Benny Lewes: Beginner to C1 in Chinese in 3 months

It seems that our old friend, Benny the Irish polyglot, is aiming to go from complete beginner’s level to C1 level in Mandarin Chinese - in just three months!

I can’t say exactly what I think about Benny and his antics, because I would most probably be censored if I did. However, I will say that I do not believe that it is possible to do what he claims. If he does pass the C1 exam in Chinese after just three months, then he must have started out with significant prior knowledge and not as a real beginner, in my opinion. (He has some past form at this…)

In the above video Benny also claims to have level C2 (i.e. virtual full native level) in Spanish and French.

Again, I have to tread slightly carefully because of censorship issues, but I am (hopefully?) allowed to say that I suspect that he is being somewhat generous to himself - at least as regards his French.

You should take away from that video that he’s aiming for some kind of “social fluency” as he puts it. I would say that’s more somewhere between B1 and B2. Otherwise, I would also say C1 is impossible.

Benny also clearly states that this is an objective. There is nothing wrong with setting high objectives if you can use that as a motivator.

He writes: “I don’t plan to sit any tests”.

What’s more, there is no “real” CEFR level “C1” exam in Chinese.

The new HSK 5 exam that claims to be like CEFR level “C1” is in fact CEFR level “B1” (see last page in )

Don’t forget Benny promises nothing: “I don’t ever consider my language missions to be linguistic objectives, but rather social ones.”

@alexandrac: “…There is nothing wrong with setting high objectives if you can use that as a motivator.”

Normally I would entirely agree. But if one is making money as a language expert on the basis that one has invented a method which allows people to become highly fluent in any language in three months, then one is a legitimate target for tough criticism IMO.

(If Benny were just a private individual trying to reach C1 in Chinese in three months, I’d say: “you’ll never do it, but good luck trying!”)

I understood from the video that Benny is aiming to take some kind of exam? But perhaps I’m wrong about this? (At any rate he is clearly setting himself up for C1 level…)

Just imagine: even the great Richard Simcott now says that it was unrealistic to think of reaching B2/C1 level in Mandarin in a single year. Yet Benny’s timescale for achieving this is just three months! Der Kerl spinnt total! :-0

… or is it? )))

I am not going to censor this thread Rank, don’t worry.

In my opinion, what Benny says in the video that he intends to be able to do in mandarin after three months is quite reasonable. He will be able to have a limited conversation in Mandarin and be able to make out some of the headlines in the newspaper. I would say that most of the students that studied Mandarin with me in Hong Kong, over 40 years ago, were able to do that after 3 months.

Where I disagree with him is when he says this will be equivalent to being fluent, to C1, or Advanced or whatever he chooses to call it. I was reading newspapers after three months way back when I studied Mandarin. I did not consider myself fluent until well after I left my studies and had more opportunity to use the language regularly. He will be in Taiwan, a Mandarin speaking environment, and so may do better than I did, but after 3 months he will still be at a high beginner lower intermediate level is my best guess.

He also claims to speak French and Spanish at a C2 level, or “mastery” or “I can do anything I can do in English in those languages”. I have heard him in French and Spanish and while he speaks those languages well, I would say that he is at a C1 level in those languages.

The whole issue of what level we are at in our languages is subject to dispute however. I think it would be interesting if we, here at LingQ, were able to upload videos or recordings of ourselves speaking, monologues, interviews, discussions, as well as written texts etc… We would have a chance to say what level we think we are, and other people could comment and rate our level. This might help us arrive at an objective evaluation of our level. This would be something that we could choose to participate in or choose not to participate in. Would there be any interest?

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I think I would be interested in some kind of “peer review” here at LingQ. I could be good motivation for starting and improving active production… which may be something I’ll never feel brave enough to do. : ) With realistic or objective feedback from fellow learners or natives.

With regard to having conversation with groups of natives after 3 months? Without them adjusting or slowing down for you as a learner, and with you understanding almost all of what they say; I think it’s not honestly possible. If one is unable to read a newspaper, how is it possible to understand natives at full speed in conversation, who most likely will be using some of those same words that you don’t recognise when reading? Logically impossible.

I could accept limited conversation after 3 months, with incomplete aural comprehension and a sympathetic native convesation partner. This would certainly not count as C1.

I’ve seen people with limited 2nd language ability sort of bluster their way through a brief conversation in a second language. To an outsider they may have looked quite advanced, but the reality was they understood very little, took a lot of non-verbal clues, and used a lot of “filler” phrases in the 2nd language. This may be a skill in itself, but it surely isn’t genuine C1 mastery.

I can be fluent in any language I want in a second - in my dream :slight_smile:

There are interesting questions along the lines: “what exactly is level B2?”, “What exactly is C1?” etc…

But C2 is actually pretty clear. At this level one is supposed to be completely on a par with reasonably well educated native speakers of the language! In my opinion it takes many years of continual and very deep contact with a language in order to reach this level. Therefore I very much doubt whether Benny is at this extremely advanced level in Spanish or French (although he may well be C1…)

As regards Chinese, I agree with Steve: I can see that Benny might be able to hit A2 or (at a pinch) B1 in three months.

But from complete beginner right up to level C1 in this time?? No way - not possible!

BTW, here is the short link to Benny’s video.

He can achieve B1 in 3 months in reading as well. I certainly did. However he won’t be able to do it by just going out and talking to people which seems to lie at the core of his language hacking advice.

You are not living in Taiwan and spending 10 hours a day at the task of learning Chinese or you would also achieve this level.

B1 not fluency, in other words, Intermediate 1, some conversation ability, some reading ability.

Benny also says that one of the aims would be to take part in conversations with the Chinese present not changing their way of speaking in any way. This is also pretty tough. In my opinion one of the difficulties with Mandarin is that there are so many fewer possible sounds in the language, so many words sound so similar to other words and that makes spoken Mandarin pretty difficult to get used to. Cantonese has a lot more possible sound combinations and I think that makes Cantonese much easier to pick up in a short time.

There’s no doubt that living in Taiwan and having a huge amount of time to devote to learning one can make a lot of progress. But surely to reach that standard you’d want over 2000 vocab items… That won’t be easy in three months.

As for reading newspaper headlines… The last time I looked it wasn’t that easy and I’m pretty sure that I know many more characters now than Benny will after three months.

On the other hand, I suspect this will all generate quite a bit of interest in Benny’s website. It’s probably a well calculated risk.

Just for fun I did a video on this subject. I described the video in these terms.

“How long does it take to become proficient in a language? What does fluency mean? Benny Lewis claims he will become fluent in Mandarin in 3 months, and reach an advanced level in the language. Is this possible? No.”

Here it is.

I doubt that Benny, or anyone who would make such wild claims, has much understanding of how to assess language proficiency skills.

I could claim to weigh only 120 pounds, and as long as I only spoke to people who had never owned a pair of bathroom scales, I might be believed.

I’m glad Benny is finally doing an interesting mission. Last year his language missions weren’t particularly interesting, I think he even tried to learn Klingon as some point. It felt more like a travel blog and wasn’t too interesting to me.

I’m sure this one will be good, and I have no doubt he will achieve a basic conversational level like he did in Hungarian. I think fluent is pushing it however. I have no experience of Chinese, and maybe it’s not too scary when you get behind the scary writing andn tone system.

I think anyone who can move to the country, and literally work at it all day will achieve their goal very quickly. Also remember, it’s pretty much his job (source of income), so he doesn’t have to worry about other things. I simply couldn’t work at language learning like that, my mind won’t allow it. But then again, I don’t need to.

There is zero chance that he hasn’t done some previous study here in Mandarin.

This is a very high profile language, and a very public buildup/announcement.

He would not be a smart businessman if he hasn’t spent a big chunk of last year learning this language.

What surprised me was his choice of Taibei as a base. A cynic might suspect he learnt traditional last year, and then realised he would need to go to HK or Taiwan to show off his knowledge.

A quick way to check how much prior speaking he has done, prior to this, will be to watch how he pronounces the zh, ch, sh sounds in his early videos. This is distinctively different in Taiwan to standard mandarin.


TBH, I’d kind of switched off and didn’t really follow his last mission. I felt like he didn’t give it the time it deserved, and the end result video, although it was interesting, didn’t really do anything for me. I’d would of liked to see more information about the language, and he really only uttered a few basic phrases.

It’s possible he had spent last year studying Mandarin, but if he’s done so, he has hidden it very well. I subscribe to his newsletter, and his last email was very interesting. He describes how he survived day one without using English, and he’s openly honest about how nobody understood him when he asked if they spoke English (Interesting he would be asking this though :-P) and he was really happy when someone understood that he wanted a drink. I’ve been hoping Benny would be much more detailed on how he approaches his “speak from day 1” approach, and I’m glad he is now doing so.

He certainly has a long road ahead of him :stuck_out_tongue:

I just watched Benny’s and Steve’s videos about this. It’s obviously a completely ludicrous notion that he could achieve a “C1” level in Chinese in three months!

It made me think about this whole idea of levels. I’ve been thinking about taking C1 tests for French and Spanish, and I’m not at all sure if I’d have the required skills to pass them. (I would like to take them for potential professional or study purposes, and to reward myself with a “qualification”).

I think we shouldn’t necessarily think of ourselves as having a C1 or a C2 level, unless we have taken a test and passed it.

If Benny says that he has a C1 or C2 level, it has nothing to do with his ability to speak a language fluently. Instead, it has to do with his ability to pass a C1 or C2 exam. If he can’t pass a C1 or C2 exam, then he doesn’t have a C1 or C2 level, because the level is determined by one’s ability to pass the exam, in my opinion. I HIGHLY doubt he could pass a C2 exam in Spanish or French, and believe even less that he would be able to pass a C1 exam in Chinese after three months.