Thursday, November 8, 2012

What type of language instruction is best for me?

When it comes to learning a new language, there are many options available.  Traditional routes would include majoring in a language like Spanish at a University or studying abroad for an extended period of time.  In recent years, we have seen many technology providers launch software and online classes.  A final option is to find a private tutor or a school that specializes in the language you want to learn.  This article is to provide you with some information to help you decide what is best for you.

Before evaluating programs you should first evaluate yourself.  Are you shy or outgoing?  Do you have a knack for languages or do you need more attention?  Are you incredibly busy or do you have a lot of free time?  Do you have a lot of discipline or do you need a lot of guidance?

Colleges are great places to learn a language if you have the free time and can afford the tuition.  Before deciding on this, though, you should ask yourself if you want to speak your new language to help advance your career and enhance your travels or do you plan on going into a career of education, teaching the new language.  College programs move incredibly fast and are much more focused on learning the grammar rules than actually speaking the language.  Also, you will more than likely be in a classroom of at least 30 twenty year olds, so make sure this will be a comfortable setting for you.  So to conclude, unless you are incredibly motivated, have a lot of free time, plan on teaching Spanish as your career, and are very outgoing, you may want to consider one of the following options.

Software and online options have become very popular in recent years.  We always recommend to our students that they try these programs out as an additional resource and to get extra practice, but it is important to realize these are generally better when viewed as a supplemental resource to in person classes than an actual way to become fluent in a language.  One reason why is that we speak languages in order to converse with people, not computers.  In addition, languages live and evolve, and there are always many ways to say the same thing.  For instance, imagine using a program that teaches you something as simple as a basic greeting, "How are you?"  This will be great if everyone you meet asks you this same question directly, but how would you respond to the greeting "What's up?"  These two expressions essentially mean the same thing, but they sound different and can be more confusing than you might imagine.  This makes learning a language from a computer difficult, because you will always need to ask questions and nothing can replace the value of real human interaction.  There are people that can learn this way, but the vast majority of people need a better structure, more discipline, and real people with whom they can talk.

To become fluent in a new language in the shortest amount of time possible, there is absolutely nothing better than studying abroad.  We have seen students achieve a level of fluency within a few weeks when doing this (by fluency we mean being able to think in the new language, not necessarily master it).  This is because you have no choice but to speak the new language and are constantly hearing it.  Thus you develop the ability to think in the language and your ear becomes accustomed to hearing it.  The only down side to doing this is for best results you need to plan on being gone for 1-6 months.  Who has the time and money for that?

The final option mentioned above is to find a specialty language school in your town like Bolder Languages.  These types of school often have very small classes so you don't have to worry about being shy or embarrassed if you don't say something right the first time.  Next, these programs are generally less intensive and more practical, focusing on conversation and real world scenarios than on having you memorizing lists of grammar rules.  Another great thing is that classes are affordable.  For example, at our school, we charge for one level what most universities charge for the books alone!

At the end of the day, if you really want to become fluent in a new language, you will need to do some research and determine what the best option is for you.  Don't focus so much on the price of a course but on the results it will produce.  If the program is well structured, gives you the attention that you need, and the instructors are excellent, then the price will be very worth it.  After all, speaking a new language you will find is priceless.

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