10 Ways to get the Most out of your Online Language Classes
Thanks to the Internet the way the world learns languages has changed dramatically. Ten years ago we had to look for a local language school or bookstore; now the internet allows us have access to an almost unlimited number of language resources. Technology even allows us to take online classes with native speakers on websites like Italki.com.
This new way of learning languages is more flexible, more personalized, and cheaper. Many people find it more effective too, and yes, I am one of those people. Traditional language classes in school never worked for me. With the new way of learning, I’ve managed to teach myself 10 languages, with the help of good tutors/teacher of course.
The problem of learning a language online for beginners is that often, they don’t know exactly what to do during their classes. Some teachers might have their own programs, which I think it a good thing for those students that don’t know which learning method works for them.
In this article I will show you 10 ways to get the most out of your language classes and that will help you become confident in your new language faster than ever before.
1. Try to speak as much as possible
You can learn grammar and vocabulary from books and you can practice your listening with audio and videos (online). But in order to practice your speaking skills you need someone to talk to.
Therefore, we recommend you practice your speaking as much as possible during your classes. Try to tell stories about what you’ve recently done, what your plans are or discuss a topic of your interest.
We always recommend learning only the most important words and grammar by yourself and use as much as possible from what you have learned during your speaking sessions.
You should be speaking at least 50% of the time at a A2 level, but once you become comfortable in your new language, let’s say a B2 level you should aim for 80%. Keep the conversation fun and choose a tutor you like and who’s easy to talk to.
2. Ask your teachers to ask you questions
Just talking about yourself all the time might seem a little boring and unnatural, and maybe it is. Maybe you are shy and you’re not sure what to say.
Tell your teacher that you find it important to practice as much as possible and ask him or her to ask you questions when you haven’t anything else to say.
You can, for example, talk about what you did today. The question could be: ‘What are your plans for tomorrow?”. Keep it simple in the beginning. Once you reach a higher level you can ask for more difficult questions like: ‘why do you think … should become the new president?’. The higher your level, the more details you can try to give in your answers.
In order to keep the conversation spontaneous, also ask your tutor some questions. His answers should not be much longer than a minute. Remember, you pay for the class and you should be the one speaking. You can practice your listening anytime with other resources.
In this video I talk with my friend and French teacher Sebastien about the importance of speaking (in French!).
3. Ask your teacher for slight corrections
It’s important to get good feedback, so your mistakes should be corrected. On the other hand it’s also important for you to gain confidence and to hold a smooth conversation without too much stress.
We think that corrections should be given in a pleasant way. If I say in French ‘’J’ai allé au supermarché’’ (I went to the supermarket) instead of ‘’Je suis allé au supermarché’’, your tutor should just say ‘’Je suis allé’’, and you correct yourself by repeating the sentence correctly.
There is no need here to explain to you all the conjugations of the verb ‘aller’ (to go). Just remember that ‘’I went’’ is ‘’Je suis allé’’ and not ‘’J’ai allé. You will learn the other conjugations later in other contexts.
Conclusion: Let the teacher correct you and then correct yourself. No need for complex grammatical explanations. Save yourself the frustration and the time. More advanced grammar features will follow later. Step by step…
4. Use code switching
Is there a word you don’t know? Don’t worry! Just say it in English. If your tutor hears an English word he or she should immediately give you the translation. Then, you can repeat your sentence and use the new word straight away.
Ask your tutor to write the new words and phrases in a Google spreadsheet to that you can see the words as well. Remember, the more associations you have with a word the easier you can memorize it. So listen, read and revise.
In this video I show you how it works:
5. Drill new grammar features
Let’s say you are learning Chinese and you want to stay ‘’London is bigger than Berlin’’. You know how to say ‘London’, ‘Berlin’ and ‘big’ but you don’t know how to say ‘’bigger than’’ in Chinese.
Your tutor will see that you have difficulties and he or she will tell you that the right way to say it is:
Once you are able to say “London is bigger than Berlin’’ in Chinese, you should also be able to say ‘’My car is bigger than your car’’, at least if you know how to say ‘my/your car’ in Chinese.
Chinese:我的 车 比 你 的车 大
Pinyin: wǒde chē bǐ nǐde chē dà, or
Word-by-word: My car compared-to your car big.
It’s not important here if you understand Chinese grammar, the point I’m trying to make is that as soon as you learn a new (important) grammar structure, your tutor should give you these kinds of drill exercises.
In this example drills could be like the following:
Tutor: how do you say ‘’London is bigger than Berlin’’ in Chinese?
Student: Answer Tutor: What about ‘’My car is bigger than your car’’?
Student: Answer Tutor: ‘’My house is bigger than his house’’?
Student: Answer Tutor: ‘’My house is smaller than his house’’?
This is a perfect way to learn how to apply new grammar features and maintain your vocabulary at the same time.
In the video below you can see how I used drill exercises to learn Russian:
6. Be creative, it’s not so important what you say.
It’s not so important what you say during your speaking sessions, the most important thing is that you actually speak and keep the conversation going.
I often have very random conversations with my tutors (especially the ones I know the best) and what I say is nonsense sometimes. This might sound silly but I think it’s ok as long as you can practice new words and grammar features and have fun at the same time.
7. Use lists with icebreakers and conversation starters.
Are you running out of topics to talk about with your tutor? I have had this a few times last year when I took French classes almost every day. After a while we didn’t know what to talk about any more.
You can find lists like this with icebreakers and conversation starters on the internet. Use these questions in your speaking sessions, keep your conversations alive and have fun!
8. Leave your comfort zone
Another thing that you can you if you already comfortable in your new language is watching videos online. These can be videos about any topic you are interested in, but make sure they are not easy for you to understand.
I am interested in international relations and I used to watch a lot of videos from the Youtube channel Seekers Daily with my French tutor Sebastian. After watching the video I would try to give Sebastian (in detail) summary of the issues mentioned in the video. The issues discussed in the video are often quite complicated and I found trying to give summaries of these videos in French a great way to learn advanced vocabulary.
Picking relatively difficult videos on topics you are interested in and discussing these in detail with your tutor can be a great way to get from B1 to B2 or even to the C levels.
The key here is that you discuss topics that are (still) difficult for you.
Want to know what else you can do to go from a B level to a C level?
Watch the video below that I shot with Luca Lampariello who speaks 8 languages at a C level:
9. Save the vocabulary in spreadsheets
We always use Google Spreadsheets during our sessions. Google Spreadsheets allows you to work together with someone online in an Excel sheet.
Our tutors write down all words which we think are important so that we can see the word and not only hear it. This helps you to memorize new vocabulary better.
Having the words in a spreadsheet also allows you to revise them later or create flashcards for Anki. We will write more about his later.
10. Repeat the new words before the end of the lesson (in context!).
During your speaking sessions you will encounter new words and in order to memorize them you will need to repeat them with Spaced repetition.
Over time your brain automatically starts forgetting the things that it thinks are not important for you. In language learning you can prevent this by revising new words within certain intervals.
The first time you repeat the word is right after your tutor says it. Don’t just repeat the word, but use it in a sentence.
At the end of the class you will have a vocabulary list in your spreadsheet with all the new words. Before your class finishes, repeat all these words and try to make sentences with them. This will help you to create the ability to remember them and use them in context.
Most of the time just revising new vocabulary twice is not enough so don’t be frustrated if you forget things. Instead, just try to use the words in your future conversations with your tutor. He or she will help you out and eventually there will be a magic moment where you can memorize new vocabulary and use it in your speech!
You can also revise vocabulary with flashcards in Anki* or from the spreadsheet as mentioned in tip 9.
The skill of learning languages is a very valuable asset. Once you know how to learn a language quickly you can apply these techniques again in your next language learning mission.
In the video below you can watch a video that I shot during my Thai class. You can see how I apply various techniques mentioned in this article in this lesson:
Looking for a teacher that uses all these principles?
As mentioned before we now also offer highly effective online bootcamps in which we personally teach you a new language in just 21 hours! We’ll use all the tips and tricks from this article. Classes will be in small groups of 2-3 people. Want to learn more about this online bootcamp? Click HERE
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