What To Do When You're Overwhelmed In Language Lessons

In this week’s episode, I have a **fascinating** Q&A question. Blog reader Andy is learning Russian, and finding the amount of word changes overwhelming.

On digging in, we discovered that there’s more at play than just grammar. Listen in and check out my tips to get a better experience when your lessons leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

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Real Life or Online Language Immersion? There's Only One Way To Find Out...

Could you get the benefits of immersion even when you are unable to put aside a month to do it? 

This question is at the heart of Anthony's story, which is today's Fluent guest post. I love that he got involved with languages right from the start and really took home immersion to the next level by seeking out community meetings.

Ready to learn more about this? Over to Anthony!

I Learnt Spanish Using Two Different Immersion Techniques And Here's What I Found Out

A few years ago some friends and I decided we would spend a year saving up money for an extended trip to Latin America. It would be my first time outside of the United States. I planned on getting the most out of my first international travel experience and thought learning some Spanish would be a great idea. Long story short, the trip was canceled but I had already started learning my new language and began to fall in love with it.

Even without any travel prospects, I continued to practice my Spanish. 4 years later and I am fairly fluent and have had the opportunity to visit several Spanish speaking countries.

Before Spanish I had never tried to speak another language, so my learning experience was a bit bumpy at first. My language learning journey involved both real and virtual immersion. At different points I switched between the two, usually out of necessity. Looking back I have found some interesting differences.

In this post I use examples that apply best to beginners who can’t quite go for full immersion experience in another country. If you live near a major city you chances of find native speakers might better than you think.

Read on to find out how I made it work.

My Experience with Real World Immersion

When I first decided that I wanted to become fluent in Spanish, I had no idea how to start speaking the language. I knew I wanted to speak it, but beyond that I was pretty clueless. Aside from my duolingo app and a few Youtube videos I had no way to practice. Shortly after I took my first stab at Spanish an acquaintance invited me to a Spanish language group that met through a local church. I saw this as an excellent opportunity and decided to check it out.

The First Meeting: Scary And Exciting

spanish meetup

The first meeting was quite an experience. I had never been in a room full of people who only spoke Spanish. It was scary and exciting all at once. I couldn’t understand much back then, but just being exposed to the language was a thrill. It was the first time I had heard Spanish spoken in real life with no English.

I went as often as I could and was able to practice the sentences I learned during the week. It was an immersion experience, but I hadn't even travelled.

I quickly befriended two awesome guys (one from Guatemala and the other from Mexico), who happened to be musicians and love rock music. At the time I was also taking up guitar so it was a natural fit. We started hanging out outside of the group sampling taquerias and talking about music.

Before I knew it I was texting in Spanish, ordering tacos in Spanish, and had Spanish posts popping up on my Facebook feed. The level of Spanish ability needed to do these things honestly wasn’t much, but I realized that a part of my life was now in Spanish, a small part, but a significant one nonetheless. I hadn’t expected it, it just sort of happened.

This was my first real world immersion experience. I had no idea that one meeting with native Spanish speakers could lead to so many other awesome experiences.

My Experience with Virtual Immersion

After a few months of new friends and real life Spanish practice, my job started requiring a lot of overtime each week and I suddenly had much less time and energy to devote to learning Spanish. This is when I started to get involved with language exchanges and online lessons with tutors.

Because my schedule was tighter I began using a mixture of paid tutors and language partners to practice in lieu of meeting up with the Spanish group and my friends, though I would meet up with them on the weekends when I could (most lived 45 minutes away past the other side of the city).

I found digital immersion to be great for weeks when I only had a few hours or so free each day. I didn’t have the time or energy to practice with my new friends, but I could easily set aside 1 hour or so each day to practice with a teacher or language partner via Skype.

Comparing The Two

Structure vs No Structure

One of the definite advantages of real world immersion: Delicious local food.

One of the definite advantages of real world immersion: Delicious local food.

What I love most about virtual immersion is that it allows to have more control over how and when you use your target language. If you want to practice language for exactly one hour you can. You can connect with a language partner or tutorand drill a specific aspect of grammar, or you can just have a friendly conversation. For me this is great. I enjoy being methodical and almost systematic with the management of my time and my language learning.

Talking with real people on the other hand is a lot less predictable. Outside of paying a personal tutor it is very hard to find people to practice with on a daily or weekly basis. When you make friends in another language it’s a huge favor on their part to “practice” with you, they’re your friend not your tutor and if they aren’t learning your native language it costs a lot for them to help you.

Learning a language with friends will flow from your natural interaction with them. You’ll have to make a conscious effort to use what vocabulary you know to adapt to whatever situation you find yourself in.

Social Risk

Socially speaking, virtual immersion is easier, less risky, and insanely convenient. You can practice your language with a native speaker in your bed in your pajamas if you wanted too. You can also connect with speakers from around the world. You can literally pick and choose what country you want to meet people from. Virtual immersion is also more anonymous. You can always delete a skype contact or end a chat.

When you are surrounded in real life by native speakers you have much less control. You’re likely to meet all kinds of people in any number of situations, and you can’t just exit out of a chat window if something goes wrong. It’s also a lot harder to put yourself out there in the physical world versus the virtual one. On the internet you can be sure that the other person is a language learner and will be forgiving and understanding if you struggle. In real life you don’t have that guarantee. Before you initiate a conversation you have no way of knowing for sure whether or not the other person will be patient or receptive.

Rewards

Because virtual immersion is less risky and more controlled the rewards don’t go as far. Yes you get real spoken practice one on one with a real person, but you don’t get the cultural experience or relationship of an in person interaction. I can’t speak for others, but my main motivation for language learning is to make friends and interact with real people from around the world. I don’t want to learn Spanish just so I can talk to people on the internet all day.

It’s also hard to have a friendship over a text or video chat. You don’t get a feel for the body language and full personality of the other person (and you’re also probably 1,000+ miles away from them). You certainly aren’t going to know for their culture this way. That being said you can get valuable practice via virtual immersion. Talking to a real life human beats any other form of practice (at least in my opinion), even if it’s over the internet.

In-person immersion can be intimidating at first. The first time I ever spoke a language other than English to another person I was terrified. But it’s a great experience. As you learn a foreign language, foreign people seem less and less foreign. You really begin to see that you have more in common than what you thought, and You can appreciate the differences. You can make actual real life friends (that’s the dream isn’t it?). The internet will never be able to replace that.

Which is Better?

If I was forced to choose between the two I would choose real world interaction. For me that’s why I chose to start learning a language in the first place. That being said, I don’t think anyone will ever have to choose between the two. I think both offer benefits to your language learning.

In the end, it comes down to your language learning needs.

  • Are you working to become fluent or just functional?
  • Are you a world traveling polyglot, or working a 9-5 job?

Everyone has different goals and constraints on their language learning. So incorporate the real world and the internet in a way that makes sense for you.

I used both when I started learning Spanish and when I learn another language I’ll probably use both again. I found that you can bring a method and consistency to online learning that is best for reviewing and cementing the parts of the language that you’ve already learned. Real world immersion is better suited for being exposed to new aspects and uses of a language. I tend to split them into these two functions and use both accordingly.

##What have your experiences been with immersion?

Do you have a preference for the virtual or real word approach? I'd love to hear more from you in the comments below!

Guest writer Anthony blogs at Spanish Hackers and describes himself as "young at heart with a penchant for travel". He says: "I originally started learning Spanish because I wanted to visit Spain. A couple years and several adventures later, even though I'm pretty much fluent, I still find myself falling in love with the language and the people who speak it." You can connect with Anthony on Twitter.

When Should You Consider an Offline Language Tutor? + The Tutor Pages Reviewed

When I started out as a language tutor, the lessons I taught were face to face, right here in little Lancaster. I would walk across town or host students at my house, puzzling together language over a friendly cup of tea. It was lovely, and still one of the most comfortable learning environments I've ever worked in.

So when I was approached by British website The Tutor Pages, who asked me to review their service for hiring and finding a tutor right in your town, I was excited to bring you this perspective on studying. As a language learner reading a language blog, your first thought might not be "hell yes, IRL tutors are for me!" - I mean, we've got the world of Skype lessons and Italki open to us.

But even in a world of online learning miracles, there are a few occasions when finding a kick-ass IRL tutor could be the best thing you've ever done.

An Offline Tutor? Like..really?

Most of us associate an IRL "tutor" with after-school support for kids or teenagers, but you can actually find and hire tutors at any point in your life.

I know people who teach the Latin language to pensioners who want to follow their passion for history, and hundreds of native speakers who bring dry school materials to life.

Meeting Real People In Real Places

Being online is super convenient, but every now and then there's a huge advantage to being in the same time zone and same place.

Not only is it easier to demonstrate pronunciation and draw diagrams in a real-life meeting, but you can even take advantage of cool meeting spaces like the library or a favourite café. There are huge advantages of establishing such a Third Place, where you can be study-focused and work in peace.

Local Study Knowledge

If you're in full-time education and preparing for a specific exam, you want to find someone who can help you prepare in person. From mock examinations in person, to breathing techniques, I've found that having a local expert in the room really has the edge here.

What is The Tutor Pages?

In a nutshell, The Tutor Pages is an online directory for professional tutors who want to offer more than just conversation practice. It's UK-focused, so the easiest way to see what's available is to type in a subject and/or post code on the right hand side and off you go. You don't have to sign up and you don't have to purchase any credits.

What I Liked About The Site

First of all, I think it's great to see that the site pushes tutors to submit articles so you can see more about them and their expertise. Any professional tutor worth their salt will be super passionate about what they teach and have a lot to say. The profiles are awesome and give lots of detail about qualifications, pictures and personality of your tutor - here's an example I liked.

The variety of subjects on offer in this directory was super cool to look through. It's inspiring to see the range of what people are learning out there. I loved the sense of this website as a space where people go to improve their life.

I also liked the "Tutor Wanted" section, which is where you can post a request for lessons. If whatever is listed in the directory doesn't feel right, here's a space for you to put it in your own words.

What Wasn't Great About The Tutor Pages

It's clear that this website works hard on attracting web traffic, which means the site is keyword-focused at times. This is great because it keeps the directory alive, but it means you end up with a cluttered interface and a lot of words that no one needs. I certainly think they could clean it up a little.

The tutor search could also do with some improvement. The option of finding an online tutor is available, but I would have loved for the system to allow me more than one location option. Like, what if I want to find a tutor who lives in my area and still offers online classes?

The downside of having a directory that focuses on a wider range of skills is that languages outside the mainstream aren't represented. There's no shortage of people to hire for help with German, Chinese, French, Spanish, Italian. But I tried searching for some of the smaller languages we polyglots feel drawn to and drew a blank. You can check out their full directory here to save yourself some time.

How The Business Side Works

The Tutor Pages is only the directory, but not the middleman between you and your tutor. On the one hand, this means you won't have to pay any extra commission. On the other hand, it could be a downside if there was any dispute between you and the tutor.

The rates are certainly fair for the British market. As you know from my other posts about language tutor pricing, there are lots of factors that go into deciding what you invest in.

Who Is This For?

A language learner looking for conversation practice based on their own studies might not need the full 1:1 pro experience. But if you're too busy to set and monitor goals, or want to cut out the hassle of following grammar rabbit holes, a tutor is for you.

In short, The Tutor Pages is best for:

  • anyone in UK full-time education who wants help with what their curriculum asks
  • families or parents with kids, who want to introduce languages to their kids at an early age
  • anyone who isn't sure about Skype tuition yet or wants to get out of the house to enjoy language lessons.

What do you think about IRL tutoring?

Have you had good or bad experiences?

Let me know in the comments below, or say hi to me on Twitter.

How I came to Online Teaching: A TEFL-Free Story

Many people who find me and my work through Fluent often assume that I took the classic route of learning how to teach online after studying for a TEFL exam, but that's not actually true. In fact, I never set out to be an entrepreneur at all. In today's blog post, I want to share this awesome interview with me and Gabby Wallace from Laptoplanguageteacher.com.

It's an in-depth look at how I started out in language teaching, and how my independent streak actually helped me discover my own niche in this market. As you can see, I'm just as scared as you are when it comes to that niche challenge!

Here are the top 4 Lessons you can Learn from this Video

  1. If you work online, collaborating with your colleagues is the door to success
  2. When you blog, you start sharing your views and standing out in a wholly new way. It is one of the most fun experiences on the internet. If you want to learn more about how to start a language blog, check out Fluent's Quick'n'Easy Guide to Language Blogging.
  3. Your prices can send a powerful message to new students. I have spoken to so many language students who felt that they actually
  4. Bonus Lesson: That's a crazy hairband.

And of course, I also mentioned various ways of working with me in the video. The 50 Calls project is now finished, yes I actually spoke to 50 amazing people. It was so much fun!

The feedback I got from them helped me create the course Compass, which is now available to online teachers right here on Fluent as the (renamed) Savvy Brand Toolkit. I'd love for you to check it out, and don't forget to sign up for my newsletter so that I can send you discount codes and promotions when I run them.

Event Coming Up

Gabby and I are running a joint Facebook event on 7 May. It's called the Online Teaching Show and designed to help online teachers get the word out. All for free, so please come and join us by registering here on Facebook.

Which type of language learner are you?

I thought that today I'll put out some words for you from the view of a personal language tutor. I believe hiring a language tutor is a decision to be taken lightly. It's not the same as language exchange, and not the same as teaching yourself a language. I also want to point to a particularly good and well-written post from Claire at Conquering Babel. She has been sharing why it's a good idea to hire a tutor - many, many reasons of course.

which type of language learner are you.jpg

Having worked with a large group of students both in 1-to-1 environments, my recommendation is not that this lesson format automatically works for everyone. Some people dislike the pressure of the situation, others will want to focus on meeting many other learners. But ultimately, here are three learner types which do very well in this type of lesson. Do you recognise yourself?

1) The shy or introverted learner

You like to build up a good level of trust before telling people more about who you are. Before speaking, you will think through the full statement, and you want to be sure you're getting the words right. Homework was invented for you, because you love revising and reading more about the target language country.

This testimonial from one of my awesome students is a good example of how a 1-to-1 lesson can feel for meticulous and introverted learners:

I loved doing the 1-to-1 sessions with Kerstin because it was nowhere near as stressful as learning at school. The beauty of such sessions is that you get more focused attention and the sessions are based on your own language ability, which helped me because there is less pressure when working at your own pace.

If you have ever felt like classes at school are moving too fast, or you are lacking that speaking courage, then working with an expert 1-to-1 tutor is a great alternative. Good teachers know when to let you think, when to explain something again and when to listen to you.

2) The busybee and multitasker

You like language learning for the challenge as well as the achievement, but it's hard to find time for it between all your other commitments. You listen to language tapes while driving and write your shopping list in the target language, because it's so hard to get some time in.

1-to-1 lessons are perfect for this type of learner, because you will find the language teacher as flexible as you need them to be. Some students of mine love their regular slot, studying online at lunchtimes. They could not find any class that is as convenient. Others need to juggle the class times around commitments like business trips and meetings, so they will appreciate the chance of having a class at the time they can free up for it.

Both of these busy groups benefit from both online and offline classes, and once again having a tutor can be a godsend here. No matter if you want to switch on Skype or have a class in your kitchen, the 1-to-1 format will fit around your own needs.

3) The starter (and not finisher)

You love the excitement of a new project, the new gadgets to buy and the vision of charming all the locals with your language skills. Your enthusiasm can get you through HOURS of study, but after a few months the new language can get boring. Maybe learning knitting would be cool?

If you're this type of learner, the big advantage of hiring a language tutor will be that you are making a commitment and putting your money where your mouth is. Your tutor is an accomplice - once you've hired them, your success is their business and they will know when you get bored.

In fact, this is probably one of the most important reasons for hiring a tutor: They'll work hard to stop you from getting bored or giving up. Now that's a benefit.

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent, the Language Learning Blog. If you are feeling stuck right now, why not subscribe to Fluent and check out our language book shop.

Guest Post: It's language, Jim, but not as we know it

Welcome to a particularly exciting week for millions of young people here in the UK. It's A-Level results week! The rush for university places UCAS Clearing season is on and everyone's focusing on exams. In this week, we'll have a couple of guest posts from experts, starting with tutor Sally Holmwood. In this article, she revisits what it is that we are learning for: exams or life?

International Readers: A-Levels are the UK's school leaving exams at 18, and GCSE are the ones at about 16. They love exams in this country.

It’s Language, Jim, But Not As We Know It!

The things you leave school knowing – some dates and long division – so much of it has been of no use to me. Schools should teach the basics of cookery, first aid, how to look after your money and how to speak foreign languages – useful things.
— Jane Asher, actress

Jane Asher is right – languages are useful. Yet, as one BBC article illustrates, for some time there was a worrying decline in their take-up amongst pupils at GCSE. Another article written since then reports a change for the better. But the question remains: What could be dampening young people’s enthusiasm for learning languages? 

Lingo show picture ©bbc, exam pic © albertogp123  on Flickr

Lingo show picture ©bbc, exam pic ©albertogp123 on Flickr

Live, Love, Learn…

I think back fondly to my experience of learning languages at school as a time of great discovery. I went on excursions to Dieppe and the Moselle Valley (editor's note: hey look that's where I am from!) and took part in exchanges (like those you read about in my previous guest post). I was actively encouraged to venture beyond the confines of the language syllabus and spent time reading books and magazines and listening to German radio stations at home. The more opportunities I had to explore and to take control of my own learning, the more enthusiastic I became about languages.

Once a week, we had a conversation class with a native speaker.  There was an obligation to practise certain things in those lessons but spontaneity/fluidity of general conversation was important too. 

Conversation Killer?

Remembering those classes, when I began work as a private tutor myself, I did not hesitate to lead into lessons with a few minutes’ general conversation in the target language. The first lesson after a school holiday was the perfect opportunity to practise a variety of tenses and grammatical constructions with questions to engage my pupils. Following one half-term holiday, I began a general conversation with one of my pupils. “Was hast du letzte Woche gemacht? Wie war das Wetter? Was hast du am Liebsten gemacht? Was willst du während den nächsten Schulferien gern machen?”  

At first they looked confused. Then they thrust a piece of paper towards me in indignation: “I have not learnt those questions – I have learned these questions.” Once upon a time, even pupils who were less confident might have bravely attempted to answer such spontaneous questions. These days, however, the approach to modern language learning seems far more (painfully) formulaic.

Testing Times!

Many of my younger friends sat their GCSEs last year, studying hard until the bitter end and earning grades to be proud of! Yet some say that, even after years of learning a language, they still feel barely able to string sentences together in spontaneous foreign conversation! However, the paragraphs they had memorised in response to the set oral questions remain etched on their brains…

I do love the way that children’s television is embracing foreign languages with shows like the carefully researched “The Lingo Show” for its younger viewers. It is a great way to inspire young children to learn. As those youngsters move up through the education system, the pressure will be on their teachers not just to hit targets and climb league tables but to keep pupils’ interest in learning foreign languages alive! 

Less isn’t always more

If given more opportunities to engage in general conversation and to respond to general questions, rather than listening out for rote clues to rote answers, pupils will start to feel happier and more confident to use the languages that they are learning. They will get more enjoyment out of using those languages and feel inspired and motivated to continue learning them. 

Next time you come to practise your language skills, consider your reasons for learning the language. Are you listening out for specific phrases so that you can give the one reply that you've learned for them? Or do you hope to take the language you have learned and be able to adapt it for use in real-life situations? For if you do, then perhaps it’s time to look for a more flexible approach to your language-learning..

About Sally Holmwood

Sally lives and works in West Sussex, England. She splits her working week between individuals of all ages with special needs, and languages (specifically German and French). Sally loves to make time to travel the world when she's not working - sometimes Europe, sometimes even further afield! Furthermore, she is a big fan of great television: SherlockBonesThe Big Bang Theory and Doctor Who.

You have GOT to follow Sally on Twitter or Facebook, she is fab! And don't forget to check out her tutoring services at Indigo Languages.