I met Benny both at the polyglot conference last year in Budapest and at this year’s polyglot gathering in Berlin. I’ve never followed his blog very attentively but I have found him to be a very open and friendly person whenever I talked to him. I know that some people had quite upleasant discussions with him and that he made a few comments on his site which I probably would not have made.
On the other hand, he has not only been heavily criticized for his approach but also personally attacked. It is totally fine to disagree, but insulting people is a completely different matter. I don’t know who started these things and, honestly, I don’t really care.
I think Benny has done A LOT to get people to study languages. He probably has managed to reach and motivate more people than many others within the language learning community. Of course, not everybody is out there to “convince” others of the benefits of language learning, some simply enjoy doing their own thing.
I am at a conference right now and I know what it takes to use languages at a professional level. I don’t think the people following Benny’s site and/or buying his products think they will be able to use the languages they have studied for a few months in a highly specific professional setting.
I think people know the difference between Benny’s definition of fluency and the kind of proficiency you need to survive in a more demanding environment.
As far as I’m concerned, I have never been confused in this context by anything Benny said. He clearly states what he understands by “fluency” and he has also repeatedly stated that it takes time and a lot of effort to maintain a certain level you have reached. In Budapest in particular he said that he is not the “typical polyglot” because he does not maintain his level of proficiency in all languages he studies. He studies languages as some sort of preparation for his trips and I am very much convinced that you can learn enough within 3 months to reach “functional fluency”, meaning you can get by in a language without completely butchering it.
I don’t get all worked up because of his use of the term “fluency”. I have bought two copies of his book. One for me and one for a good young friend of mine. I have not found anything new in that book but it certainly makes for some entertaining reading and it is an excellent way of introducing people to the wonderful world of language learning.
As for his linguistic skills, his Spanish and German are at a very high level. By the way, I’m not counting every single mistake he makes when I talk to him. We all make mistakes, we all have different aims and our own way of trying to achieve them.
Benny offers certain services and products people can buy but he also provides a lot of free advice.
I have never read or heard anything that would suggest that he tries to sell a “concept” or product that would allow people to use a language in a professional environment after having studied it for three months only. He is not suggesting you’ll be “bilingual” following his approach.
You can get a good grasp of the basics of a language when you focus on it for three months and this could be the start of a wonderful journey. If Benny manages to motivate more people to make use of their linguistic potential, then this is a good thing in my opinion.