Most of us have the dream of someday being able to walk into a French bakery and knowing just what to say or to be able to do business with Japanese partners.
Perhaps your goal is even to read Dostoyevsky in Russian. Whatever it may be, you need to get fluent first, and people often wonder whether classwork or self-studying is more effective in producing results.
When learning a language, self-study will help you progress quickest and help you retain more information for a longer time, and thus it’s better. Classes, however, provide a good structure and the opportunity to practice with peers. A combination of in-class and out-of-class work will be the best.
Although it’s been settled that working on language learning on your own is most likely to help you reach your goals sooner, all people are different and have different learning needs.
Therefore, to find the best option or combination for you, you need to understand the benefit of each method and how to practice it to its fullest potential.
Should You Learn A Language In A Class Or On Your Own?
The most important parts of language learning are indisputably self-study and immersion in the target language. However, not all people have the same motivation or organizational skills to fully facilitate learning a language on their own.
When deciding, you have to consider the benefits of the learning methods and settle on one depending on how relevant each point is to you.
Benefits Of Learning In Class
These days we have a myriad of classroom options for language learning. While some students opt for learning a language in a high school or university class, online classes are also always at your disposal.
Classrooms have been the classic option for learning anything ever since educational institutions were formed, and schooling has become a mainstream human right (and responsibility) since then.
To make your decision, you must understand the benefits of learning a new tongue in a class environment. These benefits are exclusive to classroom learning and cannot be replaced by studying on your own without external resources and large paywalls.
1. Classes Have A Structured Curriculum
The first bonus of studying with a class is that your instructor will have set up an organized studying plan for the whole class.
Teachers create curriculums taking many aspects of learning into account. Still, the most important point would be asking in what order the students should learn the subject matter to maximize retention of information. After that, deadlines and progress checkpoints are decided.
Working with an already planned curriculum means that you won’t have to spend your own time figuring out what you want to work on next.
The teacher does that for you, and it will likely be the road to the quickest progress. Furthermore, quizzes, exams, and practical exercises are also provided for you instead of looking for additional resources.
In a classroom environment, especially at a college or university level, you will usually get exposure to all the different facets of a language.
Grammar, literature, and communication classes should all form part of your curriculum, giving you more depth into the language and the culture it stems from.
2. Classes Provide The Experience Of Learning With Peers
Learning with peers is a pro and a con to others – this will depend on your personality and behavior. Classmates will often motivate you to work harder and allows the opportunity to form study groups, making learning more fun.
However, your peers could distract you during classes or provide wrong answers, which could confuse you.
Mistakes made by your peers, however, could also count in your favor, as the teacher could clarify a potential problem with your speech that you may not even have thought about.
Furthermore, classmates help you stay focused without too much pressure since participation is split between all class members.
3. An Expert Is Teaching You
Usually, the instructor of a language class will be a native-level speaker holding some degree in the target language. They will also need a good understanding of the source language.
This proficiency in both languages allows them to draw comparisons and establish differences between the grammatical aspects of the two languages.
The teacher will most likely have experience and knowledge of what students usually struggle with and how to help them overcome these challenges.
It depends, however, on the teacher’s passion and natural talent for the job. Try to find reviews of your prospective language instructors.
4. Classes Are Often More Fun
When your instructor uses tools like roleplay or games in class, it will be a lot more stimulating than trying to use those same tools at home.
The stories and experiences shared in class are also invaluable information and will help make it easier for you to connect interesting connotations to words and phrases.
5. Classes Can Be Taken Online And In Person
These days, students have the choice to take classes either online or in person. Suppose you want to have the experience of a language class without having to commute, or you are not the kind of person who likes face-to-face education.
In that case, online classes may be a way to provide your language learning journey with some structure without making it too uncomfortable.
Benefits Of Learning On Your Own
Many students believe that the setup in a classroom hinders efficient language learning and that teaching yourself with the help of good resources is the way to go.
While many of their points may hold as to why classes are ineffective, let’s see why the self-taught method is believed to be superior.
1. You Can Create Your Schedule
A major benefit of learning a language on your own is that you can fit it in whenever you get the time. Classes have specific schedules while teaching yourself a language allows you to pick your best times for learning or, for instance, pull out your flashcards app while waiting in a queue.
Nonetheless, your learning will be more flexible, and you can push yourself as hard as you see fit.
2. You Can Track Your Progress Yourself
You can track your progress when opting for language learning by studying alone. While you are welcome to set up your tests or attempt quizzes online, you don’t have to worry about getting a certain grade unless that is important to you.
You can measure your performance against other self-taught language learners or compare your progress to how good you were yesterday/before.
3. Your Progress Is Based On Your Motivation
Since other classmates or rigid curriculums will not hold you back, your progress will be solely your responsibility. Therefore, this can be seen as a benefit or a downfall of learning on your own.
Nevertheless, the growth potential is much higher, and if you can motivate yourself, results will start showing much quicker than a class can produce them.
4. You Can Find The Methods That Best Fit You
Teaching yourself means that you can use whatever method you like. Whether it be learning from a textbook and doing innumerable exercises or watching a movie in the target language and seeing how many words you recognize – the choice is yours!
5. Learning A Language Alone Can Be Fun
Since you are teaching yourself and choosing your learning methods, you can have a lot of fun. Some self-taught language learners use tools such as video games or anime to immerse themselves in the language.
In contrast, others opt to travel to the target country and fully embrace the culture to pick up the language organically. Keep your goals in mind regardless of your choice.
6. Using Self-Taught Methods Saves A Lot Of Money
Classes are expensive. There is no denying it – you are paying for many services at once for language classes, from resources to the teacher’s wage to the rent of the classroom itself.
Teaching yourself can be much cheaper since you can find free resources online or look for the best bargains regarding the textbooks and apps you choose.
Why You Should Use Both Methods (Class And Self-Study)
While all students have different strengths and weaknesses, using both methods will empower you on points you are already confident in and fill the gaps where your language learning is still lacking.
Therefore, it is recommended that you find a combination between going to a class and studying at home.
Classes will provide the needed structure, and you can use self-study to secure the foundations and improve language retention. Classes will allow you to work hard and practice with others, while self-study will allow you to relax while learning something.
If you feel like the class is moving at too slow a pace for you, then you can take a higher-level class or perhaps use it to get even better at the things you already know while using self-study methods to always stay one step ahead.
Life can get really busy, and sometimes, there isn’t enough time to use both methods. In this case, you will have to weigh the pros and cons to decide which option is best for you. Luckily there are already a couple of pointers on this.
The following characteristics may make you more fit for learning in the classroom:
- You are new to language learning or the target language and have no idea where to start.
- You prefer having a structured schedule, and you need someone’s guidance.
- You are unfamiliar with the target language’s writing system.
- Your learning thrives when you are allowed to ask questions.
- You want to have a quick and intensive crash course.
Conversely, these characteristics may point out that you will fare better learning on your own:
- You enjoy challenging yourself and setting your own goals.
- You already have the fundamentals down from previous classes/studying.
- You want to do your research on culture or travel to the target country.
- You want to read books, watch movies, and listen to music in the target language.
- You are highly motivated and find getting into a focused state easy, even when alone.
Consider these points to help you decide, but once again, the ideal option would be to opt for a combination of classes and self-study. Perhaps even more effective would be to hire a tutor for one-on-one sessions, as the focus will be on you, and the tutor will eventually know exactly where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
The Best Methods To Teach Yourself A Language
First and foremost (and though this may sound corny), you must believe you can learn the language you want. If you struggle too much with this first step, there is no hope since your mind and all other odds will be pitted against you.
Convince yourself that language learning is fun and doable. It is also important to remember that every person learns at a different pace, so focus on yourself.
If you are convinced that you should learn a language on your own, then you will soon realize that you cannot rely on anyone else than yourself.
Create a plan and make sure that you stick to it. Be strict with yourself and try and use whatever new information you picked up as soon and as frequently as possible.
Although some applications, such as Duolingo or its competitors, can be useful, please do not fall for the trap of believing that language apps are the ultimate learning tool.
It is an extra bit of help but trying to learn a language solely from apps like these will likely lead you nowhere. Think of it as a fun break to solidify what you have already learned.
Read, read, and read some more! Find a good textbook (read reviews online and order the one that will suit you best) and take your time to work through every chapter and all the exercises found within.
Soon enough, you will understand the language comparable to a native, and what’s left is just retention and building confidence.
Immersion is one of the best language learning tools (if not the most important). Immersion can take place in any manner of ways, but essentially it refers to surrounding yourself with the language as much as possible.
Read through these tips on how to immerse yourself in a language:
Here are a couple of tips on how to immerse yourself in a language:
- Switch your phone’s language with the target language. This switch will help with learning technical terms and memorizing dates and days of the week.
- Play video games in the target language and write down interesting phrases. Sticking to more realistic games will be recommended (because who needs to know “orc” in French?).
- Read novels, non-fiction, and other books in the target language (not just the textbook).
- Find interesting movies and series from the country whose language you are trying to learn. You will see natives using colloquial phrases and see how they use different tonalities and inclinations.
- Listen to music and podcasts in the language you want to learn while driving, commuting, before going to sleep, or any other time you usually listen to your favorite tracks.
- Traveling to the target language country is usually the most immersive learning experience you can have, and then every second local could be a possible tutor!
Besides immersion, finding a friend who can speak the language will be of immense help in a practical sense. If you can’t find anyone nearby who can help, try looking online for a pen-pal of sorts.
Reddit has many subreddits dedicated to this, and various apps such as Tandem and HelloTalk provide the same service for free!
Languages are fun and learning one should be no different. Stick to these tips and keep working hard (preferably in a classroom or at home), and you’ll find yourself doing linguistic gymnastics in no time!
It comes down to motivation, so find a way to make yourself passionate about it and enjoy the journey!