What are the options for learning a new language?
We live in a different world than our parents and our grandparents lived in the past. The technological advances in the areas of communication and transportation have expanded our borders, putting us in a closer contact with people from different cultures, and different languages, at least to say.
Although the social-economical constraints imposed to all of us due to macro (national and foreign) issues, there is no doubt that now-a-days people have more possibilities to interact with other cultures either because we are traveling more abroad and getting closer to them or because they are traveling and coming closer to us.
This is not to mention the unprecedent border-less global communication network provided by the Internet, world in which there are actually no frontiers … we are free to cross into different countries, learn different cultures, exchange information (photos, videos, documents, etc), build virtual communities and societies, and more, much more. Never these opportunities had been presented to humankind in its’ entire history.
But in order for us to physically interact to people from different countries or virtually establish a bridge with them over the Internet, we must be able to communicate with them. There must be a common ground for that to happen.
Throughout history, the language of the strongest nation (either economically or physically speaking) in the world prevailed as the language everyone should communicate within. There was a time for Greek, for Spanish, for Latin, for French (in diplomatic issues) and, now-a-days, English is the most important language through which most people are prone to communicate with.
Nobody can predict the future to see what will be the most important language in the future, but this information, to be completely honest, is absolutely irrelevant. Of course the future is important, but it is built in the present with the decision we make right now. With this mindset, we should keep an eye in the future, but we must need to work here and now.
For many different reasons, people either want to learn a new foreign language (or need to do so) due to some specific purpose. Some might want to expand their business by going abroad, others might want to travel to different places and explore different cultures; some might need to learn a new language to be able to establish partnership in academic or research issues, others might want to learn a new language to get a better job, to expand their knowledge, and so on.
Some might need to learn to speak the new language in depth while others might just want to learn the basics, and that’s absolutely fine. These purposes are very personal, and only you can actually tell if learning a foreign language (or improving you language skills) is for you.
Once you know that learning a new language is what you need to do and how much of it you actually need to learn, it’s time to start gathering information and filtering the several options available in the market.
However, you must keep in mind that all methods have pros and cons, and there is no “perfect method”. You must find the method that fits your needs/resources, and when searching for these options, you should ask a few set of questions before making you decision:
- Is this method of learning a new language available where you live/work?
- Do you have the resources (time, money, etc) that are required by the method you’ve chosen to learn this new foreign language?
- What are the benefits/cons of this method compared to others?
- Will you be able to achieve your goals (depth of language knowledge, time limit to learn, writing/reading/listening/speaking skills, etc) with this method?
These basic questions are very important you answer BEFORE you make your decision. And despite the method you decide to work with, you MUST realize that you can choose the best method available in the market, the most effective approach scientifically proven to help you learn a new foreign language (or improve your vocabulary and accent in it) … the method will only take you half the way. The other half is entirely up to … YOU! You will have to put your time, and your effort in order to go the other half.
If you don’t do your part, you will get nothing!!! There is no method that will ever replace your active participation in the learning process, and no one can do it for you. You must engage!
If you come across a method that promises that you will learn a new language in 5 minutes per day, and that it is effortless, don’t believe because it doesn’t exist. You might feel tempted to give it a try (I don’t blame you for it … I feel too!), but if you follow this path, here is what is going to happen: you will be disappointed, you will lose your time and you money, and above all, you will not learn the new foreign language as you wanted. I’ve been in this spot, and I don’t want you to regret your decision as I did in the past.
I have to be honest here: if you are not willing to take it seriously, don’t even get started.
So, once you set up your mind to learn a new language, what are the options available in the market that can help you achieve your goals?
Option 1: Language courses
- You will be attending a language course in your city or;
- You will going abroad on an immersion method (meaning that you will be live that language 24/7 for a long period of time in a native speaking country).
Situation 1: you will be attending the language course in the city you live.
Depending on the city you live, this option might not even be available to you or you would have to commute a long distance in order to attend the classes, which might become an impairing situation.
In this scenario, you will be attending classes together with other people interested in learning that foreign language. Normally the language schools offer different schedules (number of classes per week, lecture hours, etc), which you can easily check at the office, online or by phone.
Before attending the classes, you will be tested to check you language proficiency level in order to enroll you at the proper grade. And you will be attending classes with several other people, so it will not be one-on-one.
- Considering your are attending a class with real people, it is one of the cheapest approaches available in the market (cheaper than a private class and much, much cheaper than an immersion approach);
- You meet new people with the same desire of learning a new foreign language, so you feel motivated;
- General these courses take too long be completed since you take only one or two classes per week (some courses offer intensive schedule), so you will end up attending classes for several years!
- Only the latest levels are actually more related to conversational skill. The majority are task-oriented activities to introduce you to the vocabulary, to the basic grammar, as well as start you up with some comprehensional skills (but not in the beggining);
- Your language course demands more time than you think: besides the time you’re in class, you must include the commuting time to get to the place where the course is being held and coming back home;
- You won’t be pushed to learn the language, your goal will be do your homework and the final exams (are these the standard for wanting to speak a new foreign language?);
- At the end of the level, you will be tested if you’ve learned the basic language aspects taught throughout the course, and you are misguided that your purpose is to move to the next level instead of pushing you to your main purpose … which is to communicate within that specific language.
These types of language courses are everywhere, and it might fit your profile, but remember that your goal here is not just to “move to the next language level”, but to actually learn to confidently speak that language!!
Don’t settle for less, don’t be just OK!! You deserve more that just a piece of paper stating you concluded XYZ language course …
Situation 2: Inside the your country or abroad (immersion)
There is no doubt in my mind that this is definitely the best way to learn any language and, from my experience, the most efficient and productive way of learning anything at all.
Basic rule-of-thumb … the more you practice the language, the better you get.
- You live the language … since the moment you open your eyes until the moment you close them at the end of the day, you’ll be hearing, talking, expressing yourself with that language. Every time you breath, the language is there.
- Besides learning vocabulary, grammar, developing you writing skills, the language comprehension, and the accent are being worked as well. No time is wasted. Even when you eat, you are immersed in the language.
- It is very (very, very) expensive! The most expensive method amongst all language learning approaches you could come across.
- If you work, unless your job is willing to enroll you in this immersion course or you use all your vacation days, it might be difficult to find time to do so.
- Not easy to fine programs … you need to spend some time to find an immersion program compatible to your needs.
Curiosity here: depending on the program, you don’t have to leave your country to do this immersion language program, but these are very rare options. Did you know that the US Defense Department has immersion units (undisclosed addresses and not available to civilians) used to train personnel for foreign undercovered assignments? Why to you think they would invest in these language programs? You know the answer, so let’s move on …
By the way, if you ever have the chance to do an language immersion course, avoid going with people that speak your own language to not find yourself speaking in your native language.
Option 2: Private classes
This is one of the best options if you cannot be immersed in an abroad foreign language course.
- You have a one-on-one interaction all the time while you are with your instructor, which increases your time usage efficiency since you will have the full instructors’ attention;
- Your schedule is more flexible since you are the only one attending those classes on a one-on-one approach, you can either go to meet your instructor or your instructor comes to meet you where it is more convenient for you.
- It is very expensive;
- You need to find a good teacher that not only transfers to you the necessary content (grammar, vocabulary, correct pronunciation, etc), but also someone that motivates you to keep on going; you might have more classes/week, but at the end of the road, it will still be only a few hours per week;
- Depending on your personality, it might be hard to keep motivated for a long period of time;
- If you haven’t decide how far you want to go with the language, private classes can become a never-ending story. You must know what you want before getting started.
Option 3: Language softwares
These options are for those independent people whom are interested in learning a new foreign language but cannot afford the negative aspects of the traditional learning approaches available in the market.
However, there are some criteria you just have to have (or you must incorporate in your behavior) in order to succeed in the adventure of learning a new foreign language, such as:
- Have discipline;
- Be pro-active;
- Ability to keep focused, and motivated on your own.
If you carry these core characteristics AND you have a very limited time available in your daily routines, then the use of online courses/languages softwares to learn a foreign language are the best options for you.
Why is that? Why the time issue is so important? Now-a-days in this stressfull working task-oriented environment, TIME has become one of the most valuable assets that has to be very well managed. With these language softwares you just buy with a click (or have is sent to you by mail), you can learn any new language within your own schedule. You have the FREEDOM to make up the time to invest (yes … learning a new language is an investment) in this new activity that will require your attention in order to become successful.
I strongly argue in favor of the following aspects on any foreign language learning approach you choose to use to improve your language proficiency, since the course must provide you with:
- SEE how the words are written, while providing means to write it yourself;
- LISTEN to how the words are pronunced by a native speaking person of that foreign language in order for you to be able to say it a loud properly;
- It has to have an attractive, and appealing learning strategy in order to keep you interested and engage while improving your vocabulary, the grammar skills, the language comprehension, and all related language aspects;
- Check to see if the approach provides you with tools that allows you to evaluate your progress.
As mentioned previously, there is no perfect method and anyone you choose, you will face aspects that you will really like, while you will also be coming across certain details that will not be as you expected, such as not covering that subject in the depth you would like it to be covered or even, in some cases, completely omitted. For those missing points, there are ways around to overcome them. I’ll teach you how when we get into these programs later on.
Bear in mind that the question you should ask yourself is not if the approach you chose has some limitations, but whether it provides you with the skills that will improve your language skills. I have come across these issues in several approaches I have used over the years, but the most important aspect that you should not forget is … how can I overcome this limitation?
This site focus on these language software courses that will help you develop your language skills and speaking confidence as you progress, and not on online courses that you have to enroll as if you were attending regular language courses. Here you will find the most efficient language softwares for different languages, and I will share with you the benefits as well as the downsides for each method, so you can make your decision with the most updated and reliable information as possible.
But always remember … no matter what approach you use to learn a new language, even if it is by immersion, the program is only half the way … the rest (and yet most important part) is entirely up to YOU!
So let’s get started …