We are all busy, all the time, so finding a gap in our day to have a language lesson isn’t always as easy as it seems. But, with the dawn of the technological age, having a Skype call with a native speaker (or teacher) is easier than ever. So, when you finally manage to squeeze one in, how do you make the most of it? Well, let’s grab the bull by the horns and take control of your lessons! It sounds a little aggressive but let me see if I can help…
Who is in charge of the lesson?
When I first started taking language classes, I thought that my only job was to arrive on time and be ready to learn. That is what we were all taught in school and why shouldn’t it work here? I answered the Skype call and got to work with my language teacher. Then I would turn up the following lesson to do the same again… and again and again!
So, what’s wrong with that?
It could have been better! I was learning in each lesson but my progress was slow. The teacher would find something new or interesting for me to learn but I would often struggle. I found that when I was using the language, I couldn’t find the right word or understand what they were saying. These gaps in my knowledge took a long time to fill. That’s because I was relying on it being brought to me, instead of finding it for myself.
I soon found that the quickest way to solve my problem was to research it myself. Google is an amazing tool and makes almost anything really easy to find. With articles written by native speakers, teachers and language students like me, I was able to find a good answer to most questions.
However, when you are doing your own independent study, it can be very hard to verify what is accurate. Just because it is written in black and white doesn’t mean it is correct! That meant that I memorised a lot of mistakes along the way, which took a long time to unlearn. Something that wouldn’t have happened with a clear explanation or example from my teacher. The speed was great, but the accuracy left a lot to be desired.
Combine Self Exploration and Formal lessons
To get the most out of your lessons you MUST combine the two. Your own investigation with the knowledge and experience of your teacher. It can do wonders for your language learning, I know from experience!
Once, for example, I was reviewing an article with my Italian teacher. We were discussing the differences between words and phrases that I didn’t understand. I got the gist, but I wanted to go deeper. Uncovering the layers… like an onion! That’s when we came across a short phrases and I asked “What does that mean?”. From the perplexed look on her face, I thought I had asked the question wrong so I repeated myself. No change… Then after a few minutes of discussion we found the root of the problem. I didn’t know what I verbi prenominali (Pronominal verbs in English) were. I had never even seen them before!!
The confusion from my teacher was because she normally teaches this to beginners. It was something that she thought I definitely knew at my level. But, I had completely missed this on my personal exploration of the Italian language. Problem solved! She could then provide me with the information and resources I needed to fill that gap!
This illustrates the perfect combination of student and teacher working together to solve the problem. The student brings the problem and the teacher fixes it.
You get what you give
Like with most pursuits in life, you need to put effort in to get results. While it is true that a teacher can give you the answers to your questions, it’s important for you to find them. The more work you do to prepare for a lesson, the more value you will get from it. As a rule of thumb I like to spend the same amount of time in the lessons as I do preparing for it. One hour for one hour. Doing some writing, reading an article or watching a video. Then I can make lots of notes and discuss it during the Skype call. Along with the documents I get from my teacher, we always have lots to talk about, and I come away feeling like I have made a visible step forward each time. Without this preparation ahead of time, you will learn a lot less and find it more difficult to correct your mistakes.
Be open and honest about the lessons
It’s also important to talk to your teacher (not just when practising the language). Be open, honest, and most important of all, clear with them. Tell them exactly what you want to achieve and what your goals are. Then they will be able to help you on your journey to the finish line. The honest part can be a little difficult sometimes. When you get on really well, it can feel like you are speaking to a friend. So if you are doing something boring or overly simple, it can feel a little uncomfortable to say anything. But, don’t be shy! It’s your learning journey and they are there to help you! I can tell you from experience, that a teacher will always prefer a student to tell them if they don’t like something.
I actually tell my students in our first lesson “If I send you something you don’t like, tell me and I can find something else”. While it may be useful, not every document or topic is perfect for every student. And only you as the student can tell me what works for you!
Teacher’s aren’t mind readers
At the end of the day teachers are only humans. Interesting, intelligent and hard working (if I do say so myself) but still humans like the rest of us. So, they (or we) need a helping hand to know exactly what you need. The more questions you ask and the information you provide, the more accurate and useful the lessons will become. This allows the teacher to find content, documents and exercises that are perfect to fix your particular problem.
At the end of every lesson I take 5 minutes to speak to my teacher about the subject for next time. I either ask what she suggests or I suggest a subject myself about something I have been struggling with recently. Then we agree on it and I can start preparing for the next lesson. A simple approach that works wonders.
How to record it?
My favourite technique with my teacher is a shared Google document. A document we can both see and edit. I save a link on the home screen of my phone and jot a note down whenever I find something. This means, even when I am away from my computer, I can quickly add it and not forget about it. I can’t tell you how many times I want to ask a question and then I completely forget about it after a couple of days. This way I don’t have to rely on my memory… lucky me!
If you are fond of the old school approach, then why not grab a notepad and keep it in your pocket or bag. Then you can pull it out and discuss it in the lesson. Hand writing is also a great way of improving memory so that’s an added bonus!
So, now you know my method for filling in those gaps with your knowledge and taking control of your language lessons. Do you think this more active approach will work for you? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time!
p.s. Did you know that I am also an English teacher and language coach? Contact me and we will be able to work together to take your language learning to the next level.