Most language learners hit a wall at some point. Perhaps your progress hasn’t been as quick as you’d like or you’re struggling to advance to the next level and you’re wondering why. Well, I have an idea as to why, and your teacher certainly does – and I hate to break it to you, but it might be time to look in the mirror and make a change or two.
Here’s what your teacher wishes you knew about language learning and what he or she hopes you’ll do to change (implement our suggested fixes and you’re pretty much guaranteed to make faster progress).
Classroom friends can be your enemies
A typical foreign language classroom will be made up of students from all around the world. At first, everyone – well, except that one super confident student! – looks around nervously, scanning their classmates for a friend to sit next to. Many hit the jackpot: a student who has the same native language. Someone to talk to and do pair work with. Someone who understands you. Great, right? Wrong! While in class, your new friend is more like an enemy – an enemy to learning anyway. If you make a habit of sitting with them your progress will slow down. This is because the temptation to speak your own language together will eventually become too strong and you’ll stop challenging yourselves in class. In short: you’re sabotaging your speaking and listening practice.
Fix it: If you have a mother tongue friend in your class, greet them before the lesson, then split up until it’s over. During class, challenge yourself to sit by a different student each time, or at the very least, not by someone whose mother tongue is your own first. Interacting with a mix of students with different abilities and native languages will challenge you to communicate more effectively and will help you learn faster.
Homework really does serve a purpose
“…and that will be homework for next class,” finishes your teacher. “Perfect,” you think, writing it in your notebook. Your intentions are good…but when the next class come around, your notebook is as good as unopened. Homework? What homework? “Ah well,” you say. “It won’t affect me.” But believe it or not, your teacher doesn’t set homework because they like the sound of their voice – it’s to help you learn better by consolidating content in your mind before the next class. Learning a foreign language – as with anything – takes time and effort and taking a couple of classes a week without checking in between them only slows your progress.
Fix it: Do your homework as soon as class ends. To create this habit, give yourself a treat by always doing your homework at a favorite coffee shop after class or while snuggled up on your couch accompanied by a hot drink. For extra points, get serious about self study and complete your own tasks between classes: watch movies and look up the new words you hear, learn the lyrics to music or change the language on your phone’s apps and learn to navigate them.
Goals aren’t just for sports
Guys, this language learning gig isn’t easy. It takes time, it’s hard to see your progress while you’re in the middle of it, and sometimes you’ll feel stressed and frustrated. Teachers see this all the time. What they also see, however, is how students with clear goals in mind tend to do better. The best goals tend to be specific and slightly challenging with a clear deadline. These work well because they direct attention to your current focus points and indicate your progress.
Fix it: Clearly identify your goal in positive language (e.g., By October I will be able to talk to my partner’s mother in German) and a few steps towards achieving it (I need to learn to talk about my family, my work, my likes and dislikes). Write your goal down and check your progress regularly. Some people also find it helpful to share their goals with a friend to keep them accountable.
Your effort is essential to your success
One of the most difficult things for teachers is seeing students not taking their studies seriously. In truth, those students – the latecomers with their phones out, unfinished homework and sitting next to their best friend – are wasting their time and money. Because there’s no such thing as a multilingual pill, those of us who weren’t raised bilingual actually have to work to learn a language. So don’t be that student! Sit up straight and put in the effort.
Fix it: Just like long-distance running, language learning requires sustained effort over time -it’s not a sprint! Rather than cramming two hours before class, dedicate 20-30 minutes of focussed work to it every day. Do your homework, use flashcards, read or use any of these study tips. Bonus tip: To get into the zone before class, arrive well on time and take a few minutes to quiet your mind and revise your notes before the lesson begins.
You can do it – really, you can.
If you’re feeling like your goal to learn a new language is unattainable, there’s one last thing your teacher wishes you knew: you can do it! Believe me, I know (I used to be a teacher!). It will take goal-setting, planning and consistency, but the results are more than worth the effort.