Monday, 27 July 2015

Learning languages in the classroom

I have had a couple of Russian classes now, and wanted to share my thoughts and experiences. I started my journey with Russian when I took a 'Beginners Russian' course back in 2006. This was before the internet had exploded with all language learning information available now, and I really didn't think there was any other way to learn a language. I also had a few books and CDs that I used (until I got bored of them anyway).

The first time around I took around 6/7 months of lessons (about 4/5 months before I went to Russia, and then a couple more months after). It was a good class in that I found the teacher helpful, she got us all talking and we left knowing all the basics. When I was in Russia I could do things like introduce myself, ask for directions, order a coffee, book an hour of internet use, read shop signs and so on. It was a fun group and I liked the other students. However, some of the problems I encountered are similar to ones I'm starting to notice again.

Cons of taking group lessons

- As a student in a group I have very little control over the speed the teacher goes at. I understand that this is how things have to work in a group. The teacher is working with students with many different abilities and learning styles, and it's difficult to keep going over the same things when the rest of the class is ready to move on. I'm quite slow when it comes to picking up new stuff, and often find we are moving on before I've really understood the last concept. 

- They are too long! For me anyway. Again I understand why they have to be the length they are. Most classes only meet once a week, we are working to a time-table and to make it worth everyone's time they really have to be longer than 40 minutes (my preferred maximum length of study time!). However, I find myself struggling to keep going after about 75 minutes (my class is two and a half hours), and I definitely start to zone out. I don't retain as much after this time and start giving (more!) wrong answers.  

-  The material we use has already been chosen. There's usually not much deviation from the book the teacher is working from. Sometimes the content is just not relevant (dialogues where I'm pretending to be a Russian businessman at a meeting for example!), and sometimes it's just not presented in a way I can understand.

- They are expensive. Even in a group the cost is probably £10 an hour (individual tuition starts at around £25 an hour, but I was quoted as much as £75 for an hour!). Compare this to something like italki (my tutor charges around £4.50 for 30 minutes but we usually talk for at least 40), and it seems very expensive. Of course the price I pay for a group class also covers use of a room, heating, electricity, and (in this case) materials. It's still alot though, particularly as you pay up front for a whole block of sessions - no trial lessons, no refunds if you're ill, and adding on travel costs as well all make italki seem far more attractive!

And the Pros!

- It's not all negative! Being in a group of fellow Russian language learners is nice, and it's good to interact with people in real life rather than through a screen. It's helpful when you're struggling with a concept to have people to share it with who can understand! It's also nice to be able to talk about languages and Russian without worrying you're boring anyone! I have no one in 'real life' to talk about learning a language with, so it does help with that feeling of isolation I know myself and other language learners feel sometimes.

- Instant correction is another plus. I struggle sometimes with pronunciation and the teacher so far has been very good at correcting us on this. It's also good to be able to get feedback straight away, to be able to ask 'how do you say this?' or to be told your intonation is 100% perfect (yes, I'm little smug about that...)!

- It's motivating me to study. I've paid the money, and made a commitment to the attend the classes so I'm putting in the time and doing the homework. This is the biggest reason I signed up to begin with. I wanted to continue with my Russian studies, but was finding it hard to be consistent. I needed some motivation, and to get back into a routine. The lessons are certainly helping me with that.

- The teacher is lovely. She tells us stories about where she comes from in Russia, and little anecdotes which add to the whole experience.


I'm not sure yet if I'll carry on after the initial lessons I've signed up for. Writing it all down has made me think hard about it. The money is a big part of it, but I also know that it's not the best way for me to learn a language, and wonder if I'll begin to get more frustrated as the class progresses. However, it has made me carve out a time for studying, and the motivation is definitely back which is what it was all about really. I will keep updating with my thoughts as the classes progress, and share any revelations I have along the way! 


  1. Privet Emma!

    Glad that the classes have helped get you back into a routine of Russian. Wow, 2.5 hours of class is a beast!!! It's amazing how much our expectations have changed with the rise of language exchange sites and apps. I think I'd only sign up for a language class again if it were a new language- the internet makes it so easy to get specific, targeted practice in my current languages.... when I get around to doing it, that is ;)

    By the way, have you heard about this free online course? I think you'd like it!

    1. Yes, it's very interesting to compare 'real' life lessons to italki (or similar online lessons) - makes you think. After I wrote this though I then went on to have a great (real life) lesson! We're doing a lot of reading at the moment which I love, and is probably my best skill (not sure if that's the right term, but you know what I mean). It's the speaking (pronunciation!) I need to work on. I haven't heard of the course you mentioned. Thanks for the link. It looks intense, but very interesting. Have you done it?

    2. Not yet. I found out about the course on someone else's website and was waiting and waiting for the course to be offered again. Maybe we'll be classmates in October :)

  2. Privet Emma! How are things going? Are you still involved with the Russian course? :)

    1. Sorry for not replying sooner. Yes, I signed up for the second lot of lessons, but I'm going to have a break for a few months now. I'm feeling a bit weary of Russian to be honest and think I need to take some time and recharge. How are you doing?

    2. Hi Emma! :) I'd missed your blog posts... not too many people out there writing about learning Russian. Glad things are okay.

      Recently I was kind of in the same boat- maybe not tired of the language but frustrated with it. I want to improve my skills to be able to use them somewhere like Ukraine, Russia, etc, but sometimes it feels like we'll be stuck here forever, which is really demotivating. When the only outlet for speaking Russian is spending time with in-laws or getting involved with local religious communities, well, yeah. No more desire to speak Russian ;)

      Anyways, hope you enjoy your break and get a chance to rest and unwind!

    3. Just added a short update! Have you tried italki? I do most of my speaking practice there. Or I just talk to my kids and drive them mad as they can't understand me! lol... I'm taking a break now, and will hopefully return refreshed in the new year! Have a great xmas and new year!

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