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.
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.
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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.
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.
The audio for the books is provided via the Teach Yourself Library application. Here is how to get started.
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:
[smart_track_player url=”http://media.blubrry.com/actual_fluency/content.blubrry.com/actual_fluency/01.01.mp3″ title=”Language Hacking French Module 1″ artist=”Benny Lewis & Teach Yourself” color=”#f2af20″ download=”false” social=”false” ]
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.
- 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
- 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
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That's the end of my Language Hacking French review. Give it a share on your favourite social media if you found it useful.
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.