There’s a lot of hype right now about online language learning. But is it right for everyone? As a classroom teacher, I’ve seen students who thrive learning languages in a classroom, but others might be just as successful learning online.
Picture this: You’ve decided to spend two afternoons a week teaching yourself Farsi…but on one of the afternoons you’ve planned to study, the weather turns out to be sunny and beautiful. What do you do? After all, it’s not like anyone will notice or grade you down if you don’t study today…
If you’re the type whose will to learn the language is strong enough to set aside time no matter what, you’d be perfect for online learning.
While some online courses are offered through traditional universities, cost money, and are structured like a traditional class, many online resources are free. Free is a wonderful price—but when you aren’t paying someone else to tell you what to do, you need to be extra self-motivated to keep yourself on track. Try these online Arabic and Chinese tools.
Language teachers must take into account a wide variety of student learning styles, levels of motivation, and innate abilities. That inevitably leaves some people dissatisfied—especially those who fall outside the norm for their classrooms.
If you are an extremely quick language student, online learning will allow you to progress much more quickly than a classroom setting because you won’t have to wait for your classmates to catch up. By the same token, if you struggle with languages, online learning can allow you to self-pace and completely master each vocabulary set or grammatical concept before moving on, rather than being left behind.
Every classroom has some students who raise their hands constantly and love getting immediate answers to their questions, and others who get more out of puzzling over a problem privately than asking for help. If you find yourself in the latter situation, you’ll likely do well in a situation where there isn’t always a teacher available to answer your questions—or to get in the way of your own thinking process.
Language classrooms tend to teach for overall proficiency in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. However, some people are only interested in reading a language—while others are only interested in speaking it. If you feel frustrated by having to learn skills you don’t care about, you can search for an online learning platform that works for you, or use the vast resources of the internet to teach yourself.
For example, if you main goal in learning Korean is to understand the words to songs you like, you can search for the lyrics to those songs, create your own vocabulary lists based on what you find, and practice recognizing those words in other songs.
Deadlines can be stressful, but for many people they’re also an important tool for staying on track. If this applies to you, a language classroom may be better because your teacher will set deadlines for homework, tests, and assessments. If you need deadlines and want to try online learning, then you should consider paying for a structured distance course offered by an accredited institution.
When out-of-shape people start to exercise, they’re often told to get a buddy or join an exercise group to keep them on track. That’s because when you’re working at a big, far-away goal, a lot of people find maintaining personal relationships more motivating than the goal itself.
If you find that relationships with your classmates and teachers are an important part of what keeps you going, a language classroom is probably better for you. Even if you enroll in a formal distance language course, it’s harder to form strong relationships over the internet with people you’ve never met.
Learning takes dedication and focus, so removing yourself from an environment where you’re easily distracted and putting yourself in a classroom with a teacher who asks you to focus will help you learn. Of course, being in a classroom takes discipline, too: You still have to keep from texting under the table while you’re there!
Of course, study abroad, not classroom or online study, is the holy grail of language learning: it’s a lot easier to learn a language when you’re surrounded by it, and generally a lot more fun. However, study abroad is also incredibly expensive compared to both online and classroom language learning, and you’ll be only able to make the most of your time abroad if you’ve already started learning the language at home. That means buckling down and choosing the option that works best for you in the US, while still working towards being able to visit an environment where the language is spoken someday.
By Sarah Standish, OWN Academic Program Manager