Can anyone learn a foreign language online and free? Yes, you can!
“Wait a minute”, you might say … are you telling me I can learn any language online? For real? Yes, you can.
But …. of course, there had to be a BUT! The internet is full of free pages to learn a foreign language, but not all are reliable, either because they don’t offer a program structured to your level, or because the method presented doesn’t suit your learning personality. Moreover, online learning is not the ideal medium for everyone, let alone those who are not disciplined and organised.
As a teacher, of course I stand for classes with a teacher. That’s the best choice. But not always the feasible one.
How can you learn at home?
Firstly, find a way of motivating and organising yourself. Tell others what you’re doin; that should keep your accountable, at least initially. Secondly, set up a list of resources for your learning process.
Google up easy reading texts in your target language. Read a paragraph of a news story. A fairy tale. A piece of the transcript of an interview of a politician, artist, footballer or any other you might fancy and find interesting. Check the pronunciation, the vocabulary.
YouTube has tons of videos in your target language, not necessarily about learning the language. But clips of news or documentaries are great starting points.
Focus on listening to news and documentaries that have a clearer speech. Podcasts are a great source of listening material that you can download and listen to anywhere, anytime.
This requires some courage. Dare to speak. Skype provides a language exchange forum for you to connect with people around the world.
You see? As I told you before, free online language learning is posssible but no magical solution. You’ll have to apply yourself to it regularly, especially if your goal is to learn “fast”.
Since the late 1980s language drilling has been looked down upon as being bad. They’d say its mechanical, boring and irrelevant for the students. Students aren’t automatons to be repeating meaningless sentences or vocabulary.
And it’s true that too much of a thing (even if a good thing) can be its own death. But as the old saying goes “don’t throw the baby with the bathwater”. Language drills have their very good value: by repetition they can help students identify their questions and problem areas while leading them towards specific language goals and targets, therefore, drilling can help students focus.
In the not so distant past, language labs were the rage. All the “respectable” language schools had their laboratories with those sessions inserted in their lesson grid where students would be sent to a stuffy room (no air conditioning then) and they’d spend 40-50 minutes listening and repeating to an outdated audio recording, while a teacher dozed off (sorry, listened in and monitored the students).
With the ubiquitous presence of smartphones now students have a language school and lab in their hands but their needs are still the same, including the need to practice.
Spaced repetition – reviewing words over a sequence of days will work wonders on vocabulary retention, concentration, and patience.
Practice makes perfect, but only if you practice in the right way.
“How you practice and what you do matters more than how long you practice”, Jeremy Harmer has said more than once.
If you get your heart involved you will get better chances of learning.
Drilling should be genuinely communicative, psychologically authentic, focused, and follow a regular pattern.
According to the Brazilian Association of Franchising (ABF) between 2% and 4% of Brazilians (in a total population of around 220 million) speak English at some level.
At any given time, it is estimated that roughly 1 million people are studying English in Brazil concentrated in the State of São Paulo, followed by the Southeast Region and South Region.
CNA, a traditional franchiser of language schools claims to have around 420,000 students a year in Brazil. But 40% of English language students drop out of their courses within 6 months.
It is a promising market. But … :
Why is there such a high evasion rate? Why are there so many people who don’t study English?
The leading answer is that “English is not for me”. Followed by “Spanish is easier.”
We have a culture of immediacy. Combined with poor performance.
Why do students quit? Most common reasons:
1. No money
2. No time
(However, it may be argued that there is a “save face” attitude. What the students might be actually saying is: what you’re offering actually isn’t worth what I thought it was)
How do students prefer to study languages?
The overwhelming majority of language students (72%) prefer having classes in groups, attending the lessons in a school.
Again, statistics may vary but, it is estimated that 6% within a universe of 40 million Brazilians (200,000) prefer to have private lessons with a private tutor.
5% are enrolled in language teaching programs sponsored by NGOs or religious organisations, such as the English Sabbath School class which teaches the bible in English. You may check their work on Facebook – www.facebook.com/BelievesUnasp
Distance learning, also known as e-learning or online learning (EAD in Portuguese) is a promising segment (still in its infancy at 9%) but there are no reliable figures on the number of students studying English via Skype, FaceTime or using international language platforms or apps such as Global English, Duolingo and iTalki.
Worth remembering that the industrial /digital logic does not yield great results in the Education segment (even if called Industry) – we’re still human beings who learn at different paces and manners.
What does the future of Education look like?
The trend is to use an adaptive learning process with a hybrid use of different resources and technologies, combining both physical and digital presences.
The Education professionals, aka teachers, must seek the continuous development of their soft skills: interpersonal (people) skills. These are much harder to define and evaluate. While hard skills are job-specific, most prospective clients and students are looking for soft skills in their teachers, coaches or tutors. Soft skills include communication skills, listening skills, and empathy, among others.
Also we as language professionals must continue to work towards the development of solid knowledge, posture of dialogue and authority set by example.
Happy teaching and towards a bright future.
I usually teach students on a one-to-one basis but every Saturday morning I find myself volunteering in a classroom with 60 to 80 people ranging in ages from 15 to 74 and coming from all walks of life. One common ground is that it’s an English language class to study the Bible and sing worship songs both traditional hymns and more contemporary ones. Talk about diversity. Some students know no English at all whilst others are quite fluent. Most are in between. So … how can I make this class work?
1. Usually I try to get higher level students to help lower levels, be it by providing translation, or modeling pronunciation, etc. Also we try to divide the class in smaller groups and to have at least a high level student working in a group of 4 or 5.
2. I’ve mentioned above the common denominator and they really try to use their bible knowledge and weekly study to build on new learning steps.
3. Using visual resources – pictures, realia, a short video, etc,which provide another common ground while higher level students will be able to help others to expand their vocabulary, for example.
4. Every week the students know they’re walking into a “free zone” where they will not be judged or criticized for their language skills or beliefs, thus creating a welcoming environment where they will gradually be willing to take risks and even “play the fool”.
Let me share with you the story of Diego. That tall and lanky young man one day walked into our class, settled in a corner and refused to say a word. The following week we managed to get him to mumble his name. But nothing else. He was shyness personified. We allowed him to come to class and quietly and shyly stick around. We started a little weekly challenge that whoever memorized that week’s key bible verse would get a little reward. Sometimes a cookie, other times a magazine, other times a CD, other times just a handshake, etc. Then one day, after a few months of unresponsiveness, to our astonishment, Diego stood up and said the memory text for the week. From then on he never stopped, and now he even prays in public or shares a little missionary story.
Yes, we’re all different but we can help one another grow at their own pace.