What's your experience with language classes?

I quit mine around a year ago. Pacing was slowed down, the teacher was talking slowly and simplifying the language too much. Tasks such as writing in class and pushed into giving presentations in our target language (without much feedback) really felt like a waste of time and a money grab.

I quit, paid a student (She had no English ability) to talk me through the textbook, news articles and stories online. Exposure alone rapidly increased my oral ability and I learnt 100x faster than those still taking classes.

My ideal class would be 2 students, one teacher. Students can bounce ideas off each other, 100% oral with the teacher writing down mistakes and giving corrections. Though, this kind of class is impossible…

How’s your experience with classes been ?


In my experience, language classes usually proceed at the pace of the slowest student in the room, so if you’re not that person, you’re probably better off studying on your own.

The only time I’ve been in a language class environment was in high school and by sophomore year I’ve realized that I’m gonna have to do more than the curriculum if I wanted to get fluent, so I got a self study course to augment my learning and soon I was far outpacing everyone in the class. That was the beginning of my autodidactic language studies.


I found my french classes great for grammer and for writing, reading came naturally from that. I received enough feedback on my writing that I improved and learned. However, there was never enough speaking and listening, even simple instructions were given in English. Starting Lingq, my accent improved as well as my speaking and understanding conversation. Classes do have their place, but are only a part of language learning.


I was excited to take Spanish in high school. The first week or so was great because we learned simple conversation phrases, but then the teacher went right into to memorizing verb conjugation tables. I got frustrated and gave up then. You can’t just learn grammar out of context! At 37 I took up Portuguese and I learned without any formal instruction, not even italki. Now I’ve got lots of Brazilian friends and feel very comfortable with the language. I’m actually moving on and starting German now and I will learn it the same way. I learn at my own pace, read and listen and skip formal grammar study like the plague! I with the internet, the classroom has gone the way of the dinosaur

I enjoyed taking Spanish in high school and I think classes in general have their place, especially if the person needs an intro to the language, would be helped by guided instruction, has someone to bounce ideas off of, and the teacher is a very motivating influence. Related to that, it can be more fun and reinforcing in the same way going to the gym with others can help you stay with it in the beginning. Lastly, it is probably more helpful for the languages that are particularly inscrutable and alien from English learners, like Chinese.

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I’m in High School at the time and enrolled in a German course. Our teacher speaks great German, albeit with an American accent. As much as I support the idea that accents are OK as long as they can be understood, the German of our teacher or of other classmates is almost the only German that we hear.

I think this kind of corresponds to the point Steve makes in some of his videos about how it’s frustrating to be sticking around and listening to classmates when you could be moving in to real content sooner. But I suppose it’s also up to the students to seek out their own listening content.

In any case, our teacher is very energetic, but I feel that the class could be better. Just a little while ago the teacher even said “We do very little reading and listening in this class”.

When I started languages as a teenager at school I enjoyed English and Spanish lessons and in College, I studied Arabic and Portuguese. I enjoyed learning languages, so anything I could learn interested me. But I found there was too much theory, not enough practice. I’ve never been able to speak Arabic, even after 2 years of lessons, because it was only grammar and translation.

As an adult I found Portuguese and German group lessons just like you say: too slow, too simplified, not enough exposure, not enough time to speak. That’s when I realized language lessons at school were not that good. Plus, when you’re in a group with beginner or intermediate learners I find that it’s not a good quality exposure.

Now I have experience learning and teaching languages, I know that a lot of exposure and practice are essential. Now I can really choose how to learn I prefer to learn by myself the bascis and then practice with natives or a teacher that can also answer all my questions (which natives who are not prepared to teach their language can’t do). That’s what I’ve done with Italian.

As a teacher, I only teach formal grammar or writing if it’s what the student is asking for. We can learn so much from practice! We usually learn languages a way that’s is unnatural: 1st theory, then practice; 1st writing, then speaking.

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It’s so interesting to read a teacher’s view on this matter. Thanks for taking the time to write this! How do you conduct your classes without much theory? I often complain to myself about how much theory is thrown at kids in classes, but I wonder then “How could the teacher run the class in a way more like the way people use LingQ?”. I’d love to hear how you go about this.

With the advent of computers and the internet, I think the old methods of teaching and learning a foreign language have gone to the wayside. If you are truly motivated to learn a foreign language, you can access content on your own, reading and listening to whatever you choose from whatever is available. And for most languages there’s a lot available: reading blogs, forums, news articles, literature, even Twitter (I like using Twitter Search to look up and better understand how certain expressions are used); listening to daily news shows, tv series, films, videos; not to mention accessing online lexicons and language learning sites. Read and listen for whatever length of time and at whatever pace (and even rate of speed) you choose.

Add to that a good bit of discipline: keeping a journal or otherwise writing about something every day in your chosen language, eventually writing more and more as your skills improve to a point where you can write and express your own thoughts entirely in that language. Add to that: chatting online with people in their native language (This alone has been a big help for me. A good chat is like talking and writing at the same time). Add to that: finding the right people online who are willing to talk with you in their native language and can give useful feedback when you have questions. All of that surpasses the traditional classroom setting. I think literacy is the key, but having the opportunity to converse with people in their native language, as well as writing and corresponding, is the bottom line.

Unless you are the exceptional student who has access to the teacher (who preferably is a native speaker) outside of the classroom, whether that’s in the lab or at social events, or you are attending a special school where that language is spoken all day long, I hate to say it but, at least in my experience with the way languages are traditionally taught in the classroom, you’re probably not going to learn enough, even after 4 years, to carry on a real conversation, although you might learn how to say Pourriez-vous m’indiquer le chemin pour aller à la gare? well enough to be understood, but still not be able to understand when a person gives you directions.

As an anecdote, this: My nephew had had 4 years of Spanish in school and I hadn’t ever studied Spanish before. I had only ever taken French, which I never really learned to speak. During a trip to Argentina in 2008, for which I had very diligently taught myself Spanish over the previous 4 months using all kinds of resources, I was able to communicate and have conversations with people in Spanish, many of whom could not speak any English: cab drivers, people working in museums, restaurants, clothing stores and other businesses, while my nephew could barely put a sentence together. I told him that I had been teaching myself Spanish for 4 months. At first he was skeptical and then he was flabbergasted that I was actually able to speak Spanish with the cab driver while he couldn’t.

Since that time I have taken on other languages (namely Dutch) and I haven’t studied or spoken Spanish since. But I was really psyched when I got back from that trip. What that experience taught me was that languages can actually be self-taught and you don’t have to go through 4 painstaking years of Spanish class only to find that you’re unable to put it to any use.

But I know some people who swear by language classes. I know of at least one polyglot here on LingQ (who I don’t want to name or speak for here on the forum) who has learned a number of languages in a classroom setting.

I don’t think that grammar and theory that is taught in the classroom is necessarily a bad thing. I just think it needs to be applied in a way that is immediate and relevant, with lots of opportunity for practice with expressing your own thoughts through writing and speaking, so that when you go on a trip to Argentina you can actually speak the language. Otherwise there is a major disconnect between instruction and what is actually being learned.

There should also be a way for teachers to measure reading and listening skills with content that is guided by the teacher but ultimately chosen by the student. This is more difficult because it can place an undue burden on the teacher. Which is perhaps why gurkenwerfer’s teacher said that there is very little reading and listening in the class.

I would encourage gurkenwerfer to talk one-on-one with the German teacher to work out some sort of extra-credit activity outside the regular classroom, where reading and listening skills could be practiced and measured. Perhaps in a lab setting, choosing listening content from https://www.daserste.de/ (Extra 3 looks like a really fun show to watch). Or reading from a randomly chosen blog. I have stumbled upon some interesting blogs before, just by searching for a specific phrase. For example, a Google search for “nicht so recht zufrieden mit” brought me to the following website and blog:
https://www.die-berufsoptimierer.de/news/ . (By the way, I’m studying Dutch, not German. That was just an example.)

I’ve had a lot of fun learning Dutch. One of my favorite tv series is a Flemish show, Tabula Rasa (2017). Beau Séjour (2017) is another great Flemish series. And I’m a big fan of actor-director-auteur Alex van Warmerdam: De Noorderlingen (1992), Ober (2006), De laatste dagen van Emma Blank (2009), Borgman (2013). I’m also currently reading Zomerhuis met zwembad (2011) by Herman Koch. And I’m always working on reading Anne Frank’s diary, Het Achterhuis (1942-44), which is where my Dutch language journey began, although the language is more outdated and parts of it are more difficult to read.


Hi gurkenwerfer. If you’re talking about lessons at school with kids and teenager, I’d say that the first issue is that they don’t choose what they learn. So if they don’t enjoy the lessons it’s impossible for them to learn anything at all. If you give traditional lessons based on Grammar and exercises when they don’t really need to learn the language, very few of them will learn something. If the lessons are based on practice, games, discovering culture, then it will be more successful. Although the basis of learning is choosing what you learn, either because you like it or because you need it. Plus, kids don’t learn the same way as teenagers or adults. Theory with kids is totally useless.

As a learner, I think taking lessons with a teacher when you’re a total beginner ican a waste of time and money, unless you really enjoy it. You can find all the basics in the internet. The Assimil method is wonderful to learn on your own: small dialogues with the translation and basic explanations to understand. It’s enough to get to an intermediate level. Plus, if a person is not able to learn the basics of a language by herself, I’m not sure she will succeed at all. Maybe she’s not interested enough. Relaying a 100% on a teacher is not the best way to learn. Learners who are successful take lessons as a complement, but they do a lot by themselves: they read, watch movies, speak with natives, listen to songs, podcasts…

Unless they are highly motivated and they enjoy taking lessons from scratch, I usually work with students who already know the basics and can handle a very basic conversation. From that point it’s really easy to help them progress according to what they need. Some of them just want to talk with you and want you to give them some advice on what they can improve. Others do want theory, but as practice comes first, we’ll work on points they’re already familiar with, either because they tell me what they want or because I notice they are ready to do it. In any case they’ll already have built an intuitive grammatical basis.

Another important point is that theory comes in context. Actually, even in traditional lessons it could be that way. You can always go from observing in context to finding out theory. But not all text books do it that way and it’s easier for a teacher to just throw theory at the students out of nowhere and make them do formal exercices (what they call “practice”). When you learn something in context, it’s always easier to understand it and to remember it. So for me a professionnal lesson would be 1st: exposure & observation, 2nd: theory (and some exercices if you like that), 3rd: practice. And by practice I mean talking or writing on a topic that will unable you use what we’ve seen. And the best thing is to spend at least 2 lessons on the same point, that way you have time to review the lesson, assimilate and prepare yourself for next lesson.

I totally agree with you Brucenator. I know so many students who have learned formal French and speak like books! Then they don’t understand a word when they come to France because nobody speaks like that… We’ve associated Grammar and theory with formal language, but it’s not. Gammar is observing how the language works. Anyone who speaks a language has developped an intuitive Grammar that is often more relevant than what you find in textbooks. There’s a formal Grammar but also an informal Grammar. You need to learn what you need.

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Of course I know some people do like taking lessons with a group. If the teacher is dynamic and offers interesting content kids can find out they do like learning the language, even if at first they didn’t. I myself enjoyed a lot teaching to groups.

My experience with language classes is that it’s all too easy (and misleading) to generalise about them. Some I’ve attended have been shocking while others have been great. There are many variables that can impact on the effectiveness of a class: the teacher’s skills; the student mix; the time of year; one’s personal sense of wellbeing at the time, etc. At the moment I’m doing a formal class simultaneously with LingQs. I’m valuing the grammar and structure that the former provides, while enjoying the flexibility and informality of the latter. The one criticism I would make of LingQ (French) is that more effort could be made to standardise its vocabulary structure. For example, all dictionaries cite verbs in their infinitive form. This is universal. So it’s quite frustrating that LingQ frequently cites verbs in a variety of conjugated forms when a simple infinitive would suffice. This needs more work.