People often ask whether it’s possible to learn a language by yourself, or whether you need to take up language classes in order to be proficient. It’s an argument that could take you round in circles for days on end, and even then you’re always going to find conflicting accounts from people who are self-taught and those who took classes and can’t imagine having learned any other way.
So rather than trying to end this debate, I think it’s important to recognise the pros and cons of both, and how they might suit different people…
- You can go at a pace that suits you – if you’re struggling with a particular grammar point for example, you can spend as much time as necessary combing over it.
- You can focus the content on your individual needs without having to compromise – maybe you want to learn about business language rather than holiday essentials.
- There are tons of resources that are free, reliable and easily accessible – you’ll be able to find something that suits you without too much hassle.
- You can choose the hours that suit you – lots of people complain that they don’t have the time to learn a language or that classes don’t fit in with their work, but with this kind of flexibility you can really incorporate language learning into your schedule.
- You can be creative with how you learn – if you like watching videos to learn that’s great,if you like sitting down with a book and doing strict grammar translations that’s also possible, if you like to work on projects that’s also something you can explore!
- Accountability is where most people struggle – if you’re going solo, there’s no one but yourself to answer to if you don’t do the work.
- You have to be very proactive about practising speaking the language – without a teacher or other students, you’ll have to find a language exchange of some sort or a friend who also speaks the lingo.
- Without someone there to correct you on your mistakes, you have to be vigilant and if you’re not you could find yourself falling into bad grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation habits.
- Motivation – positive reinforcement from teachers and classmates is out of the equation, you’ll have to be committed and remind yourself often why you decided to start this journey in the first place.
- Sometimes no matter how much research you do and how many resources you find, a particular concept just isn’t going in, and you need someone to sit down with, ask questions to and explain it you in a way that you understand.
- You signed up for classes, so you’re accountable for turning up, doing the work and making progress – in short you’re more likely to see it through!
- You have a real-life teacher who can guide you, offer insights into a particular grammar point, correct your pronunciation – and best of all you can ask them questions if you’re still not sure about something.
- Regardless of whether you’ve signed up for group or individual classes, you’ll be able to practice speaking the language easily.
- You have the resources cherry picked for you, and normally you have a language assessment before you join so that the language school can place you at the right level and in the right class – basically they can take you through learning a language in the right steps.
- Language classes can be expensive – they are great option particularly as they offer access to resources, quality control and guidance that you can’t find online, but it’s something to consider when you’re making a decision.
- Particularly if you are taking group classes, you have to match the pace of the majority – you might not feel comfortable with a particular grammar point but if the rest of the class is, the lesson inevitably has to move on.
- It can be difficult to find classes that suit your schedule, and you should also be prepared for homework outside of the classes – don’t expect that if you turn up to class that’s all you need to do,(a good teacher will set you tasks to do throughout the week.
- Sometimes language classes might not suit your learning style – obviously teachers work hard to make classes fun and engaging, but they also have a curriculum that they need to follow and goals to help you achieve, and this might mean doing more textbook work or grammar practice than you want.
At this point I want to make it clear that both can be equally successful for different people for different reasons – the main thing is that you start/continue learning and that you make a success of it!
If you want some more guidance on what language level you are, and what your next grammar goals should be, have a look at the CEFR scale and level descriptors*
*note this is for European languages and doesn’t apply to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Swahili, Afrikaans etc – you get the picture!