Experience in a classroom vs self-teaching

I am a senior in high school, and I’ve been learning Spanish for TECHNICALLY 4 years now, although it feels a bit more like one and a half or so. My freshman year I started with Spanish 1 and hated it and was terrible (I could barely conjugate regular verbs in present tense, and I for sure could not understand anything I read), but took it because I had to get my high school language requirements to graduate. The summer before sophomore year, however, I found polyglots on YouTube and started considering learning languages for the fun of it. Before I knew it I had found Duolingo and later LingQ, and was up to 2 or 3 thousand known words. Sophomore year I took Spanish 2, thinking it would be better since I knew Spanish at a much higher level (still relatively low) than I did taking Spanish 1. What upset me, though, is that it ended up just being extremely boring with me knowing way more than the class, but finding I knew way less Spanish than I thought I did, since hitting 2000 words on LingQ made me feel confident. After that class, I still enjoyed Spanish on my own, so I researched opportunities to study abroad, and actually ended up going abroad for a month the summer before my junior year.

My experience abroad can be a whole 5 more posts by itself, so I’ll spare you here, but what I learned is that being abroad doesn’t automatically teach you the language. After being abroad for a month and learning practically nothing, I had a newfound motivation for LingQ, raising my known words to around 10,000 in the few months after getting back from Spain. I ended up learning way more Spanish on my own in the months after leaving Spain than I did living with a host family and going to Spanish class every day in Spain. I did not have room in my high school schedule Junior year to take Spanish.

Fast forward to this year, with me finishing up my last month of high school. This year I took AP Spanish 5 (skipped 3 and 4 with special permission) and absolutely hated it. It demotivated me, took time away from self-study, and honestly did not do much for my Spanish level. Every single person in my class was a native speaker with me being the only generic white kid in there, yet I mostly heard English when people conversed. I completely stopped using LingQ because I didn’t have time and I didn’t feel like learning Spanish anymore due to class being so boring and tedious.

Basically this has convinced me that language is not meant to be taught, but to be absorbed and developed on ones own. I just posted my second ever YouTube video in Spanish, and I will post the link here in case you’d like to hear my updated level (my improvisation needs a lot of work). Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear from any of you about your experience.


your experience is similar to many people who took languages in high school when i was kid in high school ifrench and spanish were compulsary and i did not learn anything i never learned to conjugate a verb i didn’t know anything except a few nouns and simple greetings and that’s it .it was only until i took matters into my hands did i start to learn anything i literally taught myself spanish with help from spanish speaking people that i hanged out with at the docks in my country

in my experience just living abroad in a foreign country is also not always going to get you to a fluent level either it’s hard work you have to put in the effort to learn the language grammar vocabulary,etc

if spanish is what you want to learn don’t give up keep practicing

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I studied Japanese at University for a couple years.
After those two years I knew (approximately):

All Kana
25 Kanji
A ton of grammar rules I could barely make use of
500 words

The cost was a ton of hours on book work, tutoring, tests and enough money to have gone to Japan and back.

Switched to self study flash cards and Anki/Memrise for about 3 months and gained about a 1500 word vocabulary.
The cost was my sanity and a crazy amount of time spent hammering in flash cards

Then I switched to LingQ at the start of this year and now 4 months later I have about 4500 words
The Cost was 100 bucks and 30 minutes a day of just reading.

I think there is a clear winner. Some subjects just don’t lend themselves to classroom study.

I suppose you could argue those previous experiences laid the ground work but I think that time was learning how to learn a language rather than learning Japanese.


Languages need so many hours of practice that I don’t believe you can learn much by attending classes. You need hundreds of hours of speaking, even more for listening - I always claim 1 000 hours solely for listening is not an exaggeration, there are so many people having B2/C1 level who still find it hard to follow movies without subtitles. A few days ago just by curiosity I glanced at a language course for German and in one semester of 50 hours they promise to provide conversations and listening. How much total listening can be done in a class within 50 hours? I guess no more than 5 hours. I could take such a course for 10 years and still not understand German news.


You have summarized very nicely the many pitfalls of traditional language instruction: it simpy doesn’t work. It fails in most every regard: little actual time devoted to learning, emphasis on the least important aspects of the language and, more important, absolute lack of motivation
I think this problem is not restricted to language learning. There are a lot of other kinds of learning that the traditional teaching system just sucks at. Language learning just makes the failure more evident: you can pretend that the kids know more maths or physics than they actually do but try to say just a simple sentence in a foreign language that you’ve been studying for years and the failure will be completely obvious.

On another note, your Spanish pronunciation is really good and it’s easy to understand you, kudos for that! You still struggle to find words (which shows that you’re adlibbing, not following a script) but that’s completely normal. You’re at 14K known words, that provides a good base for understanding everyday conversations but you still need to activate more of your vocabulary. I’m sure you can reach a very good level in a few months of dedicated learning

I had a similar experience with going to Spain for a week I thought I would pick up things from people and passive listen in the street, none of that happened. I honestly would have been much better off listening to Spanish and doing my reading. it just goes to show that you do not need to live in another country or take classes or go to university to learn a language. Many thanks to Steve for creating this fantastic platform ( even with its bugs! )

What can be achieved by visiting a country depends a lot on what a person already knows AND his/her motivation to interact with and use the language. That is, if you want to learn, you have to actively engage with the language. This means trying to use the language whenever you can and in a variety of ways.

I went to Madrid for two months when I was in college after having studied Spanish for 4-5 years, starting in junior high school. Although I had a pretty good reading knowledge of vocabulary and grammar, I was not conversational in any meaningful way. However, in Madrid I had a Spanish boyfriend who did not speak English and thus I got loads of practice speaking with him and his friends for hours every day. I came back fully conversational and have remained so in the decades since because I continue to use the language.

After college I moved to Norway for 6 months and learned Norwegian without any textbook (the grammar is very easy). Every day I bought groceries in a nearby store and struck up mini conversations with people doing routine tasks. By the end of my stay, I had longer conversations with the relatives of my then Norwegian boyfriend. Again, I actively used the language. Every day.

I am currently studying Russian on LingQ and last fall visited a Russian immigrant neighborhood so I could reinforce my knowledge, reading signs, asking people for directions, buying some items in different stores in Russian. When I first arrived, I parked my car and went to get a ticket from the meter. A man was standing there and clearly having problems. He greeted me in Russian which I returned. I struggled with myself whether to continue in Russian or not. I was nervous but forced myself to continue in Russian. I ended up helping him with the meter, in Russian. The exchange was short but I was absolutely thrilled that he continued to speak Russian and I was able to help him. It gave me courage to engage other people in the stores in the language.

In all three cases, I actively sought out opportunities to speak in the foreign language, despite my very different abilities in each of the languages at the time. What is required is independent learning of vocabulary and grammar first at a passive level and then sufficiently well enough so that you can use your knowledge in conversation. The step from passive knowledge to active use is a huge one and requires a lot of repetition and practice. There are many ways to help that transition: e.g., read out loud, listen to comprehensible input (films, videos that you mostly understand), write and practice phrases that you want to use in conversation, and utter those sentences out loud by yourself.

Visiting a foreign country can be helpful to language learning BUT it depends on the level of knowledge and how much a person actively engages with the language and native speakers when there. This also applies to learning a language when not in a foreign country. A common thread that connects polyglots is that they are active, not passive learners. Each seeks out the combinations of ways in which he/she learns most effectively and keeps up motivation.
For me, I do many different things, some easier, some harder. The variety is essential.


If the total amount of time and effort you put in is about the same, including or excluding classes, overseas or at home, you will most likely get similar results. Yes, there are classes that give you poor direction, but there are self-study methods that are misguiding too.

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I agree with Wulfgar. Some classes are bad, others are really good. Same for teachers, books, self study methods and on and on.

Last year I went to Korea for 5 weeks to do ‘Summer School’ (winter in Australia) at a university there. The amount I learnt in those 5 weeks dwarfed anything I was able to manage on my own. Admittedly my self study methods were not great, but through the classes I picked up where I was going wrong, what I needed to work on and how to go about it. It was also a lot of fun. The fact that I was in my 30s where as everyone else seemed to be American college students looking for extra credit didn’t really come into it haha.

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Hello everyone

my experient is similar, the whole english I know is learning by myself, I started to study
english when I was 10 years, but my teachers was very bad, my class was about grammar, no speaking, no listening… in fact thoses class was boring… and obviously I didn’t learn anything.

Since 4 years ago I try to learn english by myself, english app, videos. currently I have improved my level, but I am awaer I have a lot of shortcomings, but I try to improve it.

I can write more o less but my big problems are listening and speaking.

I liked your video. Yo creo que vos necesitás más conversación. You have to keep practicing your speaking in order to feel more confortable when speaking. But you’re already good. Congrats