When I started studying language on my own, there was one thing I avoided more than anything else.
As an introvert, it was the last thing I wanted to do.
And part of that, for me, was studying language with a tutor where I’d be forced to speak the language. I had too many bad memories from learning languages in the classroom setting.
You know what I’m talking about.
Being called on from amongst your classmates to answer a question you didn’t know the answer to. Being asked to stand in front of your peers to act out a skit or read something you’ve written. Or even being asked to read a passage aloud.
Each of those experiences terrified me as a kid and the last thing I wanted to do was put myself right back into a situation that would cause me the same discomfort.
The good news, however, is that language lessons are completely different than anything you’ll experience in class at school.
For one, the lessons (unless you take group lessons) are entirely focused on you, the learner. They are tailored to your specific level, your specific goals, and your specific struggles. Teachers in a classroom environment, unfortunately, are just not able to give their students that kind of attention.
Because language lessons, again, are usually 1-on-1 means that you don’t have the pressure of performing in front of a group of your peers. You’re just communicating with one person and that takes quite a bit of pressure off.
And finally, unless you have a special arrangement with your teacher, you’re not being graded on participation. You are the one spending the money on your lessons, so it’s up to you to decide how much you want to get out of the money you’re spending. Hint: the harder you work, the better your investment.
Keep in mind, however, that as comparatively stress-free lessons are (for those who are hesitant about speaking) when compared to the classroom setting, they aren’t a way to cheat your way through learning a new language.
There are no short-cuts when it comes to language learning.
You still have to do the work. You can be more efficient about it, yes, but there isn’t a one-size fits all system that will magically help you learn a language without any effort on your part.
And while a language teacher or tutor is one fantastic way to improve your efficiency as a language learner, it’s important to remember that they can only give you the tools you need to improve; it’s up to you to open up your toolbox and use them.
<h2>Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Language Lessons</h2>
1. Prepare // Preparing for your tutoring sessions in advance will make them infinitely more productive. If you’re getting ready for your first lesson, bring along a short introduction script to start. This not only gives your teacher an idea of the level you’re at, but it also provides them with the opportunity to get to know you and your interests so they can better tailor your future lessons. If you’ve already started studying with a teacher, make sure you work on the things they give you so that you return to your next lesson prepared.
2. Do your homework // Like I mentioned above, it’s important to complete the tasks your teacher assigns you to the best of your ability. This may mean that you get through everything successfully they ask you to do on your own (to the best of your ability) or that you take the time to do a bit of research on the things you didn’t understand in your previous lesson. As long as you make your best effort, you’re doing a good job. This also helps your teacher understand how much work to give you between lessons – they may realize that they’re giving you too much or that they aren’t challenging you enough.
3. When you’re at your lesson, dedicate all of your attention attention to your teacher // Turn off your phone. Stop thinking about the other things you have to do. For the thirty minutes or the hour that you’re with your teacher – be there with your teacher! If you need to take notes, write them AFTER your lesson while they’re fresh in your head. Don’t waste precious lesson time with meticulous notes. If you’re worried you won’t remember, jot down something that will help you later on, but do it quickly. Or you can record the lesson.
4. Make note of any questions you have while you’re studying on your own // If you have any questions that come up while you’re studying between lessons, make a note of them so that you can ask your teacher about it during your next lesson. For me personally, I take note of anything I am unable to do on my own – whether it’s a certain grammatical structure, words I can’t find translations for, or a word I struggle to pronounce – I make note to ask my teacher about it during my next lesson. As an example, I am currently playing a game in Chinese and I send my teacher screenshots of any characters I can’t decipher (they’re old graphics and so unfamiliar characters are impossible for me to read).
5. Record your lessons // This will eliminate your need to take notes during the lesson (see above) and will also give you something to reference while you’re studying on your own. Make sure you review the recording. We often have the best intentions when we record our lessons, but never go over the recordings later (I’m guilty of this one).
6. Practice your new material in context // Did you work through a new script or learn new vocabulary related to a particular topic? Practice it in context. This can be as part of a scripted chat with your tutor, out in the real world, or with an exchange partner. Make sure you’re taking the information you’re learning and giving it context so that it’s something that you can really use when you need it.
7. Share what you’ve learned // One of the greatest ways to truly make something you’ve learned your own is by teaching it to someone else. Being able to explain something you’re doing helps you further engrain that information.
Where can you find a language teacher?
You can find a language teacher through quite a few fantastic websites like iTalki or Verbling. There are also language schools in almost every major city and you can often even find local tutors in your area if you do a quick search.
If you are unable to afford a teacher, however, there are still options for you!
Professional Teachers Aren’t the Only Option
After studying music for several years – bear with me while I go off tangent here – I have had the pleasure of being tutored by several talented musicians. In my experience, I learnt it is important to study and learn from a variety of people [musicians and non-musicians alike]. By diversifying your education, you gain access to a multitude of information to learn, recreate, and make your own.
I think the same can be said for language.
Studying with those who don’t teach languages (read: language exchange partners or study buddies) can benefit you as a language speaker in a variety of ways. From fellow learners you may be introduced to new study materials, approaches, learn more about your own language (which makes you a better language learner in general), teach you less ‘formal’ language, and so on.
A Note On Different Teaching Styles
More often than not, each tutor has their own individual approach to teaching; I have had teachers who feel “their way” is the “only way” (many of my Russian teachers felt this way about the order in which I should learn the language) and I have had teachers who try to help their students find their own way in terms of language learning (my Chinese teacher was fantastic in this regard). I have also had teachers who are still trying to find themselves and they try different things out on you to see if those methods work for them, too.
The most important thing is to consider whatever information a teacher passes onto you, reflect on it and then decide for yourself what is best for you. Then stick with what works and throw out all the rest.
And don’t forget that no matter whom you study with, or how effective their teaching is, there is an opportunity to take something away from the experience. At the very least, you may just learn what teaching style or personality doesn’t work for you.
Remember that you can learn from ANYONE and from almost any situation or resource.
Teachers can only give you the tools to do what you need to do. It is up to you to come away from your studies with whatever knowledge you can.
What about you?
What are some of the things that you do to maximize your language lessons?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
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