This is probably one of the most common complaints I hear as an English teacher here in Ukraine, and today I would like to talk about language schools and how to get the most use out of them in your studies.
When people think of language schools, they generally have a specific idea in mind - a classroom, group setting with several other students around the same level, and one teacher conducting a lesson. Although obviously not as ideal as individual lessons with a private teacher, group lessons provide a good set of fundamental knowledge at an affordable price in a comfortable environment. However, there are two key things to note about schools:
- Traditional lessons do not suit everyone.
- Not all schools are the same.
To highlight these two points, let's discuss a few common issues people have against language schools.
Schools are boring
People say that language schools are boring. But why are they? It depends on the person, and the school. Here are some common reasons I hear -
- The textbooks are terrible.
- The teacher is not interesting.
- There isn't enough practice (speaking, usually).
Now, ALL of these things can be the schools fault, or the students. A terrible textbook (to you) might be interesting to other students. A "boring" teacher may be easier to understand to someone else, and therefore, more effective. If you don't get enough practice speaking, is it because there are too many students in the class, or does the teacher talk too much, or perhaps you don't try to talk enough?
You see, in some cases it is the school that is at fault and you just need to find a better school - in other situations, you need to seriously look at yourself and see if you are just the type of person who learns better by an alternative method.
I don't see any progress
Much of your progress also depends on *you* - how much you study and use the language outside of the classroom. Language schools can give you structure and an opportunity to be surrounded by English, if only for a couple hours each week - but how often do you do the same for yourself?
Story time - I had an older student around 40 years old who was a chief engineer at an industrial plant and had never learned English in school. He worked full time and had a family with two kids, but he was super motivated to learn English and determined to become fluent in it as quickly as possible. He managed to study nearly 3-4 hours a day, every day - and after two years he was reading Game of Thrones in the original and discussing very complex scientific topics related to his job at the factory.
And he never went to a single English class! He simply hired me and another teacher to speak with him an hour a day, and the rest he did by himself. Does this mean language schools suck? No! It simply means that the amount of progress you gain equals to the amount of effort you put in. If you learn things in a classroom, great! If you prefer individual study, that's fine too. But one thing is certain - making progress takes time. You cannot expect to magically make progress just by showing up to class twice a week - you have to make a personal effort if you want to see results. It's just like going to the gym - if you aren't sweating after your 30 minutes of exercise, you are probably not going to get fit, no matter how many months you go. :)
That being said, make sure your school is providing a challenging instruction for you. If you are talking about things that you already know, try and find a more challenging course, and if that's not possible, then seek another school. If you aren't speaking enough, see if there are smaller classes available, and make an effort to speak in every class. If none of these solutions work, then perhaps language schools are not your cup of tea.
I hate learning grammar, vocabulary, and other stuff taught in school.
However, there is a point in learning any language where traditional studying is absolutely necessary.
Another story - I had another student who I would give lessons two twice a week - I had him for nearly half a year. He was also older (around 45ish) , and his wife constantly nagged him to learn English because he was a dentist and went to conferences all around the world, but constantly needed an interpreter because he didn't know English.
He was basically an absolute beginner. Our first lesson we covered question words - who, what, where, when, why and how. His homework was to memorize these words - all of our future lessons depended on knowing these 6 words (think about it - if you want to ask a question, these words are pretty important!)
The thing is, he could not memorize and recall these words to save his life. We covered those 6 words every lesson, twice a week for 6 months. It was agony, for both of us - I tried every trick I knew, all sorts of exercises, freestyle conversation (he spoke almost entirely in Russian the whole time but I FORCED him to use these words whenever applicable) - but nothing stuck. By the end of each lesson, he would kind of remember half the words, but two days later he would forget them and we would start from the beginning.
Why couldn't he retain these words? I have a couple theories, but without getting into explaining them too much I will just say that the primary problem was that he spent no effort outside of class to learn. Hell, he spent very little effort IN class. He simply showed up to each lesson, expecting to absorb English into his brain magically by listening me talk for sixty minutes - he refused to try to speak English, he constantly wanted me to translate stuff for him, and never studied vocabulary or grammar outside of class. I set up a memrise course for him - all he had to do was practice 3 minutes a day and he would have those question words memorized! - but no, he didn't have time.
So you see the problem here - he wanted to do NONE of the boring/stressful stuff in and out of class. No looking at lists of words, no looking up a grammar rule when he wanted to express stuff - he just went to class and expected to pick up English automatically.
It is not possible for anyone, even a language savant, to learn a language this way.
You have put forth an internal effort to study and learn a language. Even children who are learning their native language ask questions and try different ways to express their desires - parents and adults naturally interpret their needs and suggest the proper way to ask for stuff, and children pay attention and repeat those requests in the future (and repeat them...and repeat them.... :)). That's a kid's way of studying and it works. However, for an adult who doesn't want to repeat the same phrase over and over ("Do you want some milk?" "Yes, I want some milk" x 100) then you need to study on your own in a way that is effective for you.
But you can't avoid studying entirely. Sorry!
In the end, there are some good schools out there that offer very affordable courses which you can take and learn from. I encourage everyone to at least consider language schools as a way to learn, and to not completely avoid them due to one or two bad experiences. Finally, make sure the problem is not in your own study habits, because if it is, you're going to have problems no matter which method of learning you choose!