What are you talking about?
Ok that is a bit over dramatic of a title, but that’s kinda the point of the article. I haven’t posted in a while because I have been developing my views on language learning and how to do it. While I have been doing this I have begun to change my opinion on one Benny Lewis, The Irish Polyglot. Benny runs a blog called fluentin3months.com and he uses the blog to promote his language hacking guide. The proceeds of the guide allow Benny to travel on 3 month missions(or less) to all kinds of places. Benny is never in one country for more than 3 months.
When I found Benny’s blog I loved it and when I started my own blog and even started trying to copy the style of Benny just because I enjoyed it that much. That said, as of late I have begun to “fall out of love” with Benny and his website. I am going to be honest the straw that broke the camels back was his recent article of the 17 cultural reasons why he would never live in America. A more honest title would have been 17 reasons why I hate American culture, which non of his other articles about culture for other countries ever complained at this same level. Yes they may have hinted at how frustrating it was for him, but there was always an attitude of “it’s not bad, just different” But according to Benny this means I am an oversensitive American.
But this isn’t the first thing that Benny’s website has gotten to me. The title of his blog has always bothered me. I, by many definitions, am fluent in Thai. No I wouldn’t count on me to be the ambasador to Thailand, but I have read the Harry Potter series in Thai and can hold a conversation on Most topics in Thai. I will never have a problem getting around Thailand or arranging a room, a ride, or anything else for that matter. I have been formally tested at the highest level I have had access to, administered by Brigham Young University in Provo Utah. This test shows I have at least the level of Thai that is expected for someone completing his 3rd semester(this is the highest that the test grades and so I cannot tell you if the level is officially higher or not).
I am not trying to brag, just showing that I do have some experience in learning a language in a foreign country. In fact most of what I did to learn a language was not unlike what Benny encourages in his blog. So for him to give the impression that one can become fluent in 3 months is deceiving. You can become conversational, and maybe even VERY conversational. But you are not going to be fluent.
This all depends…..
His answer to this critique is that it depends on what you mean by fluent. I hate this come back. This is just like when Pastor Jefferies recently said that Mormons(I am a mormon by the way) are part of a cult. When pressed what he meant, he clarified that he didn’t mean a “social cult, but a theological cult.” When someone throws the word cult, to the general public, it means “don’t drink the Kool-aid” or “Heaven’s gate” type followers. EVERYONE knows that this is the perception that is given by the word cult. Theological cult just means someone who is kinda like us, but too distant to be one of us. This, by the way, means that christians are a cult from the perspective of Jews. Maybe among other pastors this definition might be useful, but in the real world it’s just incindiary langauge.(ok I am off that soap box, back to the point)
So, Mr. Lewis, when most people use the word “fluent,” they pretty much describe a level not that dissimilar to the level of Thai that I have described for myself. Can that happen in a short time? Yes! I felt fluent in about 1 year and 3 months of living in Thailand. So yes I am not arguing that what he says doesn’t have merit, but that he over dramatizes it to boost his blog readership.
The second thing I have begun to notice is that he does not, nor will he ever be able to speak to me on my needs in learning a language. He travels ALL YEAR. He has not stayed in one place at any given point in almost the last decade. This is not me, nor will it ever be. I do not travel and while I am married with 4 kids under the age of 9, I doubt I will travel much further than my own country(currently New Zealand). I also work full-time and have commitments to my family, faith and work. This leaves very little time to couch surf, do a language exchange or most of the other stuff that Benny recommends for those that don’t travel. This is not a critique, because there are obviously people out there who do and can do all that. Good on them, but Benny’s web site is not going to be very helpful to me for language learning tips.
So you hate fi3m.com then huh?
Ok I said it at the beginning that the title is over the top. I don’t hate Benny or his website. I will still read it because Benny still entertains me. He also has some good things to say about attitude and language learning in general. I definitely love his Learning with Text part of his website and would recommend it to all learning a new language. I put the over the top headline, because that is what Benny is: over the top. I have a feeling that Benny knows this too.