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.

 

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?”