5 Questions with Speaker Benny Lewis, The Irish Polyglot

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bennyheadshotToday’s ‘Five Questions’ series (with our fabulous Melibee speakers)  are answered by one of who truly inspires me – Benny Lewis.  Benny is known as the Irish Polyglot as he speaks TWELVE languages to varying degrees!  Our own Maria Snyder asked Benny to share his thoughts on culture and language.  Enjoy!

1. Why we should care about your passion?

Nelson Mandela once said “If you speak to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you speak to him in his language, that goes to his heart”. I truly believe that language learning bridges gaps between people, way more than the expectation that everyone will learn English ever does. It helps with business, it builds friendships, and it allows you to see a completely different side of the world when you travel.

Here is Benny Lewis at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India in early 2015
Here is Benny Lewis at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India in early 2015

2. Finish this sentence. Culture is…

People, and the way to interact with different people from different culture is to speak to them in a way they understand.

3. Have you ever wanted to give up on a foreign language?

The very first time I tried to learn a language, in my twenties, was Spanish. I actually did seriously consider giving up because I thought that I wasn’t smart enough or didn’t have the “language learning gene.” The real problem was a poor learning approach and attitude, and I’m very happy that I persisted through the difficulties to realize that.

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Benny snapping photos with local Indians at the Taj Mahal, anxious to pose with a foreign visitor.

4. Tell us a “single story” you’d like to disarm.

 “Language learning is about mastering the language to perfection.”

We all want to be able to have deep discussions in a foreign language, but some of my most wonderful experiences have actually happened to me as a beginner language learner. I remember to this day the first time I understood an exchange in Spanish, and the joy and pride I felt in my achievement. And when I was learning Mandarin, the basic “what’s your name” led to one of my favourite experiences in China and receiving my Chinese name on a train deep into the country.

I like to tell people to embrace being a beginner. It is after all a necessary step on a larger language learning journey.

5. What makes you a great speaker?

I love taking audience questions and giving spontaneous answers. I love making people laugh but also arming them with practical advise they can use when I walk out the door. Most important of all, I receive emails a few weeks after my talks from people telling me that because of attending, they are now securely on the road to speaking their target language.

Contact the hive if you are interested in booking Benny to speak at an event you are planning.