Having lessons with a qualified teacher is a good way to improve your language skills. However, it’s also a big investment of time and money, so it’s important to learn as much as you can in the time that you have. That’s why I’ve made this list of five ways to make the most of your language classes.
Two of the most important phrases when you’re learning a language are: “I don’t know,” and “I don’t understand.” When we don’t understand something, it’s easy to pretend that we do or to simply keep quiet. Sometimes we feel stupid when we don’t know the answer or don’t understand something, but when we pretend we already know something, we miss out on a chance to learn. Your teacher may not know the answer to every question—languages are complicated and even a good teacher doesn’t know everything—but a good teacher will be willing and able to find out the answer for you. Your teacher is a resource, and one that you shouldn’t waste! It’s also important to come to class with questions which you want answers to, which brings us to the next point:
Your language class might be one hour per week, or it might be eight hours per day, but in any case, the things you do outside of class are very important too. Of course you should do any homework that your teacher gives you, and when you do you should make notes about any questions you have: things that you don’t understand, or areas where you want more information. As well as that, though, you should also be practicing the language as much as you can outside of class—reading books or articles, watching movies or TV shows, having conversations, using the internet—and making notes about any problems that come up. You should also think about what, exactly, you want to learn. What do you want or need to do in your target language? What subjects do you want to talk about? What kind of language is relevant or interesting to you? These are things that your teacher needs to know, so it’s important to think about these questions and then share the answers with your teacher.
If you’re reading this blog, I’m sure that you must be very smart, and when you’re using your native language, it’s easy to show how smart you are—you can use sophisticated language to share your thoughts and communicate easily. But when you use a new language, everything is different; suddenly you’re speaking like a child again. Maybe you feel stupid, and maybe it makes you want to give up and not use that language any more. This is very unhealthy for a language learner, and as I’ve said before, it’s important to think about your goal and to understand that it’s important to make mistakes, and a language lesson is the best place to make as many mistakes as you can! It’s an opportunity to try things and to experiment with the language in a safe and comfortable environment. A good teacher will not get angry or laugh at you when you make mistakes; they will notice your mistakes, so that they can help you to improve and make less mistakes in the future.
Use the language!
I’ve got some bad news: even if you try really hard, it’s not possible to learn a language by just sitting quietly in the classroom and listening to your teacher. If you want to learn, and to remember what you’ve learned, you have to use the language, and the more you use the language, the more you will learn. Some people don’t want to speak to other learners, because they think there’s no point talking if a teacher if not there to correct your mistakes, but the truth is, it doesn’t work that way. The best strategy is to do as much as you can in your target language, even if you make mistakes, and, as much as possible, to avoid using your first language. Do you need to ask for help? Use your target language to ask. Do you need to look up a word? Look it up in a monolingual (e.g. English-English) dictionary. You should only use your native language if you really need to; this is hard to do at first, but in the future you will be happy that you did it.
Ask for help!
Teachers are not just educated, smart, and good-looking people; they’re also people who are there to help you and to make sure that you achieve your goals. I can’t promise that your teacher will solve all of the problems in your life, but if you’re having problems with learning or using a language, your language teacher is the person to ask. Don’t be embarrassed about asking for help, and not just from your teacher: if you’re in a class with other students, it’s good to ask for help from or offer help to your classmates as well. Helping someone else to learn something is a great way to make sure that you understand it yourself.
Like the questions I mentioned above, the phrases below are important tools, not just in your language class, but any time you’re using your target language. Part of learning a new language is knowing what to say when you are having trouble. You shouldn’t expect to know everything, and you shouldn’t be afraid to try difficult or challenging things.
“What does this mean?”
“How do you pronounce this word?”
“Could you say that again, please?”
“Could you speak more slowly, please?”
“I’m sorry; I don’t speak English very well.”
“Please be patient.”
Do you have any questions or comments? Please send me a message! I’ll be happy to hear from you.