What To Do When You're Overwhelmed In Language Lessons

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What do you feel when you're in a conversation practice and find that you struggle to say a single sentence without interruption?

Have you ever experienced the OVERWHELM of being corrected too much?

If your answer is yes, the I've got some great tips and answers to help you get over that feeling and create effective progress in language learning.

In this podcast episode, you'll hear an insight into how I work in "coaching mode". Language coaching is a process where you can learn from an experienced polyglot or tutor, and focus on how to learn best.

I was contacted by listener Andy who was felt overwhelmed in his Russian lessons. He contacted me with a question about grammar - how to memorize and master all those grammatical changes and words in Russian, so that his tutors can focus on having a real conversation.

But as we dug in more, a few things emerged. We were looking at two completely separate issues:

  1. The technical issue of memorising grammar, which isn’t the problem Andy feels strongly about
  2. The OVERWHELM of being corrected too much

The Unseen Problem In Language Lessons

Any well-meaning teacher is likely to correct you at times.

This is great on the one hand - you get feedback, information on your errors, and lots of info. But when correction becomes too frequent, it starts to get in the way.

Overcorrection can

  • Knock your confidence
  • Give you too much to focus on in the moment
  • Distract you from understanding the other person
  • Stop you from knowing your target language!

What can you do when you feel overcorrected?

Know what you are there for! Is it speaking practice, exam preparation, business language, something else?

As Andy and I dug into more detail about what his aims and techniques are, he :

My goal in learning grammar is to learn enough grammar to express my thoughts, which tend to be complex. (..) Of course, I want to understand what the other person says, too.

This shows that Andy is not aiming for perfection and will be happy enough to express himself. He’s not at a C1 mastery stage, and as such, it’s possible to let things go. What matters is that he’s understood, and as a tutor it’s possible to compensate for this.

4 Steps To Success With Language Tutors

If you feel that heavy corrections are holding you back in your own learning experience, these 4 steps to success will help you get back on track.

  1. Be culturally aware. Some teachers have a full-on teacher mode (drill sergeant) and their goal is that you use the language as correctly as possible.
    • Careful not to stereotype.This does not just vary between cultures, but also individuals.
    • With Andy, I believe that this did play a role in his experience. He mentioned being corrected a lot less in fact-to-face meet ups (one indicator), and as a white American guy your tutors from the Far East may have been a lot less willing to correct you than a Russian tutor
  2. Be self aware: Maybe you really are trying to do things that are too difficult for you at this point. There’s no shame in that, and it’s a sign that something in your study plan isn’t delivering.
    • When you make a mistake, native speakers will notice. That’s inevitable.
  3. Be goal aware: Do you aim for perfection, correct usage, being understood? This matters for the next step.
  4. Most importantly: Direct your tutors. Tell them what you’re there for. Make it clear that conversation is what you want, if that is the case. Be confident and clear at the start, as it will pay off. But also do your homework.

Listen to Episode 90 to learn more about how to prepare for language lessons on Skype.

What Tutor Strategy Helps?

As a tutor, it is difficult to resist correcting a student but resisting can be extremely helpful because this tells you what exactly they’re getting wrong.

When a student cannot even say one sentence to you without interruption, their goal is not being achieved. What is going on there? Here's how to find out:

  • Stop correcting and start listening
  • Start looking out for a pattern
  • Model correct usage — try and reply with a demo of the correct usage instead of picking the student up on theirs, with stronger emphasis on what it should be
  • Switch to a grammar explanation and drill, plugging the gap of what is missing in your student's toolbox
  • If you know they’re in over their head, but they have grammar knowledge and confidence, prompt the use of specific concepts

How Do You Deal With Overwhelm?

What about you? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by corrections in your language lessons?

How do you deal with this problem? Leave me a comment below to share your own experiences.