I like learning on my own. In fact, I love learning on my own; but there are some things in French that just need explaining by a specialist!
By now, I’ve been in France for over 13 years. I speak well, and I have no problems understanding what people say to me, watching TV, or listening to the radio. However, when it comes to drafting articles, emails or letters in French, I’m never 100% sure of my grammar. I need to double check if I haven’t left out an extra « e » somewhere, or if, perhaps, I haven’t added one in where it doesn’t belong.
Currently, I’m thinking about taking a French test. I took an online « pre » TCF test and received a score of B2. This upset me because I know my level is higher than that. But, my knowledge of grammar is a little rusty, hence the need for a real teacher.
Here are the advantages of a teacher over an online app:
- Teachers can answer your questions! Okay, this seems obvious, but it’s actually very important when learning a language. Sometimes, the grammar rules simply seem outrageous. Without someone there to help you practice and give you lots of examples, you may not get it quite right.
- Teachers can correct your pronunciation. I’m not talking about accents here, I’m talking about getting the right intonation, making the right sound, and figuring out what to do with your mouth. An app can’t adequately help you with this.
- Teachers are real people, and if you want to learn how to speak with real people, then you need to communicate with them.
- Finally, they will train you and keep you motivated. I don’t know many people who have enough discipline to keep learning even when there are more interesting things to do. Maybe you’re that type of person, but you’re really not part of a crowd. If you’re paying a teacher, and you have appointments to keep, you will make sure you show up, and if you show up, then you’ll progress. Of course, there are those who will go ahead and waste their money and not show up, but for most people, spending money on a course will mean showing up for that course.
Now that you’ve been reminded about why having a teacher is a good idea, here are a few tips about different types of courses:
- Private lessons. These can be useful, however, you won’t get the kind of interaction as you would in a group. Private lessons are good for people who are very shy, or for those who need help in a specific area. If you’re preparing a test, for example. Though even for specific tests, it may be a good idea to practice in groups.
- In person group lessons. These are obviously great, but, you need to choose your school wisely. In person group lessons will often be expensive as they’re probably given by an accredited and well-known school, such as the Alliance Française. This well known school is good, however, much will depend on the people you study with and how often you have classes. It will also depend on the division of levels, you should always go for schools which divide their students into seperate levels. You should be with other people of roughly the same level as you, obviously. Make sure you follow this up! Another important thing to remember here is that you need to be wary of falling into the expat trap: keep speaking French even if the other people in your group speak English! This is really important because if you don’t practice, you won’t improve.
- Group lessons at a university. For me, this was a stellar way to learn, but I think it’s best suited to younger people who want to take part in university life. My experience at the university of Avignon was wonderful in part because I was able to make friends and in turn, practice my French.
- Group lessons online. I’m a little biased because these are the types of lessons that my school predominantly offers. But here are some tips anyway! Online group lessons are convenient because you can more easily fit them into your schedule and you don’t have to go anywhere. This is useful for anyone who lives outside of a major town. Make sure that when you sign up for these, your group isn’t too big; you’re not looking for a lecture, you’re looking for an opportunity to practice what you’re learning. You should sign up for lessons where you get a maximum time to speak. Grammar lessons are important, but they need to be paired with real practice.
- This last point brings me to my last tip: look for lessons that take place several times a week, particularly if you’re someone who needs motivation. If you only have lessons once a week and you don’t spend much time studying outside of that, you won’t get anywhere and you’ll have wasted your money. Learning takes practice, and it’s the same for language learning as it is for learning to play a musical instrument or cooking. You need to practice regularly and you need to practice deliberately in order to progress. It’s better to spend a little more money on frequent classes than to draw them out over a year and miss out on rapid improvement.
So there you are. In my opinion, if you really want to learn to speak well, you won’t be able to get around paying for a course. Deciding on the type of course that’s right for you is important, and speaking with potential schools and teachers to see what they can offer you is primordial. Learning apps can be fun, and they can be very useful, in the end, however, in order to improve, you’ll need a coach. Everyone needs a coach (read teacher) to push and help them get better.
If you really want to improve significantly, you need a teacher/language coach.
Disagree with me? I’d love to hear your opinion and open a discussion. Let me know what you think in the comments!
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