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Language Schools. Perhaps you’ve been to one. Hopefully you have been to a good one, had an amazing teacher and an amazing experience and come away with a foot up on the language you’ve worked to master. For many of you, a language school is the only option you’ve ever thought of as you moved overseas and began your life as an expat in a new land with a new language.
If you are new here at The Everyday Language Learner, I want to let you know that the only real option that leads to mastery of a language is YOU – you taking control of your language learning and making sure you are getting what you need to learn it. And of course that could mean going to a language school. But it might not.
While language school is not for everyone or for every learning style, if you find yourself enrolled in the school’s level 1 course after taking a placement test in some front office over a cup of tea, there is something you need to know.
This language class might be a good one. It might be great. And it could quite possibly really stink.
But none of that matters.
None of that matters if you chose right now to take charge. Remember, the language school is not responsible for your language learning – YOU ARE. And to help you take charge and rock your next class, here are ten ways you can maximize and enhance any language course – no matter how good or bad it is.
1 – Take Control
The first and most important step to maximizing the language school experience is to take charge of your learning. You are ultimately responsible and need to make the choices that will best help you learn. You’re paying money to be there so make sure and get what you want and need to get out the experience. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t disrespect your teacher. But do what you need to do. You are not there to be a passive observer. You need to actively engage and actively work to create engagement – with your teacher, with the other students and most importantly with the language. Active engagement with the language is always better than passive engagement.
2 – Let the Teacher Know Your Objectives
Before you can let the teacher know what your objectives are, you need to know them yourself. It’s part of taking control. But it is important that you let the instructor know what you are hoping to get out of the class. Again, don’t be disrespectful but do let them know. Most are following a set curriculum – the same one they’ve followed for the last ten classes. Injecting your desires into that stream won’t change their world, but I imagine most will work to add a little here or there to help you meet your objectives. Teachers love to have students show excitement and initiative and you will get a little more out of the class because of it.
3 – Get Started Before Hand
On the day you sign up for the class, get as much information about what is going to happen as you can. Try and meet with the teacher. What is her style? What does he like to focus on? Who are the other students going to be?
Pick up the syllabus or textbooks. Page through the first five chapters and make 50 -100 flashcards of the high frequency words that you do not yet know. Do this before you begin spending four hours a day in the classroom.
Getting started before hand will allow your mind to take in more because it will be taking in less. Less new material that is. You will already have laid a foundation and the time in class will be that much more effective, efficient and of course – more fun.
4 – Know Your Learning Style And Play To It
It is important to know your learning style. If you haven’t read my post on learning styles take a moment to go back and read it now. If you are trying to force yourself to learn in ways that grate against how you really like to learn, you will not thrive. Granted, there are no perfect situations, but knowing how you learn will help you take control of the time in the classroom. If you are a social learner then look for the other social learners. If you like to learn in a more academic, analytical way, find the other learners who also learn this way and avoid those who learn best by just talking . . . and talking . . . and talking.
5 – Don’t Do Everything
Don’t do everything the teacher asks you to do. Some of it will inevitably just be busy work that may or may not be helpful. If you find something not helpful and have a better way to learn the same stuff – do what works for you. Maybe you are asked to do a worksheet where you fill in the correct word. Would it be more helpful for you to take the time to decipher each sentence, look every word up, find the correct answer and complete the worksheet? Or could you maybe ask a native speaking friend to tell you the answers? Or maybe just not do that worksheet and do something else instead? You teacher won’t shoot you.
6 – Take It To The Street
One of the problems I see so many of my coaching clients in language schools struggle with is the amount of time they spend doing homework. I suggest taking that homework to the streets, to coffee shops or the neighbors and asking them to help you do the work – to tell you the answers and talk about what you are learning. In this way you cover the content again, you interact with the content at a deeper level and you get to build a real relationship with a real human being rather than with your dictionary and textbook. And your homework will get done a lot faster too.
Use this time as well to talk about what you are learning, to hear more examples of the structures and forms and to practice using what you are learning and in the end take everything deeper. And make sure to drink lots of tea too.
7 – Make It Real
One of the problems with language school is that textbooks are used which offer sterile examples of the language. We end up studying and writing sentences like:
The man went to the store.
The woman rode the bike to the beach.
The boy gave the ice cream to the girl.
Unfortunately, we don’t know the man, the woman or the boy. They are not real and we could care less. And we rarely pay attention to things we care less about. So anytime you are asked to do something that uses these factory created sentences, skip them (but not the grammar) and make you own sentences using You and the people important to you as the main characters and the real happenings of your day to day life as the content.
So when the workbook asks you to translate ten sentences, look at the grammar and what they are wanting you to learn and then make up your own ten sentences about your life. Emotional connection and context or background knowledge are powerful factors in our ability to retain what we learn. Writing about things we know and people we care about will do far more to help us remember than writing about “the man who went to the store.”
8 – Flashcards
Okay this one is an old standby but I put it on the list because it highlights one of the major problems that most language schools face. They are run on a schedule with a first and a last day of class. The course has to cover a set amount of content within that time frame. And the number one complaint I hear from language learners everywhere is that the pace of the class is just too fast. They are forgetting much of what they learned in week one by the time they get to week three. It’s a race to the finish and too much content falls to the wayside.
Flashcards are your first defense against this. By consistently creating flashcards, either old fashioned notecards or with great computer based programs like Anki, you now can collect all the words and expressions you are learning and bring them with you along for the ride. Be creative in how you make these flashcards and make them as active as you can. You can read more about creating better flashcards in my Why You Need to Get Active to Get Learning post.
Extra Reading: Language Learning Tip: Use Paper Flashcards Effectively
9 – Journal Daily
If flashcard bring some of the words and expressions along for the ride, writing a daily journal will bring everything along. I wrote about this idea in my guest post at Fluent in 3 Months a few weeks ago, but I think that this is the single most important activity you can pursue to truly maximize your language school experience.
It is really a pretty simple activity. Start small and start with what you know, but write about your daily life using the new words expressions and grammar forms you are learning. It will be all simple sentences at first (if you’re in level 1) but you will soon have created a growing collection of written journal entries that are interesting, emotionally connected and filled with context and background knowledge – all important elements to high quality comprehensible input.
As you write them, you will also want to get them corrected so that all the spelling and grammar and expressions are right. I would do this when you “take it to the street” or you could stay after class to go over them with your teacher. Just find someone to read through them and interact with you as you get them corrected. Now you have created a nice library of written material that you can go back and read any time to review everything you have learned.
10 – Record Your Journals
The next and perhaps most important step is to record a native speaker reading your journals. This allows you to create a short 30 – 60 second audio recording that you can listen to on the bus, as you wash dishes or any time you have a few moments. This allows you to seamlessly integrate review into your daily life. If you do this regularly you will soon build an even more amazing personal library of recorded material that will include every thing you have learned in class.
This is maximized language learning.
There is not perfect language school or learning program. Any course or program can be improved though when you take control and work to maximize the opportunities that you do have. My hope is that in sharing these ten ideas, you will be empowered to create a better experience for yourself as you take a class or course.
I want to be up front and say that I have not personally used language schools in my learning of Turkish. I took a brief course in Mexico when I was working on my Spanish, but outside of that, most of what I know comes from conversations with friends and language coaching clients who have used classes. And so because of that, I would really like to hear from you as well.
What have you done to maximize a language class?
Share your ideas and experiences in the comment section below and become part of helping others be more effective, more efficient and have more fun learning another language. If you have found this post helpful, be sure and Tweet it, Like it, Stumble it or email it to a friend. Thanks!