Language Hacking French Review: A Beginner Conversational Course

Language Hacking French Review: The Language Hacking books is a new series of books produced in partnership by Teach Yourself, and best-selling author Benny Lewis.

In this review I take an early look at Language Hacking French to see how this new course stacks up with traditional language learning course books.

Language Hacking French Review

What is Language Hacking?

Before we get into the book itself, I think I might need to explain the term language hacking.

It’s a relatively new term, coined by Benny Lewis, and refers to the shortcuts and techniques one can use to gain rapid fluency in a foreign language.

Note please: I use fluency as the ability to have conversations without too many pauses. I don’t consider fluency to be the ultimate mastery in a language, like some people do.

This involves a variety of techniques that Benny has spent the last 10 years or so sharing with the world. Most of them are related to actually using the language, a common problem with traditional course books.

An example of language hacking would be to write down the basic script that you will encounter when meeting new people. Memorising specifically the vocabulary you will need.

This allows you to have a conversation in your target language in no time at all.

Compare that to traditional language teaching where university students coming out of 2-5 year degrees not speaking a whole lot. Yes they might read, write, and understand very well, but without that key element of speaking it’s not really that useful in most situations.

Another language hacking concept is to speak like Tarzan.

Instead of saying; “Excuse me, could you tell me where the toilet is?” you could speak much sooner if you just allowed yourself to say: “Sorry, where toilet?”

These are of course just minor examples, but they demonstrate that there are ways you can get to the fun parts of a language quicker (i.e. speaking) than the world has produced up until roughly 10 years ago.

In other words, language hacking is the ability to get the most mileage out of what we know in a language. It’s the strategic choices to learn what is most relevant.

Think of this way, a French study in 2004 by André Ouzoulias & al found that 50% of French was made up of just 70!words! (you can find them here if you’re interested.)

Now that you’re 100% on what language hacking means we can take a look at the actual course book.

Get the Kindle version and paperback on Amazon

Format of the Language Hacking books

The books contains 10 units spread out on 220 pages, not counting the answer key at the back.

Each unit centers around an interesting, realistic dialogue and provides the following for each of the 10 dialogues:

  • The dialogue itself with a mission for the learner
  • Interactive practice through exercises and questions
  • Essential Phrases / Vocabulary to build your own sentences
  • A #LanguageHack Tip from Benny
  • Grammar Explanation
  • Lots of notes scribbled across the margins

Here’s an official preview from Teach Yourself showing this is practice. This is an early version of Language Hacking French, as my review unit had a different structure.

language hacking french

A note on the informal/formal tu/vous in French

Benny states early in the book:

French has two ways of saying ‘you’: one is informal, tu / toi, and the other is formal, vous. For this book, we’re sticking with the informal form, because honestly, that’s the form you’ll use most when you’re casually chatting with people your age.

Some might not like this, but as someone who’s learnt languages that still uses formal versions I never really encountered too many problems with this.

Once you’ve completed the book and move on to other courses you will have plenty of exposure to the formal forms of the language, so don’t worry about that one.

Some traditional courses even use the polite form exclusively in the beginning, which can cause some awkward moments if you use it with people your own age or children.

Goes without saying of course, that if your target speakers are all older than you and you plan to learn French for a specific purpose where the formal language is required this course simply isn’t for you.

Differences From a Classic Teach Yourself Course

The Language Hacking French book is radically different from traditional Teach Yourself Language Courses for a few reasons:

  • It focuses on speaking, hence the subtitle “A Conversation Course”
  • It’s highly interactive
  • It empowers the learner to actually do something with the language
  • The knowledge is more concentrated.

There is no doubt that traditional Teach Yourself Language Courses do work, and have been working for a very long time. Unfortunately I find that they often suffer the same shortfalls as school language classes.

The conversations within are often touristy or completely irrelevant. I honestly never think anyone has been unsuccessful in checking into a hotel without the target language, for some reason this industry expects this in most countries.

They can also be pretty boring with the way they systematically break down each dialogue in a systematic pattern of dialogue,  translations, grammar notes, and some exercises

I’m not saying Teach Yourself Courses are useless or provide no value, they certainly do. I just know that most people are probably not successful with them due to some of these reasons.

I was very happy to see that’s not the case with this book.

Accompanying Audio

The audio for the books is provided via the Teach Yourself Library application. Here is how to get started.

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1. Find the Teach Yourself Library app in your local app store.

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2. Open the app and choose the book audio you want to download (it’s free!)

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3. Start listening, conveniently labelled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The quality of the accompanying audio content is really superb studio quality. The pronunciation is clear and precise, and I like the fact that Benny has recorded so much of the book himself.

Of course he is assisted by native speakers when the dialogues come up, but I like to hear his voice when he’s explaining concepts or introducing new sections.

Listen to the first module here:

Online Access

This feature was not yet available at the time of writing this review, as soon as it opens up I will update this post.

Italki Tutoring Partnership

Another part of  the whole #LanguageHacking movement has been to partner up with the worlds most popular tutoring platform, italki to encourage the learners to get tutoring sooner, or even at all.

Unfortunately most people are simply not aware of how affordable and accessible online tutoring is, and I’m really happy to see that this has been integrated into the book, once again focussing on the power of actually SPEAKING a foreign language and not just reading it.

How significant Italki’s role will be, apart from getting people more tutoring, remains to be seen.

From what I understand they’ve built a whole community section dedicated to language hackers and will be actively managing it to encourage people to interact on their site.

For more information on Italki you can read my review here.

Language Hacking French Review Conclusion

When Benny first made the announcement that he was going to release language course books in partnership with Teach Yourself I was highly skeptical of what the result might be.

For some reason I wasn’t really seeing how much you could actually change or improve on these classic language courses. To me it seemed like a pretty solid, albeit slightly boring model.

But Benny really came up with something quite unique. And I think the result is excellent.

Not only do you get a highly focused course with a very specific outcome (“Conversation course for beginners”), but you also get tons of information, tricks, tips, and hacks for the language on top.

Since this information is often scribbled in the margins of the book, it does feel like you’re being personally tutored by Benny himself. Sometimes the pages can feel a bit busy because all the margins are scribbled, you have the main chapter text and also some bonus boxes around.

I played around with the first chapter and the constant mini-challenges and overall mission really kept me going and entertained. I’m looking forward to giving the method a full test run next year when I begin to learn French seriously.

One caveat is that it’s definitely a beginners course and it definitely won’t get you to intermediate levels in any definition of the word.

However, will it make you learn the fundamentals quickly to be able to go out and speak a foreign language faster than any other method? I think so.

The new language hacking books provide an enjoyable and extensive introduction to a foreign language and encourages the learner to use the language from the very first page. Highly recommended.

The Good

  • Very reasonably priced
  • Packed with information and tips
  • Great for beginners
  • Fun and easy to keep working with
  • You feel like you make huge progress in no time

The Bad

  • Not overly extensive
  • Some pages have too much information on them
  • Only available in French, Spanish, German, and Italian right now.

Who is Language Hacking French Suitable for?

Language Hacking French is suitable for total beginners who want to supercharge their French learning and start speaking the language extremely quickly.

It’s also useful for people who have studied a bit of French in the past, and are looking to come back to the language.

Where to Buy the Language Hacking Books

The best place to pick up a copy of Language Hacking French is on Amazon.

The prices have fluctuated a bit, but at the time of writing this are available for roughly $15 for the paperback and $12 for the kindle version respectively.

In my opinion this represents excellent value for money, especially when compared to other language learning books and the fact that the audio is available for free.

Language Hacking French

language hacking

Order from Amazon

Other Language Hacking Languages
German
Italian
Spanish

That’s the end of my Language Hacking French review. Give it a share on your favourite social media if you found it useful.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Language Hacking French
Author Rating
5
  • Mbwana Alliy

    The German/French courses are a “joke” – only for young people talking to young people using the DU/TU-form. If you talk to elderly people the proposed sentences will be considered rude and impolite.

    • Considering something a joke because it doesn’t contain every single piece of information you need in the language is a bit over the top.

      I believe that any communication is certainly better than nothing, and as Benny states in the course: “We’re only dealing with the informal in this book, because that’s the one you’ll be using the most when talking to other people your age”

      As you get better in the language and move on to other resources after doing this course you will be bombarded by plenty of information on the difference between the informal and formal versions of the language. All conventional language courses I can think of definitely spend a lot of time discussing the differences.

      This is a conversation course, designed to get you speaking to your peers rapidly in common social situations. Yes, it doesn’t address how to speak to the elderly with respect, but honestly I haven’t had too much of a problem misusing the language in both Germany and Hungary, two countries where the polite form still exists very much. Have I offended someone? Sure. But could I have communicated in any other way with them? Probably not.

      Besides, it’s the 80/20 rule right. 80% of the time you’re talking to people around your own age and 20% you’re not. It makes a lot more sense to learn the 80% instead of the 20%.

      Thanks for your comment anyway, I will append this information about the polite forms to the review in case somebody is interested.

      • I think that it’s good that her had his assumptions up front. That being said, I think formal/informal can be important for many social situations, even for young people. When I was an exchange student in France, I was panicked because I couldn’t find my classroom. I grabbed a teacher and asked for help–with “tu.” It came off brusque, and I didn’t get much help.

        • Was this some time ago, Richard? I feel like the formal/informal has loosened up slightly during my lifetime, when I grew up I was taught to use the formal in my first job (about 15 years ago) but nowadays _nobody_ uses it anymore.

          Of course that’s only Denmark, but maybe the other countries have experienced similar progression?

          What way would you teach the informal and formal so it doesn’t add a ton of additional confusion and work to a rapid-starter pack?

          For me one of the annoying parts of programs like Pimsleur is the insistence of using a lot of formal in the first 30 lessons – so when you go speak to your peers in that language they laugh at you (or get conversely offended!) I’ve been told more than once in Germany by strangers that by “Siezen” I make them feel really old!

          I’m not saying Benny’s way is optimum, I just can’t think of a way to teach both that allows for rapid speaking and less confusion and properly allows for the student to understand the cultural differences.

          One last point of philosophy, has the pressure of using formal language been created by the language programs? I’m sure if you ask most people <40 if you can use the informal, because you don't know the formal (that might be a good sentence to learn!) most would be totally fine with it.

          • My experience came from the early 90s–a while ago, granted. I’d have to ask a native speaker. You’re right, Pimsleur is definitely envisioning a different language use-case than Benny is assuming. I use the formal plenty in France, but it’s usually when speaking to waiters and such.

            The other thing I find odd about not teaching “vous” would be the plural. If you only know “tu” you only know singular. That would be like learning “he” but not “they.” It would sound so odd for someone just to use “he” all the time, and occasionally really hard to follow.

            I remember one situation in German where a “Sie” was used in an odd place to help avoid a bad situation. I was with a German friend of mine at a restaurant. (Granted, this was also a while ago.) We started chatting with one of the servers, a young woman our age. My friend started off with “Sie” which she laughed at and told him to stop.

            Afterwards, I told my friend that it sounded weird to me, too. He said he used it to be careful. “Du” can mean “familiar,” as in same generation, but it can also mean “inferior,” as in “servant.” He wanted to be clear that he was not speaking as to an inferior, so he compensated by beginning with Sie.

            I listen to “HR Eins” interview podcasts. Occasionally, the interviewer will use “du” with a guest. He makes sure to explain the background and the relationship he has with the guest. I’m assuming he’s doing so because “Sie” would be expected.

            Again, I don’t think Benny is trying to prepare radio talk-show hosts. But understanding the nuance of what you’re saying is important. For getting started, though, you may not need to get overburdened with that. Three-year old native speakers don’t sweat it.

      • Mbwana Alliy

        You wrote “Besides, it’s the 80/20 rule right. 80% of the time you’re talking to people around your own age and 20% you’re not. It makes a lot more sense to learn the 80% instead of the 20%.”

        If you go into a bakery in Germany and talk to somebody in your age: “du, gib mir mal zwei Brötchen” you are simply impolite, even if the salesperson is in your age.

        You are Danish, and Danish are known to say “DU/TU” all day long. But in Germany, France, Spain there is a totally different way of talking to strangers.

        • You’re completely ignoring the core of the argument, and just keep presenting this old justice warrior logic. If you want to enter into a debate of why Benny’s or my arguments above are flawed or false, then please at least offer some ideas as to what should be done instead.

          I think fundamentally the idea about polite/Impolite is highly overrated and the only reason it’s still so strong in some countries, is because learning materials are so keen to emphasise that you MUST be polite or you will get picked up by the politeness police and sent to jail.

          Most, if not all, people I’ve encountered in those cultures who have had at least some exposure to learners of the language have patience about making mistakes (including politeness mistakes) and if they don’t then, well, their loss. I can live with people being offended by my lack of language abilities, because it refers back to them and not me.

          Consider a situation for example where the only communication possible is by me using the impolite form, how should we communicate? Sign language?

          I’d love to entertain your arguments, but the example of “Du, gib mir mal zwei brötchen” is borderline ridiculous and not really worthy of anyone’s time.

  • I like his inductive approach. That always appeals to me, and I don’t see enough materials that use it.