In the language learning field, language schools are king! The reality of the matter is that if you are not signed up to a language school or living in an English speaking country, the majority of people do not think that you are taking your language learning seriously. In most countries, and especially here is Spain, we are just getting started with the development of online platforms (such as APPF.ES) in the hope of offering language learners another route to fluency, but this is very much a work in progress and people still need to be concinced.
This post is aimed at demonstrating that going to a language school, or academy as they are better know in Spain, is not the only option and in fact, for many of you out there looking for a flexible timetable, NOT EVEN THE BEST OPTION.
The Advantages of Studying by yourself
The fact of the matter is that people can learn languages at any age, it is a way of thinking and not an age issue. People lack the courage to begin to study a language independently because they don´t know how to get started (Marc Huckle).
Set your own pace:
English is the international language. The language of business and Hollywood. There is ample information out there for language learners to take advantage of in the learning process. But what tends to hold people back is the lack of knowledge about how to learn and make the most of study time. As students we are used to passing the buck and letting others (normally a teacher) take responsibility for our learning. This is a point that I need to emphasise, it is not the best option, a language is an art, not an exact science, you should never allow another person, whether it be a teacher or a language expert, to dictate the pace of your learning. In fact, this is the most common problem in language programmes as most people drop out due to the pace an level of courses. If it is too fast or intense, you cannot keep up. If it is too slow, you will become demotivated.
Study the way you like:
Although the majority of people in our world and bilingual or even multilingual, the concept of learning a language from scratch as an adult is a fairly new one. Indeed, we normally learn our language as a child and it is more of an unconscious effort that is learned as a natural part of our upbringing. This is reinfoced by the great array of research in the field stressing that is is much easier to learn as a child. The fact of the matter is that people can learn languages at any age, it is a way of thinking and not an age issue. People lack the courage to get started and learn a language independently because they don´t know how to get started. The internet is opening up this frontier for us and not we can access information about learning technique that was kept from us in the past as secrets of the trade. There are a huge amount of linguists out there like Olly Richards, who just want to give others a helping hand and focus their teaching on study technique and memorisation. Use their resources and through a process of trial and error, find what best works for you and copy it! In other words, “Find what words for you, then you just need to keep doing it for long enough so that you can notice the progress”.
Another great thing about working independently is that you can study where you like, when you want, with whom you like. Flexibility is a great thing, especially in our fast paced society. Through technological advanced we can study on our phones with Apps like Babbel or Duolingo, but what I need to stress is that an App on a phone will just give you a good start in a language, it is a stepping stone, it will not take you to full competence in a language. As I have said earlier, language is an art so what you should do is try to find the magic formula:
PHONE APP + COURSE + LANGUAGE PARTNER + RESOURCES
The reason it can be so great to go to a language school is that you have a person in front of you to consult any doubt that may occur, just remember though, your language learning is almost completely in their hands and if you have a bad teacher, you are likely to have a bad learning experience. In reality, according to many studies peer to peer (students collaborating) explanations are easier for students to remember and are usually understood at a deeper level.
To learn a language, of all the important factors, only one is ESSENTIAL. You need to be consistent. It doesn´t matter if you change teacher or course or even the method, what really impedes your progress is time. Time without contact with language. The brain is a muscle and like with building muscle, it is a lot more difficult to build than to lose. If you do not consistently reinforce learning and review what you have previously learned, you will forget it, plain and simple. Our brains are designed to forget so the norm is that after just 2 hours of a class we have already forgotten half of what we learned. Recall is important, it is essential to take content, put it into a format that you can remember easily and the review it regularly. The best way to continue learning is to keep motivated and have a very clear objective, and this objective is something very personal that the student needs to set. From my own experience, studying independently can either be a blessing or our achilles heal. For a very tenacious and focussed person it is easy to organise your time to find opportunities to study, if you really need to join other language learners to form some kind of language exchange. As language learners have a more flexible way of studying and can do it from home, they are not restricted to only class time, this can be a great advantage. As long as the learner is clear on how to study and can organize their time well enough to make sure it works.
Go out of your comfort zone:
There are various ways to improve your English, however, they do all have something in common. The need to push your limits and advance by going out of your comfort zone. Here is a post about learning with mistakes. What learners need to keep in mind is that learning a language requires effort and patience. It is not easy and there is no magic formula to do it, but more than studying a lot, students need to study well. For this reason in my experience, it is far better for the learner to dictate the content that they wish to learn, but of course with guidance from experts in the field of language learning.
With this post what we are trying to suggest is that there are options, the important thing is to focus on what you enjoy doing and do it in the way that you want that best suits your situation. You can learn a language independently, I know because I have done it myself.