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When should you quit language classes?

when to quit language classesClasses can be a great way of getting good, consistent input in your language learning journey. For many people, myself included, learning stagnates without a push to keep going (and there’s nothing like having paid for classes to make sure you go, and therefore learn). But sometimes the classes are not worth your precious time and hard-earned money.

I’m sure everyone, at some point in their lives, has been in a class that was simply moving too quickly or two slowly. Perhaps you aced biology and didn’t get why the teacher was explaining photosynthesis yet again. Or maybe nothing your biology teacher said made any sense, but when you got home and your mum/brother/cousin explained it to you, it all clicked into place.

Mass education is always going to have a mix like this in a class, even if classes are grouped in levels.

And actually, it’s not always a bad thing. For starters, a good teacher will address this issue when they’re planning their lessons, thinking about ways to help the weak students and push the strong ones. Moreover, being a weak student for that level can be excellent motivation to work hard and catch up with the rest of the class. Stronger students can likewise compete to stay at the top.

However, sometimes the pace is not just a bit out of sync, sometimes it’s so far off that you need to stop attending classes.

If your class is totally above your level, you’re going to spend a lot of time feeling lost or confused. You’ll feel like the language is too hard. It’s not. Anyone can learn a language, but we all progress at different rates. You’ve been thrown in at the deep end of the swimming pool before you’re ready. You need a little more practice at the shallow end and before you know it you’ll be able to move up. That’s it. Just like learning to swim, dropping down a level will make you feel more comfortable, as well as broaden your knowledge on details you felt like you whizzed through before, and ultimately increase your confidence learning and using Vietnamese.

On the flip side, if your class is moving too slowly this is also when you should stop attending. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that these classes are still better than nothing, but if you leave every class frustrated and fed up because classes are moving as slow as the slowest student or you’re staring at the clock waiting for class to finish, it’s time to quit.

A different class, a private class one-on-one with a teacher or taking a new approach like a language exchange could be just what you need to spice things up again and keep moving forward.

4 ways to get the most out of your language classes

Making the most of class timeI like attending classes. Some people prefer the structure it provides while others like self-study or learning by listening. For me a combination of these methods, using a mixture of focus and chaos, works best.

So, what can you do to ensure you’re making the best use of your time with a teacher?

1. Only speak Vietnamese

It’s scary at first, but it pushes you to learn because you have to think how to explain a word you’re missing rather than flipping back to English all the time. Sometimes you’re going to speak to someone who can’t speak English so you might as well get used to thinking around the problem.

While sticking to only speaking your target language, by all means use gestures and actions to help describe something. I certainly do.

Moreover, don’t be afraid of making mistakes when you speak in classes but rather welcome them as they’re a chance to learn. Once you’ve slipped up once you’ll remember never to make that particular mistake again. I like practicing new vocab and structures in the classroom because I get this feedback. My friends often don’t tell me when I’m wrong which means I’ll keep repeating the mistake until I am corrected.

2. Prepare for class

At first I didn’t do much with the course material before or after class. Then I had a classmate who spoke a little Vietnamese and even less English and so couldn’t easily understand the teacher’s explanations in class. He had to look up all the words he didn’t know before coming to class. I tried this myself and found the benefits worth the effort. Here’s my reasoning:

Advantages

  • You feel more confident. There’s nothing worse than going to class and feeling bombarded by too much new material. You’ve already got a head start on the new vocabulary.
  • Fewer words are totally new to you, so you can focus more on how to say and use them correctly.
  • By looking words up in the dictionary, you’re involved in learning so you’re more likely to remember them than if you just listen to your teacher’s explanation.

Disadvantages

  • It’s boring and takes a lot of time (read below for a way to streamline your approach).
  • The meanings of words aren’t always clear, especially when word has more than one meaning or there are compound words (when you need two words together for it to actually have meaning, eg. đại học). It can be difficult to know what to look up in the dictionary when you have 3-4 words you don’t know in a row. However, even if you don’t find all of the new words, you’ve still found more than you knew before and you’ve got the rest marked out to ask your teacher about.

As it’s not particularly interesting, I timebox my approach. First I take 5 minutes to read through the next part of the book and simply underline all the words I don’t know. Later in the day, or even the next, I take 10-15 minutes go back and look up the words I’ve underlined. Following this method, I’d say I have the general idea of 60-70% of new vocabulary before I go to class, for just 15-20 minutes work two or three times a week.

3. Learn vocab after class

Once you’re clear on your vocabulary’s meaning and how to use it, make flashcards and learn it. Practice using it in conversations and your writing. It’s important to do this after class, not before, as to ensure you don’t a word incorrectly and then have to undo that and relearn it later. (You really want to avoid this!)

How does learning new vocabulary after class help you to make the most of class time? Simple, it reduces the need for repetition of material you’ve already covered. Next time the word comes up you will know it, the teacher won’t need to explain it again and everyone can move on.

The final, and most important thing, you can do to ensure you’re getting your money’s worth from your classes is to ask the teacher questions.

4. Ask questions

If you’re like me, it might sometimes feel awkward or embarrassing to raise your hand in class and ask a question. You might prefer to wait until the teacher pauses or invites questions, or ask privately in the break time. All of these are fine – just make sure if you want to know something, that you do ask your teacher!

By preparing for class as above, you should have already have some things you want the teacher to clarify. If they don’t cover your question in their explanation or examples, ask while the topic is still relevant. Your question, and the teacher’s answer, can help other students too.

You don’t have to limit it just to what you’re studying, keep a list and ask your teacher any question about the language or even questions about the culture of Vietnam.

A teacher’s secret: I like it when my students ask questions. It shows they’re smart and serious about learning, and that I’m doing my job well because they feel comfortable asking me lots of questions.

Access to a teacher, an expert in what you’re learning, is the whole point of taking classes. Any native speaker can (usually) correct you, help make your speech more natural and many other things, but they don’t know the ins and outs of their own language. A good teacher does.

In summary: Ways of making the most of class time

My four top tips are: only speak Vietnamese (or whatever language you’re learning) in the classroom, prepare for class, learn vocab after class and ask your teacher questions.

Why you should learn to read Vietnamese from the beginning

Đọc đi! Why you should learn to read a foreign language from Day 1 Vietnamese’s romanised script is a little deceptive. It looks familiar but many of the sounds are totally different. Our recent interviewee, Adam, shared one example of where this can go very wrong.

Let’s look at the problems caused by not starting to read early in your learning journey.

Reading problems

When I first arrived in Vietnam, it was as a traveller. I thought I might stay but I wasn’t sure. I had an abridged phrasebook with me and I learnt 1, 2, 3, 10 (chục), rice and thank you on the bus over, before it got too crowded. The following day I learnt the rest of the numbers and some more food items. However, as I had no idea how to pronounce these words with all their ‘squiggles’ I learnt how to say them from the pronunciation guide provided in the book. While this meant I was understood (thanks in part to context, I’m sure), when I later came to study Vietnamese in a classroom, it caused an embarrassing problem…

I couldn’t read numbers written in word form.

I still remember the first time I saw ‘bốn’ on a page. I was shocked. I read it out slowly in disbelief before realising it was in fact the number 4. This phenomenon is not limited to numbers though, I learnt the word ‘khóc’ (cry) from a friend and was similarly staggered when I first saw it written down until I again read it out. It’s a good job Vietnamese is so phonetic!

Pronunciation problems

The second problem with not learning to read, and this will apply to languages that use a different script too, is that you might make errors when transcribing how a word is pronounced.

Again, I can offer an example from my experience. I started some Korean classes recently and this is my first time learning a new alphabet. After a couple of lessons I was able to read, albeit very slowly. My teacher has a habit of calling on people to read things from the book. But because I’m slow at reading, I wrote a phoneticisation next to the sentences in case I got called on.

While this meant I could read a little quicker, it wasn’t until I got home and wrote some sentences on lang-8 that I realised I had misread an ‘o’ for an ‘a’, thus pronouncing the word for ‘I’ totally wrong.

So there we have two reasons, with examples, why you should learn to read in a foreign language from Day 1.

Over to you: Have you had any problems reading Vietnamese? Have you ever learnt a language with a different script?

2 ways of translating words that aren’t in the dictionary

Sometimes you come across a word that you can’t find in the dictionary. Perhaps you’ve tried explaining to a native speaker but you’re not able to describe the exact word you’re aiming for.

What to do?

1. Use Wikipedia

For example, I wanted to know what the skin condition ‘eczema’ was in Vietnamese. I brought up the English Wikipedia page for eczema, then scrolled down to the Languages section of the side bar and selected Vietnamese. This brought up the equivalent page and there it is: viêm da (though actually this seems to be skin conditions in general).

2. Find a picture, then ask a native

Sadly, the Vietnamese Wikipedia is lacking a few articles. Another method I’ve used is pulling up a google image of what I want to describe or drawing a sketch, then showing it to a native speaker and asking what it was.

crochet is đan móc

Crochet is đan móc

Over to you: What do you do when you can’t find a word in the dictionary?

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