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April 2015

Class or self-study?

How to combine language learning in class with learning from home

One of the first questions many new language learners ask is whether it's better to take a class or study using one of many new available software programs. Ultimately, the answer really depends on your schedule and budget, as well as your preferred learning style. While classes offer personalized instruction and interactions with other students, not everyone can budget the hours for attending class. Additionally, many private classes for adults can be quite expensive. Computer software and phone apps range in prices, but each offers a convenient learn-from-home-at-your-own-schedule curriculum; they are a great convenience for those who might be working full time.

To quickly generalize, nothing beats a well-taught class attended by devoted students. Good teachers are invaluable, and they can be the difference between whether you push even harder or ultimately give up. Dedicated students also ask many questions, allowing you to learn from their mistakes, providing solutions to issues you may not even have known you had. No software, even those that pair you with a learning partner over the Internet, can replace the face-to-face interactions of a good class.

Fortunately, new language learners don't have to choose between one or the other. Because new apps are so readily available (a quick search in your phone's app store will bring up numerous resources), you can complement the classroom experience with at-home learning.

The importance of classroom learning initially is substantial. When studying on your own, it's easy to make pronunciation and grammar mistakes. Not being corrected early on means you're more likely to cement these mistakes into your mind. Having a strong initial foundation for a language is vital for healthy future learning.

Private classes are expensive, but larger classes at community colleges are impressively affordable. While you may not get the level of attention you'd receive from a smaller class, you’ll still have the opportunity to ask questions to a live instructor while learning from others. Attending a night course increases the chances that other likeminded adult learners who are passionate about studying are in your class.

After you have many of the basics down (most, if not all, of verb tenses, for example), you might consider continuing on your own with the course text. Watching movies, listening to podcasts, and utilizing affordable language learning apps can aid in building your comprehension. Eventually, you could attend a local language meet-up to speak with others in your target language to build fluency while building a network of friends who you can practice with on a regular basis (essential for retaining linguistic skill).

Combining affordable courses initially and then transitioning to at-home instruction offers a bit of both worlds with the most convenience possible. As you progress, you’ll find the best way to break plateaus and reach fluency is immersion, constantly conversing and listening to those who speak your target language natively. This is why so many who studied a language in university have such low functional skill in the language in later life. Academic learning can only get you so far; you must take initiative and find the immersion yourself.

What are your thoughts on balancing schooling with at-home learning? Let us know on Facebook and be sure to "like" telc English for more helpful learning tips!