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.