Benny Lewis is the most famous language hacker on the web. His blog – Fluent in 3 months – is a must-read for those who want to become confident speakers of any second language. Benny has been taking part in the competition since 2009. This year he ranked first in the Language Learning Blogs category and second in the overall Top 100.
In a previous interview in 2011, we covered many topics about his blog, and about its real focus: using languages to meet people from different cultures. Benny himself stated that he is not interested in learning languages but in speaking them. In this interview, we have asked him some questions about his language learning journey and his career as a blogger, author and speaker.
The biggest piece of advice you give to your readers is that they should not be afraid of making mistakes. Which funny mistakes do you remember making while learning a foreign language?
The funniest one I can think of is when I was learning German intensively and wanted to show an old friend (who happened to be female) a video I had made about my language project. I wanted to tell her it was cool and she should come to my flat to check it out. I messed it up completely though, and managed to say that I was horny (geil) and I wanted her to come inside me.
She had a great laugh about it and knew very well from the context that I had nothing of the sort in mind! The world didn’t end, and I learned a few things!
Are you learning any languages at the moment?
For the moment I’m concentrating on improving my current languages. I’m especially interested in bringing my advanced beginner Chinese back to lower intermediate level and onward to fluency, as well as having solid fluency in my Irish. I continue to practise my other languages.
Why did you learn Esperanto? What are the benefits of learning an artificial language?
I learned it for fun! I already spoke a bunch of Romance languages, so it was very easy to learn. The experiment didn’t seem like it required a lot of work, so I thought Why not?
It turned out to be a great decision! I met the people who are strong in the Esperanto community and made great friends.
I don’t know benefits of learning any random artificial language, but Esperanto itself has a well established community and events that you can go to, to essentially live through the language. A doorway to that community is the main benefit for me.
Studies have also shown that it works great as a bridgeway language. For a lot of people, just learning any foreign language is hard, so if they start with the easiest one, it turns out to be less work overall to reach fluency in the natural language they are more interested in.
You have been blogging for six years. Is your style different now than at the beginning? What changes have you witnessed in the blogging scene, and what trends can you foresee emerging in the future?
It’s been a crazy six years! When I first started writing on my blog, I had no experience writing at all. I had to learn a lot of things about style, headers, social media, basic marketing, what people wanted, what jived well, and what flopped. I did a lot of experimenting and have gradually improved over the years.
The blogging scene has completely transformed! When I started in 2009, there were almost no other bloggers writing about intensive language projects, and I never came across blogs that combined travel and language learning. The space has grown immensely since then!
In the future, I think blogging itself will evolve a lot. You can’t just blog any more. You have to have social media presence in so many channels, like Instagram, Youtube, Facebook etc. How language learners inspire people will evolve and I can’t wait to see it, and hope I keep up with the trends!
What is the biggest satisfaction that your job as a blogger, author, and speaker has given you so far?
Definitely the hundreds of thank you emails I get every day! It’s amazing – I never get sick of reading people’s stories. Usually it’s a blog post that I’ve long forgotten that they stumbled across, that got through to them in a particular way, and inspired them to finally get into their language project.
Now that I have my book out there, in physical bookshops, it’s been an incredible opportunity to reach others, who may not be clicking around the Internet to find me. I’ve used the book as a chance to meet so many readers in person on the international book tour, and heard their stories face to face.
It’s amazing when I think that “punching the keyboard” a little on my laptop can truly touch people’s lives across the world.
Aside from writing posts and promoting your blog, you are hosting many events. Do you find it easier to write or to speak in front of a large audience? Which communication techniques are transferable and which ones are specific to a medium?
I started with TEDx talks and have since given hundreds of speeches in front of large crowds. Luckily, coming from a language learning background and a “make mistakes” life-philosophy, I don’t get nervous in front of strangers, so I’ve really enjoyed speaking!
What I find easiest though is taking questions from people. I sometimes give a similar speech to introduce my language learning strategies at the start, but I much prefer to help the issues that audience faces, and to talk to people one-on-one, and to turn the meet-ups into chances for those people to get to know one another. Many friendships and language exchanges have cropped up from my speaking events!
What are your favourite blogs/Facebook pages /Twitter accounts/Youtube channels related to languages?
It’s really hard to choose – there is so much out there. It’s why I love the competition you guys run each year.
There are strengths that many brands have.
I love what Lindsay Does Languages is doing with her social media accounts, not just blogging well, but keeping an active Pinterest page, Instagram account, and Youtube channel!
On my weekly email, where I share my favourite discoveries each week, I tend to share lots of articles by Eurolinguiste, Languages Around the Globe, 5 Minute Language, and several others.