to hold my ground for the oral component, when I had to talk about deforestation for ten minutes, but I failed the exam on the listening component, showing me that I needed to be focused and pay attention to complicated radio interviews or podcasts at that level if I wanted to pass the exam in future.

#11 – Learn to sound more native.

At C2, you are as good as a native speaker in how you can work and interact in the language, but you may still have an accent and make the odd mistake.

I have been mistaken for a native speaker of my L2 several times (in Spanish, French and Portuguese – including when I was still at the B2/fluent level), and I can say that it’s a lot less related to your language level, and more related to two other factors.

First, your accent/intonation

Accent is obvious; if you can’t roll your R in Spanish you will be recognized as a foreigner instantly.

Your tongue muscles are not set in their ways forever, and you can learn the very few new sounds that your L2 requires that you learn. Time with a native, a good Youtube video explaining the sounds, and practice for a few hours may be all that you need!

What is much more important, but often overlooked, is intonation—the pitch, rise, fall, and stress of your words. When I was writing my book, I interviewed fellow polyglot Luca who is very effective in adapting a convincing accent in his target languages. For this, intonation is pivotal.

Luca trains himself from the very start to mimic the musicality and rhythm of a language’s natives by visualizing the sentences. For instance, if you really listen to it, the word “France” sounds different in “I want to go to France” (downward intonation) and “France is a beautiful country (intonation raising upwards). When you repeat sentences in your L2, you have to mimic the musicality of them.

My own French teacher pointed out a mistake I was making along these same lines.

I was trying to raise my intonation before pauses, which is a feature of French that occurs much more frequently than in English, but I was overdoing it and applying it to the ends of sentences as well. This made my sentences sound incomplete, and when my teacher trained me to stop doing this, I was told that I sounded way more French.

You can make these changes by focusing on the sounds of a language rather than just on the words.

Truly listen to and and mimic audio from natives, have them correct your biggest mistakes and drill the mistakes out of you. I had an accent trainer show me how this worked, and I found out some fascinating differences between my own Irish accent and American accents in the process! To see for yourself how the process works, check out the second half of this post with Soundcloud samples.

Second, walk like an Egyptian

The second factor that influences whether or not you could be confused for a native speaker, involves working on your social and cultural integration. This is often overlooked, but has made a world of difference to me, even in my early stages of speaking several languages.

For instance, when I first arrived in Egypt with lower intermediate Egyptian Arabic, I was disheartened that most people would speak English to me (in Cairo) before I even had a chance for my Arabic to shine. It’s easy to say that I’m too white to ever be confused for an Egyptian, but there’s more to it than that.

They took one look at me, saw how foreign I obviously was, and this overshadowed what language I was actually speaking to them.

To get around this problem, I sat down at a busy pedestrian intersection with a pen and paper and made a note of everything that made Egyptian men about my age different from me. How they walked, how they used their hands, the clothing they wore, their facial expressions, the volume they’d speak at, how they’d groom themselves, and much more. I found that I needed to let some stubble grow out, ditch my bright light clothes for darker and heavy ones (despite the temperature), exchange my trainers for dull black shoes, ditch my hat (I never saw anyone with hats), walk much more confidently, and change my facial expressions.

The transformation was incredible! Every single person for the rest of my time in Egypt would start speaking to me in Arabic, including in touristy parts of town where they spoke excellent English and would be well used to spotting tourists. This transformation allowed me to walk from the Nile to the Pyramids without any hassle from touts and make the experience all about the fascinating people I met.

Try it yourself, and you’ll see what I mean—once you start paying attention, the physical social differences will become easy to spot.

You can observe people directly, or watch videos of natives you’d like to emulate from a target country. Really try to analyze everything that someone of your age and gender is doing, and see if you can mimic it next time you are speaking.

Imitation is, after all, the most sincere form of flattery!

#12 – Become a polyglot.

This post has been an extremely detailed look at starting off and trying to reach mastery in a foreign language (and even passing yourself off as a native of that country).

If your ultimate goal is to speak multiple languages, you can repeat this process over multiple times, but I highly recommend you focus on one language at a time until you reach at least the intermediate level. Take each language one by one, until you reach a stage where you know you can confidently use it. And then you may just be ready for the next ones!

While you can do a lot in a few months, if you want to speak a language for the rest of your life it requires constant practice, improvement, and living your life through it as often as you can. But the good news is — once you reach fluency in a language, it tends to stick with you pretty well.

Also, keep in mind that while the tips in this article are an excellent place to start, there is a huge community of “polyglots” online willing to offer you their own encouragement as well. A bunch of us came together in this remix, “Skype me Maybe.”


I share several more stories about these polyglots and dive into much greater detail about how to learn languages in my newly released book Fluent in 3 Months. Grab a copy, or check out my site for inspiration to start your adventure in becoming fluent in a new language—or several.



Question of the Day: What tools or approaches have you used for learning languages? Please share in the comments!

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with over 500 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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387 Replies to “12 Rules for Learning Foreign Languages in Record Time — The Only Post You'll Ever Need”

  1. Benny is always the most outgoing guy at every conference I’ve seen him at … I think that (talking to EVERYONE, especially in a foreign country) helps a lot too!

    Congrats on this guest post, Benny.

    1. Thanks Matt! 🙂 I was actually quite shy when I was younger – language learning has made me more outgoing. I’d highly recommend it to people who want to get out of their shell!

      Hope to run into you again asap!

    1. I agree. I just started using Talking Glass, a video language exchange website. It’s really cool for learning!

      [Moderator: link removed]

  2. Benny is one of the many language learners that consistently wow me as well. He’s always so eager to get down the basics so that he can start to converse with others, and once he does, he seems to really soar upward and beyond. I’ve read many of his posts and taken much of his advice. A solid guy indeed when it comes to how to learn a foreign language.

  3. Can’t believe my eyes. Today I watched your Skype interview with Benny and thought: “how cool would it be to see some of his stuff on the blog”.

    Great stuff! What I like the most about Benny is that he is so genuine in his approach. I bet that this post is gonna get 700+ comments 🙂

    Thanks for posting guys!

    1. 700+ comments? Looks like I have my work cut out for me if I’m to keep up and try to reply to as many as I can 😉

      Glad you got to see me and Tim join forces again! I loved finding out during our Skype call how much we share in common in language learning philosophies.

      1. So true, I’d love to see a fresh video with both of you! Personally, I believe that the main factor stopping people from embracing a new language is FEAR. I really like your approach of speaking from day 1. This is the key. Actually, I wanted to show you a yt video (in Spanish) where I recommend the 4HWW and explain how I learnt Spanish in only 2 months. Hope it will not come across as spammy;) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rB-bgMixT_s

        All the best and keep building great content.

  4. This is an amazing pillar article Benny, as a big fan of yours I was course already aware of many of the resources in the post, but writing them up like this not only links many of the aspects of language learning together, it also motivates me like crazy to keep working hard. Currently I’m on Russian (4th language) but aiming high like yourself!

    Congratulations on your book launch as well!

    1. You know you are doing something right, when other experienced learners agree they would share the same links. The trick is using big platforms like Tim’s great blog to bring those tools to a wider audience. Yes, keep working hard!!

      And thanks for the book well wishes! Hopefully this blog post inspires a few more people to check it out!

  5. This is a great post, Benny is very impressive and an inspiration.

    I’m trying to implement some of the points mentioned in a project that just started:


    The idea is to combine learning a language with a passion or hobby. Learn Spanish through Salsa, French by cooking and such. It’s explained more thoroughly on the site.

    That way you learn the vocabulary you need, get to practice in a natural environment and get to play around. Having fun should be a more popular goal while learning.

    Another thing is that face-to-face will beat online lessons and resources every time in my opinion. You simply can’t replace the experience of having a human being to interact with right in front of you.

    If you do decide to check out the site, I would really appreciate some feedback and suggestions. Don’t know if this can be my muse someday, but I definitely want to spread some love through the platform.

  6. This was awesome- alot of these tricks helped me when I was relearning my native language (Bengali) and also with Japanese. I remember joking with my friends when they found out I was a polyglot that- “It’s not that big of a deal, all it means is that I’m now socially awkward in 4 languages”

  7. Hey Tim,

    This is a little off-topic but the email notices I get when there’s a new post from you always have “WordPress.com” as the sender name. Just thought I’d let you know in case that wasn’t your intention.


  8. In one of the first sentences from benny, it says “In think” instead of “I think.” For someone talking about languages you might wanna fix it haha 😉

    1. I was in Spain for 6 whole months speaking English all the time before I changed my approach, and look at me now! It’s never too late 😉

      The last line of my book is a Chinese proverb, relevant to your situation: “The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The second best time is now”

  9. In med school we rely on Anki a lot to retain lots of information that has to be regurgitated in 2-3 month period and then on the boards in a few years, so spaced repetition is a key to success. http://www.supermemo.com is is great resource on that.

    In learning the languages, I find it more difficult to understand the native speakers. When I came from Russia to the US 10 years ago, I could speak English perfectly but when people would talk back to me, I had no idea what they were saying. I find similar difficulties with Spanish. I speak ok, but again, I don’t always understand native people and to improve that, I need a lot more time to practice listening.

    1. Spaced repetition is also popular learning system in med school where I live. I have also used it with languages with good results. For me, spaced repetition has often been a tool that I use to learn and remember stuff for an exam, but not more long term than that. Anki is great, but recently I have been using http://www.memomash.com/ I think it has the best usability and I can easily use the same cards with my phone and my laptop.

  10. This post is fantastic. Thank you for all of this information and the links. Learning a new language has been a dangling carrot for me for several years now, and I appreciate you mentioning the SMART method to help me pull focus and be more results-oriented while still remembering to have FUN! Learning a language doesn’t have to be – and shouldn’t be – a chore, right? 😉

      1. You sir are amazing, i am visiting my friends in Monaco and Spain next year, my goal is to learn Portuguese before my flight, is it true that if you learn Portuguese, its easy to learn Spanish and French?

  11. Amazing resource for learn languages, there are a LOT of goog resources and also they are FREE! I worked as a salesperson for an english online course and people sometimes doesn’t learn english in an effective way.

  12. The coming together of two worlds! Benny and Tim! Thank you for the great guest post Benny!

    Huge tip – “You will be forgiven for this directness, because it’s always obvious that you are a learner”. I’ve found sounding like a moron isn’t a big deal if the right intention is there. It seems people are more than happy to help you out when you’re trying. Thank you for the time you both put into this post!

  13. I am one of those people who struggle with language, and just assume I suck at it, but I love this article because it has so many ways to learn and is a total confidence booster. I’ve been trying to learn Spanish, because my husband is Colombian, and after almost 2 years living there my Spanish still sucks.

    I recently discovered Duolingo and love it. It’s like a video game so I get really involved with not ‘dying’ (losing all my hearts). But I’ve never heard of some of the other resources like Anki. I just downloaded it to my phone with some flashcards and love it.

    I totally put this article to post on my social media and bookmarked it. (I am aware how much that phrase sounds like a spam comment) but it’s true. It’s awesome to learn that someone else who thought they sucked at language and thought they just didn’t have the talent for them is more multilingual. Thanks for the confidence boost and great resources!

  14. Along the lines of virtual immersion Benny talked about, one fun way for me to explore foreign languages has been singing along to songs in the target language. This can be done with or without the lyrics in front of you, or more advanced: Find the Karaoke version of the same song.

    The nice thing is, you really don’t need any background in the language at all, so you could start doing this immediately. It’s very enjoyable since with very little practice it’ll sound to you like you’re pronouncing words like a native, even if you don’t understand the lyrics.

    This concept is not limited to songs. Pick your favorite movie (one you’d watch over and over again without getting tired of it), and watch it in your target language. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it so much, you’ll become motivated to memorize certain lines or quotes.

  15. Empathizing with Gulnara .. Took French for a while in grade school/college. Can speak it decently, but listening .. sometimes, can’t understand a word that’s being said to me (usually in person), other times, catching it perfectly (usually watching on TV).

    Tim, I challenge thee to speak Yoruba .. always impressed to see examples such as: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk1aPBazfjo | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d40MFeN6HYM

    … very heavy on intonation, a very sing-song-type language. One’s mindset has to switch to speak it right.

    In learning languages (for example, when listening to my parents speak Yoruba) I try to focus not just on vocab, but also …

    (1) memorizing popular/useful go-to phrases

    (2) transitions between concepts — always struggled with bridging my sentence parts smoothly (I guess it’s mostly prepositions)

    (3) later on … verb-noun conjugation, to make it sound better

  16. Loved reading this article. The video tutorials here are very informative as well. Its true that adults are actually better language learners than kids. But, when you are a kid you can be a quick learner as well 😉

    1. Absolutely! Both adults and kids have their own advantages. Adults need to be more pro-active, but can process things like grammar rules way better, and kids can absorb naturally quicker, since they don’t have any other language to fall back on. Although whether that is inherent to being a kid, or a consequence of having “no escape route” could be up for debate.

      But I’ve seen kids learn remarkably quickly, even at the age of 6 starting a second language. I like it when ANYONE regardless of age learns a language 😉

  17. I think its worth mentioning that people who already speak the language you are learning- especially native speakers- are OVERJOYED to help you out, anytime, anywhere. I am learning mandarin (inspired by 4 hour chef, although I’m still a beginner:A1), and I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve sat down on the train next to a Chinese speaker, opened up my vocabulary sheets to practice, and they have (unsolicited) asked ‘oh, are you learning Chinese?’, and started helping me. Just being at a school or job or something similar with a few native speakers can instantly give you several casual tutors.

  18. One way that many people here in Romania learned the English language was from TV. When you watch subtitled movies it is easy to become very good in a different language even if you don’t pay the effort.

    I personally like to listen to people speaking in Spanish in youtube videos right now, which I know it will help me become more familiar with the pronunciation in this language. This should be done when you’re already a good speaker in the targeted language.

  19. This is great. Now I have to decide which to learn first, Spanish or Portuguese.

    Told myself I want to visit Brazil and possibly travel a bit more this year so learning a new language is key.

  20. Awesome post Benny.

    Since we spend months in Thailand every year, I’ve really been wanting to learn the language but has been putting it off as too difficult (other than a few casual phrases that mostly have to do with ordering beer ;)).

    Hope to see you again sometime (doesn’t have to be an Indian place in Berlin though ;))


  21. OK, this was an interesting post with some really good advice, but number #6 – Realize that adults are actually better language learners than kids – is just delusional. One of the most researched areas in second language acquisition is the critical/sensitive period for learning language. After a certain age, supposed to be around the beginning of puberty, children begin to lose the innate faculty to acquire syntax and phonology like a native. It is not something that we retain throughout our entire lives. It is practically impossible to learn a language to a native-like level after the critical period and it is almost never attested to. Even if you put in the hours and live in the country of the target language, you might be an excellent speaker but as I said, you won’t achieve native-like ability. And saying that adults are actually BETTER than children at learning language is like saying that adults are better than children at going through puberty, or children are better at going through menopause. It’s a biological endowment that we lose. For example, a child at age 5 will, more or less, have acquired all of the syntactic and phonetic structures in their L1. You average adult L2 learner after receiving the same number of hours of exposure won’t be even close.

    So I like the positive attitude that you have, but let’s not let it drive us to believe outright silliness. Referencing one article is not going to outweigh decades of peer-reviewed research that say the exact opposite of what you’re proposing

    1. OK, the article that Benny referenced uses an experiment with children older than 8! And also, it was a low exposure environment and all they had to do was learn one new grammar rule. Yes, in this case then older children will learn faster than young children and adults will learn faster than both. A lot of research has also been done in acquisition in low exposure environments, say 2 hours or less per week, and older children and adults do outperform younger children. But increase the number of hours of exposure up to an immersion setting, and it’s not even a contest. Younger children will achieve close to mastery and adults will not.

      If Benny had written something like “adults are better language learners than children in situation where input is kept very low and constant” then that would be OK, but the line that children are better language learners than adults in general, is flat out wrong and misleading

      1. What decades of peer reviewed research are you referring to? You didn’t post any.

        Sounds like you’re attached to an idea to excuse your own lack of success in acquiring another language

        1. I have a Masters in linguistics and second language acquisition and have read a lot about the effects of age on language acquisition, either L1 or L2 or L3…etc. The fact that the brain has a special faculty for learning language that decays over time has been long established. You can’t get away from it in the literature and it is constantly referenced. Chomsky actually said that saying that children learn language is incorrect. A better word is that language “grows”, meaning that children learn languages whether they want to or not. All the need is some input. They don’t require correction or any instruction. But after adolescence we don’t learn languages so easily. Just being exposed to input is not enough for you to acquire the language.

          If you are a student and have access to academic databases, you can just go to ProQuest or Science Direct or any other platform and do a search for “L2 critical period” or “age effects on L2 acquisition” or something similar and get literally thousands of articles.

          A good place to start could be Krashen et al. (1979). Age, Rate and Eventual Attainment in Second Language Acquisition. TESOL Quarterly.

          Tahta, S., Wood, M. & Loewnthal, K. (1981b). Age changes in the ability to replicate foreign pronunciation and intonation. Language and Speech , 24

          If you can get to a university library, you could check out:

          Birdsong (1999). Second Language Acquisition and the Critical Period Hypothesis.

          García Mayo, M.P. & García Lecumberri, M. L. (eds.). (2003). Age and the Acquisition of English as a Foreign Language. (this book references tons of research on the critical period, especially in phonology and syntax)

          Lenneberg, E. (1967 ). Biological Foundations of Language , New York: Wiley and Sons. (this is quite old but Lenneberg was one of the first to suggest that language learning ability decreases with age. He actually conducted experiments with birds kept in confinement for 3 months after they had hatched. Even after this period, they couldn’t properly mimic the calls of their parents and siblings)

          You should also look at research done with feral and abused children who were kept in confinement. Their parents never spoke to them growing up and even after they were rescued and put into care, they never learned to speak properly. They had passes the age at which they could learn their L1 properly. Google or Youtube the case of “Genie”

          Also, look into “fossilisation”. It basically means that after a certain age, our errors become more difficult to correct and that even with repeated, explicit correct, the mistake will persist. This is most noticeable is phonology, for example the Henry Kissinger and Joseph Conrad effects. For fossilisation in grammar, check:

          Lardiere, D. 1998a: Case and Tesne in The Fossilised Steady State. Second Language Research 14

          In sum, I’m not saying that learning a language into adulthood is a fools errand. I’m a language learner. I love it and I hope to always be one. And it’s not that I’m claiming that what Benny does isn’t impressive. It very obviously is. The links he gives are very helpful and his motivation to learn and encourage others to learn is inspiring. But there’s no point telling people things that aren’t true and encouraging wishful thinking and unrealistic expectations for the sake of making them feel good or to help him sell his books.

        2. “Also, no study has ever shown any direct correlation between reduced language acquisition skill and increased age”.

          Seriously Benny, you don’t want to walk back this statement even slightly? It’s pure nonsense and is the exact opposite to what the research literature tells us. The correlation is there, and it’s very strong.

          Have a read of The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. It’s a great book and he outlines the research quite nicely

      2. Thank you for speaking up about this. I am all for people of any age, older or younger, getting encouragement in a language but falsifying facts really irks me, especially when it’s done just to sell something. Great backing up of facts as well. I am interested in getting a Master’s in linguistics myself, I’m about to graduate with a bachelor’s in Asian studies.

        I like that the author acknowledged what you said, but he also didn’t edit the post to include the proven research. Maybe that might be appropriate Mr. Lewis? You wouldn’t want to present falsities in a blog that is supposed to affect people’s lives in the real world. Especially if you’re going to be selling it in book form. Just put in the facts and keep the encouragement bit 🙂

        I’m glad you said something Scott otherwise I would felt obliged to point it out, haha.

        1. It’s not as simple as “falsifying facts”. There is considerable disagreement about language acquisition in both children and adults, and so long as Benny presents it as his POV, I don’t see any dishonesty here. Remember that not so long ago the consensus among linguists was that we were hard-wired with a complex set of rules known as transformational grammar; now nobody believes there is such a thing (not even Chomsky). Krashen, who is cited by Scott, did considerable damage to the teaching of second languages with the dogma “learning never becomes acquisition.” (Once in a while I come across a sad, wandering soul repeating this like a mantra.) To the extent that there’s a consensus on childhood vs. adult language acquisition, it’s “Children learn some things more easily than adults; adults learn some things more easily than children.”

      3. Thanks for the references Scott. I think the distinction worth noting here (without putting words in Benny’s mouth) is that people generally recognize the fact that there is a sensitive period of language development and then use that as an excuse to not learn a new language. I’ve even picked that up belief myself — it seems quite pervasive.

        It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if the research showed that adults are better at learning languages the way that adults ordinarily go about acquiring a second language. That is by way of books, audio materials etc… Methods of acquisition would differ with age I would guess. Not aware of research that makes this concrete however.

      4. All of those sources are too old to even be used in research. If I wrote a paper in any of my fields (microbio, cognitive psych (yup, the people who study learning), and nursing) with sources that old, my bibliography would be covered in red marks, and my score would be a big fat red F.

    2. Hey Scott, you’re on to a loser here. Research? Masters in Linguistics and SLA? These things are not wanted here. All that people want to read here is “you can learn to do anything in under 6 weeks and be perfect at it, yeah, woooo”.

      And – a separate issue – let’s say you become super-native-fluent in 25 languages…how are you going to find the time to use them all, other than to boast about it on a blog?

  22. Great article, one of the most in depth ‘how to’ guides to get started I have seen.

    One thing Benny left out, is the website http://www.lingq.com which is designed to quickly build up your vocabulary and reading/listening skills.

    For proof of how quickly an adult can learn a language and sound ‘native’ check out the actress Noomi Rapace and how she learnt English in her twenties.

  23. Great article, one of the most in depth ‘how to’ guides to get started I have seen.

    One thing Benny left out, is the website ‘LingQ’ which is designed to quickly build up your vocabulary and reading/listening skills.

    For proof of how quickly an adult can learn a language and sound ‘native’ check out the actress Noomi Rapace and how she learnt English in her twenties.

    1. The main page of lingq espouses: “Learn like a child”.

      Evidence highly contradicts this concept. Same goes for Rosetta Stone.

      I wouldn’t waste your time.

  24. This can just at the right time as I am going to learn Hungarian in the very near future My wife is Hungarian and soon our new born girl will be speaking it too and I don’t want to get left out!

    I spent 9 months in classes and with private teachers learning in the tradition ‘school’ way and barely a few words stayed in my head. I thought being dyslexic meant I might not be able to learn it but I learnt English so I must be able to.

    So I’ve been watching my baby girl study how people use their mouths when they talk and I’ve started doing the same when people speak Hungarian. And now this post has given me a fabulous boost. Thank you.

  25. Tip number 1 is so important. Applying the Pareto principal to vocabulary learning really speeds up language acquisition. Finding out the most commonly used words and nailing those puts you way ahead of the game

    I’ve been studying Chinese for some time and used this to jump start my communication – compare this to a word I’ve been asked to learn today for a class I’m taking: “acute enteritis”! I’m not even 100% sure what that is in English!

    In this vein I’m actually running a muse in Shanghai to help foreigners focus on the important characters used in Chinese. All credit to Tim and my 4 copies of the 4-hour workweek here! Just annoyed it took so long to take the plunge.

    We produce huge (A0) wallcharts with the 1500 most commonly used Chinese characters. Apart from helping you hone in on the most Pareto efficient characters to learn these wallcharts look pretty damn cool. Want to impress a girl/guy? Nothing better than a A0 Wallchart covered in complex looking Chinese characters!

    Anyway, if you want to check it out (as a muse or for the learning Chinese characters) I’ve got a website up at http://www.hanziwallchart.com

    Happy language learning adventures all!

  26. These tips may work great on “bigger” languages, but not on all. For example, Google is almost useless in some languages (I’m learning Lithuanian and am Finnish native). For example, it thinks that birthday cakes have suppositories on them (candles), and computers can be laxative (stationary).

    Also there might not be that much information available, or the information is harder to find. How much of the internet information about learning languages is in English? A lot. And e.g. Lithuanian is much easier to learn via Finnish.

    So while great tips (and I should spend more time doing those things), it doesn’t always work that easily.

    (Just wondering how easily I’d learn to be good in Lithuanian if just by sitting in class for two months, 6 hours per week, got me able to converse with people about likes, dislikes, what we’ve done, where we’ve been and lived, what foods we like etc…)

  27. This is great! However that I have to add that rules 2 and 5 don’t work with Finnish, the language I’m currently learning. Especially number 2. The only words identical or similar in Finnish and English are ‘idea’ and ‘sauna’. Perhaps I should have chosen Spanish. . .

    1. I don’t know any Finnish, but it’s considered in the same language family as Hungarian and I found a bunch of common words there, even though it’s not related to Indo-European languages. You may find some of these words fit in Finnish too.

      Don’t forget that despite lack of direct linguistic relationships, Finnish is still definitely influenced by other European languages, through religious vocabulary that would have come via Latin over the ages for instance, as well as modern words related to technology that may be borrowed from English. I used a dictionary real quick and confirmed that “Internet” is the same in Finnish for instance.

      Here’s a list I compiled of familiar words in Hungarian:


    2. Hi Georgina,

      I saw your comment yesterday and it took me a day of thinking but I have a hint for you! Look into verbs that end with -oida. These are load verbs from English, and other languages. Examples include… kommunikoida, priorisoida, politikoida.

      Slang has also been inspired by English, and new words have come into the language: televisio (telkkari), media, radio, turbulenssi, banaani, tomaatti, etc. There are a whole lot of them!

      Good luck!


      1. P.S.One big advantage in Finnish over other languages is how easily you can make new words. There are so many straightforward compound words like perfume – hajuvesi (smell water) that you can often guess a new word by just making it up. It requires a little creativity at times but the best part is, if you get it wrong, you have something to laugh with people about 🙂

        Oh and another is strategia!

    3. Hey I am also learning Finnish and I have to disagree. There are actually soo many words like hotelli, sampoo, banani, tomatti and names of a lot of countries. And not to mention a lot of Finnish kids nowadays use slang words that come from English.

  28. As a Brazilian involved with the English language for 25 years now and having started teaching English after 2 years of studies, lots of reading and some internet interaction years later without ever visiting an English speaking country to date I can say that all those tips are invaluable. BUT my experience as a teacher showed and proved clearly to me that there are basically two conditions to learn or master a second language. They are Real Interest (my case) and Real Need. Without this two prerequisites osmosis is your only method to acquire a macaronic level in any language you decide to flert with.

  29. Benny, I took ample notes and am gonna overhaul what I’m doing right now. No joke, this was absolutely the best blog – hell, best ANYTHING – I’ve read on language learning. I’m really looking forward to putting this all to the test for learning Italian. I’m going to Italy in June and will gladly be a guinea pig for all the above methods and will let you know how I’ve fared.

    Thanks again, and if you ever find yourself in Israel, look me up and I’ll gladly show you around as much of the country as I can.

  30. So nice of you to mention the latin languages and forget the most latin of them all. Let’s see…French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, I wonder what’s missing. Oh, yeah, Romanian.

    Other than that, great article!

  31. Brilliant.

    In school, it took me 5 year to learn German…. or, more accurately, it took me 5 year not learning German. Today I can usually order the food I want at a restaurant in Berlin, and I understand most of what the bartender says, but I otherwise feel quite helpless in expressing myself.

    Your techniques sound like the best approach for “rebooting” my skills, so I can get my schnitzel and not the verdammtes geschnitzeltes…

    1. Verdammtes Schnitzel 🙂 German is tough, maybe one of the toughest languages I tried. I was using duolingua and other forums to connect to people, it helped a bit. I also found youtube quite helpful! Those German lessons in English are awesome. Here is a quite different one (I learned the colors in German in less than 3 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGj55RWh0eE Hope that helps.

  32. An excellent post. I am going to Oktoberfest in Munch this year so that should give me a good goal to aim for in being able to hold a conversation in German using this guide!

    Thank you Tim and Benny

    1. You have loads of time – make it a priority and you’ll progress really quickly. With a language like German I’d recommend focusing on speaking and only polishing your grammar when you are already at a conversational stage. So just for when you get started, don’t worry about noun genders and perfect word order – this will let you focus on learning words and phrases and you’ll have something to fill your conversation with. When you ARE having conversations, then you can tweak them later.

      Viel Erfolg! (Wishing you lots of success!)

      1. Hi Dom and Benny,

        please check out my website for learning German with the news and would be cool to know what you think about it. Does it help you to learn new words and having a talk about the topics later?

        Thanks 🙂


  33. This is a excellent post. I’m a big fan of Benny. I love learning languages and use a lot of his tips. Benny and Tim are two great inspirations for polyglots.

    Thank you both.

  34. This. . .spoken from a guy who has insulted America (and thus American) on multiple occasions, and never had the decency to apologize for thoughtless, ignorant comments.

    I am rather shocked you would publish anything from him. I lost a lot of respect for you Tim.

  35. I had the exact same problem at school being taught German. Been learning Spanish on Duolingo for a few months now and it feels so good to be making progress with it.

  36. I have a couple of additional suggestions.

    [1] Learn jokes in the foreign language. Nothing gives you satisfaction like ‘getting’ a joke in the language you are learning. You feel like you belong.

    [2] Go live in the foreign country whose language you are trying to learn. Nothing beats being immersed in the culture. I went from zero to teaching high school physics in Spanish in two months, while living in Bolivia and Peru.

    [3] If you are living in a country where bargaining is the norm, the ability to haggle proficiently and not be taken advantage of, is a powerful incentive to become fluent.

    1. Thanks for the additions! This may surprise people, but after 11 years of travelling the world, I actually don’t recommend moving to the country as a language-learning-tool any more. I used to do it (exclusively), but now I’ve found that it’s way more practical to learn it in advance, get some practice online and “hit the ground running” when you arrive to make your time in the country even more enjoyable.

      For some people being in the country is simply a fire under your ass that forces you to improve. This can be emulated through filling your calendar with 1-on-1 lessons, and having specific goals like reading a certain amount or watching so many hours of content in the language per week.

      I agree that “nothing beats being immersed in the culture”, but you can emulate that experience online, even if it’s not AS good as the real thing.

      The biggest problem is that there are so many expats who rely on the “something in the air in the country will help me learn the language” idea, that when they arrive and feel overwhelmed from not having done anything, they find other English speakers to hang out with “just while they settle in”, and nothing ever happens. I know this because it’s what happened to me when I first moved to Spain.

      There are others who are highly motivated who successfully embrace 100% immersion on arrival, but my money is always on learning in advance and using time in the country to improve on already acquired speaking skills.

      Bargaining and chats with taxi drivers are great practice for beginners though. Definitely agree there! It’s why I role-play such chats with my teachers via Skype 😉

  37. Movies/T.V. in your target language with target language subtitles on.

    So, for instance, Spanish language movies with Spanish subtitles. Maybe you have to watch it once with English subtitles to get the point, but there is something about seeing the situation, the words spoken, and the words written that locks it all together. I wish I had time to do this more often.

    1. Agreed! Another option is watching a show you already know with no subtitles at all. I eased myself into Spanish by watching “Los Simpson”, and since I knew the episode from memory, I could focus on hearing what they were saying. Then again enabling subtitles did help because European Spanish can be quite fast for beginner learners and it helped me see the words I was hearing.

      Activating subtitles in your mother tongue (English for instance) is a really bad idea on the other hand, since you can get distracted and only read that. Although you make a good point that you can use this in a separate watching session to help you understand better. I’d recommend watch 1 to be in the target language, watch 2 to be in your mother tongue and watch 3 to be in the target language again. This is similar to the technique used by language learning podcasts, where session 2 is explained and translated to you, and then the last time it’s all so much clearer. Very motivating!

      Also, you can make the time. If right now you watch any TV at all in your mother tongue, you can sacrifice this for your language project. I’ve also made time while standing in lines or waiting for people or on public transport, to squeeze in more language studying.

  38. the information on learning to speak and listen is terrific, but what does one do about learning to read in languages which don’t use Roman fonts (Arabic, Japanese, etc)? Any comments about how to make it easier to learn to read these.

    1. Each language with a non-Roman alphabet can be processed differently, but quickly. For phonetic languages with different scripts (Arabic, Russian, Greek, Thai, Korean) this post I wrote may help:


      Using these techniques I could read Thai in a matter of hours. I did something similar for Arabic.

      Japanese is a mixed boat because it has three phonetic scripts (one of which is Romanized), so you learn “Kana” first to give you a huge boost in the language. Learning this alphabet and knowing it well helped me so much while in Japan.

      But with Japanese Kanji and Chinese Hanzi, you have a whole new major task to take on. A friend of mine wrote a post that makes it more manageable (about Kanji, but can be applied to Hanzi):


      1. Benny, and how about Chinese? I find reading Chinese even harder than Japanese, as they do not have hiragana to identify where words end. Is there any trick you or Tim know to boost Chinese reading skills?

        1. When I travelled China for several months, I “cheated” and used the OCR in the app “Pleco”, which very efficiently renders Hanzi as pinyin, to help you read the menu. Even though I used it to reduce my workload, it actually has a flashcard system built into it, so I would see the same characters coming up that I genuinely needed and added them to be studied.

          That’s the thing with Chinese, yes there are lots of characters to learn, but learning some particular ones will give you way more mileage than others. The trick is to get enough exposure to the language to see which ones those are.

      2. Just wanted to add that for example the first-rank American sinologist Victor Mair at Penn is against learning/teaching Hanji at the beginning:


        “It’s a tragedy that so many young Americans spend years stuffing their heads with hundreds of Chinese characters, gaining no usable proficiency, and then forgetting them all by the time they’re 25.” Mair thinks that “if the Chinese would wake up and permit pinyin to function as part of a genuine digraphia, then I would say it might make sense for maybe 2 percent of the population to learn up to third-year level of Mandarin—strictly romanized, mind you. But there are exceedingly few teachers who are enlightened enough to teach it that way.”


  39. Wow! This is a highly in-depth article. I’m really into language learning and there were a lot of resources pointed out that I didn’t know about. I have to say that Benny is really good at what he does; this is a highly motivational and informational post, I really like it!

  40. As someone who’s been teaching a language for 25 years and learning languages for longer, I can say this articel is based on sound principles, though of course YMYV. recently I changed holiday plans from Paris to Rome, put learning French on one side (specifically, changed its Evernote tag from “Active Projects” to “Inactive Projects”!) and decided to see how much Italian I could learn in three weeks with very little free time to study. I used four methods, all recommended here and/or in 4HC.

    1. Tim’s sentence table for deconstructing the language (This is an apple. It is John’s apple. the apple is red etc. etc.).

    2. Duolingo, which is great fun and seems to work despite breaking every principle of language pedagogy, particularly the one of making target language meaningful. Some of the computer-generated sentences are so absurd you cannot possibly forget them, and who knows, one day I may need to say “I have a snake in my shoe” in Italian.

    3. Anki, as mentioned above. I’d also used it before effectively to get some basic holiday Greek and learn the Greek alphabet.

    4. The BBC’s La Mappa Misteriosa. This is like the opposite of Duolingo, in that it’s based on a video drama with very authentic-sounding Italian, meaning you aren’t expected to understand most of it, just the crucial bits, which of course is what you need to do in real life. It’s also shot POV and characters talk face-to-face with you, so you feel like you’re part of the action. there again, given my usual experience of POV graphics, I kept wanting to click on things to blow them up.

  41. Hi Tim,

    Longtime reader and fan, first time commenter.

    I saw that Uber recently launched in Panama City and I’m an ideal fit for the community manager role. I created Amo Panama (Love Panama) and leveraged my skills to grow small businesses, organize photowalks,, and strengthen a breast cancer awarness campaign in Panama!

    I know you’re an Uber investor and would appreciate you checking out my work!



  42. Also, Benny, Tim – what do you think about InnovativeLanguages tools, like Chinese101, ThaiPod101 and others? I am learning Mandarin with their tools now, and I do enjoy the lessons (even though have to adjust some things, as Chinese in Taiwan is a bit different). Interested to hear what you have to say on them.

  43. Thanks for the great tips, material, and site links. I want to learn Italian for a trip to Italy in 2015. After trying to learn French for a previous trip I was feeling a little defeated before even tackling Italian. Your post has inspired me and given me confidence. Now I’m excited to get started!

  44. Benny,

    Great article, so much information to absorb. I was wondering if it is possible and would you recommend learning two languages at the same time?


    1. I wouldn’t recommend this. I’m a very experienced language learner, and I think I wouldn’t be able to learn two NEW languages at once. When you spread your effort thin, you can get the two languages mixed up.

      While you may think that (mathematically) learning 2 languages over a year is about the same as learning each one for six months each, the truth is that FOCUS will get you so much more. You can reach a high level in one language, and then work only on maintaining that language, while you focus on learning a new one. The work involved in maintaining a language and learning a new one is very different.

      Trust me, as a polyglot, focus on one, then focus on the other, waiting until you are at a confident conversational or fluent stage before moving on 😉

  45. I am receiving individual emails each containing one comment on the 12 rules for learning language. I tried to unsubscribe but was unsuccessful. I want Tim’s blog posts but not all the comments. Help!

  46. Benny,

    Great stuff as always.

    I’m not saying I knew all this, but I wasted a very long time trying to learn English the wrong way, and actually learnt it pretty well in a much shorter time the right way. So I get the idea.

    Where I fail is execution. I know what I should be doing, but I don’t.

    I’ve been traveling South America since last October and my Spanish is not better than someone’s who’s made an intensive effort for two weeks.

    I know I just need to make this my No. 1. priority, but working full time, trying to explore some of the places I travel through, trying to keep fit and so on it hasn’t been easy. These are just excuses if you look at it that way, but they feel very real.

    The little Spanish I do know I picked up listening to locals and trying to interact with them, which I thoroughly enjoy.

    Do you have any tips for me?



  47. Hi every body,

    Tim and Benny thanks for this too complete post about being a polyglot, I took note about all, it took me about 2 hours but ti worths them :).

    So one tool I use to learn a language, is the book “Aprenda un idioma en 7 dias” by Ramon C. I think that is a good book to start the language trip.



    @tavoorrego (Tweeter.)


  48. Loved this post and will certainly come back to it several times. I too like to first learn the flow of the language before learning any grammatical rules.

    DuoLingo is great as it gives you a sense of the language, so that after a time you find yourself hitting the right answer without much consideration. The “practice your weak skills” feature is particularly useful to me. I started with Italian and wonder if I will be able to read and understand a real book when I’ve finished the lessons.

    Forvo is great too. I should start adding pronunciations again.

  49. Great post.

    As the director of an International School i have given this material to my ESL teachers. They will start using this information as soon as possible.

    Inspiring post. Thx again!

  50. Is it possible to learn a language from scratch just by reading and listening, with no previous knowledge of the grammar and structure of the target language?

  51. Hi Tim & Brian!

    My first post ever!

    To Tim first,

    Thank you so much for all the great materials that you put on your blog! I first ran into your 4HWW concept while I was working offshore bored to death browsing on internet the content of a conference in a french engineering school. I managed to sneak the pdf on the net for free – et j’ai dévoré le livre en 2jours. However I did not expect it to have so much impact on the “rest of my life”, I ended up buying your books simply because they are worth every cent! So thanks again for the amazing materials online & in your books. Keep it as amazing as it and enjoy your life.

    Now Brian,

    You are quite impressive with your learning! Thank you so much for sharing that with us, this is exactly what learning & speaking foreign languages is about! Now I will continue in French for you:

    J’ai suivi pendant 3ans des cours de Japonais au lycée et je dois dire que le professeur de Japonais que nous avions était un peu “déjanté” car il nous disait qu’il fallait apprendre plusieurs langues en même temps, que le Japonais était très simple, que le polynésien l’était encore plus et que au lieu d’apprendre le Russe tout seul autant l’apprendre avec un livre dans une autre langue (example livre Espagnol pour apprendre le Russe). Bref ce prof nous a toujours impressionné mais surtout par le fait qu’il ai réussi à nous faire apprendre 100 fois plus que les autres professeurs de langue (Allemand, Espagnol ou Anglais) en 2,5 fois moins de temps! J’ai pu tester un peu mon Japonais lors d’un voyage au Japon un an après et le résultat n’était pas si mal… même si j’aurais pu faire mieux! Aujourd’hui, 9ans après ma dernière leçon de Jap, les Kanji sont quasiment tous oubliés (j’étais censé en connaître quasiment 350), par contre quand je les vois je sais que je les ai appris autrefois. Il ne s’agit donc que de réactiver ma mémoire pour que la moitié revienne sans trop de diffuclté! Idem pour les phrases/vocabulaire je me souviens surtout des phrases types!

    Quant à l’Espagnol & le Portuguais si tu es / ou parles Français tu as fait déjà 20% du chemin!

    So what’s your next language on your to learn list?!!

    I hope you keep on discovering new languages and having fun!

    Thanks for sharing all that again!

  52. This such a brilliant post with a buttload of great recommendations! His recommendation of italki has really got me on the right track. Benny ayudame mucho! Cuidate

  53. Thank you, this is great. I became fluent at understanding German at about 6months of immersed daily conversations living in Germany. At about the 1 year mark I was pretty fluent. I’ve been wanting to start working on a new language and this sounds like it’s the best way to go, especially with how spread thin I am. Thanks again! 🙂

  54. As a Polish speaker that is rather impressive. I learned as a child and still struggle to this day.

    I also believe in Duolingo. It is the best app that you could possibly have on your phone.

  55. This might seem like a wet blanket statement, but it didn’t work for me. I tried learning Japanese, Spanish and Thai using this type of method and failed to learn all three languages.

    I tell the whole story here: http://bradonomics.com/stupid-learn-second-language/

    The short version is, I reached out to people like Benny for advice and everyone kept saying that I needed to do more. More flash cards, more drills, more practice. Since I didn’t think more of the same would work, I went to the library to see what the academics had to say. I found the work of Dr Krashen and then Dr Brown. They said to stop trying to produce language and just listen. And when I did, I started to learn.

    Please understand, I’m not saying Tim and Benny’s method doesn’t work. It most certainly does. I’ve got friends who have been successful using this. I’m just saying it didn’t work for me. And if you’ve been trying something like this and failing, it might be time to switch methods.

  56. Just watched your full Skype chat video. You guys are amazing. I got an inspiration to tackle Filipino as I am going to the Philippines for 3 weeks or so. Hope to make some videos of my progress hacking it in your principles and see how it goes.

    As for my experiences with language, gosh so many. Most I think are in Chinese, as Taiwan is such a great country to live in. But other really cool previous experience is with Polish language. I was exchange student in Warsaw and had some Polish classes. It was a bit easier to learn Polish as I knew other Slavic language before – Russian. I got to more or less fluency level within 3 months. I did a lot of hichhiking there and one trip was going all the way to Germany to meet my friend who came there from USA. I was picked up by a truck, the driver spoke only Polish. I was in an interesting situation – my American friend’s phone was not working well in Europe, so we did not really have a set place to meet. He was driving towards towards us, and we would meet at some gas station. But truck drivers have limits on how long they can drive and they have to stop for rest. So it was a big mission there – me looking at a map, talking Polish to the driver, he was talking over radio to other truck drivers if they did spot my friends car or not. Time was running out, the truck had to stop. And in last moments, everything got figured out and my friend and the truck stopped at the same gas station. Was really fun adventure that I would have never been able to have if I did not speak Polish.

  57. Great post! I’ve been living in Norway for four years and married to a Norwegian for 12 and STILL don’t speak Norwegian…..

    I don’t hear very well and use that as an excuse but I just don’t seem to be able to find the confidence to overcome the mistakes and terrible accent. I sound like the french policeman in ‘allo ‘allo.

    How does a ‘perfectionist’ learn a language? I have started to take this seriously though and got the kids to put post it notes on everything in the home in Norwegian to start off with!

    1. Like Benny said, just learn a few words for a situation, where you are going or just a conversation, in a restaurant, taxi, words to the kids and the wife and go for it. Even if not perfect, people may know what you are saying and I am sure appreciate it. I live in China, firstly Beijing and now Wenzhou (they also speak a different language than Mandarin), as a I say a few words here and there at the stores or in the street, the locals now speak to me in Chinese only, Ok I don’t understand it all, or very little but catch a few words so get the idea (sometimes). If anything it raises a smile if right or wrong. Just go for it, it makes life more fun!

  58. Hi Tim,

    On the other side of the language exchange, your readers with digital nomad leanings might also be interested in the option of making money by teaching a language from anywhere with Skype (or whatever online method you and your students agree on).

    For example, on italki, if you’re a native speaker, or proficient in a language, you can also apply to be a teacher. Austin K Wood wrote this helpful post on his blog about how to get started on the italki system, increase his prices, and make more money faster: http://austinkwood.com/make-money-on-skype

    Even better, italki supports this! They reblogged it on their teacher resources page! http://teachers.italki.com/teaching-tips-from-austin-wood/

  59. Hi Benny,

    I am a Dubliner by birth, shy as ever and I never learned a word of Gaelige properly in school in Ireland. I moved to France with my family a few years ago and I now do business in the French language on a daily basic. (I never spoke a word of French 3 years ago) The key for me to learn French was the motivation. It was born out of the need to create work in France. I learned what I know almost 100 percent from listening to others and asking questions. Most of my clients are currently French.

    Thanks for all your great ideas and inspiration.

    All the best to you and thank you Tim for posting this resource.


    1. Glad to see your story has a happy ending! I also failed Gaeilge miserably, but in my mid-20s went to the Gaeltacht for the first time to learn it properly and it wasn’t bad at all. It just wasn’t taught to us properly. Sad to think so many of us spend an entire decade learning it and unable to say the most basic things. Fortunately that’s changing with the new generation and how they learn.

      But it’s not too late for us! Your French experience shows you that it’s never too late!

  60. What a “linguistic sponge” that Benny guy! 😉

    An impressive post with quite a few chunks of advice and information and the aim to make you lose the “fear” of a foreign language.

    One advice I could give is: surround yourself with learners, not with teachers. Learners do have a pretty pragmatic approach when it comes to learning a language and walk pretty much in the same shoes like you. Another thing that helped me when actually being in a country to learn a language: P&P. Wherever I went I had paper and pen with me, asking people to write the words down for me I didn’t knew.

    Thanks again for the brilliant compilation and thanks for sharing!

    Cheers, Oliver

  61. Tim and Benny,

    Thanks for teaming up and bringing us all these great language tips!

    Good timing, too! I’m a community manager at italki, and we recently held a Language Challenge for our students (20 hours of language sessions in 6 weeks). We just posted before / after video submissions from some triumphant Challengers. You can see their (inspiring) progress:


  62. I was very interested in reading this article at first, however, after the first sentence I was completely put off…….

    You cannot WRITE and READ Mandarin…..Mandarin is the spoken version, you WRITE and READ Chinese…..a very common mistake.

    1. That’s kind of splitting hairs, especially considering it’s in the middle of a long list of languages. I studied Chinese for a year at university, and they discouraged us from using the term “Mandarin” at all. The written language was “hanzi”, the spoken language was “hanyü” or “putonghua” and the Chinese language as an object of study was “zhongwen”. “Mandarin” is an English word that can mean pretty much anything you want it to mean, but the OED defines it as “The form of the Chinese language formerly used by officials and educated people generally; any of the varieties of this used as a standard language in China, spec. the Northern variety, which forms the basis of putonghua.” Nothing there about written vs. spoken language.

      1. Depends on where you’re learning the language. In Hong Kong you’ll never hear students say “I am studying Hanyu” – always “I am studying Zhongwen”. OP has a valid point. If anything, you write in the traditional or simplified script. But that’s beyond the point of the subject of this post. Benny has posted some very useful links and advice. I don’t quite agree with some points, but nevertheless, for those who want a quick guide on how to learn the basis of a local language quick when travelling, this is not a bad start.

        1. That’s what I was saying: as far as I can remember, you _speak_ Hanyü; you _study_ Zhongwen.

          Incidentally, my experience with Chinese bears out Tim’s dictum that _what_ you learn is more important than how you learn it. We learnt using textbooks written during the Cultural Revolution, with the result that the only sentences that stuck in my head were things like “We all do physical training very early,” “We all study Mao Zedong thought,” and “We all work hard and love the commune.” Pretty much every sentence started “Women duo …” 😉

        2. I am from HK and can speak both Cantonese and Madarin. Since I have been using it all my life I have all the rights to correct him if any information he wrote was not accurate. You CANNOT WRITE Cantonese or Mandarin, period. None of whatever you guys are blahing about has anything to do with the fact that one cannot write Cantonese or Mandarin, because they are meant to be “spoken”. Plain and simple.

          I am simply pointing out a comment mistake. Isn’t it better if people have the correct information when they want to start learning a new language?

        3. Also in Hong Kong, you will NEVER hear people say “I am studying Zhongwen” because Zhongwen is Mandarin for Chinese. In Hong Kong people will say “I am learning Chungman” in CANTONESE. Get your facts straight before you “correct” someone.

          I never intend to comment on whether his methods of learning a language is valid, because I did not continue to read the article. Just trying to make a common mistake not so common anymore. Correct information is always valuable in my opinion.

  63. I’ve been wanting to learn Russian and to improve my Spanish for some time now. Seeing Benny’s TedX talk and reading this blog post has lit a fire in me. I purchased the new book, and I’m definitely going to investigate the diplomas mentioned above!

    You’re an inspiration, Benny!

  64. Hey, great article! Had a quick look through, but it definitely warrants a careful second read.

    One thing I find helpful in developing my intermediate Nihongo here in Japan is daily approach of attractive women wherever I find myself. Sometimes I get “the hand” (as in “talk to the hand”), but usually women are willing to politely engage in whatever banter I open with. And occasionally I’ll find an eager conversation partner. Fluency practice!

    If she’s interesing and interested, I’ll go for a LINE exchange. Then we might text back and forth… developing my kanji reading and basic writing skills. If all goes well, we meet for coffee or a walk… and later, perhaps a dinner date, cooking at my place. It all helps to build speaking and listening skills, even reading and writing a little.

    Now, if only I could be so disciplined about hitting the books and doing some formal study…

  65. I really enjoyed your article. Your 12 points are right on. I was a refugee that struggled learning English and now I am fluent. No one realizes that English is my second language until I share it with them. I have a love to help others needing to learn a language whether it is because they are displaced, in school or just needing the skills for work. I speak 3 languages now and I am learning my 4th. Last year I started a project that provides free conversational languages lessons to folks who speak any of the 53 languages we teach in. You are right that age does not matter and that free resources are the best. http://lingohut.com/ is my personal project, if your native language is not English click on the “I speak English” button to find your native language. Tim, thank you for a fun and interesting article. I was glad to read how you debunked the myths of learning a new language such as your tongue muscles are not set in their ways forever, and you can learn the very few new sounds that your L2 requires that you learn and I’m too old to become fluent. Thanks dude.

  66. Great article! I’ll have to try this to learn Spanish fluently. Some of my tips are repeats, but also endorsements of what you’ve written above.

    Tip #1: Identifying patterns is a big one. I’ve spoken English and French all my life (lucky me, my father was from France and my mother was from Newfoundland). The patterns are much harder to identify in English, but very easy in French and other Latin based languages. Knowing French and some Spanish also helped me get through The Cantebury Tales in high school English. My teacher thought I was nuts when I told him that I saw patterns from French and Spanish. But I understood what I was reading via those language patterns much easier than anything I had learned in English.

    Tip #2: As my father used to say, “use it or lose it”. My younger sister lost much of her French, just because she doesn’t use it. I’ve retained all my French, but I used it daily, and I force myself to use it too. I thought it was pretty funny when I went to New York City and spoke more French there in a day, than I did for my job, for which I must speak French, in Québec. It turns out that there are lots of immigrants from French Africa, Haiti, and France in NYC. Who knew? And they were happy to speak to me in French.

    Tip #3: hang out in the cultural centres in your city and make friends with native speakers. I’ve learned a little Vietnamese, Arabic, Cantonese and Urdu by doing that. I also learned a lot about other cultures and made lots of friends.

    My daughter is fluent in both French and English too. I always told her that the more languages she knew, the more friends she would make… never mind that it would also give her a leg up finding a job. Which it did 🙂

    Thanks for this, Benny. As always, a great read. Thanks for post this, Tim.

  67. I agree with Scott’s comment. It is an interesting post with really good advice, but I disagree with #6. Adults can be good language learners, but not better than children. Children are better at language learning. As a matter of fact, they do not learn, but acquire the language subconsciously. They learn the language at the same time as they develop their emotional regulation systems. In other words, they learn the language through perceptual channels that become integrated with the limbic system.

    While a child learns any language instinctively, adults need to turn to their intelligence to learn the rules. This makes adults more intelligent, but not better language learners. The fact that adults make use of their intelligence to learn a new language is good, but it is not an advantage in relation to children, who accomplish the same task effortlessly. Adults have the cognitive strategies to start a language journey for which children do not need any strategy at all. If you’re learning Spanish, you’ll have to study the distinction between “ser” and “estar”, “por” and “para”, the subjunctive mood or reflexive verbs. Those are concepts that Spanish children understand instinctively without any need for formal instruction. Adults have to make a conscious effort to learn something that children acquire naturally.

    If you carry out grammar tests with adolescents or adults, they will perform better than children, since they are making use of their intelligence. However, they will probably make mistakes that children wouldn’t make. What these experiments prove is that adults are more intelligent, not better language learners. In fact, having no grammar is an advantage for children, since they build their grammars at the same time as they learn the language. They do not need to compare the new grammar vs the old grammar. In other words, they do not have a language whose grammar and vocabulary interferes with the new one. The fact is that babies do not find it difficult to learn a language while adults do. If adults were better language learners than children there would be many more polyglots around and less people pondering on the subject. Why would people write so many books and blogs about how “easy it is to learn a language” if we could learn any language “better than children”?

    I agree that adults can be strong at language learning, but not stronger than children. This 1 minute video sums it all up: http://bit.ly/1c45FYr

    1. Yes Manuel, agreed.

      Consider an L1 Spanish speaker learning English prepositions. They have to learn “in” “on” and “at” for their preposition “en”. This is an extremely arduous task. Add to that the preposition “over”. A learner has to distinguish the 13 or so different meanings of over, for example “the picture is over the wall”, “the cat jumped over the gate”, “the class is over”, “you have to be over 18 to buy alcohol”, “you were driving over the speed limit”, “the fence fell over”. An L1 English child will have acquired all of these meanings by the age of 5, will be able to comprehend and produce them without thinking about it, whereas an English L2 learner will have problems, even after 5 or 10 years of learning the language. The ability of the child’s brain to learn language is just breathtaking.

      If your interested in the prepositions, check out The Semantics of English Prepositions by Andrea Tyler. It’s a really good look into how we learn, and how to teach preposition, using cognitive linguistics

  68. I think that within 5 years real-time computer translation will be available on your smartphone. Just something to keep in mind for all the people who don’t have time to learn a new language, soon you won’t need to.

    1. Sorry Mike, but that wouldn’t be nearly as effective or rewarding as actually learning the target language. 🙂

      Learning a language isn’t just about need. It’s about relating to your fellow man, making friends and understanding different cultures better.

      A smartphone translation won’t make a foreigners face light up like the moment when you speak to them in their mother tongue. It never gets old.

    2. I disagree strongly, and this is from a combination of the decade of language learning AND a degree in electronic engineering, so I know pretty well how technology is progressing.

      What we WILL have within 5 years, is an effective digital replacement for touristy and extremely limited Q&A under ideal conditions (with very little background noise etc.). There are some apps that attempt this now, but in using them in the real world (outside of fancy marketing videos the app came up with) they fail miserably.

      However, a normal conversation will only be replaced when artificial intelligence is at the stage where it is absolutely indistinguishable from a human in all ways. You need this level of intelligence in whatever translation system is being used to process natural language – to the stage where you can replace a professional simultaneous interpreter.

      This is ignoring all the non-verbal queues that are an essential part of communication, so this theoretical bablefish device would need to read the context, and visually analyse the person it’s translating to get the whole picture.

      The complexities of this are mind-boggling, and since I’ve worked as a professional translator myself (text only) and am in awe of simultaneous interpreters, you really do need a computer that is as good as a human before automatic translators are good for more than getting by.

      Having said that, I do use Google Translate myself when in a live Skype conversation to give me some help, but I presume it’s going to be incorrect most of the time, and am always very glad when I am at the stage when I can discard it, and use a GOOD dictionary for individual words I don’t know.

      So I’ve afraid you’re quite wrong. Learning languages will be relevant for the lifetime of every person reading this post. See the promises of current translators debunked here: http://www.fluentin3months.com/translator-app/

      1. I agree that a smartphone app will have a very very hard time replacing the human connection, if you can’t hear someone’s tone of voice and only hear a computer synthesized voice it will be hard to make an emotional connection. I also forgot about the fact that it would pretty awkward to have to talk into your phone in English and then have it output another language in synthesized voice, unless the person you are talking to also has the app and then you can speak in English and it will instantly translate it, but the tone of voice issues would still be there.

        But, I disagree that you need human-level intelligence for translating. People would have said the same thing about playing chess, but clearly that is not the case. Already, Google and Bing translate are good enough at translating text that you can use them for most things. So now the only issue is voice recognition, and given that voice recognition has now hit the critical point, there is going to be lots more investment from Google and other companies in perfecting it over the next few years.

  69. Hi. My name is John. I like your blog. I want to start a blog for people who are Spiritual But Not Religious. Can I ask you a question? Would such a blog be monetizable Is the idea of making money off a spiritual blog distasteful? I’d love to hear your thought


  70. YES! Devoured all of Tim’s books and LOVED your book Benny. I was the guy who ran the Tokyo marathon and stopped by to say “hi” at your meetup in Tokyo in February. I’m recommending your book to everyone here in Tokyo who feels stuck. Btw, you mentioned you were training for a 1/2 marathon, you got in the bag buddy. I saw Matt Frazier comment on this post and I know you are a vegetation, I’m a vegan. Matt will help you out a lot. Running this way will help you out tremendously, I promise. Rich Roll was on Tim’s blog awhile back and his advice on a plant based diet has only helped me further my athletic pursuits and I couldn’t run more than a mile not too long ago and now I’m training for an ironman. The best of luck to you Benny and THANK YOU Tim for all the gold you keep delivering in your blog posts.

    1. Thanks a million Matt! Hopefully next time we meet it will be for more than a brief moment, but if it was after MY Marathon, I’d be needing to chill out at home too! Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll instagram my success this summer. Pushing myself up 1K at a time until then 😉

  71. Well, I think it is a very nice and helpful post for all those looking to learn foreign language. The post shares nice information for those people helping them learn quickly and effectively.

  72. This was an insightful post. I’ve used Mango Languages, an language learning program available as an online resource from many libraries.

  73. Thank you so much for explaining and helping out so many of your readers! I have a question, though! I’ve always done better typing than speaking, even in my native language, can I go on Skype, Interpals, and other places, while still studying and type more than speak and still be successful?

    1. You don’t have to go on Skype! There are loads of online communities were you can practise your language skills by writing. The site I mentioned Lang-8, actually gives you feedback from its userbase.

  74. I just read the introduction to this post, and I can’t wait to read the rest later tonight. It inspired and motivated me to (try to) learn Spanish before we’re heading off to South America later this year. Thank you!

  75. Well well well Tim Ferris. You have done it again. Just opened my latest quarterly TIM05 and it yet again delivers! I love everything in it but was more than pleased to get the Chineasy book because I was so tempted back when I saw it on kick starter and bummed that I didn’t. The earplugs are great. I always carry a pair I had made to my ears years back but extras are always good to have and the carry case is cool. Everything is very cool.

    Now to the problem. I will never be able to cancel this quarterly subscription ever! Oh well, such a great problem to have.

  76. Benny, awesome post! Your next piece should be about hacking the official CEFR exams.

    Which strategy would you follow? Aiming for a solid C1 in two or three languages or going for more languages while aiming a bit lower at B2?

  77. Excellent post! I’m a Spanish teacher, and have learned several other languages as well. I love the challenge and excitement of communicating to others outside of my own culture. I will pass this on to my students and parents! Thank you for verifying what I’ve shared with them already this year! Hopefully they will have the same desire to learn like I do!

  78. Love the post Benny. I found the fi3m blog, and got the book, and am excited about starting my journey into learning French. My 13 year old daughter can speak it, so of love to be able to surprise her! As a Kiwi, I learnt Maori at school and was at a b2 level, but that was a long time ago. Your blog and book had reignited the fire… Thanks!

  79. Benny–thanks for this comprehensive post, I’ve passed it around to several friends!

    Tim–would you consider doing a blog post elaborating on your system for tandem practice, including your complete list of useful questions and phrases? My language exchanges have already vastly improved thanks to what I learned in the video and I’d love to hear more.

  80. Thank you very much! The tips you gave are great and I can’t wait to get started – right now! Best wishes, Belinda (Australia)

  81. Bonjour,

    J’ai regardé votre vidéo sur la différence entre le français de France et le français du Canada.

    Si vous n’êtes allé qu’à Paris, c’est normal que les gens étaient froids, ils sont connus comme ça! Et pas seulement avec les étrangers mais avec les français de la province aussi 😉

    Allez donc autre part en France, vous verrez qu’on est ravis de voir des étrangers parler français, même s’ils ont du mal 😉

    Merci pour l’article en tout cas, il est très bien!

  82. Hi Benny,

    Thanks for the kick in the butt… been married to an Iranian beauty for more than 10 years and even bought your book years ago, but never got around to doing anything with it…

    This is the little push in inspiration to finally continue learning Persian.

    Wish me luck!


  83. What an epic post! I’m reading Benny’s book so this post should help (looks like more than just a summary of Benny’s approach). Tim and Benny — what an awesome combo you guys make 🙂

  84. One of the best posts I’ve seen on any blog. Great work Tim and Benny!

    A few follow up questions – for #1, what is the ‘right’ number of words to target to achieve 80/20 for a given language? Where do you find the list? Is there such a thing as a ‘correct’ list or are they all pretty much the same?

    1. I’m not one to obsess over counting precisely how many words I learn. “As much as possible” is always the answer I’d give. You can find some “most frequent words” included in the public decks on Anki. Otherwise, you may find it with some googling, depending on the language. Generally, I add to the generic list, since there are too many words relevant to me personally that I never find on that list (blogger, Irish, etc.)

  85. Benny, vou escrever em português porque é minha língua materna (sou brasileiro). Me sinto realizado em ter entendido tudo neste “post”. Penso que estou em um dos dois níveis intermediários: B1 ou B2 em inglês.

    Agora, deixe-me tentar em inglês: I actualy feel comfortable everytime I had a social conversation in english. This post encourage me to pratice in a daily routine in order to move to a consistent B2 or even a C1 level. Thanks for sharing with us, I am here if you want to practice Brazillian Portuguese in a “carioca” accent.

  86. Does anyone have a good recommendation on a program that lets you record what you are doing on a computer screen with audio? I used Microsoft Encoder, but its download time is extremely slow. I really need to cut down on my in person training. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

    1. Techsmith’s Camtasia Studio is the best but pricey ($299) – less if you’re a student or educator They offer a free trial for this and other of their excellent products.

  87. Je suis désolé que tu n’ai rencontré que des français arrogants et ne supportant pas que l’on ne parle pas leur langue à 100%. Quand tu passera à Paris, fais moi signe, nous pourrons discuter quel que soit ton niveau de français (qui me semble très bon).

    Bravo pour ton interview de Yangyang. J’essaie d’apprendre lechinois depuis quelques années et jai du mal a comprendre ce qu’elle dit même si j’entends bien qu’elle n’emploie que des mots simples. Mais je persévère et vais suivre tes conseils.



  88. Another great few tips if you want them are to invite Couchsurfers to stay, particularly from countries whose languages you want to learn. I’ve got a French woman coming to stay next week.

    Also, I haven’t tried it, but it makes sense: Post it notes on everything in your house naming them in another language.

  89. Benny! Saw this on my Facebook feed – I remember our brief CS interaction, you as my first host in Prague ’09, and sitting down for a few hours to discuss languages! So great to see how your work has progressed – Kudos on this comprehensive overview!! Também parece q a gente tem mais línguas em comum agora! Kk should catch up sometime!

    For those concerned with titles, this sociolinguist approves the above post!

    BRAVO Benny!

      1. It’s actually a language learning website/app that tracks your progress through a language using lessons. It is something you need to make a habit of doing but it’s def worth checking out.

  90. Benny, as an American who lived in Poland for eight years, it was fascinating to watch your first lesson in this devilishly difficult Slavic language. You learned more Polish in a couple hours than I did in 6 months! I arrived in Poland in 1992 not speaking a word of Polish, and with poor language learning skills. No one spoke English, so I was forced to learn very basic Polish words just for everyday activities. The stores back then were leftovers from the Communist era, meaning all items were behind a counter, and if you wanted something, you had to ask for it! I immediately learned how to say “Please” and “Yes.” Now I could point to things & say Please. This created dozens of interactions wherein the shop clerk, invariably female but not always in the best humor, would tap various items until I indicated by hand or other motions which item I needed. This could be funny for a short time if there wasn’t much of a line, but got totally stressful if there was a big line behind me & everyone was waiting for the stupid foreigner to hurry up & buy his milk. I gradually picked up Polish in a slow motion version of your language learning technique. First, I learned the most important words, i.e. numbers, foods, introductions, to be, to have. It was slow going, and for months my daily interaction with the Polish language was limited as I was an English teacher. But, I did interact while shopping. I made lots of mistakes, and decided this didn’t bother me. If I learned 4 words, I’d try to string them together into a phrase, maybe someone would understand. My only goal was speaking. I was surrounded by the language whenever I left the school, and slowly became attuned to the music of Polish. I practiced telling time by walking up to men on the street and saying “Excuse me, sir, what is the time, please?” Occasionally, I’d ask stupid questions of total strangers. One night at a bus stop I asked a man if he liked Lech Walesa, Poland’s then President. With a scowl, he answered “I don’t know, I don’t know him.” I had an argument in 10 words at the local post office when I went to return a letter than was sent from abroad, but was addressed to someone else. Not my address, I kept repeating. To my astonishment, the postal clerk opened up the letter, took a quick look at the contents & threw it into a pile. Shocked at this brazen disregard of privacy, I told everyone about the incident. The Americans were aghast, the Poles just shrugged, censorship had only been lifted a couple years earlier. Getting back to language learning, after 2 years I decided to get serious about Polish & signed up for a year-long course designed to prepare foreign students to study at Polish universities. 6 years into my stay, I started translating contracts & legal opinions. I became a good translator focusing on tax & legal, but if the guys started talking about cars, I couldn’t follow the conversation as I took the bus. Your blog post has inspired me to get serious again about learning another language. This time I’ll try your method instead of the slow, haphazard process of my experience in Poland. My target language is Ukrainian – I’ll check back in a few months & let you know what I’ve accomplished. Thanks!

  91. Benny, this article was amazing! I came across it from Hacker News and it has truly inspired me to start back into language learning. I have always been very INTERESTED in language, and took 6 years of Spanish in school. I spent a week and a half in Peru back then where I could understand the gist of conversations around me, but froze up when trying to speak, like I was in Freshmen year Public Speakin class again.

    Since those days of college my Spanish has deteriorated, but since reading this post a few days ago and taking notes on it and making lists of the different resource links, I am genuinely inspired and determined to have another go at it, with a different perspective, different methodolgy.

    Thanks man!

    1. I’m going to make one in the next week, since I’ve been getting a lot of requests for this. I’ll announce the link to it on my email list (top-right of the site). Hope that helps!

  92. Great article-

    You both give me hope for expanding my glotness!

    I wanted to throw a couple additional fun ways to practice language I’ve found:

    1.) There are iPhone Apps by Mindsnacks that have numerous games in every edition that help you work on your vocab and phrases. I promise I have nothing to do with them, just enjoy using the Spanish one right now.

    2.) Another awesome way I found to work on my Spanish is through dating sites. I knew I was going to Colombia for Christmas, so I joined a Colombian dating site. I could chat with the girls on the site in Spanish, and do quick “cut and paste” searches for translations before replying whenever I got lost (in translation 😉 ) Anyway, I got to chat with multiple beautiful women (they grow on trees in Colombia), and even went on a couple of dates once there. My only regrets – not practicing Spanish and Salsa more before I got there.

  93. wow ur article is awesome.

    especially about the egyptian point.

    they will spot that u are foreigner by the way u dress and walk.

    because ive been there too.

    just like u.

    have basic about arabic but never use with arabs community.


  94. I’m currently trying to learn Spanish and I have Rosetta Stone that I got a few years ago. Since I have the program, I’m going to finish it. This article has been enlightening and I will incorporate much of these techniques.

    1. I have Rossetta Stone for Chinese. It’s not good. I imagine Rossetta Stone will work better for Romance Languages Their method for teaching the characters was confusing..

  95. Really interesting article. Wondering if you have any useful links for Dutch language tools such as flashcards and such? I find lots of free stuff for French, Spanish, Italian , but Dutch seems to be one of the least covered main EU languages out there!

    1. Where do you live!? Because if you are in Montreal there is a library only with languages books (a real paradise). The name is: Librairie Michel Fortin…it’s at sherbrooke station. If you are too far from Montreal, well when you’ll come you’ll know where to go 😉

  96. Polyglots like Benny never cease to amaze me. I’d be interested in hearing a bit more about how acquiring new language skills have helped others to do business in other countries.

    What would some of you say to a person who maintains that it is probably a better idea to hire a native speaker than to try the DIY route? (Here, I have in mind the idea of someone who wants to do business in China, and aspires to learning Mandarin)

    1. 100% agree that — for business negotiations — it’s better to hire a local, even if you speak perfectly. Better still, negotiate in English (or your native tongue), if you can. I never learn languages for business purposes; it weakens your position, and you can be blamed after-the-fact for “not understanding,” even if you understood perfectly, and they simply chose to breach contract. Caveat emptor.

      1. Cheers, Tim. Can I also add, as one who has been pretty successful in running a business in SE Asia, that we shouldn’t forget that many clients NEED someone whose English is on-point.

        Many successful entrepreneurs there already know how to tap into the indigenous population (that’s why they’re successful!); however, reaching expats and younger generations, both of whom usually have a greater command of English, is a challenge.

        So, by all means, pick up a language, but don’t forget the power of English…most of Asia is only too eager to learn.

  97. Really appreciate this post! Just starting my own challenge to learn Spanish in 90 days so will be sure to incorporate a few of these ideas.

  98. Brilliant synopsis. I say do away with college language classes entirely and force students to study abroad. 2 hours with a single tutor in the morning and then — on your own to explore, meet people, stumble around, buy some beer or bread or a pair of pants, fall in love (for a week or two max), and just get that lumpy gravy brain feeling down. One day you’ll be dreaming in the other language and then you know your brain has added the extra channel. Used to take me a few months, but now two to three weeks depending how patient the locals are with my incoherent ramblings and questions.

  99. This is one of the most fascinating posts I’ve read on Languages. Simple but effective advice – thinking outside of the box and away from conventional wisdom.

    Thank you for your advice, paying it forward, and enabling others to pay it forward.

    (Same goes to you Tim, thanks for bringing Benny by!)

  100. Sounding native is what i’m still struggling in English after 7 years of learning and using it — will follow your advise and will see what happens:)

  101. What I like the most from Benny is that he really doesn’t care about making mistakes and saying what he thinks about everything. I admire him a lot for this! It’s great also how he deals with everything, time management, having fun, helping others, living life on his own terms! That’s awesome! See you in Berlin! 🙂

  102. Hey, this is a really cool post, it’s given me some great ideas on how to improve my own language learning! Some of the simple things, like just getting TuneIn radio, makes accessing foreign language speakers a lot easier.

    One thing I would say is that where you have written about cognates, there is a key element behind that, and that is being well read in various different types of writing, both in your own language and foreign languages. Having a large English vocabulary makes spotting cognates in other languages so much easier, as it is easier to compare the stems of the words and thus produce that link. I wrote a little about that on our blog recently-check ou the link above and then click blog if you are interested.

    Once again, awesome blog!

  103. “You can make these changes by focusing on the sounds of a language rather than just on the words.”

    Awesome advice. Tonality and the sounds themselves are often overlooked. When I started learning Spanish I had a lot of serious difficulty until I mastered the sounds.

    Outstanding post.

  104. I’ve found that for Spanish the quality of the Anki decks is poor. Additionally very few have audio so you’ve go no way to check the correct pronunciation when revising.

    1. If you are learning Spanish from a textbook, I would use the chapter vocabulary to input into Anki. You can create your own Anki. I find that Anki works better, if you are learning vocabulary within the context of a phrase, dialogue or general text. Pulling vocabulary out of the air from a dictionary is the worst approach for vocab memorization.

      Also, I use Google translate for pronunciation, if I don’t have the audio available.

    2. I’d say that Anki is only as good a tool as you make it. When I used it, I used a small public deck of words to start and then added my own. It doesn’t take that long when you get into the routine of doing it, make sure you use the tab button to move down boxes, and it means that you have a reference point to the words, so you know the context with which you have translated them. Typing them up also helps you to remember them!

      1. Agreed – I almost exclusively use my own Anki decks when I’m intensively learning a language. Usually I find someone on oDesk who is affordable, train them in how it’s done, and they create the decks for me based on my notes of what I’ve learned that week. In the last three projects (Arabic, Japanese and Mandarin), I hired a native speaker who added in audio of them speaking the word/phrase too. Well worth the investment!

        In this case, the content of the publicly available decks is irrelevant.

  105. Wow, this was a great post indeed. I also never believed that there was such a thing as a language-learning gene – I always thought people who said that were just unwilling to get out of their bubble and try a little harder. Language is not like math or science, it requires at least a dose of expressiveness.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this.

  106. Great list. However, different people have different ways of learning. For example, my friend ( a ploygot) learns languages by listening to music. He learns all the vocabulary from the lyrics. He uses the lyric approach to learning, only after he has learned the grammar basic of the target language. He also goes out of his way to chat with native speakers early on.

    Me? I find myself using textbooks to learn along with television programs and language journals. I only chat with native speakers after I have acquired a certain skill level.

    The key to language learning is about how much time you are willing to spend with the language. Listening to the language daily is especially important to building comprehension.

  107. The best way to learn, say, German, is to first learn Esperanto, and then use Esperanto as a wedge (metalanguage) into German. Google for “springboard to languages” to read up on this approach.

  108. Love to see my two favorite bloggers collaborating! This is a great article benny, thanks for all the new resources. By the way, starting your book tomorrow! 🙂

  109. Wow! I find this article very informative. Superb writing! Communication skills with various languages spoken is as awesome as the writer itself! Touring different countries in the world is every human being’s dream. Bravo!

  110. Do the rules change if a person is learning a spoken language, but substantially hearing impaired?

    I speak (and can hear) english, know ASL and SEE, but speak with a heavily affected accent.

  111. What a insightful Article! Benny you are really a language genius! Here I also want to share a few tips for learning Mandarin Chinese:

    1. I’ve been learning Chinese for almost a year now. I had tried stuff like Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur etc., unfortunately they didn’t work out for me. Until I found a online Skype tutor [Moderator: Link Removed], I started to feel I’m learning something. They are really professional and patient! The rate is also reasonable, so just check it out!

    2. For me, I’m studying 30 minutes to one hour a day depending on how busy my schedule is, which includes twice a week one hour online tutoring with my tutor.

    3. Also I found self-made flashcards extremely helpful to my learning.

    My teacher also told me vocabulary building is the key to learning a language well. Since Chinese is a pictograph language, she helped building my vocabulary by adapting the radical-teaching approach, in which she introduced different parts(radicals) of a character to help understanding as well as memorizing. Research shows that with 1200 Chinese characters will cover 90% of understanding.

  112. This is brilliant Benny. This reminds me for the first time I went to Cork from Ireland outside Cork. It took me months to learn Corkonian.

  113. One of the best post i ever seen on the “learning a language”. I’m french and I’m currently learning spanish in prevision of a long trip to south america at the end of this year. I already downloaded Anki to get started with basic vocabulary ! An italki seems pretty great to get started with speaking.

    Thx Tim and Benny for this amazing post 🙂

  114. Awesome post. I am headed to Italy for the summer and have been using Pimsluer Approach for several weeks 30 minutes a day and I have to say I have gotten further than I thought. I did just order the flash cards because I want to increase my speed of learning.

    Benny I plan on taking an intensive class when I get to Italy. Would you suggest one on one with a native speaker or a group class for best results?

    1. Definitely one-on-one for best results! If you are in Italy when you do it, you can get an affordable but helpful teacher. Group classes work for some people, but for most people it’s either too fast, too slow, or too boring. The teacher should be catering to YOUR needs, not the crowds needs.

  115. I’d really appreciate your post! I needed something like this. I speak 6 languages (one mother tongue), and every time is easier for me to learn a new one, but it takes me a lot of time (2 or 3 years). My target was 10 languages before the 50s, but now, I’m really optimistic to reach it in 4 years!

    I’ll be checking your blog!


  116. This is quite an interesting topic. I am a teacher of English as a second language and I have learned to speak 4 languages fluently (Russian, English, Spanish and Hebrew). The latest language I learned was Spanish and I learned it while I was taking a teacher’s training course. Some of the advice here I completely back up, like for example when it comes to finding opportunities to practice with native speakers in language clubs and on Skype. But there is an element that is missing in all of this and that’s the functionality of the language that you’re actually learning. Will I be understood? Will people understand me? One of the things I teach my students when I teach English is not just grammar and vocabulary but also how speakers can make what they say to mean what they want it to mean. That is, how what they say will actually be interpreted and how they can use grammar and vocabulary to come across the way they want.

    As far as my own experience with learning Spanish, that kind of language teaching is incredibly difficult to come by. I live in Spain and I have become fluent in Spanish in about 8 months (building on the 16 months that I spent learning prior to that). Most of the people I meet for language exchange purposes are seriously baffled by the kind of questions and observations I make about accurate expression. They are baffled, because they’ve never noticed such important details because no one pointed them out to them before. My conclusion is that, unfortunately, it does take a lot of lost time and searching effort to find what you need in order to improve effective communication. That is, unless you come across a good teacher. There is nothing that can replace that. Fortunately, sometimes that person can sometimes be your own self. In my case, even though my teaching training didn’t teach me Spanish directly, they influenced the methods I was using to teach myself.

    Take that a step further, what interests me, is how effective you have found your method to be. My measure for effective communication is how easy/difficult it is to get by. In terms of my experience, I always want to know why in certain situations, while not using any expressions or terms I don’t know, native speakers of Spanish can get by in a given situation with much less difficulty than I can (and visa versa with English and Russian, in both of which I am perfectly bilingual).

    Question to Mr. Benny Lewis (and Tim Ferris? not sure who the authors are here): What is your measure for how effective your language learning method is? To what degree have you tested you language learning skills? And what difficulties have you come across as far as actually being to take the languages that you’ve learned and make them functional, effective, and get you the communication results that you want? Have you ever actually taught any languages? That is, are there any students for whom you have taken the responsibility of teaching? (If you have, how has your experience been and which of the pieces of advice above did you find to be most useful?)

    Lastly, to the authors, being polyglots have you learned any of the languages I speak fluently as a second language? Would you mind having a brief conversation with me over Skype in that language?

  117. It’s a very interesting approach to methods of learning. I liked a lot of things in this article and I have to reach the intermediate level of Chinese for september, I think I’ll try a few of your suggestions. Thank you ^^

  118. Hi Tim. If you are a flashcards type of guy you should try memrise.com . It will make your language learning more efficient.

    1. Great idea David! There are some fun tools to learn languages through music (depends on which language; otherwise Youtubing karaoke and song title does wonders). Keep up the great work!

  119. I hate the polys ;))))

    Had a client once who was a Turkish jew – Hebrew on the phone with his father, Turkish on the other phone with his brother, Italian with his Italian secretary in Geneva, French with the client and English with me – but all in one breath ;)))) All was well until an East German turned up – who had no English but German and Russian – oh and Serbian electrical team

    Now off to learn mandarin ;))) – there are a dozen or so speakers nearby, and Beijing is obvious ‘common’ word other than gwialo

  120. Very interesting read as always.

    My better half is Argentinian and speaks english like a native.

    Was amusing on our last holiday in Bariloche, people would hear her speak to me in english, then in spanish to her mother and comment on how good her spanish was.

    It is amazing how some can become flawless in the acquired language and yet others can still have strong accents even after 20 years in a country.

    Looking forward to your upcoming guest post with Gabe, he has been doing some very interesting stuff also.


  121. I enjoyed this a lot…I am writing from my experiences and my recent ways that I have learned how to speak 6 languages and how I worked in 5 of those languages… your ideas have helped me to concrete my process of steps that I am writing for how i learned my 6. thanks…i would like to pick your brain anytime bamtoro6 is my skype. thanks.

  122. I make my own flashcards for learning new languages by using Slide Show on MS PowerPoint. Make a slide show of 10-20 new words. Fly in the new word, wait a few seconds, fly in the translation. Rotate through as much as you want or have time for. I also break it up into smaller shows using “custom shows” for a few words, then put it all together after the subsections are learned. This procedure really works great and is easy to set up. Thank you for your time.

  123. This is honestly one of the most entertaining blogs I’ve read on this subject. So many of the other language and translation blogs are just an absolute bore. Thank you!! Seriously good read.

  124. yes, great article. it is nice to know there is still hope to be bilingual. i am a mother who is raising her children to be bilingual when i am monolingual. i created JINGLE BILINGUAL out of a need to help in raising kids to be bilingual.

    jingle bilingual is a series of animated bilingual jingles ( now in 4 difference languages).. you can view them on YOUTUBE – just do a search for JINGLE BILINGUAL – would love any input!!

  125. Great summary! Thanks, Tim and Benny!

    I can recommend a language learning method developed by Vera F. Birkenbihl which uses passive listening and is very helpful for getting the language melody right.

    Here a brief summary: http://www.ludwiglingg.ch/MethodEnglish.pdf

    In German, there is also a highly recommendable short book by her with lots of helpful tips called “Sprachen lernen leicht gemacht”.

    I speak six foreign languages, 2 C, 2 B and 2 A. Next goal is to learn Bangla as I am doing a research project in Bangladesh. If anyone has particular advice on this, let me know!



  126. Comment peut on enseigner l’anglais et l’espagnol a des jeunes enfants au Quebec dans un contexte ou ces langues ne sont pas parlées par la population en general?

  127. I really enjoyed your post and I truly believe that the most important things is to go through the breaking point. Before that you are insecure and afraid to speak. Everyone finds his own breaking point, after you go through that stage (hopefully fast) you will start learning much faster and effective.

    I am speaking Mandarin now. Went through my breaking point thanks to my girlfriend who doesn’t speak English.

    I am also using flashcards to memorize vocabulary and try to make sentences with the new words asap instead of writing them down over and over again.

    Any recommendations about Flashcard apps except Anki?

    If you want to learn Bulgarian you can send me email 🙂

    Great job.

    Thanks for the info?

    1. For Chinese specifically, if you want to learn to write it, Skritter is a great app that integrates SRS. I would still use Anki with a pinyin specific deck to speak well first (if that’s your priority).

  128. duolingo is probably the best app I’ve ever seen in the google play! I’m learning spanish , italian, french and german from it! it is awesome for the beginning! Thank you fou your hepl! I wanna be like you when I grow up lol!!!

  129. Hi Benny!

    Thanks for this amazing article! I will definitely try this when I will learn Italian!

    I am also a polyglott (7 languages) and I lost my mastery in German. I used to speak and write a C1 level, and I learnt Dutch and it totally confused me.

    Every time I speak German now, I am very frustrated, and annoyed because words don’t come the same way and consequently I speak less of it. I kind of block myself with ” crap, I lost my German” which acts probably as a self-fulling prophecy.

    I guess one starting point could be finding einen Französichlehrenden Deutschen for skype practise in one of the free resources you suggest.

    Any other ideas?


    1. One thing that helped me immensely to not mix up my German and Dutch was to buy a book *in German* ABOUT Dutch. We call this “laddering”, and it’s an effective way to compartmentalize 2 languages – by using both at the same time in a way. By doing this the source language teaching book is also more effective in pointing out the differences between that 2nd language and your third language, without involving your first language.

      Rather than saying you “lost” your German, think of it as just needing the rust removed 😉

      Hope that helps – best of luck!

  130. I love your site. I was wondering if I can get your advice on something? I love languages I am learning 3 of them fluently and how can I keep up with them if I were to marry somebody who only speaks English?

    1. My girlfriend isn’t a polyglot, but this doesn’t affect me not maintaining my languages. I am still on Skype with my language partners while she works, even if I socialize with her more in English. You can still practise consistently 🙂

  131. One simple thing missed a bit so far: learning ANY new topic, from math to organic chemistry IS learning a new language due to specialized vocabularies, where their letters/words/sentences/paragraphs are in the form of symbols, functions and formulas. The advice here is equally relevant to learning in general, a wonderful set of techniques that can be generalized to great advantage, thank you for a great post!

  132. And eventually practice will make us a perfect man… learning from mistakes and accepting language related challenges is fun 🙂 Thanks for sharing this brilliant article, this is quite a motivation and I am sure it will be a great help for most of us. Loved it!

  133. Hey,

    I was wondering if you could help me out. I am Greek but I was born in New Zealand and I never got the chance to learn Greek. I now want to learn it and be able to conversate in Greek with my grandparents by my 21st next year. I am extremely motivated to start learning and I have learn quite a few words and sentences but I can’t find a website or app from which to learn, any advice?

  134. Thanks for your list of rules to learning foreign languages in record time. It was a helpful article and I have bookmarked it so I can come back and finally learn a new language.

    Are there any other language learners (or web resources in general) that anyone can recommend?


  135. This is bullshit. Some people have a knack for languages, most don’t, and will NEVER be fluent in more than one language. The biggest mistake most people make in foreign language acquisition is trying to learn at all.

    1. I happen to disagree with you, because I learned Spanish fluently although I still have a few more words to learn. I had fun doing too, because I tried all kinds of methods to see which ones worked for me. Some of the ones that worked for me are watching DVDs in Spanish, speaking the language and making friends with those who speak Spanish.

  136. Really awesome blog. The right one as currently I am learning German and sometime I am stuck or feeling lazy to do so 🙁

    Your points help and now I need re-strategize my learning. Thanks!

  137. Hi! Does anybody know where I can find committed paypals from all over the world? I would love to practise my Spanish by writing letters! If anybody here is interested, I can teach you some swedish in exchange (I’m a native speaker) Cheers!

  138. I can’t agree more about using free resources. I’m learning Spanish using Floating Penguin tools which are selected by a native speaker. Follow the link to translation insights for more info.

    Thank you Tim and Benny for sharing your knowledge!


  139. I am one of those people who is almost overwhelmed at the idea of learning a new language. I currently speak English only and am trying to learn Italian, which is embarrassing as everyone tells me its one of the easiest to learn. I’m totally freaked out at the complexity created from the concept of masculine and feminine and conjugations etc. I started trying to learn the grammar rules and it just seemed so difficult it shook my confidence at ever being able to master it. The number of words are so much greater than English depending on who you are speaking to and what you are speaking about. I’m really encouraged by this blog though especially by the idea that you really only need to learn about 300 or so words for most conversations. I’m wondering if a good way to approach it is to start with mixed language sentences ie use Italian words if I know them and English words where I don’t know the Italian. I notice a lot of bilingual speakers even when fluent speak to each other this way, or is this a bad approach for a learner?

    I think the main reason adults don’t learn as well is the fear and embarrassment factor that kids don’t think about. Sometimes I think English as a native language is a curse as its so easy to get away with no other language but I agree its not the same and I hate relying on others to speak my language.

  140. Benny, I have just spent 2 months travelling across South America and so have picked up some of the basics, greetings, ordering food at a restaurant, asking for the bill and so on. However, I don’t feel like I could hold a conversation with a native Spanish speaker for more than 30 seconds to a minute, let alone an hour. Would you still recommend finding a native speaker to speak to online for an hour straight away or try to learn some more first? I don’t feel like speaking to someone just yet would be of benefit but if you say I should, even after this comment, I’ll get to it straight away. I want to become conversational and then fluent so badly!

  141. I find learning a particular language is an opportunity. That is to get a chance to interactive to people around the world and get the deepest understanding to their ideals, way of life and culture. And yes, you are correct, most of the resources are free.. 🙂

  142. Benny and Tim,

    that is possibly the most entertaining inspiring blog or whatever cool imagining you call this, ever.

    Muchas gracias





    Mira! yo soy un polyglot! Escucha?


  143. great techniques..

    so if you were to name this approach.. what would it be? like is it associated to connectionism lets say.. or what?

  144. The child’s brain changes dramatically in the transition from first-language acquisition and second-language acquisition; it is very important when discussing this subject not to conflate the twin stages which comprise First-language acquisition and second-language acquisition. I did listen to the article and read it and I would have left it at that but I was moved to comment as I found it full of bad science and wild assertions that would be good for selling a book but not so for an adult who is truthfully looking for scientifically based studies that deals with second-language acquisition and doesn’t just lump the two stages together and ignores all the peer-reviewed scientific data. The author also created some straw-man arguments, for example when he asserted that adults are better at learning languages than infants! But an adult is also better at dressing himself up as an Egyptian in sandals and fez and going to Egypt to learn Arabic but I would contest that this is costly and time consuming compared to the infant sitting in his high-chair, cosy in his Pampers nappy, drinking from her Tommy Teeppy mug not making the least effort to learn but learning all the same his/her mother tongue in spite of herself!

    It would have been useful and helpful if the author had even mentioned in passing the vast amount of scientific data and peer-reviewed studies that have been made in the study of first-language and second-language acquisition but that is not in the purview of snake-oil salesmen. The posts in this blog by Scott are worth a read and supply many good sources to get an unbiased look at the topic. If in his blog Benny had made some caveats saying that learning a language does require a lot of effort and motivation it would have been more honest. Most of us do not have the time or money to go gallivanting around the world learning languages. To become very proficient in a second language (speaking, reading and writing) takes years not months. Asking for a coffee and croissant is pretty easy but Banny’s blog is not addressing that; he uses examples that pretend to say that you could be acting as an interpreter in Spain in a few months; I notice that now Benny does not advocate going to a foreign country to get immersed in the culture. Did your publisher have a word in your ear about that Benny? Less of that snake-oil salesman pitch Benny son! Some of you maybe thinking that I am a disgruntled second-language learner drop-out but let me say that I that would be far from the truth. I was born in Brazil so my mother tongue is Portuguese. At he age of three I and my sister (4) were adopted by a Scotsman who spoke English of course and had a smattering of Spanish. Even after a few months my sister and I were translating from English to Portuguese and vice versa with consummate ease and fluency. We lived in Scotland for a couple of years and after that were even more fluent. An adult would not have learned as quickly as we did. Why? Because we were still at the first-language acquisition stage. Read the peer-reviewed science on the topic. We then moved back to South America and lived in Peru (I was seven years old) for two years. Lo and behold I became fluent in Spanish with the vocabulary and reading skill of a seven-year old. It was also at this time that I first learned how to read English from the King James Version of the Bible (Elizabethan English!) as that was the only book in the house. We went to live in Scotland when I was ten and at school I learned French for the first time and also did Spanish when I was thirteen. Should I mention the six years of Latin? Why not? It was taught the same way French and any other language was taught, badly! All written or read and seldom spoken! I did Modern Languages at university and became a Modern Languages teacher. I spent a year teaching in France and became fluent for the first time. Ten years into my teaching I retrained in Computing Science and went on to teach it for twenty years learning five more languages; Pascal, BASIC, COBOL, FORTRAN, Visual Basic, COMAL and HTML, LOGO, Machine Code and LISP. So I can claim knowledge and fluency in fourteen languages! What do you mean I can’t count them? Who says? They have their own rules of grammar and syntax and if you say as much you don’t know what you’re talking about it. I wrote a programming book for students so I know what I am talking about – and it was peer-reviewed, ha ha!

    I have been living in Spain for going on ten years and although fluent I learn something new everyday.

    I’ll leave it there. I hope I have not been too harsh on Benny. He means well and I am sure he will give lots of you hope and motivation to learn a new foreign language. It will not be easy but it will be a load of fun and much of his advice and tips will prove useful. Buy his book! He needs to live but remember the caveats I have made, especially those to do with time required and do read the science of second-language acquisition and by no mans confuse and conflate it with first-language acquisition of infants! Really Benny you of all people should know better.

  145. Of course, this doesn’t provide much help to those trying to learn a rare or a constructed language. Lojban, which is what is my goal to learn, is both.

    The #1 tip probably works for Lojban also. However, I’ve noticed that many use compound words, lujvos, also, and those confuse me since they aren’t found directly in a word list. Well, maybe if I read about them more I’d begin to understand how they work.

    Tip #2 doesn’t work all that well since it’s a language made from pretty much scratch.

    Tip #3 doesn’t work well either since it’s not a natural language and therefore not spoken in a single place. Furthermore, there’s little media written or spoken in it.

    Tip #4 might work. I’m a bit scared to really try it out, though. Also, there are no native Lojban speakers and only a handful of fluent speakers.

    Tip #5 works somewhat. I know at least that Memrise has a fair amount of basic learning material for Lojban.

    #6 Not actually a tip but still that’s new information for me and good to hear.

    #7-#9 should work more or less well. (Yeah, very descriptive.)

    I learned the basics of English in school and advanced my knowledge among by watching movies amongst other media. However, it’s a very rare thing that Lojban is taught in any school and there isn’t that much media that features Lojban.

    Overall, learning Lojban is just a very daunting task because there are just so few options for how to learn it. I still feel it would be nice since it’s such a wonderful language technically.

  146. Does anyone have specific tips for learning German in about 8 months? I’m going to college there and despite the assurance from my councelor that all classes are conducted in English I would rather be safe than sorry.

  147. Paying early attention to cognates of your own language in a target language strikes me as very bad advice.

    Looks like an easy route to false confidence to me. Plenty of time for cognates later: mastering the differences seems to me important early on.


  148. This post has gotten me pumped to learn a language. How much time do you suggest per day to learn a language and how many times a week? My goal is to learn by May 1st. Thanks in advance.

  149. thanks for the site and the resources to learn languages. My biggest problem is doing trying to keep learning and finding time and money to learn. What influences did you have to learn a language? What did you do to stay on track to keep learning a language?

  150. Thanks a Lot for these Great Tips Benny <3

    I really Love learning new languages and i'm pretty sure that these tips are going to be really Helpful in my process of learning ,

    For the last month , i've been trying to learn Korean as i loved the language from listnening to it from the K-Dramas , and i've got to say that it had been really useful for me to learn many vocabulary words 'only' from watching the Korean Dramas and taking notes for them , and right now as i'm having my class 12 Final Exams , i'll make sure to consider your great tips after i finish my exams , Thanks Again =D

  151. Hyltenstam 1992 – second language learners older than 6 almost never acquire native proficiency, displaying errors that can be used to distinguish them from native speakers.

  152. Hola, Merhaba, こんにちは, Hi there.

    So, I hope you’re still reading these comments! If not, I suppose I’ll try email… But I want to know – how do you keep up multiple languages at the same time? I really respect both your opinions.

    Do you put the others on hold to focus on the new one (that’s what I’m doing now)? For how long? Do you do 3 months on, switch back to 3 months of another, and switch back again? Or do you keep the others up a little bit the whole time? What’s best practice?

    I studied Japanese at school, uni, and eventually went on to become a Japanese teacher. But since I left my teaching job, I haven’t spoken a word of Japanese. Instead, I’ve spent time in Spain and studied Spanish, and just recently, moved to Turkey, where I discovered this blog post and have been using your approach (Benny), and Anki (WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE!?) to teach myself Turkish. So far, much success.

    (Just quietly, you’ve changed my hobby-life).

    (There was a bit of Arrente in there somewhere as well, an Australian Aboriginal language, but I didn’t get far due to minimal effort. Shame on me. So many languages, so little time).

    I’m a language lover. Nothing gets me as (mentally) excited as conjugating verbs. Freak, I know. I talk to myself in different languages while I do the housework and walk through the streets. Yeah, I get looks. But it’s a life long passion for me.

    Anyway, you get the picture. I love language study, and your post has me super interested in how I can keep learning more and pick up new ones in the fastest, most effective way.

    An extra note…

    I actually feel ashamed I didn’t know your approach earlier. As a Japanese teacher, I was teaching students the old school way. I even worked in a language centre with 12 other language teachers (between us we taught 6 different languages) but no one knew this approach.

    The work you do is important, Benny. Please keep spreading the word.



  153. I’ve been interested in learning one or two more languages and this post has given me a lot of inspiration. I speak English and Afrikaans fluently and I understand and speak Zulu and Dutch (basic conversation).

    Thank you guys for the motivation!

  154. I live in Israel since i was born, but my father is from Finland. I can speak, read, and write in Hebrew, English, German, Franch, Swidish and Dannish. but my problem is my Finnish. Im going on vications in Finland for 6 times a year, and my finnish never goes better. No matter how hard im trying. Any tips ?

  155. wow! Just wow. this is exactly the information I was looking for.I need to learn Spanish in 4 months for my honeymoon. I was raised in South Florida which has a high Spanish population, my dad is Cuban and my husband is Cuban, but I never really picked up how to speak it although I can understand a lot. Learning Spanish has always been a goal and I was just lost as to how to actually accomplish it. The resources and links are so freaking helpful. Thank you so much!

  156. Really nice post!

    I’d also like to recommend to anyone trying to learn a new language a tool I’ve been using for a while.

    Basically it lets you talk with other people in the language you desire, so you can improve you conversational skills and things like that.

    It’s called Coffeestrap. It’s free so it’s worth a try.

  157. hola a todos, pues siempre e tenido un gran interés en aprender idiomas, pues por el momento soy nativo hispano hablante, pero entiendo el italiano, portugués entre otros pocos… sin embargo no he desarrollado mi potencial con los idiomas. y me gustaría tener amigos que quieran colaborar para aprender English y un poco de francés.

  158. Great article! With all these resources, I truly have no excuses for brushing up on my Italian and reaching the fluency level I’ve always dreamed of. This is a “must share” with my study abroad students.

  159. Great post, Benny! Your encouragement is what pushed me from being an “amateur enthusiast” towards actually achieving the dream of being a polyglot (will move on to #4 – MSA/Egyptian Arabic – in September!!!).

    Love those resources too (especially tunein.com radio) some of which are new to me! I’ll be adding those to my blog!

  160. Being able to speak a few hundred words and phrases of different languages is not the same as being a polyglot. Anyone can memorize words and not be fluent in a language. And I don’t know about other languages but in Filipino, I don’t think you can pass yourself off as a native speaker in just a few weeks/months, like Tim Ferriss said earlier in this article. I agree, though, that exposing yourself everyday to the language and practicing it helps a lot. The problem with that is, you may be practicing the wrong pronunciation, etc. That actually does more harm than good because once you learn something, it’s harder to unlearn it. If you learn how to speak the language the wrong way, it will be hard to undo the learning. Enter “#4 : Skype today for daily spoken practice”. This I believe in so much. Because of personal experience. Sites like Lang8 and http://preply.com/en/polish-by-skype not only enables you to practice everyday, they also provide real-time corrections. I did Polish classes with the latter by Skype a few weeks back and I improved a lot. I like how my instructor makes me repeat a word until I get it correctly.

    I also believe in creating SMART goals for yourself. This way, you can actually track your progress and not just go on blindly with your training.

  161. This post is brilliant! Thank you so much. For languages with other writing systems, did you learn the writing system? I imagine that takes a while! I am currently learning Japanese, and I’m just trying to learn the writing systems one at a time!

  162. I took a good bit of foreign language classes in college, but I am so bad about completely blanking out when I speak in another language. I get really nervous and mess up my words, or I’ll just stand there, trying to remember how to put everything in order to say what I want to say, then realize I’m taking too long and forget everything. I can write and read the other languages pretty well, but when it comes to speaking, I have to talk very slowly, and I cannot understand others when they speak their language rapidly. I wish I could get over being so self-conscious when speaking! I also lose my accent when I get nervous and sound very American. =/

  163. Hi Benny and Tim, this is the best article I ever read on learning languages. I had learned French for really quite a while, but somehow never really improved, which was absolutely demotivating and inefficient. After reading your article I totally changed my approach and thought of the way how I want to learn, followed your different tipps, had lessons via skype and learned vocabulary with an online tool, etc. Last week I confidently passed my B2 exam, I am reading French books, watch TV etc. Thanks a lot, it absolutely did wonders for me. I will now stay at the level where I am as I focus on other projects and then go for the next level :-)!

  164. Thank you. I really like reading this. I want to learn another language, but what I think is going to be difficult for me is that… the language I want to learn is almost dead. There is about 100 speakers left with two different dialects, so a majority of the tips in here are not that helpful…. but I get the consept.

  165. Wow, that song was great !! :D, I really love it! My nativ language is polish and i send really great gratulations for that verbs :D. I really like to languages learning and it’s my hobby, i think that, what you wrote this can be very useful for everyone who would like to learn language :). And so sorry for my english but i’m still learning it xD.

  166. HI, i needed this, is really helpful i’m a lot into Asian langauges, well, exactly korean, japanese and mandarin…it was a mazing for me, thank you, btw i’m not an english native speaker i’m 16 and i’m Colombian. definitevely languges are my passion


  167. This article was really blah blah blah, page down page down page down, until I got to the one useful sentence about learning vocabulary, and the flash card sites. After that it was blah blah blah again.

  168. Hej, really cool blog. Thanks for the perfect info. I have set up a homepage to learn an austrian dialect [Moderator: link removed]. Now I wanted to ask if it´s allowed to translate the text into german and post it on my homepage? (of course the source acknowledged) Tim encourages the asker to ask on the blog and not to write him an E-Mail.

    Cheers Anton

  169. Excellent article guys. I wanted to highlight the 3rd point. It’s very important to practice the language as much as possible. I live in London where it’s so easy to learn any language. You go out for a walk and you listen to Spanish, Arabic, Turkish, Italian. Just stop, say hello to the people, introduce yourself and practice any language for free. Real practice! As Benny says you should get over that making-mistakes fear.

    Also, we need to understand that the encoding part of learning is really important. So, let’s say you learned 10 new words. Before you jump to the next 10 make sure you install the first 10 words properly into your head. For this, make associations, use Benny’s surreal mnemonics, form examples, break the words down to roots, think about words that look or sound similar, visualize yourself using the words in a real life scenario. This is important if you want to remember for the long run. Don’t skip this process rushing to learn 1000 words in a single day. I made video explaining the importance of the encoding process which according to cognitive psychology research is the key to effective learning. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORTb48WvJgs I am looking forward to your thoughts guys.

  170. Hello Benny,

    I’ve just started reading this wonderful post, and will continue to do so.

    Quickly, on your video interview with Geneviève, Québec is not the “only bilingual province in Canada”.

    Within Canada, New Brunswick is officially the only bilingual province. Of many other Web links, here’s a few:



    My ancestors arrived in what was known as Acadie in the 17th century, from the Centre-Ouest part of France. For myself, I was born in southeastern New Brunswick, where I attended French schools and communities. In addition, I studied at the Université de Moncton (Moncton, New Brunswick).


    On the Acadian language, find here some information:



    By the way, the rest of Canada is not “totalement anglais”.

    Laissez le bon temps rouler!

    Robert Richard

    Dieppe (Nouveau-Brunswick) Canada

  171. Well, this post has undoubtedly helped me learn Swedish at a rate I would never have guessed I could achieve. I applied as much as I could to my learning and I feel the results have come. I think most people find it harder to commit as much as you guys. The honey moon period has just ended for me, but I’m trying to get back into it. You post has prompted me to write about my journey that was inspired by you!

  172. HI I m so impressed by you, I am an Arab and learning French I was amazed by the way you are able to pronounce some Arabic letters that most 2nd language speaker are unable to. Thanks a lot too for the amazing tips that I will definitely take into consideration. Duolingo is amazing and yes I agree multiple resources and methods will help speed up the process. Thanks again and I wish you all the best.

  173. I am already fluent in French (I have never taken a test, but I would be at the C2 level) I learned by immersion. My native language is English, but I ended up going to a French high school. So I had to learn French and I had to do it fast. I feel like it’s way more motivating when you actually need to learn the language. Now, I work and go to school only in French. I only ever speak English to my parents! The best way, in my opinion, is to practice the language daily. I took Spanish in high school, but I haven’t said a word of Spanish in 3-4 years. Needless to say, I have forgotten almost everything. I am currently taking German as an elective in college, and I’m loving it. I just completed the A1 level course, and next semester I have the A2 course. My goal is to learn Russian (on my own) because one of my best friends is Russian! Thanks for the great tips. Let’s see how much Russian I can learn !

  174. The song “Skype me maybe.” is much more valuable than prototype! I like it! The text was so fascinating, that I can’t wait till tomorrow (because it is almost midnight), and I read all 🙂 I am from Poland, and I can talk with you (anybody else? 🙂 ) if you want 🙂 I am learning English, and you can also help me 🙂 Just write on facebook. :*

  175. Hey Benny, I have started learning German by using the English language, which is my second language, as a base. Would it be better to learn it using my first language (Spanish) or it does not matter as far as translations and meaning?

  176. Hello Tim and Benny,

    I am fascinated with learning new languages, but do not understand how to make time and save money to travel all over the world. It is hard to see myself doing anything else after I graduate college other than working in a corporate job with minimum vacation. Can you explain how to feasibly manage traveling around the world? Tim, it seems like you have been able to find work in Spain and other countries like Japan. How do you pull this off?

    Thanks in advanced

  177. Most of your post is very vague and where serious questions are asked, answers to other, simpler questions are given. You ask the right questions (what is fluency) only to later discredit the importance of the actual term. Smart, but not good.

    The bare fact is that based on personal language abilities, work (does not have to be hard, but expect plenty of it) and other factors (this now is vague, isn’t it) it will take from 6 mths to a year to get into the basic skills in understanding, speaking and reading/writing a simple language like Spanish. Languages with more complex grammar (e.g French) / pronunciation (e.g. English) or spelling (e.g. Arabic) will take more time. We can slightly shorten this time when and if one gets immersed in the new language, but this is not the case with most learners, ban the lucky few who can allocate hours of exercise DAILY or take a long term language course in the target country.

    Fluency? Well, having spoken English for over 30 years now and having lived in English speaking countries for extended periods of time I still do not consider myself fluent. Somehow, I meet plenty of foreigners who come from various places telling me they speak the language fluently while they will use the wrong words in the wrong places, pidgin-ize the grammar and be unable to put up a short written note without grave spelling errors (like ‘pidgin-ize’, e.g.). Apparently, they all read and understood your post, so they are fluent, or else fluency does not count for much. Sure.

    Learning languages easy? Well, ‘depends’. Possible? YES. Just be realistic and understand that there will be an effort and the results will to some extend match this effort.


    a foreigner

  178. The 12 Rules are great!

    I currently are teaching English and Japanese in Taiwan.

    Is there any way to make the rules in 6 instead of 12?

    I found that most of the students are searching a short-cut

    of learning the foreign language!

    One of my students, a house-wife went to Tokyo DIY tour with her husband, daughter, and

    son-in-law last October. And another 2 students will go to Fukuoka for 6-day DIY tour. It’s

    great that the students could practice from what they had learned!

  179. This post just inspired and empowered me. When I become a successful polyglot, I want t meet you and shake your hand.

  180. I don’t know about conversational Arabic specific to regional dialects (EG Egyptian Arabic), but for studying MSA, fus-ha, or Classical Arabic, one must tack on learning roots. It is imperative. For example:

    fataHa he opened

    faatiHah opening Surah in the Quran

    miftaH key (thing that opens

    fat-Hah open vowel (aaah)

    If you understand roots and how to change them around, you’ll be able to understand just about ANYTHING thrown at you in a sentence as long as it comes from a root. This is why learning a colloquial dialect isn’t helped so much by this tip, due to the much higher number of non root based words (French words for example in Moroccan Arabic), but when it comes to reading a book, a newspaper, watching Al Jazeera, or even reading the Quran or studying Classical Islamic texts, understanding roots is waajib otherwise your brain will break trying to remember the some 12 million Arabic words.

    With this root you’ll hear “masjid” and think “sajada” he prostrated and know that masjid is a “place of prostration” AKA a mosque. Or “maTbaKH” and say TabaKHa he cooked OK it’s a place of cooking (kitchen). Roots are the miftaH to opening up fully Arabic, beyond casual conversations with farmers in Assiut.

  181. Just Awesome. But I still have a question. I’m native French Canadian. I speak English, and used to speak Spanish and Italian. Intermediate all of them. Since I’m living for two years in Germany, I have the feeling I cannot speak any language properly. Well, I know they are still there, but I can’t really use them, I feel that my head is in a German brainstorm. How can I separate all them, and switch easily, without translating my German to French 😉 for example. Other question: should I take a German course to stop macking all these little mistakes that I still keep doing, or I can continue learning by myself, and once, I’ll get it? Thanks for any kind of answer! You do a perfect blog!

    Nitya Jacques

  182. I just came across your site and info. Very helpful. Thank you.

    I have been trying to learn Pennsylvania Deitsch for over a year. I can read it just fine, but to have a conversation with my Amish neighbors is next to impossible.

    Since this is a rather obscure language to be learning, there isn’t much to go in on he Internet. Do you have any suggestions?

  183. this is suck!! I’ve been walking over and over to learn a lot of language just to make some friends out there.. why I just found this amazing article… I’m sorry about my word.. but seriously, Benny and Tim, both of you are amazing.. Hope I can be like you.. speak in several language… I’m B2 in both Korean, Japanese and Chinese.. thanks for the advice.. hope I can go up to C1 within 3 months… ^_-

  184. Hi Benny and/or Tim!

    I know this post dates back a little and you may not always be checking in on comments, but I had a quick question about getting started on some basic cognate word usage…

    I have the Anki app, but which deck(s) should I be starting with for French? There are a LOT to choose from on their “shared decks” page.

    Any suggestions here are much appreciated! I really want to get started learning my first new language!!



  185. Lovely post Benny, I have been a silent regular visitor at your website, but this one got me to atleast praise you for helping learners with such amazing tips. I would like to share one tip for language learners that I always do whenever I found it possible: go out and speak with confidence!

  186. Very useful post. If you’re just learning a language for fun or because you’re visiting a foreign language speaking country for vacation then I guess the point is to make people understand what you mean. When I was learning Spanish I realized that almost all you need to learn in order to “manage” are the words for I, you, he, she, want, need, have, like, do, eat, today, tomorrow, where, what, how much, this, that, left, right, numbers, days, and some other names of common objects. Also, what’s more important than learning is actually “practicing”. I’ve started teaching Arabic through Skype lessons focused on this idea and more focused on practicing. Arabic is a good language to learn because it would open doors to you in rich Middle Eastern countries like UAE, Qatar and KSA. That’s where the opportunities are these days. [Moderator: link removed]

  187. Hello I’m a Filipino I want to learn English language to communicate with my foreign friend.

    Can you please help me. Thank you I will really appreciate your help.

  188. Such an informative post. I’ll be applying a lot of this when I go to China next week. I’ll be there for at least six months, so I expect a lot of progress. This will help me strengthen my German as well. Thank you so much!

  189. Hi, I was wondering how effective changing all the things you use most to your target language would be in learning the new language. E.g. phone menus, email account, Google account, etc. Thanks!

  190. Hi I am currently learning Mandarin Chinese, I have ground my way to C1 level but am still targetting C2

    The biggest hinderance I find is my listening, which takes away my ability to converse more in daily situations. Any tips specifically about improving listening – to get from having conversations where people speak slowly/simply to allow to you follow, to where they speak at a naturally fast pace? That gap seems a difficult one to bridge

    many thanks, keep up the good work!

  191. Nice article Tim. I’ve been organising English lessons for over 22 years now, and I can fully agree with your advice. I work mainly with French speakers, working for http://www.englishacademy.be in Brussels. There is always a ‘but’ and an ‘if’ they bring up, instead of simply going for it. No talent for languages? My best and most motivated students create their own talent… with a little help from myself and my colleagues.

  192. Thank you so much to the both of you.

    I used Tim’s tips to learn basic Sorani Kurdish & basic Pashtu to work in my refugee camp this summer. Started on Arabic this week so purrfect timing 😉

    My parents speak 13 languages each, so I also got a couple habits that’ve really helped me for what they’re worth, especially for B1-C1.

    – B1: comic books, then move to bilingual editions of children’s books & poetry, then move to a stupid magazine of your choice (in L2 obv). Look for them online for free, or touristy places, or airports. They also give you insight about cultural differences.

    – B2/C1: movies & tv, then move on to radio is fast & much harder. Acid test for oral comprehension imho.

    – If I dont have a native speaker at hand, I check translation and reverse translation. It helps with nuances.

    – accent: singing. People’s accent is always better when they sing. It’s also easier to remember vocab.

    – slang: as a woman, I feel safer being able to answer if I’m catcalled when I travel, so I learn even things I wouldn’t use & specifically the worst existing (non-homophobic) insult.

    – culture research. A tiny bit goes a long way. I try to stick to content from that country. But I still have to google things at every south park episode :p I also look online for specific hands gestures (often natives couldnt think of them off the top of their heads) Otherwise you might insult them, or miss a lot of the action (Italy+++).

    And I always specifically work on humour, which is super cultural & really helps when you end up with new buddies at a loud bar trying to keep up & be fun. I really like Tim’s silly idiom idea, works wonders.

  193. I’ve getting inside of this amasing adventure (be polyglot) for few times, I’m from Angola, África. Portuguese is my native language, I learned English at pro course, now I’m learning French, Spanish, Latim and Italian by myself through listen to music and got lyrics, not instrutor, it’s really funny. The problem is that I haven’t resource mainly coursening in way to practice those language.

    Awesome post, thanks u both!

  194. This article came across my feed perfectly timed. I have been wanting to brush up on French (took two years in school) and Spanish (took one year in school) as well as learn Italian. One of my big concerns is that I already mix up words in Spanish and French and I can only imagine what’s going to happen when I add another similar language. However, I’m very excited after reading this article! Thank you so much and I look forward to further interaction with polyglots! (Just one of many new words I learned today by simply reading this article)