There are a lot of options available to learn a new language. Whether from a traditional class, an app, an audio course, online classes, or a computer program, each approach is different. So naturally, we have a lot of questions from students about the classes we offer at CR Languages, how they work, and why we teach things the way we do. In order address some of those common questions, we’ve put together a Q and A session with Julieta Rowles, Co-Founder, Academic Director, and lead Spanish instructor.
Is learning a language difficult?
Yes, learning a language is difficult. It may be easier for some people, but it is never easy.
It might also be easier if you have studied another language before, but you still have to study and learn everything like everybody else.
What’s your methodology?
We don’t have just one, we adjust our teaching methods depending on what we think is the best for each student. Everyone is different. Not only do we learn in different ways, but people also have different personalities which have a tremendous effect on how people learn. That’s one of the reasons our classes are so small, so that the instructor can get to know each student and help them in different ways.
Do you use English in class?
If it’s necessary, yes. It also depends on the students. Some like to try in the language they are studying first and use as little English as possible. Others get very anxious when they don’t/can’t understand right away, especially if everybody else in the group does understand, in which case it’s better to use English.
Do you teach grammar?
Yes, we do.
Why? There are so many courses that don’t teach grammar at all these days.
We don’t teach grammar so that the students learn grammar. By saying we teach grammar, it means that we teach general rules so that the student can use the rules and apply them to whatever they need. For example, it would be impossible to teach every single verb out there in class, but if you teach students to conjugate one verb then they can conjugate all the verbs that are like that one. But in order to do that, you have to teach and explain the grammar behind it.
What is ‘full immersion’?
Some people interpret full immersion as not using any English at all and not learning any formal grammar or syntax. Students simply sit in class, the teacher talks to them in the language, and students try to respond in the foreign language. In most cases, they don’t use a coursebook in class (if they use a book in class, it is usually a reader) and students are not supposed to take notes or anything like that. English is not used even if it results in getting hung up for hours on the meaning of one word. The idea behind this methodology is that we learn the language like children learn languages. This is what I call the ‘new age methodology’.
This may be effective for some people, especially if they are living in the country where the language is spoken and use it every day, but to be honest, I’m not convinced it is the best way for every situation and every learning style.
In our classes, we incorporate full immersion to the extent that everything, including explanations and materials, is in the target language. We start our intro classes by teaching students how to say: ‘I don’t understand’, ‘Can you explain that again?’, ‘How do you say something in English?’, ‘What does something mean?’, etc. This gives students the tools they need to start using the language right away and to use it correctly.
We also teach grammar and syntax because it speeds up the learning process. As adults, we can generally grasp and understand abstract ideas, and learning a set of rules saves a lot of time and anguish. But, as I said before, everything is explained using the target language, not English, so it’s still very challenging.
In our situation here in Boise, all of our students have a limited amount of time to dedicate to learning another language, so if by saying a word in English helps to save time, we do it. Of course, saying that we use a little bit of English does not mean that we use English all the time, not at all.
How long does it take to learn a language?
It varies with each the student and their ability in studying a language, the amount of dedication they put in, etc. We have students that can speak pretty well after 2 years. After 2 years, nobody is going to be considered bilingual and they still need a lot of practice, but they can pretty much function on their own in any situation. In Spanish, for example, we have 6 levels where we teach grammar. After that, we have classes for advanced students where we read Latin American and Spanish classics, and the students can read and understand them.
So, can you describe a typical class?
Sure. After the first class, students come back with homework. The first thing we do is chat for a few minutes to warm up, we then correct the homework, clear up any questions from previous classes, and then we usually open the book and cover something new. After that, we do written practice and then some oral practice. We might also have a listening exercise or a reading assignment. In a two-hour class we typically cover a grammar topic, we talk, we write, and we listen or read. And every class we review stuff from previous classes.
What are the pros and cons of a small group?
I don’t think there are cons when it comes to learning. In our small classes, everybody gets a chance to read, to talk, to complete a written exercise, ask questions, etc.
After a couple of classes, the instructor can tell what the strengths and weaknesses are for each student and can assign different activities having that in mind.
Teachers also learn what each student’s goals are, why they are studying, etc. It’s not the same for somebody that wants to use a second language at work as it is for somebody that just wants to use it when traveling or just have something to do because they are retired. We don’t necessarily expect different results for students learning for different reasons, but it’s not surprising if that’s the outcome.
From my experience, the perceived cons of a small group class come from the student’s point of view and their personality. In a big class, if you don’t want to participate, you probably won’t. Here everybody must talk and it takes courage to talk in front of others, possibly making mistakes or maybe not even understanding what they are supposed to do. And the more the class advances, the more differences in level there can be.
Although this might sound like a cliché, the only way to learn a language is by practicing what you’ve learned and studied. Making mistakes and asking questions after doing homework are all a part of the process.
The more you study outside of class the more you can participate in class, and the more fun you have.
Do people quit?
All the time!
Usually, people quit because they thought it would be easier and they don’t want to dedicate the time it takes. In other words, it wasn’t something that they really wanted.
Other people just give up because they don’t think they can do it.
Can anybody learn?
Yes, of course. The people who quit simply didn´t give themselves enough time. Sometimes they have to learn how and what to study first, but it takes time and dedication.
Do you fail students?
Yes, I think that in 5 years, we failed 3 students in total.
What do they have to do?
Whether you fail the final exam or you barely pass the exam, I recommend some students retake the same level.
It is not easy as a teacher to say that, nor for the students to hear it, but when the student really wants to learn, they understand and actually do retake the same level.
If you want to learn, it is not a matter of just passing and going through the levels. In fact, if you barely passed one level, you will most likely be lost in the following. That means that you are not going to be participating much or be able to use the new material, and that is why we sometimes recommend retaking the same level.