7 tips for a successful language learning class

So, you signed up for a #language #course in a college and you hear people saying that they took language classes in school or at the university and learned nothing.

Is this true?

First, let’s see why some people don’t benefit from language classes:

A language course will not work on its own, you have to make it work for yourself. Most of the people who say that they didn’t learn much from language courses were either not fully involved in the course, for different reasons, or didn’t understand the objectives of the course. Some people think that one language course is enough to make them fluent. While fluency has different aspects to it, to achieve any language learning related-goals, you must take into account so many variables, such as the amount of practice you do outside of the classroom, how well the course methodology fits your specific needs, how engaged you are in the classroom work and so forth.

You need to bear in mind that most language classes are designed for a certain demographical population, certain age groups, and certain educational systems. Basically, they are not customized to meet individual needs per se. In such cases, the textbook is most probably chosen to appeal to that main demographic who applies in that educational institution. Say, for example, a language school in France offers intensive immersive courses for adults in the summer. They will choose a textbook and materials related to the culture, age, and taste of their students. They will choose texts and themes that would make sense to their students and will offer them, for example, field trips related to these themes.

Here, I will give you 7 tips on how to maximise your learning experience when taking a language class.

1- Make sure to know as much as possible about the language class you’re interested in. Read the course outline, email the professor, and check the textbook online or go to the bookstore and have a look at it, if possible. This will help you decide whether this language class aligns with your language learning and academic goals. So, it’s highly recommended to test drive the course material before applying. In many colleges and faculties, you can enroll and attend the first few classes before committing to the course.

2- It’s also equally important to pay attention to the course level. If you have any doubts about which level you want to enroll in, simply ask for a counseling meeting with the course coordinator or the professor. You can also take a placement test. Why is it important to be at the right level? Because you need to be learning. According to Mosby’s Medical, Nursing, & Allied Health Dictionary, learning is “the act or process of acquiring knowledge or some skill by means of study, practice, or experience.” That simply means that there has to be a sort of an “upgrade” in your level of knowledge, somewhere between the first class and the last class of the course. If you take a course that doesn’t match your level and doesn’t give you the tools to upgrade your level, then you’re wasting your time and effort.

3- Homework is not only what the teacher assigns. It goes beyond that to include everything you learn. So, you need to study all the new words and language concepts, be able to recognize them, and to reproduce them in writing and speaking. The work that you do in the classroom won’t exceed 20% of the actual workload of any language course. In fact, if you’re serious about learning that language, you will do almost all the practice at home, as most of the classroom time is basically used for the teacher to introduce the new concepts and expressions.

4- Use the free tutorials to practice and to get your questions answered. Some students attend tutorials only to get the attendance mark but it’s more like a workshop, where you are given enough time to practice a certain aspect of the language. If allowed, suggest topics, games, or activities to your instructor and your classmates. Many tutorials are designed to allow this freedom of practice to the students, so make sure to be proactive about that.

When I took my second Italian course, I used to read an article in Italian every week and write a short text about it. I would show my text to my teacher the following week and ask for feedback. I advanced my language level that way. I also got a lot of useful tips from my teacher who was really kind enough to help and motivate me.

5- Make use of any extracurricular activities presented in your school. Most of the language courses given in higher education are linked to equivalent cultural and social events. Don’t hesitate and get out of your comfort zone and join the language club or the language conversation circle. Even propose some events if you don’t find one that appeals to you. Don’t be afraid to speak with the other students, even the more advanced ones and the native speakers. This will extend your learning time beyond the in-class hours in a fun way. In fact, this is your chance to put what you’re learning in class into practice.

6- If you’re learning Japanese in Japan, or French in Quebec, you’re lucky, you can take what you learn and put it to test in the real world, stores, train stations, malls, restaurants, etc. However, this would not be possible if, for example, you’re learning French in a region where no one speaks French. There’s a way to create similar real-world experiences for yourself. There are two models. There is the peer study model, where you study with other students. Creating study groups can be extremely helpful if done right so that all students contribute with their strengths and help each other with the challenges. There’s the language exchange model, where you help someone learn your language and they help you learn theirs. Both models work differently but can give you great results.

7- Create your own immersion experience regardless of whether you’re living in a region that speaks your target language. Include the culture in your daily routine. Transform some of your daily habits into that language, even if you’re a beginner. By getting used to the sounds and letters (listening and reading) you will be training your brain to decipher that language. Our brains are developed well enough to decipher language codes.

When I was learning Italian, I used to listen to an audio course, other than the one I was taking. I also read press articles online, watched Italian movies on DVDs from the public library, and chatted with Italians. At that time, I discovered the mystery novels of the Inspector Montalbano series by the Italian writer Andrea Camilleri, and I became a fan ever since.

Through this customized immersion experience, you will be opening the door to the culture, since the language doesn’t turn in the void. You will also start to see the world from the perspective of the language you’re learning.

Finally, when taking a language class, focus on learning, and do it at your own pace. Most of the language courses have systems of evaluation that might distract you away from learning the language to focus on the grades. But there’s always a fine balance between learning and grades. If you learn well, you will get the grades that match your newly acquired levels.

Have you taken a language course before? How was your experience? I’d love to hear from you.