Should You Take a Traditional Language Class?
OK, you’ve decided to learn a foreign language, now you just have to figure out how to do it. You’ve probably considered taking a traditional in-person class.
Here are some things to consider before you visit your local community college to sign up.
Traditional Classes Are Both Cheap and Expensive
When I say that traditional classes are both cheap and expensive, I don’t mean that some schools have low prices while other schools charge a lot.
By both cheap and expensive, I mean that most people can afford to pay the money prices. That’s the cheap part.
The expensive part of traditional classes is the time they take compared to how much you actually learn.
You’ll Waste a Lot of Time for Every Class
To get a good idea of how wildly expensive, traditional classes are in terms of time, let’s add up the various time costs of a typical one-hour class.
1. Commuting time. I’ll assume this is 20 to 30 minutes each way, for a total time cost of 40 to 60 minutes.
2. Waiting time before class. You probably have to get to class 10 to 20 minutes early.
You’ll end up wasting at least 50 minutes and perhaps as much as 80 minutes of time for every class hour.
And how much of your class hour was really productive? I’ll assume that 30 minutes was productive.
So when you add it all up, you’ll usually waste 1 hour and 20 minutes and up to 2 hours in order to get 30 minutes of really productive learning time.
What I Learned in the French Class I Took
I recently took a short in-person French class. The three-hour class started on Monday and ran through Thursday for two weeks.
My time costs were the three hours of class, plus my commuting time, plus the wait time before the class (I didn’t want to be late) plus my study time. Let’s call it five hours of my time per class session.
Was it a good use of my time? Well, after the first hour of class I was tired and didn’t learn much. So the second and third hours weren’t a good use of my study time.
So what did I learn? I learned that French women are really charming!
But I didn’t learn much French.
Consider a Weekly Language Club Instead of a Class
Once-per-week language practice with native speakers can be very helpful. However, you can get this benefit by finding or starting a language club.
I’ve started and run a couple of successful language clubs for languages that I was just beginning to learn.
If you want to find an existing club, try doing a Google search for a club near you by using a very specific search term like “Spanish Language Clubs in San Francisco.”
No Teacher Can Really Teach You Anything
I know that sounds radical, but it’s the truth. Teachers can present the material and hopefully lower your frustrations. But you always have to learn your language by working on it yourself.
Good teachers do a wonderful job of encouraging you, correcting you, and telling you how to pucker your mouth to make the sounds come out right.
But you always have to take the time to learn what you want to learn. Your teacher can’t do it for you.
The Best Learning Mix Is Human Teachers Plus Software
Human teachers can do a much better job of encouraging you, correcting you, and telling you how to twist your tongue so you sound more like a native.
On the other hand, our software is infinitely more patient than any human teacher could ever be.
Human teachers can inspire you with a love of their language.
On the other hand, our software knows what you studied, when you studied it, and when you will need to review it.
Use In-Person Classes as a Place to Review and Not a Place to Learn
In person classes can be great for socialization, encouragement and support, but they cost a lot of time for the amount of material you will learn.
If you do decide to take an in-person class, use it as an opportunity to ask your teacher, to review and help you improve what you learned with our software.
When you combine loving, supportive teachers, plus our infinitely patient software . . . that’s the best recipe for learning a language.
Last updated: August 26, 2012
Your view of language learning struck a chord with me because I’ve been a life-long student of languages. Despite a shaky start with German, which I could not speak at all after two years of college level courses.
The German textbook was typical for its time. It provided some vocabulary, and then set about describing the language in the most intimidating ways. Like lists of prepositions that “took” the accusative case, those that “took” the dative case, and those that “took” either case, depending on what was happening with, to, on or near the object of the verb.
We had no clue what “nominative,” “genitive,” “dative” or “accusative” meant. But we moved on to plural forms of nouns. These, we learned, could be formed by adding a couple of letters, but not always the same ones. As in “Frau” “Frauen,” “Kind” “Kinder.” Or just one letter: “Pferd” “Pferde.” But there lurked nouns whose plurals were created with an internal vowel change and the addition of an ending. Yes! Like “Haus” “Häuser.”
And forget about irregular verbs that didn’t share a single letter with their infinitive forms. Or the endings applied to adjectives following definite articles depending on the “case” and gender of the noun they “modified.”
And to think I took German because I’d heard two girls complaining about French! After a full class devoted to the subject, they were still unclear on the difference in meaning and pronunciation of “ils sont” and “ils ont.”
The approach of our German book was apparently to describe the language in such detail that the reader was bound to pick something up. Two years later I got off a train in Cologne, Germany, walked up a street and into a hotel. Only then did I realize that I didn’t know how to say anything. I listened to what a man in front of me said. When it came my turn, I said the same thing he had. Then I learned that, not only could I not say anything, I could not understand anything that was said to me.
Things improved rapidly after spending time actually speaking and hearing the language. A couple of years later, the Army drafted me. I came back to the States and enlisted so as to improve my chances of getting a job that used my language skills. In its wisdom, the Army sent me off to language school to learn Arabic.
Mike, thanks for your comments.
I studied Spanish for about six years in a combination of classes, some private, some in school. I learned to put together a lot of sentences, but could NEVER understand the Spanish spoken word when spoken by a native Spanish speaker. I could understand my instructors because they were trying to be understood, but never someone whose native language was Spanish. Could your way of teaching help me?
When you first hear a new foreign language phrase at full speed it sounds like noise.
I think our method of presenting complete phrases both slowly and at a normal speed would help you a lot.
Hi! Your articles are really quite interesting. While they provide information, they also do a great job advertising. I say this because they managed to interest me in a program that didn’t even offer the language that I was interested in learning! I was just wondering how you decide which language courses to create, how long it takes you after deciding, and what you meant when you said that your software could “create” lessons specifically for the user? Thanks! (If it helps any with my questions, I am interested in Japanese.)
Thank you Christine. You are very kind.
1. We do whatever we feel like doing next. Right now we are working on Italian. How do you say “Pretty Please” in Japanese?
2. How long does it take? Way too long. The hard part is finding the right people with the right accents etc.
3. When we get the right teacher well trained, we can create new lessons very quickly. We actually have done some custom lessons for a few customers.
Neat! Thanks for your reply.
I know enogh Italian to get my needs met and stay out of trouble (studied all the road/highway/museum signs) but I will now be doing business over there and need conversational help. Any suggestions? Many thnks.
We are just putting some finishing touches on Italian! Please take a look around the new website!
Brent – Kanari Kudasai or in Kana – かなりください。 Pretty Please in English.
When I graduate highschool next year, I will have had two years of highschool level french. I plan to minor in french in college. Would using this program or one like it better prepare me for college level french classes?
Absolutely our program will help you. Our strong point is our ability to help you learn to speak and understand French. You will definitely want to keep your text books to learn French grammar, because we don’t focus on grammar.
You don’t focus on grammar? Hallelujah! When I learned to speak and read english (my first language), there were no grammar lessons. It wasn’t until 3rd grade I learned what a verb or noun was, even though I had been using them correctly for years. I never learned english by studying parts of speech, but simply by mimicking usage patterns; although I had no clue what I was doing at the time.
Actually, I don’t think grammar would have made any sense at all if I hadn’t already been very familiar with the language.
Thanks for your enthusiasm! Now we have to get the message out to more foreign language teachers. In a loving way of course.
Do you have recommendations Brazilians who need to learn English?
Pimsleur has a program for Brazilians who need to learn English. If you already speak some English I like the lessons from Effortless English Club.
The post right above this one triggered me to post! What recommendations do you have for Americans to learn Brazilian Portuguese?
I like Pimsleur. They do have lessons for Brazilian Portuguese. Click on the link above and then you will find a link to their list of languages (including Brazilian Portuguese) at the bottom of the page.
I am interested in learning Japanese as well. I am currently using Rosetta Stone, but was wondering if you have any plans of putting together a course. I work on the road so I have a lot of free time in hotel rooms, but unfortunately I am always stuck in small towns where any group interaction is impossible. I am always very adamant about not giving up when I want to learn something new. Do you have any other recommendations for someone that has no choice but to sit at a computer to learn?
And yes, I know your opinions on RS’s teaching methods.
Japanese is a fascinating language! We are moving forwards with developing a Japanese language course and are excited about how it is going to come through!
The best recommendation I can make is to take a look through the Pimsleur tapes. Here’s our review:
^.~ Glad that I’m not the only one interested in Japanese! :D
There is quite a bit of interest in Japanese. It’s one of the most used languages in the world, especially when business is taken into consideration. Glad you are excited to learn Japanese. We plan to have an excellent lesson plan for it. :)
Ive always been fascinated with the language. I’m currently trying to learn as much as I can since Ill be going on a volunteer trip in February and would like to at least be able to carry on small conversations. :)
Do you offer a Latin American version of the spanish course?
Thanks for asking! The Spanish course we offer is specifically educated Mexico City dialect. This dialect is spoken in most of North, Central and South America where Spanish is preferred. There are some slight differences between Puerto Rican (and other Caribbean islands) Spanish though the differences are very small.
First, I’m taking your advice and joining a local Indy Russian speaking club (scared to death as I can barely say “hello”!). Second, I too would be very interested in your Japanese program! Bring it!! =-)
Congratulations on finding the Russian club! I’m sure that will bring you into a much more confident place with speaking Russian! You might even pick up some great subtle dialects too!
My concern with this is that most softwares (especially this one) seem to be really limited in scope. I don’t know if you guys have plans to add levels or anything, however I feel that after I learn everything I can here, my two options would be take additional classes or go visit the country. Independent study would be the only other option and that is really difficult.
In addition to the completion of the levels Language101.com offers the option to work with the lesson plan developers to create more lessons that are suitable for your needs. Maybe you want to have more language skills surrounding zoo’s and animals because you want to explore some when you travel. Maybe you are a therapist and need some better communications for your profession. We want to make sure that each student gets the opportunity to learn what we have available and then provide space for specific development to occur.
Going to visit the country where your new language is spoken primarily is one of the best ways to solidify the lessons you’ve learned. Immersion does a couple wonderful things for your mind:
1) You get to actively practice the language you just learned.
2) You get a lot of variation in the vocabulary which will open the door to deeper learning.
3) You will experience the subtleties in dialect from region to region that you can begin to integrate.
4) An appreciation for the language will develop as you begin to think in that language instead of translating in your mind.
This course is only designed to bring a student into beginner’s conversational. True fluency (the ability to fluidly speak, convey emotions and respond accurately to new thoughts and ideas) takes many years of practice. Consider how long it took you to achieve that in your primary language. Some adults never actually reach fluency which is usually developed in university level coursework.
I’m happy I read the comment by David. I an a social worker, and I want to learn Spanish so I can be of better service to the community I serve. I understand Spanish, but have no confidence in speaking it. I always clam up when someone spans to me. Although, I know what they’re asking/saying. I’m thinking of starting your program at the beginning of the year. I just want to be more comfortable. I studied Spanish on high school (3 yrs) and college (2 yrs). So, grammar is pretty solid. But, as I’ve stated, I have no confidence in speaking it. Necesito S
The best way to gain confidence in anything is to practice it. All the studying in the world does nothing for the knowledge gained if it isn’t applied and turned into wisdom.
Taking this course will definitely increase your inner confidence in believing that you know how to say the things that you want to express. I highly recommend starting with what you do know now and occasionally speaking to people in Spanish so that you can begin to show yourself that you are really making the effort towards achieving your goal of speaking in Spanish.
You might start greeting your clients with something simple such as:
‘ Hola, estoy empezando a aprender español para hablar con usted mejor y estoy construyendo mi confianza. Por favor me ayude cuando sea posible.’
This translates to
‘Hello, I’m starting to learn Spanish to speak with you better and am building my confidence. Please help me when possible.’
Memorizing that statement alone will gain you a lot of respect and confidence. Write it down and read it directly from the paper until you don’t need it anymore. Smile. Learning can be fun, interactive and mutually supportive, especially in environments like yours. Most of the people you are dealing with as a social worker are experiencing the same challenges as you with learning English.
I stumbled on your site looking for reviews of Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone. Everyone else in my family picks up languages (seemingly) effortlessly. The sort of textbook Mike Worley describes would be a piece of cake for them. I always thought I missed “the language gene” but reading your articles and people’s comments, I’m starting to wonder if I just learn really differently from my family. I especially like the idea of being able to listen at different speeds. One of the few things I know how to sign in ASL is “slowly, please!” Anyhow, Ég elska Ísland. Talaðu við mig á íslensku! Let me know when you get Icelandic on your list. (And no, it is not the same as Danish!)
Sounds like you are in the same boat as a lot of people who learn just outside the realm of the box everyone gets crammed into. A lot of people learn visually, some aurally, other tactilely. This is why some people are really good at sports, music or drawing. This is also why some people can’t pass a written test yet when the same test is given through spoken presentation they can ace it.
Thanks for suggesting Icelandic. I’ll be sure to send you an email when it comes into the development labs!
Bueno yo por mi parte necesitoayuda por razones de trabajo se me esta ofreciendo irme a suecia o alemania…y no puedo aprender alguno de esos idiomas… soy de habla española… me gustaria intercambiar intereses idomaticos… Andres_js@hotmail.com
Gracias por compartir su necesidad de un equivalente en español! Lo mejor que puedo ofrecer en este momento es que Language101.com está preparando las clases de inglés para cada uno de los idiomas que ofrecemos. Tal vez algún día seremos capaces de ofrecer Alemán para hispanohablantes …
Por favor, disculpe la traducción – Yo translate.google.com a escribir esto para que lea como mi estudio español todavía está en marcha.
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
So, I know you mentioned the Middlebury Language Schools in your review about Rosetta Stone but I am curious, would it be a good idea for me to participate in their program (doubly so because I am hoping to learn Canadian French primarily)? Should I prepare for such an immersive experience with another language course (your course and/or the Pimsleur Approach)?
Love is the Law, Love under Will.
A school such as Middlebury would be an excellent choice for you if you have a need or desire to be fluent in the language that school teaches in. The idea for an environment such as that is to put your brain into a space where it is required to function in the new language. Learning as much as you can before going to such a school would be an excellent step in making sure you have all the advantages possible – such as being able to ask for what you need or find what you are looking for, beginning to hear the difference between similar words, or even having the beginning aspects of thinking in the new language in place. Multi-lingual people have the ability to actually think in their other languages, not just translate in their minds. The thoughts, images and feelings are internally experiences through the French filter, or Japanese filter, or Egyptian filter. This is what fluent is just beginning to touch on – fluidly being able to experience the world AND express the internal experience with a language.
Preparing for such an immersive experience is a great idea.
Just out of curiosity, how far are you with the Japanese language course?
We’ve gotten some good lesson structuring down. We are still working on how to format the top down phrase formatting system. We are hoping to have a beta version of the software by the end of the year.
Awesome! I can hardly wait! :D
I left a comment somewhere else but I will just do it again here.
I really want to learn Korean using your system are you going to work on Korean?
Thanks for asking about Korean. We are currently developing more lessons for Italian, Mandarin Chinese and a bit different of an interface for Japanese which is a top to bottom written language, different from most left to right languages. In addition we intend to add reverse translations for each of the languages we currently offer so those speaking German for instance can begin to learn English too!
These projects are keeping us very busy! We look forwards to receiving more and continued requests for the languages our readers, supporters and fans want so that we can choose the best languages in the future to develop. Until we get these projects closer to completion we are going to keep our focus and allow the future to direct our next choices for developing more languages.
I stumbled upon this site looking for reviews of Rosetta Stone before I purchased it. I’ve been wanting to learn French for sometime and now I’m dating someone whose first language is French and doesn’t speak English very well;now I have the motivation. How likely is it that I will be able to participate in a conversation upon completion of your program? And do you recommend any supplemental material to go along with the program if I’m not going to attend any formal classes?
It’s always inspiring to hear about people learning a new language for the sake of love! It’s one of the most motivating reasons to learn a new language. Start using your lessons immediately. You will learn quite a few very basic and brief phrases right away which will show you are making an effort. By applying those phrases and lessons to your immediate conversational skills you’ll be able to integrate them more fully and remember them even faster! Asking your love questions will provide plenty of room for this person to respond naturally and offer you new words and phrases which will take the conversation into a deeper learning of the language. This next few months of learning with Language101.com will certainly provide you will a lot of new conversational skills in which to connect to this new love!
Another great opportunity for learning beyond this program is to visit a French speaking part of the world, such as your love’s hometown. Also, locating movies which are in French (check the international and independent section of your movie store) – turn off the subtitles for the first round or two of watching, attempting to make out what they are saying through the lessons you’ve learned with and your imagination from scene bases context clues. You’re on a great path to learning!
When do you think the material on learning Mandarin Chinese might become available?
We are hoping to have Mandarin ready to release by the end of this year. We’re keeping our fingers crossed as their’s always that unexpected bummer factor that can push a 5 minute project into an hour.
LOL I tried to learn on my own, didn’t work. Classes are the only way for me to try and learn anything.
Yes! This happens. Some people need a structure and a time sensitive lesson plan in order to accomplish their learning goals. Schools are an excellent format for this.
I hope you find a great teacher who can help you learn the languages desired!
I’m really interested in learning Korean or Mandarin, should I try to use Pimsleur or would those languages become soon available in language 101?
I would go ahead and start with Pimsleur. It will work and our products for these languages aren’t done.
Ich leibe deise artikelen! Ich spreche deutsch veilicht nicht so gut, aber ich habe für zwei jahren deutsche klassen genimmt. Sie sind sehr langsam. Alle deise tippe wirklich helfen. veilicht deutsch klass wird nicht so langsam jetzt. Danke veil!
Thanks for responding to the article. I notice your German is a bit different than what I am able to translate. It still made sense though. German classes ARE very slow! Most language classes are very slow. Somewhere between childhood and university the art of learning languages got convoluted! Have you read the other articles on learning foreign languages? There may be some great tips there which will help you accelerate your learning!