Have you ever thought about learning a second language and got confused on which method to use. You definitely have and with the plethora of resources and materials out there it doesn’t help you getting started either. So here at RAF&RAY we thought of ways of getting you started by narrowing down the options for you and breaking down things to bite size tips that will save you time and help you get started.
First things first, what most language learners find confusing is choosing the right method, and as a language teacher and learner myself, I feel that there are two main ways we could go about learning a new language. Taking the obvious very structured way of signing up for language course, or take the more challenging approach of self-study.
Both methods in my opinion are equally great in different aspects, and appeal to many styles of learning, and we will shortly discuss which approach works better for you taking into account your learning preferences.
For context, most learners have a tendency to improve their speaking skills over the rest of the other language skills, this is very common from my experience as a teacher and also from my colleagues who noticed the same. It is a bit challenging however when you want to work on the other aspects of the language with these students. Therefore, we tend to encourage learners to be more mindful of what their learning goals are.
This method works for learners who are aware of their learning styles (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic and Tactile) and are familiar with self-paced learning, or have prior experience in taking agency of their learning. Self-study is definitely a great way of taking control of your learning by allowing you to determine your learning goals and set up a customized learning plan, with the resources you see fit.
Below you can find some benefits to self-study method.
Advantages of self-study:
Flexibility: this is probably the most advantageous aspect of self-study, learners are in total control of their learning, by selecting time and place for learning according to their schedules and their environment, which may not be the case if you are taking a language course at an institution where you are limited by the times they suggest.
Resource selection: in addition to flexibility learners are more free when it comes to choosing their study materials, either selecting formal materials such as textbooks and handouts, or using materials of your choosing (videos, audio materials, magazines and films..). This offers the learners more chances to expose themselves to the language being used in real-life scenarios where they can learn colloquial terms and expressions that might not be taught in formal settings
Adaptability to learning styles: as we mentioned previously, learners have different learning styles as the model developed by Fleming, 1987 suggests (Visual, Auditory, kinesthetic, Tactile) for self-study learners who have a good perception of their preferred learning style, this is a great bonus as they will benefit largely from it, as they can easily create a learning plan with detailed description of the materials used and learning goals. By adapting it to their schedule or their daily routine and with consistent practice, positive results are mostly guaranteed.
Cost considerations: the financial side of learning of any language is very neglected in my honest opinion, where you find people mostly focused on time investment. Learning any new skill and languages in particular requires some sort of monetary investment, and for self-study learners this method offers the best value, as most learning resources are very much available at a reasonable price if not for free, so the only tedious task left would be in filtering the appropriate materials but once that is done, the experience is definitely worth it.
The aforementioned advantages definitely look appealing for many people, but on the other hand, taking language courses can be advantageous in other aspects which we will closely examine below:
Learning at language course:
For many years this has been the way to learn any language, the reliability of this method has been unmatched and the benefits it offered to learners made it and still until today an obvious choice for many language learners.
Advantages of taking languages courses:
Structure: this approach offers a structured curriculum of learning for different levels of learners tackling all aspects of language learning. It uses materials that are designed by researchers and publishers with ample experience in the field of education, so it more efficient and suitable for language classes. Taking a language course is very effective for many learners because it enables interactions between learners who are at the same level as you and guided by an instructor who is there to monitor your performance and test you progress regularly. Language courses are also a great way if you are a serious person who is considering learning a language in the long term, so leveling up your language skills would be more noticeable the longer you remain consistent. In addition to that, you will have access to materials and practice sheets while taking a course that will spare the time of searching for them yourself.
Motivation and accountability: As language courses offer class sessions there is a great potential in interacting with others, and as we always encourage learners to keep their motivation high, it is definitely handy to have partners who take turns motivating each other and keeping you accountable for learning, this is very different from self-study learners who often struggle in maintaining their motivation levels.
Adaptability to learning styles: most language courses do a very good job in grouping learners who have similar levels and learning styles, this comes in handy a lot in creating a seamless learning environment that helps learners advance in their learning journey and also offers more chances for interaction and facilitates communication.
Drawbacks for self-study and language courses:
Although both approaches offer a great deal of advantages that will get you started in your language learning journey, there are also some considerations to be aware of that can be caveats for both. This might make you choose one option over the other.
Flexibility: this is a determining factor for what approach to use as not everyone has the time in their day to have regular classes, so if this is important for you than language courses aren’t ideal for you, and self-study will be better, taking control of your learning and designing your own learning program is a top priority for you without having to deal with hassles of attending a course, commuting their and so on
Cost consideration: this is very important for all learners, your budget could determine the approach you should take, while language courses can be a little pricey depending on where you live, self-study approach can be a cheaper option ranging all the way from free to low priced options.
Efficiency: this largely depends on instructors, materials used, time spent learning and learners’ motivation so we cannot clearly say that one approach is more efficient than the other.
Finally, we would like to summarize both approaches in a comprehensible easy to follow table that will give you most considerations at a glance. The data in the table are subjective and are according to the author's experience, so you can take them with a pinch of salt.
Factors to consider
Taking a language course
Adaptability to your schedule
We would to hear your thoughts on this topic, and see what your experience in learning a language was in the comments section below.