The first step to learning a new skill is deciding that you want to do so. Simple. What isn’t always so easy is deciding HOW you are going to learn that skill.
Let’s take languages as an example (funny, that!) – should you go along to your local Adult Education Classes and sign up for weekly classes, or can you just download an app and get started? What about those self-study language programmes which promise to get you speaking a new language in 12 weeks? Here are a few of the options available to you, with some thoughts for you to consider when deciding which method or methods you would like to use:
1. Adult Education Classes.
Many local councils have adult education classes during the evening or daytime, usually based at your local college or community centre. These can be a good option for the budget conscious and for those who like the dynamic of learning in a group. As you pay for the whole term in advance you may find that this is quite motivating when it comes to the evening when you are tired and tempted to bunk off! However, they can be prone to cancellation if there aren’t enough students. The group dynamic doesn’t suit everyone as some people will inevitably feel that the group is going more slowly than they would like and others may feel that it is all a bit of a rush. There can also be some difficulties with content as the group classes tend to follow a set text book and the content may not always be relevant to you – e.g. you may not want to spend three weeks talking about applying for jobs if you have just retired!
2. Private Tuition
A good private tutor will tailor the classes to suit your level and also your needs/interests. You may be able to pay-as-you-go and also to take the odd week off for holidays or when work is too busy. The available times tend to be more flexible than in a group situation and you can, of course, set the pace of progress yourself by spending more time on the areas which you find difficult and speeding through the “easy” bits. Naturally there are two sides to every coin – private tuition can prove expensive and it is always a sensible idea to get some recommendations for private tutors in order to make sure you get a good one! Do bear in mind that you can always engage a private tutor for a short burst of tuition, to get you over a particular block or explain a tricky grammar point or two, rather than on a long-term basis.
If you are looking for a tutor for your child then do take the time to make sure that the tutor has a valid DBS certificate (police check) and ask about their previous experience in tutoring children of the relevant age.
Everyone uses apps for everything these days, don’t they? Well, yes… and no. There are so many language-learning apps available these days that it can be hard to keep track of them. One of the most popular is Duo Lingo which is very good for extending your vocabulary and encouraging you to practise. Many of the apps use gamification to persuade you to spend more time on your learning in order to gain points, credits, badges etc. They are a good way of revising vocabulary but tend to be weaker on the grammar side.
4. Self-study programmes with book/CD/DVD
Michel Thomas, Rosetta Stone and even the BBC have all produced self-teaching courses for language learning. The main advantage of these is that you can listen/work at a time which suits you. Costs can vary widely from around £17 for the BBC Talk series to £180 or so for Rosetta Stone (October 2017) The better ones use a range of native speakers to provide exposure to different accents and a variety of reading/listening exercises to extend your skills. On the flip side, some of them are weak on grammar teaching and there is nobody there to ask if you don’t understand the explanation in the book/on the screen.
With these programmes the key point is time management. In order to make progress (any progress, not just fluency in 12 weeks!) you need to make time to sit down and study. Of course, you can “just” listen to the audio tracks in the car, but if you are driving then I hope you aren’t paying enough attention to the tracks to learn well! Much better to sit down and focus, regularly.
5. Conversation with a native speaker
Practising with a native speaker is a really useful way to improve your language skills. However, if your pet native speaker is a friend or family member then it may lead to more problems than it solves! In the same way that many parents prefer not to teach their own children to drive, the frustration of trying to communicate with someone you know well, but in a different language, can cause frictions. Knowing how to correct the learner and when to do so is a skill that non-teachers may not find easy. Also it can be sometimes difficult to explain WHY something is incorrect if you have only ever spoken the language as a native rather than learning all the grammar rules.
6. Move to the relevant country
It is often said that there is no substitute for living in a country to get you moving with the language. This is true, but not everyone can just drop everything and move lock, stock and barrel to another country. What about work? Family? A home?
A short-term immersion course may be a good option though. There are many companies which offer language tuition as part of a holiday and in some cases you can even add on a skill such as skiing or cooking to get the most out of your time.
As is often the case in real life, sometimes there is no single, perfect, solution. In many cases a blend of the above methods can be really quite effective. I am always happy to find that my students are using a vocabulary app or two to keep up their skills and those who plan a holiday where they get daily language practice usually return with new enthusiasm and some fantastic phrases!