"Mastering a language does take time." - Benny

This guy never ceases to entertain me. In his latest post “The Pareto (80-20) principle in language learning”, he wrote:

“Mastering a language does take time. I have reached fluency in a language in a matter of months several times, but continue to try to improve on what I have. You will never reach a day when you say you are “ready” and your work is done. Fluency is not necessarily an end-goal, it’s just a useful milestone to aim for after a few months.”

In other words, reaching fluency is no way near mastering a language.

I understand fluency does not mean perfect, but if you are fluent in a language, you should have already mastered it to some extend.

I worry this claim is going to hurt a lot of his followers. So, it does take time!

What he means is it is hard to be perfect. It takes a long time to go before you end up making virtually no errors. What is possible is to be making errors but speaking well after a few months, a year or whatever.

Another thing, you obviously do not like Benny. You disagree with him, don’t support any of his views and complain about most of his posts here. So why do you keep reading his blog? The more you read it, the better he looks. To me, that doesn’t make sense.

I think by fluent Benny means functional, ie able to ask the way to the pub and understand the answer. In which case, he’s got a point.

In Britain (possibly in Ireland too), basic functionality general IS regarded as the end-goal, with only a tiny minority of language learners aiming for anything higher than pub-locating skills.

Was that a typo Helen? I was thinking - “In which case, he’s got a pint.” :slight_smile:


Fluency = to be able to ask the way to the pub

Great example of British humour :-))

I know what James123 means exactly.
I mean, okay. Benny is wrong about a lot of things. If people buy his book or read his blog, well, that is a shame for them. There is plenty of information about why a lot of people disagree with him that is easily accessible.

More about the OP, he seems to hold an extremely liberal definition of “fluent”, I’ve gathered. So yes, mastery (which I don’t think is possible, but I’ll take it as improvement) takes a lot longer than it does to achieve his standard of fluency. I get what he’s saying.

But I don’t really agree with his method or have any other reason to read his blog, so I don’t. It seems like a lot of Lingq members follow it religiously despite not ever liking it and it’s a little mysterious.

@ peter: I’ll drink to that! (or as some Irish might say: Oi’ll have a point!)

I agree with James123 and SolYViento: why wast time on something/someone you don’t like?

@James123: I like reading Benny’s blog. It is very entertaining (for various reasons). Besides, I never said I don’t like him. I am an occasional commenter of his blog. I even have a blog post praising him for motivating people to go out and speak.

But he does have problem with his claims, and his definition on ‘fluency’.

If you don’t like a person, you should not read his stuff. But if you are only against his teaching, you mush read his stuff. Otherwise, you don’t know what you are against.

I think it is quite understandable that people like to follow Benny’s blog and like to comment on it. Benny is a popular and well known language blogger. Edwin and I are somewhat less popular and less well-known language bloggers.

We are, however, all personalities in the language blogosphere and exposed to the scrutiny of others. To some it is as interesting to talk about these language bloggers, and their advice and information, as it is to talk about sports personalities and entertainers.

Edwin, I think fluency means the ability to speak comfortably on a wide variety of subjects, and to understand in just about all normal areas of discussion, to understand the radio, to be able to read books, and to never be lost in the language.

If I say I am fluent in a language, and do not qualify that, in my mind this assumes a very high level of proficiency, essentially effortless, with the odd mistake or vocabulary gap.

If I say I am quite fluent, then I feel a little confident, make more mistakes and am missing more words, but the native speaker need not make allowances, and is not inclined to want to correct me.

If I say I am somewhat fluent, then I make even more mistakes, although I understand quite well most of the time, and the native is more inclined to want to correct me. It is still a work in progress.

On this basis I feel I am fluent in French, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish, quite fluent in German, Swedish, Italian and Cantonese, and somewhat fluent in Portuguese and Russian, and still nowhere in Korean.

I cannot comment on Benny’s blog, but I would be interested to know , when he claims to “have reached fluency in a language in a matter of months several times” in which languages, and how does he define fluency.

I think it is possible to achieve a lot in a closely related language in three months, especially if you are surrounded by the language,say going to Portuguese from Spanish, or even Italian from Spanish. Whether this would be fluency would depend on the definition.

However, going from English to any Romance language, or even to German, not to mention Czech, or Thai, would be much more difficult, in just three months.

As to mastery, I do not think we ever “master” a language, but we can certainly work to become more and more fluent and capable in the language. All of our languages are works in progress.

@Edwin- Okay, I just assumed that you didn’t like him as a person. I completely agree that if you don’t like someone’s opinion, you should do all you can to understand it and know as much as possible about it. This example may offend, I don’t know, but I’m an atheist because I’ve read the bible. I didn’t want to be one of those people who say “I’m not religious so there is no need to read anything about religion.” My opinion is you must understand something before you start disagreeing.

“Mastering a language does take time. I have reached fluency in a language in a matter of months several times, but continue to try to improve on what I have. You will never reach a day when you say you are “ready” and your work is done. Fluency is not necessarily an end-goal, it’s just a useful milestone to aim for after a few months.”
In other words: Fluency is not a destination, it’s a travel… A never-ending travel, but what wonderful a trip!

Benny seems to suggest that fluency is a milestone, something that can be achieved in a few months, but that this is not the end-goal, mastery is.

I disagree. Fluency is, for most people, not achievable in a few months, but is a very desirable end-goal, since it is achievable, although not in three months, and means the ability to use the language comfortably in most situations. To achieve fluency requires concentrated effort for a long time, and it is important to enjoy the process, otherwise we feel like Sisyphus in the cave, carrying the rock up and watching it roll back down.

Mastery is, for most people, not ever achievable, but is a desirable end-goal, as it is dream that keeps us motivated to continue improving forever, even though we cannot reach our end-goal, sort of like the story of Tantalus.

But on this post steve, you clearly post that people can achieve fluency in 3 months. Why has your opinion changed?


James, if you are going to place long links here, it is best to use bit.ly or something to shorten them to make it easier for people to follow the link.

Re the substance of your comments, I suggest you read the post a little more carefully.

In my post I quote this definition of level 2 proficiency provided by the US Foreign Service Institute.

“Limited working proficiency. The person is able to satisfy routine social demands and limited work requirements.” I then call this “basic conversational fluency.” and comment as follows.

"If we are able to put in 10 hours a day, then basic fluency in the easy languages should take 48 days, and for difficult languages 72 days. Accounting for days off, this equates to two months or three months time. If you only put in 5 hours a day, it will take twice as long.

Is ten hours a day reasonable? It could be. Here is a sample day.

8-12: Alternate listening, reading and vocabulary review using LingQ, Anki or some other system.
12-2: rest, exercise, lunch, while listening to the language.
2-3: grammar review
3-4: write
4-5: talk via skype or with locals if in the country
5-7: rest
7-10: relaxation in the language, movies, songs, or going out with friends in the language. depending on availability.

To some extent the language needs time to gestate and often things we study today do not click in for months. On the other hand intensity has its own benefits. I have no doubt that someone following this intense program, or something similar, would achieve basic conversational fluency in 2 months for easy languages, and 3 months for difficult languages.

To go from level 2 to level 4, or full professional fluency would take quite a bit longer, perhaps twice as long. This reminds me that I wrote something on this a few years ago. If I find it I will post it. "

So, to get back to my original comment here, most people are not going to put in 10 yours a day. Once we quality “fluency” , basic fluency, quite fluent, somewhat fluent, etc. we can have all kinds of gradations. If we say, I am fluent, without qualification, then the assumption is a high level of fluency, in my opinion. Most people will not achieve this in three months. That is what I said, and I stick with it.

Here is the shortened link.


“Fluency is not necessarily an end-goal, it’s just a useful milestone to aim for after a few months.”

What would an end-goal be in learning a language? The issue here is Benny’s definition of fluency which is very fluid and seems to mean “however well I can speak or claim to speak a certain language after 3 months or however long I stipulate”.

To me, “fluent” does not mean “basic working proficiency”, and in any case it does not seem Benny achieved even that level at least some of his languages, Czech being a good case in point.

Intensity can work. Here in Israel, Hebrew is taught in a very intensive way using a system called “ulpan”, where the teachers speak ONLY in Hebrew even to complete beginners. The classes last about 3 months. It depends on the learner (those who learned languages before seem to have an advantage, as are those who start with some familiarity with Hebrew) but at the end of the course about half the class had “basic working proficiency” in speaking and somewhat less so in reading and writing.

Back to the question of Benny - everything has a context and Benny’s context is that he is a salesperson trying to create a market to which he can sell a product - his rather costly ebook. To do that, he’s trying to create a “brand” via his blog, which is why he repeats these same simple marketing messages over and over again. It’s also why he creates these compelling myths about “his followers” versus “the haters”.

Steve, I did read it, there’s no need to argue about that. Perhaps I did need to read it more carefully, perhaps some extra information was needed concerning what you thought, but what it seemed like was you thought that was how long it took to learn a language, not how long the FSI thought. The misunderstanding is probably from the title. So, just out of interest and probably slightly off topic, how long do you think you can learn a language, to a high level of fluency, following that intensive program?