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Mar 5, 2012

Are Language Classes Useful?

Language classes. It seems like half of the people I talk to think they are a complete waste of time, while the other half think they are the only way to learn a language. In reality, they are neither a waste nor the only method, but just how useful are they?

On their own, language classes really don't achieve much. The most extreme classes I have seen met five times a week for one hour each time. This totals to five hours in class, plus a few extra hours for homework and studying. That's not much time in the "grand scheme" of language learning. Furthermore, the progression of the class will be slowed to a snail's pace and each individual will only get a small portion of class time for their own practice.

Additionally, in the beginning stages of learning Japanese, you will find yourself spending ages learning the most basic elements, such as the hiragana. Learning the hiragana really doesn't take long at all if you go about it the right way, but in a classroom setting everything is learned the same way - mindlessly cramming it in. To compound this issue, beginner's courses are also going to be full of people who are just toying around with the idea of learning the language. They'll slow the class down even more.  For this reason, I don't recommend taking beginner's courses at all. They really are a waste of your time.

Thus far I've only said bad things about language classes, but here are some of the good elements. First and foremost, time spent in the class is time spent with Japanese - always a good thing. Secondly, putting money into learning and having classes to attend can help to keep you motivated in your learning. Another great facet of classroom learning is gaining a guide and mentor. Once you get beyond beginner's level courses, you'll find that most language teachers are native speakers, which means you are gaining access to the best resource available for that language by taking the course.

Lastly, the course curriculum itself serves as a review and solidifying element to your Japanese knowledge. All of the grammar that you have been learning via immersion will reappear in class and your understanding of it will increase. The same goes for vocabulary. All of the things you've been discovering during immersion will come up in class, allowing you another opportunity to learn and remember. If you treat your class as another part of immersion, then it will serve you well.

To sum things up, language classes certainly have their benefits, but also have their drawbacks. To get the most out of language courses, keep these things in mind:
  • Remember that immersion is number one
  • Skip beginner courses, for they'll bore you to death and get you nowhere
  • Make full use of your instructor: ask questions, have chats after class for speaking practice, etc
  • Apply your self-teaching methods to the class
  • Remember that immersion is number one

Essentially, treat the class as a side-element to your learning. Your main learning is done via immersion and self-study; the class only serves as your window to more immersion and an opportunity to get your questions answered. In the event that you either live in Japan or have friends that speak Japanese, then classes hold little benefit for you. If, however, you do not have access to native Japanese speakers, then taking a class could open that window for you.

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1 comment:

  1. Snail's pace? When I was studying it for a semester it was rapid. The teachers were merciless. I'm glad I used the Learning the Kana book, as in class it was indeed just "cramming" it in with no helpful tips provided to remember them.

    Immersion = number one.