Reviewing Benny Lewis' Fluent in 3 Months book

Benny Lewis' infectious attitude about learning languages keeps me motivated and readjusts my thinking about language learning, keeping it positive and "can-do."

He's forthright about what language learning requires -- belief that it's possible, a supportive language-learning system, and a positive attitude toward the language -- in fact, "a passion for the language itself" -- and the culture, and language-learning.

Plus, he's collated the wisdom of the language-learning community, and he shares it, encouraging others on the path of language learning. Take, for example, this quote found in the introduction of the book: 

"You don't know a language, you live it. You don't learn a language, you get used to it."
- Japanese-language-learner Khazumoto

And isn't it the truth. The least gifted native speakers of any language will tell you they speak the language, not because they have degrees in the language, but because they've lived the language from a young age and are comfortable with it. 

So, too, with acquiring a new language. But the beauty in the words is the pressure release that results. Now, I can relax and live the language, really work at getting used it. Less pressure means less stress; less stress means easier language acquisition.

In teaching about language learning, Benny gets to the root of our complicated beliefs about learning, by helping us shift our thinking about it, often by means of transformational vocabulary. For example, "goals" may begin to feel goliath, but "missions," or even "mini-missions," bring a sense of strategy and adventure to learning. The book, and in fact, all of Benny's writings, will give you a probably-much-needed attitude adjustment.

When I spend a week on Japanese, somehow my mind always returns to the well-worn groove of defeat, self-soothing with thoughts akin to "poor baby, Japanese really is a terribly difficult language to learn." The problem is that thoughts like that are not empowering and only hinder my progress. So, when, even after a week of studying Japanese, I read anything by Benny, I get what I need. He puts me back on track, mentally, and my heart gets back in the game.

After a month of studying Japanese, reading grammar books (which is something I enjoy), listening to Japanese audio, writing in Japanese, reading Japanese children's books, watching Japanese television and movies, I would find myself taking a month off from Japanese. I always thought this was strange and couldn't figure out why, as much as I love the language and the people, I could not get myself to study again for another month or more. So it was with great relief that I read the words in chapter 2:

"What I eventually figured out, though, was that I could only keep up this kind of active, intense learning for about three weeks... Once a month I would also take an entire weekend off the language project."

Benny pointed out to me that I wasn't really listening to what my mind and body were telling me: pace yourself, take breaks, do other things in between. The practical wisdom and experience that Benny shares will help you in similar ways. 

If these things seem like le frou-frou, like psychological mumbo jumbo to you, then please keep in mind that we're all in different places on the path of language learning. And maybe you'd also be pleased to hear that Benny, of course, shares all kinds of useful language resources for the language you're learning, Japanese or not.

Exclusive content is also packaged with the book (as URLs to digital downloads). I immediately downloaded the cheat sheet of handy conversation extending phrases. If you know Benny at all, then you know he firmly believes in speaking the language from day one, so he provides resources to help with that.

Two points related to learning Japanese that I appreciated are:

  • That "just fewer than two hundred characters account for 50 percent of all kanji used on Japanese Wikipedia, while just fewer than five hundred characters account for 75 percent." That sentence just took my Kanji Godzilla and turned him into a cute hamster! Thanks, Benny.
  • The NHK News Web Easy provides news in simplified Japanese and includes furigana. I enjoy reading in Japanese, so this is a nice tip.

The book contains much more: how to be mistaken as a native speaker, becoming a super-polyglot (or "polynot"), URLs to additional resources at the end of each chapter, etc. The book is worth a read, and it won't take much time away from your language learning. Be sure to take some time to read his blog, too.

p.s. If you're a student of Japanese who needs an attitude adjustment, maybe this post is for you: why Japanese is easy to learn. Also on my reading list: Benny's book about German (when a Kindle edition becomes available). Cheers.

Use Way of Life app to track your progress in Japanese

My boss -- and a whole lot of other people -- always says, "If you can't measure it, you can't make it better." Or something like that.

I'd been tracking my progress on paper but these days, there's an app for everything. The Way of Life app (Apple only so far) was mentioned on The Tim Ferriss Show (podcast), and I checked it out. I paid $5 for the premium version and started using it immediately. It's the best $5 I've ever spent.

A quick look at Way of Life 

Way of Life helps you build or break habits. I set up a number of habits I want to build, for example, "read in Japanese for 5 minutes", "learn 36 kanji daily", etc. Then, each day, you check in as having reinforced the habit or not. You can see from this screenshot that I'm just now ramping up (after three weeks of life, including, hosting visitors for a week, taking care of a family member during and after a major surgery, etc. Life happens). 

In this next screenshot, you'll see some of Way of Life app's advanced reporting features (don't worry, I'll turn that trend around). The real joy happens when you look back and you see how well you've been doing and practicing Japanese daily. Of course, the real measure of progress is whatever you've set as your overarching goal, for example, carry on a conversation in Japanese, watch and understand a Japanese television show, etc.

If you're not measuring your activity, you're missing out on hacking your learning progress and understanding what level of effort yields specific results. Perhaps we'll consider that in another post. In this post, I wanted only to share this amazing app.

Success loves failure

失敗は成功の母。Shippai wa seikō no haha. Failure is the mother of success. — 日本のことわざ

We can do anything we want to do if we stick to it for long enough. — Helen Keller

Failure so soon still a success

I’m only days in and already I’ve failed. By Day 3 I had already fallen short on completing one of the tasks on two different days. Days 4, 5, and 6 were worse. I had dropped to only completing about 2 out the 10 tasks.

That’s a failure-focused itemization. It’s okay, but only as long as I truly realize what’s happening: I have studied Japanese every single day for the last five days! That hasn’t happened in more than four months. Additionally, my vocabulary has increased, my comprehension has made small advancements, and understanding of the culture and grammar have improved.

These incremental improvements didn't exist the day before I started this project. That, my friends, is success. In the end, my ultimate, single success of achieving felicity in Japanese will far outweigh any number of soon-to-be forgotten failures along the way.

Remember: the successful outcome of a singular endeavor outweighs a million failures when it comes to language learning. 

Recognize the failures. Learn from them. Appreciate and validate the true success.

Taking steps, L. Cromwell

Make one million language mistakes as quickly as possible

Expect to make a million mistakes learning a new language. Embrace them. Make them as quickly as possible. Because when you’ve done so, you’ll have achieved success.

90 Day Reporting

Rather than clog this blog with daily update posts (as laid out in my 9-point learning plan), I will add daily updates to this post.

The newest update will be at the top of the page, so you won't have to worry about scrolling to the bottom.

Additionally, I have some posts in the works regarding learning tools I'm using, my favorite instructional books, and so on.

Going somewhere, L. Cromwell

Daily Japanese Progress Updates

My spectacular Japanese failure

七転び八起き。Nana-korobu, ya-oki. Fall down seven times, get up eight. -- 日本のことわざ

A failure establishes only this, that our determination to succeed was not strong enough. -- Bovee

I’m not really learning Japanese in just three months

It’s more like six years and three months. After six years of pretending to study and learn and practice Japanese, I've decided it’s time to take real action, now. Thus, the three month goal to push

Why three months? What’s my motivation?

  1. Because I am best motivated by pressure (pain).
  2. I’m exhausted of fooling around with the language and not having any significant, recent progress (more pain).
  3. I chose not to spend much time on my existing languages—Spanish, Portuguese, and ASL—and now I’m really rusty at those. So I want to brush up on those again (just a little more pain). Thankfully, they’ll come back quickly.
  4. I want to move on and learn a new language, something easier next: I’m hoping it’s German (pleasure).
Aside: I know I'm not the only person who is more motivated by pain than pleasure. That will be my next blog: Transformational Motivation. I jest.

The path to success, L. Cromwell

That's not to say that I haven't learned a thing or two over the years. I can read and write kana, and I read smoothly as long as the text contains yomigana, or furigana.

About Meeting with Japan

学問に近道なし。Gakumon ni chikamichi nashi. There is no shortcut to scholarship. -- 日本のことわざ

"Felicity, not fluency of language, is a merit." -- E.P. Whipple

Meeting with Japan is about the journey of experiencing Japan via language primarily, but also culture. During the course of this journey, the approach is simple: I do not strive for perfection, nor fluency, but felicity.

As it turns out, felicity takes "hard" work. Thankfully, learning languages brings joy.

Since all the answers to all the questions in the world are not mine to possess, I make no claims at being a language-learning prodigy. I am not. Therefore, I look forward to exchanging ideas, experiences, and knowledge with whoever should pass through these parts.

My name is Ronnie Ledesma, and I'm a language learner like you (you speak at least one language you enjoy to one degree or another). I'm married with seven beautiful children for whom I'm the promised guardian. I live in Sacramento, CA and work as a marketing professional, providing specialized services and training for micro-businesses and mom and pop shops. I'm a dreamer, a lover of peoples and their cultures, and relentlessly hopeful.


I always respond to tweets. Can't say that for email so much. So, please, tweet me at @RonnieLedesma.


Feel free to share and use all and any content on this blog as you see fit (not that you'll want to or that there's anything here that's worthy, but just in case).

If you'd be so kind to link back to posts or cite me as the source, I'd appreciate it much. If you don't... oh, well, life goes on. 

To be perfectly clear: I hereby waive all claim of copyright on this work. It may be used or altered in any manner without attribution or notice to me.

And in case you're wondering why, here's why -- and I feel the same. Cheers.