Should You Take a Group Class or Private Class? What You Need to Know

You’ve made the decision to start learning a new language. Now, another decision awaits. Should you take a private class, where it is just you and the teacher, or a group class, where you are one of many students. Whether you opt for a virtual, or in-person learning environment, you also must decide whether to be part of a group or private class. Both options have advantages and disadvantages.

Here are five things to consider before you make your decision.

  • Cost

To most people, money is perhaps the most important factor to consider. Studies have shown that Americans are willing to pay up to $6,00 to learn a new language. Obviously, group classes cost less money. In most cases, the savings can be significant. And since learning a new language involves taking many classes, the amount of money saved by opting for a group class can be substantial. Usually, a private class costs around three times as much as studying with a group. Keep in mind, however, that while you may be saving money, your language learning might also be inhibited by other factors.

  • Speaking Time

Whereas a group class can save you a lot of money, it also limits your speaking time and interactions with the teacher. A good teacher will make it a point to appropriate speaking time as evenly as possible. If a student in the class “hogs” the time and speaks a lot, it can be a problem for the other students and a challenge for the teacher. With a private class on the other hand, the only limit to your speaking is how much the teacher encourages you to speak.

  • Different Accents

Students in a group class can come from all over the world. That means many different accents will be heard when they are practicing their new language. Some accents are easy to understand while others can be quite difficult. Since part of the objective is understanding, or comprehending the new language, as much as it is speaking it, a classmate with a hard to understand accent can make comprehension difficult.

  • Background Noises/Distractions

If you chose a group class, be it individual or group, you can expect distractions from the other students. In an Internet based language class, you might be sitting in a quiet room in front of your pc or video device, but that doesn’t mean your classmates are. Students can be taking the class while riding in a car or other moving vehicle (train or bus), or even while killing time at the airport. In these cases, expect the occasional horn honking, loudspeaker announcement, or other similar distraction. Although your classmates are not intending to be disruptive, the background noises around them are.

If you are in a face-to-face class, the noises might be different, but they are still omnipresent. Yawning, eating, talking to another student or the constant beeping of a mobile device make take your attention away from the class and the teacher. Any type of disruptive behavior is learning inhibitor. Expect that with a group class.

  • Feedback

From the teacher’s perspective, the more they get to know you, the more they can provide insightful feedback which can accelerate your learning. Many online learning companies rotate teachers—which is a very good thing— but in a group class environment, the 45-minutes to an hour they spend with the class really doesn’t give them a chance to provide constructive individual feedback.

If it is a face-to-face group class, here again, depending on the size of the class, the teacher does not get to know you nearly as well as if it was a private class. Sitting in a foreign language class and repeating the words back is only part of the learning, the more substantial learning comes when you know how to best direct your studies when you are not in class. That is why teacher feedback is SO important.

 

There is no doubt that the amount of discretionary income you have to invest in your class and the time with which you can dedicate to it, will greatly influence the type of class you choose to take. Keep in mind, however, all the other factors. There is much to consider here. Learning a new language can be a difficult journey. Give careful to thought to the learning environment that works best for you. Make sure you are not only prepared to learn but have the proper expectations about what to expect from the type of class you choose.

 

Learning a New Language: My Story

by C. Brown

Learning a new language is a wonderful endeavor, full of new and interesting challenges. I tell people that it is possible for everyone, no matter what age you are.

At first, I did not know if I could learn another language. In my case, it was Spanish.  Learning the new language, however, was something that I really wanted to do. My family and I were going on a vacation to a seaside, Spanish resort. I wanted to be able to talk to the locals. I was determined to learn.

 I took classes and did my homework. I became a good student. I practiced every day. At first it was hard, and I wasn’t very good. But over time, and with much practice, I was speaking a foreign language!

It’s Not Rocket Science

In most cases, learning a second language is perceived as an impossible achievement, reserved only for talented individuals. Nothing can be further from the truth. In my experience, I can easily say that anyone can learn another language if they “need to” or “really want to.” You do not have to discover complicated physical formulas or chemical reactions. Just follow a few basic study routines and repeat them over and over again.

Second, the major challenge of learning a second language is that you have to practice, again and again, day by day, week to week, year to year. You must continue to practice no matter how boring it may be. It requires motivation and strength of will. Perseverance is key.

It’s Like Building a Muscle

You must exercise regularly to develop your muscles. As soon as you stop exercising, your muscles will begin to deteriorate. This is also related to language learning. Even if you speak the language well today, it will begin to get worse as soon as you stop speaking it. So, it should a continuous process until you are able to master it very well. Like going to the gym regularly to build muscle strength, the mastery of your new language will build strength with regular practice.

The Vacation was Wonderful

Learning Spanish made the vacation that much better. The seaside, Spanish resort was wonderful, and I understood much of what the locals were talking about. I even made some friends, some of whom I keep in touch with (in Spanish, of course) to this day.  

One day I realized something. I was a young man and I spoke to strangers in their language. It was a thrill that many people older- and even younger- than I was had not yet reached the level I had attained in speaking another language. It wasn’t easy at first, but it was a challenge which I faced, and I am glad I overcame it.

So, what are you waiting for? Learn that new language. You will so enjoy it!

Metacognition and the Language Learner

The teacher walks into his foreign language classroom for the first time and sees a wide variety of students. It is a combination of male students and female students, younger students and older students, and students from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. He thinks he has the diversity of the class figured out. Or does he?  Apart from the obvious diversity lies a less-obvious but highly relevant classroom dynamic. If not noticed and assessed properly it can be a mighty learning inhibitor. What could it be?

One answer is metacognition. Simply defined, metacognition is learning how to learn or thinking about how to think. In the case above, the teacher has a classroom of students with a variety of learning skills. Some students might have poor study and thinking skills while others have good ones. Some students might think they have good thinking and learning skills but in reality, they do not. While others, on the other hand, have much better skills than they realize. The teacher that is quick to recognize each student’s ability can be a more effective teacher as he strives to better prepare his students for their learning journey.

But who is responsible for student learning, the teacher or the student? The answer is most likely both parties. Teachers need to provide a pathway for learning to accommodate all students, while the students must do their part and practice what they have been taught. This needs to be recognized by both parties.

Originally studied to analyze cognitive development in young children (Baker & Brown, 1984), researchers soon realized that metacognitive practices were applicable to everybody (Hatano & Inagaki, 1986). Most notable is its relevance in the classroom, or anyplace there is a teacher and learner dynamic. Intuitively, students who know about different learning strategies, and can better understand their own learning will be better learners. They will be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and adjust their approach accordingly. Students who are not proactive learners, or think they are better learners than they are, will struggle with their learning and become frustrated. This is quite common and something teachers need to address.

To begin the process of understanding the metacognitive process, teachers might begin the class with a pretest, demonstrating how much each student remembers from a previous learning experience. From this point, benchmarks can be set and teaching strategies identified. As the class progresses, teachers can monitor each students progress thereby reinforcing, or not reinforcing their teaching approach. Once students with poor metacognitive skills are identified, teachers must next teach them how to think and study.

An effective way to reduce the impact of poor metacognition is to use formative assessment techniques (Lang 2012). Formative techniques are brief, low-key activities that students can give both themselves and the teacher feedback about their level of understanding. Examples or formative assessments would include: Think-pair-share activities, minute papers, using social media and/or clickers, or self-assessment. These simple techniques can make learning fun and get students excited about being in class. The more passion they have for learning, the easier it becomes to learn new things.

Formative methods allow students to assess their learning in a more comfortable, less threatening manner than summative assessments which tend to be more formal and pressure filled.  Formative techniques help students study and learn more effectively before exams and are less likely to intimidate when the larger, summative exams are administered.  Moreover, they allow teachers to assess how all their students are learning so they can adjust their techniques accordingly.

In my opinion, nowhere is the variety of thinking and learning diversity more pronounced than in a foreign language classroom. This is why metacognition is an important area to understand. People are most likely learning the English language for a variety of reasons. Some might really want to learn as they need it to improve their work standing, while others might not share the same level of importance. The new language might be a casual hobby to them and learning it therefore becomes a lower priority. Some students might be really good students by nature, while others might not be. Some might have college degrees while other might simply have a basic reading level.  The teacher most therefore understand why all the students are there and do what they can to stimulate their learning level. Because each student is in a different “place” in regard to their thinking and learning teachers must work extra hard to insure their students are learning.

A student saying they are not good at something is not an excuse for not learning. It only means that they must have to work hard at it. That means that they must be willing to commit the time. If a teacher can use techniques to improve metacognitive skills by making it easier for the student to think and study, the student should learn more and the teacher will enjoy showing him the way. Watching students learn and become better thinkers is what teaching is about. Above all else, effective teaching is a labor of love.

Baker, Linda, and Ann L. Brown. “Cognitive monitoring in reading.” Understanding reading comprehension (1984): 21-44.

Hatano, Giyoo, and Kayoko Inagaki. “Two courses of expertise.” (1986).

Lang, James M., “Metacognition and Student Learning.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (2012).

Becoming Bilingual

Of course, we want to learn a second language.  Besides being a cool skill to have, many cognitive scientists now feel being bilingual is good for the brain. It can improve one’s ability to stay focused and maintain a good attention span. Moreover, many now believe it can put off memory loss and keep our brains healthy. Unfortunately for most of us, after the age of 18, research has shown the brain becomes less equipped to learn a second language

Still, many adults gamely fodder along and give it a try. Lessons, apps, classes, social media, websites, movies and television can guide us along, yet the challenge of becoming bilingual is daunting. Clearly, our aging brains aren’t quite as nimble as they were in our brain-developing younger years. It can be as frustrating as it is rewarding.

As we take on this challenge, and embark on this journey, there are things we should be aware of. They can help us achieve our learning goals and may even save us some money along the way.

Here are three important learning criteria we should know:

1. Metacognition

Simply put, metacognition is the awareness of one’s ability to learn. In many cases, it centers on “learning how to learn.” This is something most people don’t think about, but as an adult second language learner, it is an important first step in the ability to master that new language.

We must first ask ourselves, “How badly do I want to learn this language?” If knowing a second language is ‘nice to have,’ vs. ‘have to have,’ we may not be as driven, and your learning can take longer. The more important learning a new language is to us, the stronger our metacognition, or willingness. Obviously, the more willing we are to learn, the more—and quicker—we will learn.

It is also a good time to reflect on how we learn best. Studying language material while sitting on the couch, watching television, directing the kids, and checking the phone is probably not indicative of good learning. Regular time to ourselves, be it a podcast on the commute home, or 15 or 20 minutes in the local Starbucks might be a better option.

 How we learn best is up to us. No one style is best for everyone. Give that a serious think before you embark on your second language journey.

2. Persistence

In our very busy lives, who has the time to dedicate on a big, new project such as being bilingual? Between time spent working, commuting, and being at home with family, the leftover time for ourselves seems to shrink every year. But what if we gave your new learning project five-minutes a day?

Learning gurus often say that spending five minutes every day learning something new can be as beneficial as spending hours on the same thing two or three times a week. In other words, “micro-learning” keeps the brain on track to receive new information. That being said, persistence can be an important part of learning something new. Ideally, several days a week can be dedicated to more than five-minutes, but what’s important is that the new language be studied, one way or another, every day.

We should take the time to learn something every day. Perhaps listen to a foreign language station or podcast on the drive home from work, rather than what we normally listen to. We can read the paper in the new language every morning; or watch a little foreign language television. Whatever we choose to do, we should just be persistent.

  1. Resourcefulness

Obviously, having money to invest in language learning can be a plus. Spending time with a private tutor, whether face-to-face or virtually, can be quite impactful. But how much money are we willing to spend on this new learning project? How many lessons will we need to become fluent? 100? 200? 500? 1,000? More? At $20-$30 an hour for a private tutor, that can certainly add up. How many of us are willing to spend $30,000 just to be able to communicate better with our car mechanic, maintenance man, or foreign speaking neighbor?

For the thriftier of us, there are other, more resourceful options available, which given proper time and thought, can be just as effective. Foreign language websites can build up our reading skills. Foreign language television or videos may also be quite prevalent, depending on the language we are pursuing. And if there are subtitles, even better. We can also scour the ap store for free aps, or social media for foreign language posts. The point is, foreign language exposure options are out there, we just have to take the time to find them.

Ideally, a good option would be to make a small investment in a tutor; either for a private lesson or a small group lesson. But that should be supplemented with other learning options. Perhaps we can have our formal lesson twice a week, listen to a podcast three times a week, and the other two days can be spent reading something in the new language. We spend some money, but we do not go overboard.

Being bilingual, especially as an adult learner, can be a real challenge. It doesn’t mean that it is not doable. It is important for the learner to understand what the challenges will be, and plan accordingly. It will take time and probably a little bit of money. But if we know the difficulties going in, develop a learning plan, and stick to it; that foreign language will be there in our brains slowing down its aging and helping stay focused.

“¿Estamos listos, amigos?”