In this article, I want to talk about the problem with language courses (private or in group). Don’t worry, I’m not gonna denounce language courses, or the teachers. So if you are a language teacher, I’m not going to criticize you personally, or if you take classes I’m not going to tell you that you made the wrong choice.
But in my opinion there are problems in the way people “consume” language courses, particularly in the organization people have because of them.
1) Language classes are not regular enough
In fact, generally, when you want to learn a language, you have 2 two options :
- Either adopt a method and learn the language by yourself.
- Or take classes.
I’m not gonna talk about the solo learning way because it’s not the subject of this article.
When you take classes, you either have a private teacher, with whom you have a lesson once or twice a week, or you go to an institute that offers language courses, which is also usually once or twice a week.
The problem is that even if the classes are very good, just going twice to a class in a week is not enough, even if you have homework or things you have to do between classes (which is good, but for me it’s not enough).
Because what I discovered with any discipline is that the more you do it regularly, the easier it becomes. It’s like in sports, if you want to get muscles, you’ve got to practice regularly every day. You’re not gonna get muscular within just a week of exercises.
It’s the same with your brain, the more you mobilize it on skills and knowledge, the easier it is to remember them on the long term.
If you go to language courses even twice a week, it’s good, but between the classes, you will lose the little warm up you had in class, and you will forget easily what you’ve learned.
That’s why when people go to school, they have maybe 4 hours of language class a week, and in the end they don’t come out with a very good level despite the homework. (Of course, there are lots of other issues related to school but I won’t focus on this topic).
But there are also many people who do evening classes and who progress very slowly, even though their teachers are good. Why doesn’t it work?
Well it’s because of this lack of recurrence, this lack of brain’s mobilization in relation to that. Because the human brain learns things that are frequent, things that come back all the time.
These information give to our brain “the impression” that they are more important than the rest, which is going to make it memorize them instead of the less important information that come back less often.
So if you’re doing normal classes, and you’re satisfied with doing these classes once or twice a week, that’s not gonna be enough because your brain is not gonna see it as something very important, and so it will leave it aside after a while.
Another more general problem is that during holidays, there is no class. When it’s just two weeks off, it’s not that bad, but when it’s summer holidays and for two months the institute in question is closed, what do you do?
Very often, out of procrastination you say you’re gonna study, but you drop after a while. You say “It’s ok, I’m gonna start again next year anyway”…
So there is a whole bunch of mechanisms that prevent us from being regular. Even if the language courses give you a certain disciplined frame, like “Ok, you have to come on that day, at that time”, it may not be enough.
That’s why I recommend you to do something else aside of the course. You don’t have to stop your classes and throw your lessons in the trash, but try to study even the days you don’t have class.
Unless you already have classes every day, which I strongly doubt because there are very few institutes that offer language courses every night. And there are very few teachers who can give you lessons everyday as well, plus the fact that a private lesson is around let’s say 20 euros, it would cost you quite a lot of money at the end of the month…
So keep your lessons (if they are good of course), but in addition to that, supplement with your own efforts. Try to work by yourself on conversation, listening, phonetics, learning vocabulary… It’s not your teacher who’s gonna get all this into your heads. You have to do this work on your side.
See the course as an element of your learning: today you do this, tomorrow you do that, and on the day of the class, you don’t do anything else, or maybe just learn some vocabulary in the morning for example, but the class will be your main activity of the day.
If you can, try to learn at least 5 minutes every day (if you really can’t do more). It’s really the best thing you can do. I did it for years, and on the weeks I could not study, I felt rusty, while the weeks I really studied and spoke a lot (especially in immersion), I really felt the progress.
2) Be active in your learning process
Another thing, if you have a private course, you can integrate the teacher as part of the learning process. I know there are teachers who like to have this “vertical” spirit, like they decide everything (week 1 you do that, week 2 you do that …).
Personally, I would advise you to have a teacher who is a little more flexible, because in my situation I had a fairly flexible learning, and I enjoyed it. But I know there are also students who are very vertical, so a flexible learning way may not be for you if it’s the case.
But anyway, I would suggest to kind of “use” properly your teacher. Tell him for example: “this week I saw that, but I didn’t understand this point of grammar, could you explain it to me?” Or “I have trouble pronouncing this sound, could we work on it first?”.
It becomes more interesting because instead of doing once or twice a week activities that may not even be related to what you really like or want to do, you can use the teacher on things you could not have done otherwise.
For example, often when you study a grammar book you say “Wow, I don’t get anything! Why is this like this? This sentence makes no sense! What kind of crazy exception is this…”
But if your teacher is pedagogue enough, you can do once a week the grammar point, the conversation point (if you want to do a role-play on a specific subject), the pronunciation point etc…
In the same way, integrate everything you see in class into an active immersion learning process. Try to learn intelligently by studying often, not necessarily much, but often, and actively.
For example if your teacher in a group course gives vocabulary to learn, instead of learning it with a list, put it in a software, and then reuse it with your native speaker friends. That’s how you will integrate the class into your learning process which will become much richer.
Because if you only use the lessons alone, and only do the homework at the last minute before the next class, it won’t be enough, despite the quality of the class.
And by the way, don’t blame your teacher if you don’t invest yourself personally, because the teacher, once again, cannot make you learn for you, it’s up to you to do it.
So in the end for me language courses are not necessarily a bad thing, but the problem is that if I wanted to have a course related to the way I learn languages, I would need one private lesson every day, but that’s not possible for many practical reasons.
But anyway, if you’re doing a course, or if you’re hesitating to take a course and you think that it may not be the right thing for you, see if you have the possibility to make it part of you learning process.
If you’re going to see a private teacher, ask him if he is ok to teach with a certain amount of flexibility. It’s good to ask him before starting because some teachers might take this as a personal affront that a student tries to be a little bit independent.
And don’t forget that even if you are in class, you are still an autodidact, because in the end it’s always you who learn through what you are taught, whether with books or through a teacher.
Be the actor of your learning, and you will see that just having this idea in your head makes all the difference between a person who succeeds and a person who stagnates.
So once again, nothing mean against the teachers. There are very good teachers, but you have to integrate them into your learning process so that they become almost accomplices.
Of course, you also have to know how to listen to them. When they give you exercises, they know that they are targeted for you. And with all that, you’re going to have a kind of synthesis between what you do on your side, and what a teacher gives you, and then you’ll be the winner in your learning process.
Alright, good luck in your learning, whether alone or in your course!