How to pick the right language course?

A new school year is upon us and maybe some of you are starting your courses. The language ones, that is. In this article, we compile some important factors you should definitely take into account when choosing a language course.

You get the most out of a language course at the beginning, when you have the most questions. It’s easier and faster to ask your teacher directly, especially when you’re not used to self-learning. At the same time, a group of fellow learners can be beneficial, as you can motivate each other and, on the whole, make the learning process more fun. You get used to regular learning and the language becomes a natural part of your weekly schedule. A preparatory course for getting a language certificate may also be useful. During this course, you mainly concentrate on passing an exam, the types of questions and exercises that await you there. You get to practice model communication situations, too.

No matter your current level, self-learning is still very crucial and we highly recommend it even for total beginners. If you only use the time allotted for language course classes to learn a language, your progress will be slow. However, if you add a few hours of self-learning a week, your progress rate can increase by up to 50% in comparison to your peers. If you have trouble finding free minutes or even hours in your busy weekly schedule, read our article about making time for learning, even when you don’t have any.

So, how do you pick the course that’s right FOR YOU? The words “for you“ are key in this case. An ideal course for everyone doesn’t exist, we all have different priorities in languages, different motivation for learning, as well as different amounts of free time

That’s why we recommend you go over these few points before choosing your language course.

1. How often and for how long?

How often and how long should a course be?

As a rule of thumb, the more often you do something the better. You learn a language only by spending a lot of time with it. As they say, learning a language is a marathon run, not a dash to the finish line. Once-a-week courses are not very efficient. These courses in particular require additional self-learning during the week.

The duration of classes varies, but in most cases, they take between 45 minutes and the dreaded three hours. Intensive courses are a category in their own right. Studying can take up the whole morning, but the course also lasts a shorter amount of time as a result. This is where, however, we have to remind everyone that from a purely long-term memory standpoint, learning anything is far more efficient in multiple small doses, as opposed to a weekly intensive bloc.

Whatever course you choose, think about how balanced your contact with the language is. In other words, if you attend an hour and a half long class twice a week, try adding three or four more hours during the week. In an ideal situation, your daily learning time would add up to at least an hour. The more time you spend with a language, the sooner you’ll start seeing results.

2. How many people in a group?

How many people should be in a class with you?

This one’s easy – the fewer people there are, the more space you’ll have. But fewer students also means a higher price for the course.

In a group of twenty, progress will be very slow, especially if your peers don’t study as diligently as you, resulting in you always having to wait for someone to “catch up“. You will experience things like doing the same grammar exercises over and over again or not proceeding to a new unit until “most of you have got it“. Not to mention that when your turn finally comes, you barely get to talk for 5 minutes every other class…

Getting a private teacher is the most efficient way from this standpoint – you pay them to focus the whole class on you only. You don’t have to share speaking time with other students. You can customize the class based on your own needs and discuss topics that interest you. However, the bad news is that private lessons will usually cost you way more.

3. Who will teach you?

Picture of a teacher - Who will teach you the language?

Most of the time you’ll have a teacher with the same mother tongue as you, but some courses offer native speakers of the given language. But make no mistake – a native speaker does not always make a better teacher. Your success with a native speaker depends mostly on your language level.

Teachers that speak the same language as you will understand you better at the beginning. They will be able to give you a comprehensive explanation for a mistake you keep making. They will understand your struggles with grammar and pronunciation better, because they most likely had to get through them back in the day as well.

But once your level is high (C1, C2) and you need to fine-tune your pronunciation, understand nuances of words, or add idioms and colloquialisms to your vocabulary, a native speaker will naturally be a great boon to you.

If you prefer native speakers due to honing your listening skills, you’ll be right at home with using the magic of podcasts! Thanks to podcasts, you can listen to anything, anywhere, at any time, and for as long as you like. You can pick and choose topics that really interest you. For free. (Not to mention YouTube channels or TV series with original audio…)

The important thing about a teacher is that they give you ample opportunity to speak, so you should really look for that. If you feel that you aren’t speaking enough, ask the teacher to adjust their teaching style to match your needs. The next important thing is that a good teacher should motivate you to learn even after class, and that they are open to your feedback… A teacher that works well for your friends isn’t always the one that’s best for you as well. We all have different priorities and expectations, different methods that work for us. If you’re not having fun doing it, what’s the point?

4. The price…

Price tag - How much should a language course cost?

This part is pretty self-explanatory. The price rises in conjunction with the number of classes, the teacher’s level, and the popularity of the school. It is also in loose correlation with the number of people in a group and so on.

It is a central factor that can oftentimes dissuade you from enrolling in a course. Thankfully, we nowadays have a big variety of ways to learn a language by ourselves, and to supplement paid classes with free self-learning.

How to get the most out of a language course

Attend the course regularly

You’ll see results only if you attend classes regularly. If you’re unable to make it to a class, ask the teacher or your peers for notes and catch up on anything you’ve missed. Coming to a class where the teacher and the rest of your classmates are going over stuff from the last lesson will leave you clueless. You’ll simply be missing the vocabulary, new grammatical structures, and so on. This means that the class will be of little use to you. Just listening to your peers won’t make you learn a language.

Do your homework and learn from your mistakes

If the teacher assigns you homework, do it. It’s a great way to remain in contact with the language between classes. If you go to a class without first having revised what you did last time, you will have a much harder time getting started. You’ll have to try to remember it all over again. But if you revise between classes, the next class will strengthen your knowledge. Go over your corrected mistakes, process them, and learn from them. 

It also helps to clearly mark down the time in your planner for not only attending classes, but for doing homework as well. Stick with it even if you don’t have any homework for the next class – in that case, you can use the extra time to revise, do some unfinished exercises from your textbook, or something like that. (Make sure to check the right answers afterwards!)

Be active during the lessons

You’re paying for a chance to speak, so do it! Every time you get the chance. The more you speak, the sooner you’ll become able to promptly react in the given foreign language. You’ll find out what you are having trouble with and know what to focus on. If you feel the teacher is not giving you enough space to speak, tell them!

Concentrate

Answer all the questions in your mind, even if you’re not the one answering them at the time. Make notes. It’s yet another way to learn a language.

Get a coffee with your peers after class!

Or a beer – they say it loosens the tongue… Take advantage of being in a community of people with the same goal.

If something doesn’t work for you, make yourself heard

The teacher might not always be able to help you with your problem, especially if there are many of you in the group. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least give it a try. Do you feel there is too little speaking in the lessons? Maybe do the sources used seem boring, the articles not up to date, perhaps outside your interests? Do you want the teacher to bring some more interesting sources in addition to the textbook? Ask them to! It’s your own time so use it to its fullest.

Find yourself at least one more source

Surround yourself with the language, even outside class. Get an interesting book in the given language, for example. It can also be a book you’ve already read in your mother tongue. Try watching your favourite TV series with dubbing in a foreign-language. Listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos… Ask the teacher to recommend some useful sources in the given language. And if that’s not enough for you, we also regularly post tips on insightful sources on our Facebook page. Go ahead and inspire yourself!

Set achievable goals

Don’t expect to learn a language just by attending the course alone. Don’t expect any wonders from your teachers, they are only there to guide and accompany you on your way, the learning part is all up to you.

Motivate yourself!

Find something to reward yourself with. For example, “after two months of regular learning I’ll get myself new earbuds for listening to podcasts, or a Netflix subscription to improve my listening skills, a bilingual book, or maybe a beautiful notebook for writing down new vocabulary”. Rewarding yourself with useful learning tools will make you want to learn even more. Is that not enough? Then plan a trip abroad, to a country where the given language is spoken.

Make your own language course

pillars of language learning

Should reading all our tips and recommendations not help you choose your ideal language course, try making your own course tailored to your needs. But don’t forget the four pillars of learning a language:

  1. Pick multiple effective learning METHODS. Try our blog articles – podcasts (to improve listening), TV series, self-talk (for improving speaking), efficient online conversations.
  2. Devise a SYSTEM to rotate these methods. Podcasts on the way to work, five book pages before bed, half an hour of grammar after breakfast. Learn when you have the time and make it regular. The best way is to schedule your activities so that you spend at least half an hour with your language every day. That way, you’ll make your learning a habit.
  3. Set up your system to spend as much TIME as possible learning the language, within the confines of your daily routine. Try thinking of places to put one more activity in, even in small doses. Fifteen minutes of listening during the morning traffic jam, ten minutes of reading during the afternoon coffee break, twenty minutes of goldlisting before bed… Surround yourself with the language. That way, it will become a natural part of your life.
  4. Have FUN doing it! Not a fan of the book you’re reading? Take a different one! Is this podcast boring? Download another one. Always remember, the most important thing is to have fun while learning. It really makes a difference. Trust me.  

About the author:

Hana Jokelová started formally learning languages at primary school, but even before that, at age nine, she was already attending extra-curricular language courses of English and German in language schools. Later, she also started French and Spanish courses.

Thanks to the variety of language courses, she has tried out various types of teaching in courses (the traditional two classes twice a week, three classes once a week, an intensive summer course (several classes every day), and sixty-minute classes twice a week). She studied with both non-native and native speakers, in both small (three people) and big groups (twenty people).

Only after 20 years of attending language courses did she start to look for a more efficient way and she joined the Language Mentoring courses. In only three months of learning at home, she made more headway than in three years in a language school. Ever since then, she swears to self-learning. It’s been two years since she last attended a language course and yet she continues to improve her French and Spanish. Her favorite methods include TV series, podcasts, reading books and Goldlisting.

Would you like to learn a language by yourself but don't know where to start? Watch my free webinar where I give out tips and tricks for learning any language effectively and making the learning proces fun!

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Lýdia Machová

Language mentor
I have learned 7 languages by myself, and I usually add a new one every two years. As a language mentor I've helped thousands of people to learn languages by themselves, in ways different from traditional classroom methods, and with much better and faster results. I'm a TED and TEDx speaker and a former organizer of the Polyglot Gathering, one of the biggest world events for polyglots.

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