My take on "Speak from Day 1" by the Irish Polyglot (Plus: What I do on Day 1)

If you are a frequent internet visitor to the homes of language learning writers, you may have come across Mr Benny Lewis. Dubbing himself the Irish polyglot from Fluent in 3 months, Benny writes about his way of studying new languages and travelling the world. One of the important mantras to take away from his work is a dedication to using newly acquired language in conversation straight away. Benny calls it speaking from day 1, and today I thought I'll give you my take on it.

Here's what I do on day 1

In the practice of language learning, speaking from day 1 is something that all of us do. Approach any new language with an appreciation for its sounds, but also the spellings and characters that transcribe each sound. To me, the early language learning experience - that first lesson - is filled with excitement and the desire to get involved and start speaking. As a learner, I live out this desire through writing new words and listening and copying all the new sounds. It gives me a little kick when I can think that I am sounding as Russian/French/Italian/Spanish as I can. Later on, this dedication to learning sounds and letters also comes in handy because it helps me spell a lot better. As a tutor, I maintain the same technique for my students. I try and gently introduce beginners to their new foreign language by showing new letters, demonstrating sounds and challenging them a bit (tongue twisters anyone?).

Recently, I started a German class by practicing a soft and pretty pronunciation of "Schmetterling", "Naturwissenschaften" and "Flugzeug". Then I played this Youtube video - the point was to combat this stubborn idea that German sounds harsh. (It actually sounds how you make it sound.)

 What I learnt on day 1 of Russian

What I learnt on day 1 of Russian

Athletic Mindsets

Now, Benny takes the definition of speaking one step further. He actually means you're supposed to have a conversation (recent example: Japanese)! Like an athlete in training, the idea here is to push through any resistance in order to achieve new goals. When you are determined to run two miles, you don't give up after 200 metres even if it hurts already. Equally, the early conversations of a language learner are difficult and uncomfortable by definition. And on this point, I believe that Benny's recommendations are extremely laudable. He leads by example and gets right in there, doesn't care if he sounds like an idiot and films himself as he halts conversations for 30 seconds to look something up in a dictionary. So what if I'm using a dictionary! So what if I don't know many words! So effing what if you think this isn't appropriate, this is my thing and I do it as well as I can.

How to use these polyglot techniques for yourself

In my opinion, learners should take away the following two points from the Speak from Day 1 philosophy:

  • Set your own standards. No one should be able to tell you what level you are supposed to be on after 3 months. Should a class progress too quickly for you, don't worry and just drop the level and study it again. Standards can be helpful guide posts and help you with goal setting, but for most adult learners the foreign language is studied out of interest and the desire to achieve. So achieve, don't fail, and don't fall into the "I should be able to.." trap. Stop comparing yourself, start building on your strengths and know that failing is when you decide you are failing. [Click here to tweet about this right away].(

  • Reaching for achievable, but ambitious goals. You are free to progress at your own speed. However, you are not supposed to rest on your laurels or do only what is comfortable. The Irish polyglot brand of difficult conversations with native speakers on Skype is a great challenge to set yourself, but by no means the only one. At this point, language learners can find that bringing in a personal tutor is the best thing that ever happened, simply because they can always see what's next for you, they offer an external perspective and keep pushing you gently but consistently. No more excuses!

  • Combining classic and modern methods of language study. You'll notice that Benny does not rely on e-learning as his only tool, and he advocates the use of grammar, and he listens, reads, speaks and writes. I agree very much with all of those methods because they set you up for sustainable, ongoing success. Get your phone loaded up with apps like Duolingo or go for the full package of questions and answers with Rosetta, but remember that it is important to learn why structures and endings are right or wrong, not just how to answer the questions your iPhone asks you. Self-direction also requires a level of discipline that has a tendency to fade after a few months, so be risk-aware and get some external structure in place (a group class, study group or set date for Skype conversations for example).

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