[Authors Note: I'm not a Benny expert. The following is what I gleaned from only parts of Benny's Mission. If you want to understand his methods more, head to his site (link below)]
Benny learned Chinese. If you were in a hole earlier this year (or don’t read language learning blogs), you might have missed it.
I never really knew what to think of Benny.
He’s a polyglot, I focus on learning one language.
He’s all about conversations, I’m all about learning through listening, watching tv, and reading. It didn’t help that I could sense a lack of fluency in some of his videos. Even though I didn’t really pay close attention to what he was doing, I doubted his skills, and questioned his approach. When Benny was learning languages like But who am I to say that someone learning Polish isn’t doing a good job of it? So when he decided to learn Chinese, it gave me an opportunity to take a close look at his methods.
Talky, Talky, Talky?
A quick reading of Benny’s blog will leave you with the impression that Benny is all about speaking and that he doesn’t care about grammar or vocabulary at all. It’s one of reasons I secretly doubted him. But from watching his videos, it’s clear to me that he’s compressing his studies, that is, he’s working on grammar, vocabulary and speaking all at the same time. This is advanced language kung fu.
How does he do it? By memorizing a dialogue and recording himself speaking it. The dialogues that Benny memorizes are full of useful vocabulary and grammatical patterns. Learning the dialogue teaches him vocabulary and memorizing sentences forces grammatical patterns into his mind. Finally, recording himself gives him ample time to practice speaking.
This approach also has the benefit of providing Benny with feedback and lets him gauge his progress.
Downsides to the Benny approach
If you want to be really fluent (e.g. native speakers can’t tell you’re not a native speaker), then you’ll need to do more. More listening, more grammar, more vocabulary. The good news is many of Benny’s techniques scale: you could learn a lot of Chinese grammar and vocabulary by learning and memorizing different dialogues, for example.
But you’ll never master tones (or even pinyin) without lots of listening. If Benny wanted to spend another 9 months learning a language, I’m sure he’d spend more time listening (but he’d probably find some way to combine listening with another activity) and he’d end up being relatively fleunt.
On the other hand, Benny’s not really trying to be fluent. His goal was never to be able to play chengyu games or do a xiangsheng routine. His goal was to get to a level where you can start engaging with real people who speak the language. If you’re planning a trip a few months from now, it’s a good method to try. I wouldn’t call it fluency, though.
What did you learn from Benny’s 3 months of Chinese?
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