Benny Lewis' Mandarin Mission And Steve Kaufmann's Response

Benny Lewis' Mandarin Mission And Steve Kaufmann's Response

I was going to write something tonight but instead decided to make a quick video response to Benny Lewis’ (Fluent In 3 Months) latest mission to learn Mandarin Chinese to C1 fluency along with Steve Kaufmann‘s subsequent video criticizing his attempt.

As I said in the video I respect and like both of them so I don’t mean to sound like I’m taking sides or getting involved in petty rivalry. I don’t mean any disrespect or offense to anybody here.

Sorry for the really crappy video and sound quality. I’m doing all my blogging, web and graphic design, and video work on a cheap $200 netbook since my computer decided to expire on me recently.

Here it is along with both their videos:

Feel free to comment below and let me know what you think.

Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.

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Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Icelandic


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Benny Lewis

Another naysayer to add to my stack of you'll-never-do-its :P But thanks for the video otherwise and glad you like my stuff! For the record, I'm not making any realizations about my brand as you suggested it.

You said you "studied my arse off" only to not reach a level similar to what I'm aiming for despite the immersion environment with a family: only studying is NOT my strategy, is it? ... and I'm in an extremely different situation to you. "I didn't do it, therefore you won't do it" is not a valid argument. Perhaps that was your first true immersion experience? I've had dozens and learned from my mistakes.

I won't be living with a family, but will be focusing on having friends my age (and hopefully a girlfriend, which I'll hazard a guess in saying you might have had some trouble finding in the middle east...). You say it's just not achievable, and I KNOW it is, because I've seen others do it in short times in my travels. I'm simply trying to emulate their success publicly.

Will I achieve it this time with Mandarin? I don't know yet, but I will try ;) Every time I've had setbacks in missions prevent me from reaching my goal I've eliminated them from future missions, and will document every step of the way so someone else could do something similar.

Anyway, thanks for the interest, but I'm not going to take discouragements to heart, even though I'm well aware that not achieving my target is a real possibility. Hope you enjoy following along with the journey!


G'day mate.

Thanks for taking the time to respond.

I don't mean to be discouraging. I genuinely wish you the best of luck and success in achieving C1 fluency in Mandarin. I'll post a public apology on this blog if you prove the naysayers wrong. I simply agreed with Steve that to achieve the very high level you're talking about in a language that you've never really encountered before isn't possible in 3 months, even for the most motivated learner. This isn't the same as your German mission as you'd previously studied German not to mention its similarities to English.

You posted a picture of several Mandarin Chinese language books so I don't know how you can say that study isn't your strategy. That looks like study to me.

I'm also not saying you can't do it simply because I didn't do it. Of the documented exceptional adult learners of other languages in SLA studies, the ones that have achieved C1-C2 level fluency have spent 1-2 years or more in a full immersion environment.

I've lived in several immersion contexts myself over the last 9 years in Europe, the Mid East and the Caucasus. Also on the topic of girlfriends, I was engaged to an Egyptian girl who didn't speak a word of English. We had a long relationship entirely in my second language, Arabic (that's a long story for a blog post sometime).

I mean this - good luck. I enjoy your blog, your videos are looking fantastic and you're doing a good job at inspiring others to take up language learning. I'm sure you'll pick up heaps of Mandarin and have lots of fun in the process.

Benny Lewis

Using books to augment my communicative-centered approach, hardly equates me to "studying my arse off". I will definitely be studying a lot. But this will not be the core of my work.

Thanks for the good luck wishes. I've finally caught up on my sleep, and am waking up at 5AM, which is acceptable! This means I can create a full-time time-table to ensure success, and leave the likes Steve Kaufmann to make their silly videos without my retorts.


I don't normally comment on stuff like that but I do agree with you and Steve Kaufmann on that one. It is not achievable.

But since he won't be proving his level, he may say whatever.


Hah I would like to see this done though a sane man bets and knows the odds are against it. Will he take the Chinese Proficieny test after 3 months. I would hope so but Im sure he will not.


Thanks for chiming in on this debate. It's good to hear a rational well-thought out answer from someone who doesn't have any silly emotional bias on the matter.

Also, great web site, I'm glad I found it! Good luck with your studies.


Great stuff as always here. Cool and measured response and I agree with you that it isn't all that helpful to the rest of us to have full blown wars over the Internet over what someone can do or not do, over my method versus your method, etc. Steve is helping encourage thousands to learn languages. Benny is encouraging thousands to learn languages. Both are doing their part to bring language learning out of the halls of academia and into the hands of the people. For that I commend them both. I just wish they would stop hating on each other so much. Some day!

E. M.

This was a really great video summary. A truly tempered response. I think your point about encouraging language learning is very valuable. Likewise, I think it is important to encourage realistic goals. Telling people that they can be fluent in a language in three months (specifically Arabic, Korean, Japanese, and Mandarin) in three months may inspire some English speakers to attempt to do so. However, I worry it may simply be setting them up for disappointment when reality sets in.

Again, awesome video response, I will definitely be checking in to this blog in the future.

P.S. I hope you don't take Mr. Lewis's heated response to heart. I think you framed your entire critique quite nicely and politely.

Olle Linge

This is what I'm worried about, too. I think it's great to show people that you can learn a lot in a very short time, but if this means that we'll have hordes of people wanting to learn Chinese in three months who give up when they realise that they aren't fluent after three months, I don't think it's very good.

II agree that the video summaries are really good.


As we discuss the Common European Framework, I'd like to clarify and know just what test we are taking about. Yes, there is one Framework, but there are many different styled test. For example, in France, the TCF ("Test de connaissance du française) is rather common. It has two parts, the first containing 3 sections and the second containing 2 sections. The first section consists of 1) oral comprehension, 2) Grammar, 3) reading Comprehension. The second section consists of 1) writing, and 2) reading. The TCF is holistic, but then again, it's just a test. It doesn't measure real life in the language. So, Is Benny going to take a test the measures the five aforementioned sections, especially writing? I've met linguists working China who claim to be close to illiterate even though the can speak well. In short, I guess I'm trying to say that people, like Steve and Benny, need to be more precise when demonstrating their language abilities on line. And the TCF based on the 5 different areas of language seems to be an objective test. If someone wants to boast about their language competencies, then may be they should post a copy of their tests and make sure to show just what sections they were tested on. However, just getting on YouTube and speaking a little doesn't really demonstrate ones "fluency." And, if I may add, that word (fluent) has lost its usefulness in my opinion. I can have a good conversation in French, but I certainly don't "feel" fluent. I guess each man is his own interpreter. Just some thoughts....


You raise a good point, Adam.

This is exactly why I refuse to make these kinds of claims on this site. I've made an "Irish challenge" for myself (learn Irish before St Paddy's Day), but I won't make misleading claims about being able to pass exams or speak with C1 level fluency by that time.


For English if you look at the IELTS exam is a score of 7 is considered C1. This is what's required for entrance to a UK university. Anything 8+ is considered C2 with 9 being the top band. Interesting to consider how native speakers would score... Not many 9's probably! Anyway so on this C1 is a very pretty high level - university level in fact.


Right on, Adam! Actually, I called Benny on his "fluency" BS in my comment on one of his YouTube videos. He replied that he had a C2 in Spanish (without providing any additional details or proof). That's all he could say about the standardized language tests he took. Bottom line: half truth is worse than a lie! Benny Lewis has no 3rd party confirmation he speaks fluently even one foreign language, no academic background in linguistics or language acquisition. Do not give this scammer your money.


I've enjoyed your posts and I agree. I enjoy Steve and Benny's blogs because the both motivate me to keep on learning and trying new techniques. However, I also agree with the fact that reaching C1 level based on the Common European Framework's description is just not possible in 3 months. I honestly felt like I just sucked when I first came across fluent in 3 months, but then I quickly remembered my experiences with languages and to reach that level of professionalism takes serious study and much more time than just talking to people for 3 months, especially when you are studying Asian languages, like I have, that are so different.


Very interesting!

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! I wish Mr. B Lewis a lot of determination.
I feel that if I end up learning and speaking 4 extra languages, I'd be quite happy to stop there. I'd then spend the rest of my lifetime using and nurturing these languages and expanding my knowledge of the world.

Since Chinese is a language I would really like to call my own one day, working just on the oral aspect is not possible. Mandarin is a slow process but I figured that I have an average of 40 years in front of me and I think that I'd be quite happy with the result of my language studies within the next 4 years, so no rush!!! Time is what you need, there are no shortcuts methinks. xx Layinka


Thanks for your comment, Layinka :) (sorry for the late reply!)

Good luck with your Mandarin!


I find his shirt a bit of an oxymoron as he is neither cunning nor is he a linguist!


"Also on the topic of girlfriends, I was engaged to an Egyptian girl who didn't speak a word of English. We had a long relationship entirely in my second language, Arabic (that's a long story for a blog post sometime). "

I am eagerly looking forward to this post :)


I'll need to muster some emotional energy for that one!
It'll be a long post :)

Judith Meyer

Just stumbled upon this. I think that Benny could contribute a lot to the conversation about the best language-learning methods etc., but his extreme sensitivity to constructive criticism and his focus on selling & "3 months" prevent meaningful exchange.

It also doesn't help that he hasn't mastered a non-European language yet. After studying Latin, Modern Greek etc. I also thought that Mandarin couldn't be all that difficult, but there are a lot of pitfalls that you just wouldn't expect - for example that the most common phrase for "I'm going to work" contains neither the word "go" nor "to" nor "work". And this isn't an exceptional case, an expression that you learn and are done with it. You have to learn new ways of seeing things for basically every single sentence you want to say. Chinese is mind-blowing, and I love it for that!

So while Benny promotes the idea that all languages are equally difficult, I think he already knows deep down that that is not the case. When people point out that his 2-week Mandarin is extremely choppy and painfully slow, he indignantly says that he would of course speak better already if it were another language (which I don't doubt)... Is this finally an acknowledgement that maybe those who spent 1-2 years learning Mandarin to fluency were not wasting a single minute of their time? It's really that implication that bothers me the most I guess. "If you're not aiming to be fluent in 3 months, you have a bad method or are deliberately taking your time". Well, no. Some languages just take more hard work than others, and you shouldn't be discouraging those who don't flit from language to language as quickly as you do, who have the patience and the discipline and the un-ending optimism to struggle with a language month after month and, if need be, year after year.




I met Benny at the end of his stay in mainland China and he speaks good Chinese, achieved a lot in those three months, but is not fluent. The aim was set a bit too high (and everyone knew that), but if he had kept doing it for another 3 months, he might have just got there. He took the "mystery" out of learning Chinese though and showed that the language can be learned (just like any other) and I think thats quite an achievement. So well done on him. And btw. he is very realistic and humble about what he achieved and put up our (very brutaly honest) review up on his own blog. Respect.


You know this is the thing, everyone says he achieved this Chinese in 3 months, but he was actually in China for 6 months... so it was after 6 months of learning that you met him.

Yes he didn't study for the second 3 months and he argued that hence his chinese didn't get better, so those extra months almost 'didn't count'... but he was still in China speaking Chinese everyday, and given that his method is all based around speaking, surely that must've helped a lot... In fact just above here in the comments, he said that his method wouldn't involve studying, so then how could the next 3 months of speaking not have been really useful? And now he's learning Arabic, talking about how hard he is working and studying all day... Benny is full of so many contradictions that it is impossible to argue with him.

I haven't studied my second language for the last 3 months, and in fact never really have, but it gets heaps and heaps better just because I'm here speaking it every evening with friends. In 3 more months of being here, without studying, I will be well past the B2 and verging towards C1. So it's just not true to keep saying his B1 mandarin was achieved in 3 months, it took 6... 6 months of being there and speaking it.

I think Benny is great though in many ways, his whole fluent in 3 months thing got me motivated to learn a language, but like other people said here, it's an unrealistic aim, and rather than putting me off learning languages when I didn't get fluent after 3 months, it just made me feel like I wasn't very good at it because he could do it.

After 6 months of learning my first foreign language I'm B2 now, and Benny's website doesn't make this seem the incredible achievement which I've now come to realise it is. Additionally, he then calls himself fluent in languages which he speaks worse than I speak my second language. He says he is fluent in Italian, but he was only in Italy 6 months, living in an English environment in a hostel, and I'd doubt he would therefore understand Italian television or films effortlessly, and chinese television? well it would be even worst. How can you call yourself fluent in a language in which you can't even watch television easily? He doesn't really deal with the complexities of actual fluency on his website, only how to start speaking it, and for that I don't think it's really relevant anymore to me and my goals and so have stopped reading it.

His definition of fluency really, really scrapes at the barrel, yet he doesn't present it as that and that's my problem. He just walks up on a stage and says, I'm fluent in 8 languages in 7 years. I doubt many natives would call him fluent in some of the languages he speaks, they'd just say he was competent. His confidence in calling himself fluent then made me feel bad that he had achieved this fluency in just 3 months, yet here I am with my language 6 months down the line, and I still wouldn't that I am fluent. However based on videos he's made I can actually see I speak it better than some of his 'fluent' languages.

I know he is quite humble and truthful in person and with his posts sometimes, but really just through the name of his website, and the fact that he calls himself fluent in all these languages, while finally setting these crazy goals for C1 arabic in 3 months and still sticking to it when he can still barely speak it after 1 and a half months of doing it, simply undoes any other humbleness that he uses in person or across the rest of the website.


Benny Lewis is an Internet scam artist. He has not found any meaningful shortcuts in language learning that could justify the ridiculous price of his self-published book.

He learns languages that would all be ranked as category 1 in terms of time required and many languages from the same language family Portuguese - Spanish - French - Italian (Romance). Or super simple languages like Esperanto to inflate the number of languages he speaks.

Frankly, I could care less how an unemployed blogger with all the time in the world learns languages. Get a real job and learn a language.


Benny Lewis represents the dark, malicious potential of the blogging world. He states that he will try to reach C1 level in Chinese.....??!! Of course, I could say that I am "fluent" if I alter that definition to mean being able to tell a native speaking that I want to buy a beer without hesitating. It's all about the cash, brothers. It makes me livid that he wants people to part with a Dollar for this rubbish: enough of this charlatan.


I watched a video, he says even if he isn't fluent he's hoping to reach B1 but the title of the blog is kinda misleading to the people out there that want to achieve absolute fluency in a short time


If you mean Arabic, he won't reach a B1 equivalent at all.

His Arabic at 3 months was dreadfully poor and his recent blog post in Egypt gives the impression that he arrived there and had no idea how to communicate with people. He seems to have a fairly negative attitude already toward the country which won't help him.

It's already a failed mission but I'm sure he'll put up a scripted video or two and convince people he succeeded.


Posted this on his website but strangely, it's not appeared....!

Fluency is not possible in three months. The noun fluency is characterised by an effortless ability to do something. For most learners of another language this is being able to comprehend the majority of words and meanings from any source, and to be be able to respond without contrivance.
I therefore think Benny has a different definition of what fluency is. You can't call yourself fluent unless you can understand almost any language source in its original form. Benny has never proved he can do this.
You cannot learn all the nuances of a language, the culture of that country and the philosophy behind it within three months.
If you spent 12 hours a day for three months straight you might get to a very good level, but still not fluency. But clearly this is not something many people could do.
The troubling thing about this site is its implication that fluency is possible within 3 months. Benny then goes on to state he never said it was possible, but he must be aware of its dishonest implication.
Furthermore while Benny is full of optimism and encourages people to start learning, after extensive reading of his site I have found nothing which the humble language learner does not know him/herself.
Anybody challenging Benny on his claims receives quite an angry response from Benny. Such a characteristic is worrying and instantly raises suspicion.
If you are going to make bold claims then expect to be challenged.
I like to cut to the chase so here is my conclusion.
Benny has spent time in a number of countries and totally devoted himself to learning a language. With his enthusiasm, commitment and the fact that he is immersed in the target country, his results are to be expected.
The fluent in 3 months tagline is a marketing scam designed to seduce language learners.
If you have the time, money and determination to boot, you can definitely become highly proficient at a language in 6-12 months.
But, and therefore... here's the most important part:
Benny and his site offer nothing to the typical learner of a language who has to fit in studies around ordinary life in a country which is not that of the target language.
While there are some tips for applying yourself, there is nothing here that will really help you to progress.
Once you understand this and stop believing in the myth of Benny and his site you can focus your efforts on doing what it is you want to do.


well it's a couple of years later and all the comments appear to be an attack on Benny. hmm :(
in answer to one of the comments, it's not a self published book nor is it 'ridiculously priced'. i found it in a bookstore in byron bay australia for about $30 dollars which is absolutely benchmark standard for a book like that. not cheap not expensive.
all things with moderation. i liked in the book how benny is challenging some of the popular myths around languge learning. he's about getting in there and getting started, giving it a go. and, yes, he promotes himself as one on the internet needs to do to succeed - nothing wrong in that!
i disagree with people stating the definition of ''fluency" . it doesn't mean
knowing every single word you need to know. it means utility. you may not know the word for paracetamol but you can ask in a chemist for that pill you take that makes the headache go away. - thats fluency.
i could consider his approach a bit less thorough and holistic, it's a bit more crash course survival - like being speaking oriented for instance
Definitely a positive motivating force for beginners.
And - he is setting himself an impossible quest - well, he did, with Chinese anyway - we are a few years later - and wanted to do the best he could by overextending himself. Pressure brings result! He told the world in order to ensure he worked harder! give the guy a break ;-)


"Fluent in 3 Months" is not a proposition. Technically, nobody can assign a true or false value to the phrase. This is how he 'promotes' himself, and sure there's nothing wrong with promoting oneself.

I could 'promote' myself with a website "A Million in One Year", and fill it with incredibly motivating and captivating prose, encouragement, tips, books (that you don't HAVE to buy, but hey, if you do you'll have it all in one place, that's all), etc.

Let's all be positive, take a break, chill. We're all just trying our best, and that's great!

So, you ask, what am I saying? Exactly.

It's just that Benny Lewis is better at it than I am. I'm jealous.

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
- Ludwig Wittgenstein