Benny Lewis is the brains behind Fluent in 3 Months, a best-selling author, and one of the most familiar faces in the online polyglot community.
He reportedly speaks 12 languages to various degrees, but how did he learn them?
In this post, we’ll go over his methods for rapidly becoming fluent in foreign languages, including what he calls, Language Hacking.
Who is Benny Lewis?
Beginning its life as Benny's personal language learning and adventure travelling blog, the website quickly attracted millions of visitors. Through his in-depth blog posts, and YouTube videos Benny built up a loyal following very quickly.
At the time, adult language learning wasn’t really covered widely online and the so-called “Polyglot Events” also weren’t around. That's until 2013 when Richard Simcott and Alex Rawlings launched the first ever Polyglot Conference in Budapest.
So, in many ways, Benny was a trailblazer in establishing a broader appeal about a hobby that was traditionally viewed as very isolated. One that was reliant on textbooks and memorisation of tables, rather than something that encouraged you to get out there and learn a language by “doing”.
This very website, along with all of my own personal contributions to language learning, have come as a direct result of finding Benny’s blog and being inspired to do something similar myself.
Defining “Fluent” and “Fluency”
Before we get deeper into this article, I'd like to address the elephant in the room:
How is it even possible to reach “Fluent” in 3 months? Doesn’t that mean that Benny is a scam artist to begin with, as that is clearly impossible?
Well, here’s the thing.
While most people have the idea in their head that “fluent” is the same as perfect, the dictionary definition doesn’t really specify this. Most people have different ideas for what being fluent in a language actually means.
Here’s a few different definitions:
“able to express oneself easily and articulately“
“a fluent speaker and writer on technical subjects”
This is the case for Benny too. For him, the most important skill in language learning is to actually talk to people, and his target was somewhere in the intermediate level. He wanted to be able to have social conversations relatively easily, but accepted that he wouldn't be able to talk in great detail about overly specialised subjects (unless he prepared in advance).
The duration of 3 months, was somewhat coincidental. This is the standard duration for a lot of tourist visas, so that became the target for him.
Let’s dive into his actual strategy.
Benny’s Language Learning Method
Before I lay out, what I believe to be, the broad strokes of Benny’s language learning method, I have to issue a few disclaimers.
- This assessment is purely based on my own impressions from following Benny for the past 7 years, and from his extensive library of content (text/video) that outlines the steps he takes to learn languages.
- Benny sells multiple products about his language learning method if you want to go deeper. One is his book “Fluent in 3 Months” and the other is his premium course called: Fluent in 3 Months Premium, which goes into a lot more detail and provides actual materials to help you learn languages faster too.
Step 1: Throw Away Your Excuses
The first step to learning a language, according to Benny, is to get rid of all the excuses that adult language learners typically have.These tend to include:
- I’m too old
- I’ve got a bad memory
- I didn’t do well in school
- I don’t have time
- I don’t have the language learning gene
- Etc, etc, etc!
Step 2: Learn the Important Things First
A big part of Benny’s success in a relatively short time frame is that he selectively targets the vocabulary and grammar that you need to quickly start using a language.
And by diving straight in and actually using the language straight away, he naturally improves.
To make this easier, sit down and write a list of the questions and answers that you are most likely to come across when you’re chatting with a native speaker.
Examples of this could be:
- Why are you learning [language]?
- How old are you?
- Where are you from?
- What is your job?
And my personal favourite:
- How do you say [word/sentence] in [Language]?
By targeting the most used vocabulary first, you can gain a remarkable general knowledge of the language.
For example, in English, you can understand about 80% of a newspaper with just 500 words! Now, of course, the remaining 20% will be a lot of the keywords, so you won’t be able to understand a ton with just 500 words. However, it proves what a massive impact it has on the beginning of your language learning journey.
Step 3: Get Out and Practice
Benny is a HUGE advocator of speaking as early as possible in your language learning journey; the sooner the better.
In the beginning, you might have to use what Benny calls “Tarzan language”. Instead of saying, “Excuse me, where can I find the bathroom” in your target language, you might simply say something like: “Bathroom, where?”
Keeping it simple takes the pressure off, and also allows you to use what you have learned much faster.
He demonstrated the absolute extreme of this when he tried to have a conversation in Polish after studying the language for just one hour.
It wasn't a huge success, but the fact that he can even do some communication is pretty mindblowing. So, learn your script. Learn the most used words, and then get out there and speak as much as you can.
If you can’t get out physically and use your language skills, then try and seek out online language exchanges or tutoring platforms like Preply.
Which brings me to my next point…
Step 4: Do a Lot of Online 1-on-1 Classes
Benny is a huge fan of online video lessons with tutors. During his active language challenges a few years ago, he would routinely book multiple daily lessons with a 1-on-1 tutor or teacher to rapidly develop his skills.
As the teacher can focus entirely on your problems and requirements, you’ll normally improve much faster using this approach.
For Spanish, you might want to check out Baselang, which offers unlimited lessons with a low monthly subscription. This was the method their founder, Connor Grooms, used to learn Spanish in just one month!
Otherwise, if you’re not quite as dedicated, you can check out italki where you can pick an online tutor and book lessons as and when you’d like.
Step 5 – Spend a Bunch of Time on it
The obvious step, which perhaps isn’t always obvious when you're watching or following Benny along the way, is that learning a language to some degree of fluency (whatever your definition of the word is) takes a lot of time.
During his intensive 3 month challenges, he would spend upwards of eight hours per day.
When it comes to learning languages, or anything for that matter, it’s best to use hours to keep track of your progress.
This was something I realised when I was frustrated about my German level after about eight years of German in school. However, when I added up the hours – 1.5 hours of lessons per week, combined with holidays, sick days, and other disruptions – I estimated that my total German tuition was less than 500 total hours!
So, if you studied for just one hour a day – you’d eclipse my eight years of German studies in less than two years.
Step 6: Accept Imperfection
The final point is to always accept that you’re terrible at the language (until you’re not).
Hesitating to use the language when you're given the opportunity, because you’re afraid that what you say might be wrong, or sound stupid is the easiest way to not progress in your language learning.
Initially, you will suck. Don’t worry about it.
For More Information about Benny
- Podcast episodes I’ve done with him:
Benny Lewis: Language and Encouragement,
Lauren Cutlip and Benny Lewis: Lauren's Esperanto
- Benny’s YouTube Channel
- Fluent in 3 months book
- Language Hacking Books. I've reviewed a few below:
Language Hacking Italian Review
Language Hacking German Review
Language Hacking Spanish Review
Language Hacking French Review
- Fi3m Premium
Kris is the founder of Actual Fluency, and has spent the last 8 years becoming an expert in language learning software, methods, and techniques.
Originally from Denmark, he now lives in Portugal and speaks 5+ languages at varying levels. His other interests are Wine, Online Marketing, and Travelling.