Fluent in 3 Months... by Benny Lewis

Discussion in 'Product Reviews' started by kikenyoy, Mar 20, 2014.

  1. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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  2. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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    Big_Dog Review of fi3m – Cons (chapter 2)

    In this chapter he suggests that you have a mission to learn a language. He talks about goals, fluency, the CEFR scale, and states that you can be fluent in 3 months.

    1) There is a “too elitist” way of looking at being fluent, and some people advocate using “pompous vocabulary”. Bad grammar aside, I understand the point he’s trying to make here, but he could do it more politely. There’s no need to say people who use vocabulary that he doesn’t use himself are pompous.

    2) When I reach the B2 level, I can live my life in this language exactly as I would in English. We discussed this in another thread. This is a very strange claim. I doubt if Benny or anyone else can do this, unless they are only at B2 in English. Generally, you won’t even be able to understand natives talking to each other, TV, the news, etc at this level.

    3) Make sure you have a clear definition of fluency. What’s the point? There are so many definitions of fluency, why invent another one? If you want to talk about your level, use the CEFR scale.

    4) This book of course suggest that you can become fluent in three months. This one surprised me, because Benny was very adamant that his blog title, Fluent in Three Months, was not about becoming fluent in three months. It was just a high goal people could set to help them achieve as high of a level as possible in as short a time as possible. He has received lots of criticism over the years for the title, and that was his response. So now he has done a 180, and claims that you can reach fluency (B2) in 3 months. With the possible exception of certain constructed languages like Esperanto, I don’t think you can. One reason for doubting this claim is the shear number of words you’d have to learn. In my post about vocabulary, I estimate this at 2,500 active/5,000 passive words as a ballpark figure for many languages. That’s over 50 words a day, which I doubt someone can do for 90 days in a row. Could someone pass the conversation portion of the B2 test within a narrow subject range? Maybe. But that’s not the same as reaching B2. Another reason why I don’t think it can be done is that even though you can cram a lot of hours into 3 months, it takes the mind a while to sort it out and make full use of it. I mention this in my Bow Wave post.

    5) To realistically expect to make good progress in a language in a short amount of time, you have to put at least 2 hours a day into it. I don’t understand the purpose of this statement. You can progress in a language studying 1 hour a day (actually a bit less, but it’s a good rule of thumb). And if you want to make the most progress possible, you should put as much time as possible into it. Does he means that you need to put at least 2 hours a day into a language if you want to reach B2 in 3 months? Maybe that’s what he means, but he doesn’t state that.

    6) It’s wrong to set a goal of reaching B2 within a year because that’s too vague. That’s a little aggressive, but it sounds like a reasonable, specific goal. It might be helpful to have short term goals too, but there’s nothing wrong with the long term goal.

    7) The only way you can fail in your “mission” is to be at the same point at the end of it as you were at the start. This sort of logic is very strange to me. If your mission is to reach a goal in a certain amount of time, but at the end of that time you haven’t reached it, then you have failed in your mission. It doesn't mean you wasted your time, it doesn’t mean you didn’t progress, but you failed in your mission. Revising your goal after every mission to ensure success will probably cause you to take missions less seriously. If you are so afraid to admit failure of a mission, maybe it’s better not to have one. Personally, I find it’s better to accept failures and mistakes in language learning, and move on, just like we do in other aspects of life.

    8) I reached B1 in Mandarin in 3 months. I disagree. I only saw him use 200-300 words, and that was watching videos that were rehearsed and edited. By my estimations, he would need 1,250 active/2,500 passive words as a ballpark figure for B1. He says it was independently verified by a Chinese language school. I wonder if they are qualified to estimate a CEFR level. My mandarin school told me my level is B2. But they were incorrect, because I have insufficient vocabulary to make that claim. Chinese schools typically overestimate the levels of their western student. I’m B1, and my level is significantly higher than Benny’s was at the end of his 3 months, so I believe he reached A2. Could he have passed a B1 conversation test within a narrow subject range? Possibly. But that’s not the same as having reached B1.

    9) Successfully communicating with natives will inspire you to take your language to the next level. This isn’t always true. It often inspires people to stop trying to improve. They often get comfortable with the level they are at, and don’t worry about studying any more.
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  3. biTsar

    biTsar Active Member VIP member

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    Reminds me of how I enjoyed listening to William F. Buckley debate with people. His politics and mine were a poor match, but the man loved words. His response to criticism of his vocabulary was, "But these words exist, why can't I use them?". Anyway, it's more my way or the highway from Professor Benny, the road engineer with the swiss cheese substrate. Hooah !
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  4. Bob

    Bob Active Member VIP member

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    B2 can't understand the news? I find that easier than talking to someone right now. I find the definition of B2 too vague. What is B2 exactly? I'd like to know because it's my current goal.

    6) It’s wrong to set a goal of reaching B2 within a year because that’s too vague. That’s a little aggressive, but it sounds like a reasonable, specific goal. It might be helpful to have short term goals too, but there’s nothing wrong with the long term goal.[/quote]

    Wait... what? I thought the whole goal of the book was B2 in 3 months. Along with point 8 about B1 in 3 months, I'm kind of lost.
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  5. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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    Big_Dog Review Part 3 – Cons (chapter 3)

    In this chapter he writes about mnemonics, SRS’s, singing and short speeches as ways to help memorize words and phrases.

    1) In ancient Greece, mnemonics were widely acceptable. In modern times they have been replaced by nothing. They have been replaced by written text. He actually explained this correctly, imo, later in the page, so I’m baffled by why he said “nothing”.

    2) Rote memorization doesn’t work well for production, so we should use mnemonics instead. I find mnemonics very useful for words that don’t stick. If you can recognize and produce the word without problems, there is no need to resort to mnemonics. I think it’s very inefficient to try to learn all your vocabulary this way.

    3) If mnemonics don’t work, use an SRS. There is nothing wrong with using mnemonics in conjunction with an SRS; they don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

    4) Consider the way we traditionally learn vocabulary: we go through a list of words in a book in the sequence they appear. Often we don't finish the list before we have to stop….When we review the list again, we start at the beginning…we never finish the list; we just keep going over the words we already know. How is this a traditional way of learning vocabulary? Why aren’t we finishing the list? This paragraph confused me. This way of learning is a straw man.

    5) You should sing phrases to help memorize them. You have to be very careful when you use music and singing in language learning. Pronunciation rarely matches the spoken language, which can be dangerous for beginners, especially with tonal languages. I limit my exposure to music in the beginning stages.

    6) You only need to sing a phrase once or twice before you’ll know the phrase naturally. This is an exaggeration. Knowing all the words would give you a better shot at being able to do this, but even then this claim is ambitious. If this statement was true, everyone in the world would use this method.

    7) Having to keep up is an essential part of progressing through the different levels of fluency. In chapter 2 Benny stated that you need a clear definition of fluency. His definition is B2. So how can there be different levels of fluency? If you are going to define fluency as a certain fixed level of proficiency, then you need to use a different word for different levels of ability. For example “ability”.

    8) Use a memory palace, key words and singing to memorize one minute scripts. The short script, or island, idea comes from How to Improve your Foreign Language Immediately, so I think he should give the author of that book credit. It’s a good idea. But the memorization technique Benny describes to do it seems to be overkill, especially the memory palace. Just like with single words or phrases, you only need to use mnemonics if you get stuck.
  6. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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    Are you planning on taking a test? If not, there is probably no need to worry about the definition of B2. Just go until you are able to do all the things you want to be able to do. If you are taking one, maybe you can get sample tests to see what you need to know. You can read the definition of B2 in Wikipedia, but it still leaves a lot to interpretation.

    I feel I can have a very good one-on-one conversation with the vocabulary I have at B2, and even B1 conversation is quite useful. But I don't have enough vocabulary to understand the news at that point, unless I specifically study the news. Vocabulary for the news isn't that overwhelming, so I can imagine someone getting to understand it pretty quickly if they focus on it. In your case, it sounds like your listening is well ahead of your conversation, which just means that you need more conversation practice if that's your goal.

    Benny thinks setting long term goals is a bad thing, because it's to vague. Saying "I'm going to be fluent in Spanish in one year" isn't good, by his definition. He wants people to set short term goals only.
    Regarding 8), my only point was that he didn't reach B1 in 3 months as he claimed, and I tried to justify my argument by using my own experiences as an example.
  7. Cainntear

    Cainntear Active Member VIP member

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    Errrrr... wow. For a man who constantly beats the drum for the communicative approach, he doesn't really seem to understand the communicative approach. The CA attempts to eliminate rote learning by learning entirely in context. Now, I think that's an exaggeration (learning in context isn't automatically meaningful learning), but it's definitely something.


    And once again, Benny's unwillingness to educate himself shines through: mnemonics are a rote memorisation technique. It is so because it has no inherent meaningfulness. All the literature defines it as such.
    Wow. Rote learning doesn't work well, so use learning-by-rote. If learning-by-rote doesn't work, try rote learning. Consistency, thy name is Benny.

    Besides, the problem with mnemonics is that the more you use them, the harder they get to use. The more mnemonics you have, the more effort it takes to recall the specific one you need on any given occasion -- this has even been the subject of scientific study.

    I do not doubt that Benny uses mnemonics, but I seriously doubt he uses them anywhere near as much as he thinks he does. I suspect he's trapped in a paradox. He remembers some words really well that he learnt via mnemonics, and he remembers the mnemonics really well. This no doubt gives the illusion that mnemonics are important to his learning. But it's basically impossible that he learned the majority of his vocabulary this way. Most of the vocabulary will have been learned in a far less conscious way, so he's not aware of it. In effect, it is probably the ineffectiveness of mnemonics that makes them seem so effective to him.

    Again, this is something he would be able to judge for himself if he was willing to discuss these ideas, rather than feeling threatened by any suggestion that he isn't 100% aware of his own learning techniques.
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  8. Peregrinus

    Peregrinus Active Member

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    As usual, Benny is throwing every concept he ever read about (without giving credit as you mention), along with the kitchen sink, into his book, without explaining in detail how he has used such techniques to achieve whatever level he claims. If anything, he is overwhelming a language learning beginner with such an array of methods, when what they seek is a simpler and exact roadmap for learning.
  9. Wise owl chick

    Wise owl chick Active Member

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    As long as Benny doesn't say that we must all use mind maps for learn vocabulry and then control that our mind maps have only precisely what the teacher find must be connecetd, then I'm happy LOL.

    I absolutely hate mind maps :mad: and when you must put the vocabs in the outside ones :mad::eek:o_O but it's not allowed to put the words that you want. I can't learn words this way at all, but it was the teachers' obsession in the school when i was younger.

    Personally, mnemonics don't help me also. I just become stressed that I forgot the mnemonic haha. Or I forget for what was the mnemonic as well. What a waste of energy. I've my own method for vocabulary acquisition.
  10. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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    Big_Dog Review Part 3 – Cons (chapter 4)

    In this chapter he writes about the advantages of learning languages at home, suggests how to set up an immersion environment, and ways to contact native speakers.

    1) Expats often don’t succeed in learning languages due to a combination of laziness and the “expat bubble”. I wouldn’t assume expats are lazy just because they don’t want to learn the local language. Many of them don’t see the need, or aren’t interested in learning it; they are not necessarily lazy individuals.

    2) There are many reasons why learning a language while immersed in the target country isn’t optimal. Instead of discussing only the negatives of learning a language in the target country, why not list the positives too? It’s better to present both sides of the issue, and let the learner decide what to do. Many, many people have learned languages successfully while being immersed in the target country from the beginning. I think there are some interesting similarities between the reasons some people don’t like to converse from day one and some people don’t like to learn in the target country from day one.

    3) Native speakers are friendly and welcoming when learners approach them randomly on the streets. This is often true, but I think it would be good to remind people to use their common sense. For example, one should avoid dangerous situations, and avoid intimidating people. Also, if your partner acts uneasy, let him off the hook. If you are struggling, I would avoid trying to make someone listen to you for extended periods of time unless they are clearly enjoying it.

    4) There are advantages to learning with non-natives. This is true, but there are also disadvantages. It would be best to list both advantages and disadvantages, and let the learner decide what to do.

    5) To improve your listening and reading skills, you need virtual immersion. Not true. This is an option, but not a requirement.

    6) You should use dubbed versions of your favorite tv shows in your target language. There are advantages and disadvantages to using dubbed shows vs native shows, but once again, he only lists the advantages of his preferred method.

    7) Language exchange: if you provide native speakers with thirty minutes of your time to chat in English and answer some of their questions, then they will teach you their language free of charge. Another strange statement. I think what he was trying to do here is give a general description of language exchange. Something more general like “find a native speaker, speak 30 minutes of L1, then 30 minutes of L2” would be better here imo.

    8) His favorite way to do language exchange is on dedicated sites like italki. italki is a great place to find tutors, not nearly as good for language exchange, imo, so it’s strange to me that he used this for his primary example of a language exchange site. In fact, I remembering reading somewhere that he hadn’t ever done a free exchange on italki. Maybe that has changed since he wrote it, but he should have used sharedtalk as his example, imo.

    9) Sign up with italki via my site. It would be more ethical if he mentions here that he gets referral credits with italki when people sign up through his site.
  11. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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    If there's one thing I take away from all this, it's if I ever write a book, I'll definitely have Cainntear review it first.
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  12. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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    Big_Dog Review Part 3 – Cons (chapter 5)

    In this chapter he writes about the advantages of conversing from day one, and describes his method of doing this. He also suggests learning Esperanto for 2 weeks as a way to grease the skids for your other language.

    1) You have to speak from day one. If you don’t, you will just keep procrastinating, because there is no such thing as “ready” in language learning. What he means is that you have to converse from day one, and this isn’t true. You can speak from day one, but it’s not a requirement. “Ready” is how you define it. Many learners, such as myself, have a level in mind at which they will begin conversing. When we reach this level, we begin to converse. This isn’t procrastinating, it’s planning.

    2) Phrase books come with pronunciation guides, so you don’t have to worry about pronunciation. If your going to do things this way, why wouldn’t you use a phrasebook with audio, so that you can be sure what the pronunciation is, and have a better chance to be understood? I think relying on a written description of pronunciation is dodgy.

    3) He uses the expression “Keep it Simple, Stupid” This is known as the KISS principle, and not everybody knows that. I think he should probably explain it, or there are going to be learners that think he is calling them stupid.

    4) When you are talking to someone who you are paying, that person will be very patient. They should be patient, but there are no guarantees.

    5) A course based on conversation is superior to a “generic” course. Most courses include conversation, or advise the learner to converse as often as possible. I don’t think of courses that are not specifically built around conversation as “generic”. And while I like conversation to be at the core of a method, I don’t think every course that’s based on conversation is superior to every course that isn’t.

    6) Go through a course only after you’ve solved your biggest spoken issues. I think it’s pretty hard to solve your biggest spoken issues without going though a course.

    7) You won’t understand your partner in the beginning. This is one of the best reasons to delay conversation for a couple months. If you have a component of listening from the beginning, when you begin to converse you will understand most of what your partner says.

    8) Your teacher will encourage you to do most of the talking. The teacher should encourage you talk a lot, but there are no guarantees. It would be nice if there was a section on how to prepare the teacher for Benny’s type of lesson.

    9) In the beginning, sticking to L2 for the entire lesson can be frustrating. Another reason to delay conversation for a couple months. Your level will be high enough to make it somewhat comfortable to stick to L2 for the whole lesson.

    10) Keep things in the “right language”. I think it’s better to use something like “target language” or “L2”. Saying “right language” might give the learner a negative connotation about his L1.
  13. Peregrinus

    Peregrinus Active Member

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    Yeah right. Women will welcome just any man walking up to them on the street. And you'll never instead be constantly confronted by so-called "language bandits" who want to use you for English instead.

    I agree and with other similar comments of yours (Big_Dog's) below. One doesn't actually have to talk from day one other than repeating what is necessary in a course.


    Gives him no credibility when he makes blanket statements like this without any caveats as to certain languages, problems in differentiation of similar sounds or the fact some learners don't have that good of an ear and need extra work on pronunciation in a detailed manner the way FSI intro courses do.

    Classic tactic of marketers/salesmen/etc. to put a new name on a commonly-accepted term to hide that they're just tweaking concepts or merely adopting them wholesale.
  14. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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    Big_Dog Review Part 3 – Cons (chapter 6)

    In this chapter he gives tips, or short-cuts, for beginners of specific languages, involving vocabulary, grammar, scripts, tones and sign language. I think it should have been called what I find easy about specific languages. While there are some recommendations about what to do for certain languages, most of the chapter is spent trying to encourage people to learn languages. As is usual in this book, he covers only the “easy” stuff. Rather than focus on the easy, it would be better to give an overall summary of the different families, and let the learner decide whether it motivates him or not.

    1) Languages are made easier because there are lots of cognates, and there is no need to learn cognates. While I agree that cognates can be a big help, I feel we still need to study them. Pronunciation, nuance and sometimes the entire meaning can be very different. One thing that is missing here is a word of caution about false friends.

    2) The words enter, opinion and simple would seem pompous at a party. The point he is trying to make is that cognates are often of less commonly used alternative words in English. Unfortunately, to support his theory, he used these three words. I don’t think these words less common. They definitely aren’t pompous, and it would be better if he didn’t say that.

    3) Beginners should focus on modal verbs + the infinitive. This was a tip to simplify grammar. Maybe this is true for using his method. But delaying conjugation until later has it’s disadvantages. It takes some time to get used to, so conjugating from the beginning, along with using modal verbs, is a good way to get the necessary practice.

    4) Fix gender problems later. Gender is one of the issues that I think learners should work on as they go along. I say that because it really sticks out. It’s one of those things that tends to get corrected, even if you’ve asked not to be corrected, so it’s a good idea to make an effort to get the gender correct.

    5) When you see a Cyrillic word, you know precisely how it should be pronounced. This is false. Vowel declension, stress, etc., make it impossible to guess most of the time.

    6) Using a language with a phonetic script which is different from English is easy because it only requires you to learn a small set of characters. Having a different script is a factor that adds significantly to the time it takes to learn a language, even if it’s phonetic. The way it’s discussed in the book, it almost seems like he’s saying there is an advantage to learning a language with a different script, as opposed to one with a similar script.

    7) It only takes one afternoon to go through the entire alphabet. First, while you might be able to associate a single sound to each character in some alphabets in this time, I think most people take longer. Second, a beginner might read this and take away that he will be able to read and pronounce the language correctly, although slowly and without knowing the meaning, after that afternoon. That isn’t true for any script that I’ve learned, although some come closer than others. Another thing he seems to want the reader to take away – the difference between learning a language with a different script and one with a similar script = 1 afternoon.

    (The following items are regarding Mandarin)
    8) He finds it strange that people have difficulty with tones. I’ve met many people who don’t want to learn tonal languages because they are tonal. None of these people were monoglots; they all understood what tones are and their place in a tonal language. They are different from Benny, but it’s best not to call them strange.

    9) You will be understood even if you get the tones wrong. This is one of the worst things you can say to a beginner learning a tonal language. In tonal languages, tones are more important than vowel and consonant sounds. That’s because there are often regional variations that will allow you some leeway with consonants and vowels, but not so with tones. Learners should be encouraged to get the tones right from the beginning. That’s what Benny did Mandarin, that’s why he gets 70-80% of the tones right, and that’s why he can be understood in his very simple conversations with people who are accustomed to learners. I would hate to see a video of his if he had read the advice above, and hadn’t been concerned about tones.

    10) Though they took a lot of work, tones were nowhere near as difficult as so many made it out to be. His tones aren’t very good, so the statement comes off as a little cocky. When I started learning Mandarin, the difficulty of tones was played down. Fortunately, I knew from my experience with Thai that they were very important, so I worked hard at them. I don’t know if tones are played up as more difficult than they used to be, but the best thing to do is give the learner a good idea of what they are about to get into, so they can prepare. I don’t see any benefits in trying to convince people things are nowhere near as difficult as so many made it out to be.

    11) Don’t take the scare tactics to heart. What scare tactics? Give the learner information, and let him decide if and how he wants to react. Information does not equal scare tactics.

    12) When he became a more confident speaker, he got back into the language from a reader’s perspective. I haven’t seen any new Mandarin videos of his in a long time. I got the impression he quit after about 4 months in. For example, he had an opportunity to speak some Chinese during one of his Japanese videos, but much to his fans’ disappointment, he didn’t. I’m curious as to what his level is now. Did he really get back into the language?

    13) With the 500 characters, you will be able to read most menus and signs. The learner is going to assume he’s talking about the 500 most common characters. This isn’t true. Menus and signs often use words that are specific to them, and often have lower frequency characters. If you study vocabulary that is specific to them, you can understand them faster of course, but you need more than the most common 500 to be comfortable with them.

    14) You should learn the most frequently used Chinese characters first, rather than learn them all systematically. There are 3 main schools of thought regarding which order to learn them. A) learn the most frequent first B) learn them systematically (in an order that makes sense based on their radicals) C) learn them as you encounter them. It would best to present all three methods, listing their advantages and disadvantages, and let the learner decide. Instead, all he does is say A) is best. In case anybody in interested, I prefer C).

    15) You should memorize Chinese characters using the kanji pict-o-graphix method. He didn’t use those words - credit was not given to the author of this mnemonic method. But that's the method he describes. It works well for simple characters, but is not nearly as good as the Heisig mnemonic method, which works for all characters. In general, I didn’t find Benny’s information regarding how to tackle Chinese characters comprehensive enough; there were just some rules of thumb, rather than a system. Even better would have been a summary of the 2 or 3 most popular systems for memorizing single characters. And one glaring omission even for rules of thumb was the lack of pronunciation clues given by the radicals.


    (The following items are regarding Japanese)
    16) People who tell you Japanese is difficult are naysayers. Relative to other languages, for most native English speakers, Japanese is a very difficult language. I don’t think that providing truthful information makes someone a naysayer; maybe the problem is the interpretation of that data.

    17) 200 characters account for 50% of all kanji you will see. I’ve never understood the reason for telling people a few hundred characters (Chinese, Japanese) or a few hundred words (most other languages) makes up a high percentage of the language. It’s a fact, but how is it useful? Another fact; to be a good B2 reader, you need to have mastery over 2000 characters. C2 will take 3000.

    18) Romaji is a Japanese phonetic alphabet. Although pinyin is the official phonetic system for Mandarin, Romaji isn’t a Japanese phonetic alphabet. It is merely romanization of Japanese.

    19) If you don’t know a word, say the English word with Japanese pronunciation and you may be completely understood. Yes, there is a slight chance. But most words aren’t Japanese pronunciations of English words. The ones that are usually take practice to pronounce well enough to be understood, and they are often difficult to understand to the untrained ear.

    20) There are some challenging aspects to Japanese, but you will get used to them. Yes there are, but they weren’t mentioned in the book. The easy aspects were listed, why not list the challenging aspects? Knowledge is a good thing.
  15. hrhenry

    hrhenry Member VIP member

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    There's a lot to comment on, but I'll only address this point in that his advice is absolutely useless for a heavily agglutinating language such as Turkish. In Turkish, modals are suffixes incorporated into CONJUGATED verbs. Couple that with the fact that many Turkish verbs need to be learned with an associated noun case, usually a direct object.

    I remember when Benny was doing his Turkish "mission". I followed it as closely as I could, since I was studying Turkish myself. There wasn't much to follow, as he didn't get very far. He chalked up his failure to "health" issues (the "health" issue that was hampering his "mission" was a dark apartment.)

    His advice seems to be aimed at and seems to work for up to about an A2 level, maybe less, and only for a subset of language families.

    I didn't know of Benny until after he completed his German "mission". Has he ever gotten to even an intermediate level in any language since then? I guess I remember a Dutch "mission" where he may have reached a low B2, but other than that, I can't think of any other example.

    R.
    ==
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2014
  16. Peregrinus

    Peregrinus Active Member

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    Seymour Resnick's old and fantastic little book, Essentials of Spanish Grammar, has a list of about 2500 Spanish-English cognates in the back, which he recommends studying and using. But if you go through the list, you can see many of the corresponding English terms are upper register or would otherwise sound a little odd, versus another English synonym, and the same with the Spanish part of the pair. And this of course was before the wholesale adoption of English terms in many languages that has been taking place since he wrote that book.

    The Michel Thomas method, and similarly that of the course for Spanish, Synergy (not to be confused with your own global method of the same name), as well as the Madrigal books, are based on from the start using modals and infinitives to make longer more complicated phrases with a minimum of vocabulary. It's a great method. But the beginner also needs at a bare minimum familiarity with the conjugation of the present tense, and especially for common irregular verbs.

    Ditto squared. While one doesn't need to have perfection, its simply a better practice and easier in the long run to memorize substantives with their gender at the same time. And better yet is to have them in Anki or one's word lists with the gender in the front, as in "das Buch" or "la familia", instead of "Buch, das /Buch (n)" or "familia, la /familia (f)." (But some langs like Swedish might have gender following IIRC.)

    Comments like this by him really shred what little credibility he has. General unpredictability of stress, variable / movable stress in Russian is a huge issue for learners.

    Tell him to find either pinyin courses for Mandarin, or romanji courses for Japanese, past a low beginner level. (While my old De Francis Chinese course does have a pinyin text at its "advanced" level, it still assumes one is using the corresponding character text - and there is no pinyin reader.)

    Re this and the items below it on tones, he has somewhat of a point, in that tones aren't that difficult once you've spent a lot of initial hard work on them (though obviously more difficult with Cantonese/Thai/etc. that have more tones than Mandarin's 4), and which is compensated for to a large degree by the ease of grammar. As for being understood with bad tones, as I said in the thread devoted to this in the other forum, you actually won't be enough of the time that it matters a lot.

    As to his statement that tones aren't as difficult as made out, I agree IF one spends A LOT of time on them in the beginning, preferably with feedback, and then concentrates on them when speaking (or even sub-vocalizing them to oneself).

    Again horrible. Like you say, those 500 characters absolutely will not cover menus, not even close. You'll get 鸡 means some kind of chicken dish, but you won't know what kind. And guess what else Benny doesn't know. That after learning simplified characters, you will find menus using traditional ones outside the PRC even in Mandarin speaking restaurants, as in 雞 / 鷄 for chicken. The names of various vegetables, sauces, cooking methods? No way you get that with 500 characters. It is obvious his understanding of so many issues is superficial and that he should have paid a fact checker to go over his book.
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2014
  17. Peregrinus

    Peregrinus Active Member

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    An additional comment I'll make is that the reason Benny gets by with so much of his schtick, is that rarely will one person have enough knowledge of learning methods or a lot of individual languages to recognize his book is chock full of errors, even though they should reason that based on the errors they can recognize, the rest of the stuff must contain a load as well. And beginners have no shot. Forums like this one, HTLAL, LingQ and others are his worst nightmare, because the collective knowledge of the users in these places can identify nearly all his errors, as Big_Dog and commentators are doing in this series of excellent, detailed reviews.
  18. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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    Big_Dog Review Part 3 – Cons (chapter 7)
    In this chapter, for people using his method, after they get somewhat comfortable speaking, he suggests ways to improve through studying grammar, having conversations with tutors on specific topics, using movies, books, exams and thinking in the language.

    1) Conversing from the beginning gets one to a basic conversation level faster than other methods. This makes sense, because you will be conversing while others will be doing other studies. So up to the point others start to converse, and most likely for a few additional weeks that it takes to catch up, you will be conversing better than the others. But this doesn’t mean that conversing from the beginning is better in the long run.

    2) So many approaches are so hung up on perfection that they overlook the first steps mentioned in this book. This is another straw man. I don’t remember any methods that are hung up on perfection. Also, this book has some very unique first steps, so it’s no surprise other approaches would “overlook” them.

    3) Confidence issues are bigger than content problems. I think these are both pretty big, and I don’t think it’s necessary to claim one is bigger that the other. For example, being afraid to talk to people and knowing absolutely nothing are both major problems. No need to decide which is worse.

    4) The most intimidating thing about languages for most people is grammar. This chapter is supposed to be about striving towards fluency, yet much of it is spent talking about the evils of doing grammar in the beginning. There is so much written in this book about having a good attitude, and avoiding any information about “difficult” aspects of languages, it seems contradictory that the author is so negative about grammar. Whether you learn it early, late, or off and on, it doesn’t have to be a terrible thing. Unless the other side of the story is presented, the one where people learn it successfully at different times, I feel that the book could leave a negative impression regarding grammar. Doing an overview of grammar early on can really help with conversation. And the longer you wait to learn grammar, the longer you will fossilize bad habits. There are advantages and disadvantages to delaying, just as there are with conversation. It would be better to present all the information, and let the learner decide.

    5) Delay reading, listening and writing until after you are a good communicator. This is a big weakness of the approach. I find that starting these things from the beginning create a better base, and I suspect that someone using a more balanced method will reach the higher levels in the language earlier that someone who uses conversation as a bootstrap.

    6) Pure input methods aren’t very efficient, and that’s the reason why so many people take years to become conversational. People who use pure input are pretty rare, so I wouldn’t use the expression “so many people” here, because it sounds like it means the majority.

    7) Expecting to learn a language while doing something else is lazy and counter productive. It’s ignorant, not necessarily lazy. Many people on the internet claim this is possible. Just as much blame should be put on those people as the learner. There is no need to insult anyone by calling them lazy.

    8) If you follow the advice in the book, you will get all the exposure you need in the early stages. This isn’t true. Not true. You exposure is limited to conversation partners who simplify things for you. You don’t even read or listen to podcasts, tv, movies, etc. So compared to a well balanced method, the exposure in this book’s approach is lacking.

    9) Benny isn’t interested in following video, and can bluff his way through conversations despite having inferior listening skills. Video is a great tool for learners, and can really improve one’s listening skills. This isn’t just about becoming good at following video. For example, it can greatly improve one’s ability to follow conversations between native speakers, important public announcements, etc. Whether you use video or not, in order to become a good conversationalist you need good listening skills, not good bluffing skills.

    10) Talking to yourself in L2 is an essential part of advancing in a language. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, but I’ve never done it, at least not in any systematic way, so apparently it isn’t essential.

    11) You need to practice talking to yourself so that you can avoid the slow process of translating when you converse. I’m surprised that this is a requirement for Benny. The best way to avoid translating is to converse a lot. You won’t have time to translate; you will be forced to think on your feet in L2. No need to go through a lengthy process of learning to think in L2 – just converse and it happens naturally.

    12) You can never truly be taught a language. You can certainly be taught a language. Teachers can teach like crazy. That doesn’t mean you will learn it though.
    tastyonions likes this.
  19. Cainntear

    Cainntear Active Member VIP member

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    O. M. G.

    Benny studies grammar. It's something he does with every language. Right from the start.

    This book is supposed to tell you how to learn like him, but he keeps saying the opposite. I called him up on this years ago, and he said that he does it, but that it's not important. How does he know it's not important if he hasn't learned any languages without studying grammar? Is he falling back on study of the literature? No, he doesn't believe in linguists. So it must be the word of a prophet. Is Benny a prophet? And if the language learning gods have spoken to him, why then does he continue to do the opposite of what they told him? Is he both prophet and heretic?

    This is why he gets under my skin so badly. He keeps telling people he's going to help them learn like him, then telling them to do exactly the opposite of what he does.
  20. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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    Big_Dog Review Part 3 – Cons (chapter 8)

    In this chapter Methods for becoming more like a native speaker are described, such as accent improvement, dressing, gestures and colloquial speech.

    1) Benny has reached C2 level several times. I wonder in which languages, because he only mentioned Spanish. I’m sure his English is C2. He said he failed German C2. Are there other tests that he failed to mentioned? Otherwise, I guess several means two.

    2) Even if you have a very good accent, it’s unlikely you will be confused for a native speaker if you don’t dress and act like one. I sometimes get confused for one on skype, without video, so it’s not unlikely in that case. I can understand the desire to fit in if you are living in a different culture, but as a tourist I prefer not to be mistaken for a native speaker. I generally like to stand out, and use it to my advantage. My language skills are always good enough, or I’m aggressive enough to speak in L2 all the time, so looking like a foreigner isn’t a problem for me in that respect.

    3) Prioritize fixing individual sounds as early as possible. I agree with this advice, and think it should been taken care of in the very beginning, but this isn’t even mentioned in the early part of the book.

    4) Sit down with a native and they can tell you precisely why you are pronouncing something incorrectly. In my experience, natives are terrible at explaining pronunciation. They can tell you when you pronounce something incorrectly, and you can model your pronunciation after theirs, but they can’t explain things. I assume professionals who are trained to do this, like speech therapists, can, but a random native can’t.

    5) deleted

    6) Speaking correctly idiomatically/colloquially is a way to improve your accent. This is grammar, not accent.

    7) We should pronounce things colloquially, rather that grammatically correct, for example “I dunno” instead of “I don’t know”, because that’s the way natives speak. Colloquial pronunciation often varies, so it’s better to learn the grammatically correct version, then make adjustments if and when they are appropriate.

    8) Singing can improve your pronunciation. Singing can be fun, and it can make you a better singer in that language, but it can be harmful to your pronunciation if you aren’t careful, especially for a beginner. When you sing, you are often incorrectly pronouncing material over and over again.

    9) Differences between native and foreign accents can be not only due to pronunciation but also to intonation. Intonation is an aspect of pronunciation, not a separate entity.

    10) It may be helpful to hire an accent trainer to improve your accent. I would like to know how Benny found his accent trainer, and how much they cost. They aren’t listed on italki, for example, as far as I know.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2014

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