Benny Lewis

Today on the FundMyTravel blog we get the exciting chance to interview Benny Lewis, an international traveler and speaker, who has become fluent in seven languages since 2003.

Benny, thanks for joining us today and it’s an absolute pleasure getting to touch base, before a whirlwind of exciting events takes place in Australia, for you! We’re just thrilled to snag some of your time and find out more about the man, behind the genius of “Fluent in Three Months.”

How did you first identify that you had an approach to language learning which would be beneficial to so many other people? We come across a lot of travelers and students who are a bit nervous about visiting countries, where they don’t have a mastery of the language yet. Do you have any advice for these people, to help them feel more confidant, diving into this uncomfortable scenario? 

I struggled myself a lot at first, but then developed a good learning technique. As I travelled, I came across other people who were in the initial struggling stage and I really enjoyed motivating them to dive right into it. This inspired me to start writing about it as well. There are lots of tips I give, but the most concise, which I can offer is that, beginners need to actually make it their goal to make as many mistakes per day as possible. Having a perfectionist approach and waiting until you have perfect grammar before speaking is the biggest enemy of all, in language learning.

Wow, well I’m sure that takes some courage and might even surprise some of our readers, but it makes sense. What was the first language you discovered an absolute passionate interest in learning? What got you interested in the first place and what do you think was the most influential cultural experience that made you want to practice the language better?

Spanish – I grew up with Spanish students visiting my home-town and always wanted to learn this language, but it wasn’t offered in my school. When I graduated uni, I took the chance to go live in Spain and just figured I’d pick up the language by proxy. Sadly this didn’t happen after six months so I had to grow my interest in learning the language itself. Those first few moments of saying something and having the other person understand you and reply are so motivating. The amount of cultural experiences I’ve had is endless, but the interactions with individuals has always been at the core of my passion for learning language.

So what’s going on for you in Australia and where can our Aussie mates find or connect with you at your upcoming events? What are you looking forward to most about speaking with this audience and have you spent much time in Melbourne before?

This is my first time down under, and I’m here primarily to inspire Aussies to learn more languages, continuing my world tour of doing so in other English speaking countries. I’m in Melbourne this month, then on to Sydney and Brisbane. I love it here! People can find me at the following events over the next couple of months:

Melbourne Hangouts
Feb. 19 2015. Book Signing @ Readings
Feb. 22 2015. Language Lab @ Henley Club

Sydney Hangouts
Mar. 26 2015. Book Signing @ Kinokuniya
Mar. 28 2015. Language Lab @ Hub Sydney

Brisbane Hangouts
Apr. 8 2015, Brisbane. Book Signing @ Riverbend
Apr. 10 2015, Brisbane. Book Signing @ Avid Reader
Apr. 2015, Brisbane. Language Lab

Are there any specific sights or experiences you’d like to tick off your traveller’s bucket list while you are here? What has been interesting and fun to see, so far? Maybe our Australian audience can offer you some tips on their favorite local places to discover…We find that’s always the best, when you can get a local’s insight on where to go! (Readers, be sure to comment your recommendations for Benny, below!)

I like to stick to my usual plan and ask the locals what’s what. I’m open to suggestions, but of course plan to see as many kangaroos, koalas and anything that starts with a ‘k’, that we don’t have in the northern hemisphere! I did get to see the St. Kilda festival and really enjoyed it. But I look forward to receiving any of your tips, especially for places within easy access of those cities where I’ll be based.

What do you think people will get out of your presentations and chats in person, that they might miss or not get from reading your book or signing up for your newsletter?

The Irish accent doesn’t come across in writing! But seriously, I tackle as much as I possibly can in my materials, but there are times when an answer really resonates with someone better, if they put up their hand and ask the question in person. I find this motivates people so much more and it’s why I’m prioritizing in-person events as much as I can!

Did you ever think, when you first began traveling that you would end up featured in National Geographic and Forbes alike, making a career of this? What advice can you offer other passionate travelers and entrepreneurially focused users of FundMyTravel, in order to make their projects succeed?

I definitely did not imagine this would become a career. When I first hit the road, it was a simple gap year, before returning to my life as an engineer. When I first learned Spanish I thought it would just be a side thing, to improve my experience in Spain. But it opened up a whole new world for me. I truly have made a career, emphasizing the fact that I’m not like others who pick up language naturally; I do not have a language-learning gene. Everything I’ve learned can be learned by anyone else. This message is surprisingly unique, with language learning still ruled by more traditional pedagogies, so my approach has gotten on the radars of quite a few interesting folk!

Similarly, to make these projects succeed, it must absolutely be about helping other people and not just helping yourself. I could have built myself up to be the world’s “language guru,” the one with all the answers, but instead I’ve gone out of my way to highlight my failures and share my stumbles. That way, people can better relate to me an this helps them with the learning much more. Share a personal story and relate to people, then they’ll be more willing to seek your advice, in ways that can help your entrepreneurial goals too.

Have you ever made use of fundraising, or online crowd-funding to develop a plan or project as a part of your travel goals?

Not yet…

What do you think is the most challenging part of always being on the go and changing cultural environments so frequently? What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect to this way of living?

To this day, I still fail at maintaining a routine when I’m always on the go. Last year, my book tour in the states and the UK required that I change city every other day and this meant that I got almost nothing done other than the tour itself. I rarely had a moment to relax. That’s why I prefer to take my time and spend weeks or months in each place, like I’m doing in Australia! When I do things that way, it’s much easier to get to know people. I consider it the sort of “Goldilock’s zone” of not traveling too fast, but staying “on the go” which allows me to get the best of both worlds, make new friends and experience a culture, while still having more new experiences, on the horizon.

Is there a particular country or culture with which you feel an especially great personal connection? A lot of the different campaigners here and artists who we’ve spoken with on the GoAbroad blog mention that a ‘sense of home’ can mean different things, when you travel often. Do you consider many places to be “home” or is there one specific place What does that term mean to you?

Spain! It’s the first place I truly lived abroad in, and the country where I’ve spent the most time, outside of Ireland. It’s the language I speak best and the culture I understand the most. I can’t say I consider anywhere truly “home” though. Everything I own weighs 23kg and comes with me, wherever I go, so I don’t have a base where I leave my things. I do return back to my family home, but it’s always, only for the people, rather than for the place itself. I have been at this way of life for a long time (12 years without a “home- base”) so I do plan to become “semi-nomadic” at some stage. I think having a true home would make me appreciate travel even more; it will become more special that way!

Now for a big, fun, finale. What is the most uncomfortable or unique cultural situation that you have been faced with and how did you respond to it? What can you suggest as a good reminder for any students going overseas who may find themselves well outside of their comfort zone and unsure how to handle the experience?

When I tried to live in Paris, it was actually quite uncomfortable. I had nine months of avoiding English speakers, in my attempt to gain an immersive and deep cultural experience, but I ended up with no friends because of it. This was a tough time for me. Luckily though, when I went to other parts of France, I had much better experiences. Rather than give up on Paris though, I decided to really think about the problem and returned there a few years later, only to discover that I had spent the whole nine months judging those people and having decided that they were not fitting within my standards of how people in another country should act. This is a rookie mistake as a traveller, so I decided to change my attitude and adapt to them. When I discovered that the way I talked to people could be altered, to better respect the local customs, then my entire experience changed. There is no “wrong” way of living, or for another culture to act. It’s our job as the traveller to adapt. Sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort zone – that’s where the magic happens!

Thank you for that Benny, and what a beautiful note to wrap this up on. Right you are, and it’s those challenging experiences abroad, which seem to always end up teaching us the biggest lessons. Have safe and happy travels! You can find more information about Benny, his book and his upcoming events, on his Facebook Page, as well as his Website.