Interview with the Irish polyglot - Benny Lewis
Let's check our interview with Benny Lewis, "a fun-loving Irish guy, a full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author".
He become a fluent speaker of six foreign languages and is able to have conversations in many others.
Benny helps people to be confident in speaking foreign languages and his mission is "giving people permission to make mistakes", because "the more mistakes you make, the faster you become a confident language learner".
How many languages do you speak fluently?
If fluently means B2-C2 level on the CEFRL scale, then it's six languages. Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, German and that's excluding my native English.
How long did it take to learn them (please, point for each)? Why did it take so long or short?
Spanish was the slowest of all at about a year to reach a B2 level (and then a more intensive 3 months to reach the C2, certified by the Instituto Cervantes). It took so long because it was the one that I had the worst approach to and needed to develop me learning strategy the most.
Esperanto was the fastest, since I reached B2 level in just a few weeks. This was to be expected, as it's the easiest language I've ever learned and has lots of common vocabulary and grammar with languages I already know.
Italian, French and Portuguese were relatively fast for me since I had common languages. German was an interesting case since I had fragments of its grammar from school learning, but was still somewhat starting from scratch, not paying it much attention in school. It's the one I made the most progress in over three months.
What was your biggest glee while learning languages?
That first conversation where I have a to-and-fro that lasts several minutes and I learn something about the other person. This is extremely satisfying with a low level. The same conversation to an advanced speaker is run of the mill.
What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?
My own lack of confidence. It made the first 6 months of attempting to learn Spanish a big waste of time essentially, since I was never "worthy" (in my own mind) of speaking it to people.
How to fight yourself? Cause "I" is the biggest restraint in the language learning process.
I found that when I switched my approach away from perfectionism and towards actually aiming to make mistakes, it was impossible to fail. We are our own worst enemy because we presume that we can't dare use the language if we make mistakes, so agree with yourself in advance that it's not about that!
Is there an effective way to overcome "laziness"? Maybe you recommend what to do when I want to learn being not systematic.
What works wonders for me, is that I don't study "when I have the time". I'm extremely busy and travelling most of the time, so I realistically do not have time to learn languages. So if I studied some vocabulary "when I had a moment free", I'd get nothing done ever. Instead I reserve language lessons with real people that I can't let down. Reserving the lesson and putting into my calendar such that cancelling it would annoy my teacher and cost me the money of the lesson with no benefit, means that I just make the time.
Laziness comes into play when things are optional.
How foreign languages changed your life?
I have made many amazing friends and learned so much about the world that I never would have thought possible before I hit the road. The amount of experiences are endless when you don't restrict yourself to just the university educated elite that you expect to speak English when you travel. Everyone can help you learn something interesting.
Check also inspirational TEDx talk on language learning: