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Online language learning vs. language school courses

Online language learning vs. language school courses

Never before have so many people started learning a language online, from home, as this year. 2020 is a breakthrough in this respect. The size of this shift is undeniable – it is enough to refer to the pandemic. Today, we look at the pros and cons of traditional and online learning.

Different forms of online language learning

E-learning, homeschooling, online language courses – remote education has many names. Learning via the Internet is nothing new. Until recently, it was treated only as a supplement to traditional education. For months, however, we have been observing a change in attitudes.

The effectiveness of remote learning was demonstrated in 2014 by Professor David Pritchard, in his article “International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning”. Research by this professor at MIT has shown that people who attend online courses exhibit the same level of knowledge, if not better, than school students.

This is undoubtedly good news during the lockdown era, when learning a language at home has become the primary form of education for many. The need to switch to online learning has resulted in the dynamic development of tools to facilitate such education.

Let’s look at the different forms of distance learning. Have you had the opportunity to test all of them? What can be said about their effectiveness?

E-learning – school at home

COVID-19, a virus that surprised the world and closed schools for a long time, has forced teachers, administrators and teachers to look for home-learning solutions. According to UNESCO, the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in limited access to schools for approximately 70% of the world’s student population. Millions of people have switched to remote learning.

In most cases, classic lessons or language courses have simply been transferred to online formats. The teacher in the classroom, standing in front of the students, was replaced by the teacher on the computer screen. Applications such as Skype and Teams are booming. Zoom has become a market hit.

Unfortunately, the traditional approach to online learning in many cases assumes a faithful reproduction of its classroom counterpart with the use of modern technology. Most of these classes do not differ much from traditional language courses and traditional lessons. Remote language learning understood in this way has to face a number of limitations, related to e.g. a weak wi-fi signal, or the limited possibilities of interaction with a teacher or tutor. These types of online language courses work best as individual lessons.

Mobile applications and courses

Various types of online language courses had been created long before the coronavirus. Tools such as SuperMemo have been operating on the market for years, successfully using modern technologies and interactive solutions. Mobile applications and courses are designed from primarily for home education, so they take full advantage of the benefits of remote learning, such as:

  • the possibility of adjusting the educational path to individual abilities,
  • comfort of choosing the time for lessons according to a private schedule,
  • frequency of repetitions optimized for a given student, which makes it easier to maintain focus during remote learning,
  • huge variety of courses available on one device.

According to the developer of the RescueTime application, we use mobile devices for an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes a day (with 20% of the most active users spending more than 4.5 hours a day on them). Considering that we spend a lot of time with a smartphone in our hands anyway, it is worth using at least part of this time for something useful, e.g. learning a language.

Of course, no application, even the most advanced one, can do the job for the student. Therefore, when learning a language remotely, you should focus on being systematic.

Podcasts, streaming platforms, games and more

The Internet also provides a lot of English-language content – pop culture learning aids that are worth using. Listening to podcasts, or watching series in a foreign language ​​with subtitles, fit into the concept of learning through immersion and entertainment.

You can listen to podcasts while, for example, washing the dishes. It is worth adding educational value to the evening’s entertainment with your favourite series by watching episodes with foreign subtitles. You can also try interesting online language learning games, e.g .:

  • Scrabble online – online version of the well-known board game that can be played in different languages ​​- it is a great way to expand your vocabulary and also a great way to have a nice autumn evening.
  • Deponia – an adventure game with a lot of dialogue, which draws you in with cartoon visuals, interesting puzzles and an original sense of humour. The in-game audio is available in German and English, but you can also choose subtitles in 16 languages ​​(there are also subtitles in Polish).
  • Civilization – a series of strategy games in which you build the power of your civilization by being its ruler for several centuries. What works in favour of the game in the context of language learning? The large amount of text: descriptions of civilizations, artefacts, etc. A gaming classic, worth playing when you have mastered at least the basics of a given language. On Steam you will find different versions of the game, in many language variants.

If you want to learn more about learning languages with games, check our article “Playing games to learn a language”.

Advantages and disadvantages of online language learning

Is learning a language at home the ideal solution? No. Every method has its pros and cons. It is worth finding out about lots of them before deciding on a specific mode of acquiring knowledge.

ADVANTAGES:

  • Save time and money – E-learning in any form can save you the time you would normally have to spend on commuting and traffic jams. When learning a language online, all you need is access to the device of your choice and the Internet. It is also worth mentioning that many applications, such as SuperMemo, also enable offline language learning at home. All you need to do is download the course to your smartphone or computer.
  • Online courses or remote language learning applications are usually cheaper than classroom courses. In SuperMemo, monthly access to over 200 courses costs only EUR 9.90 per month.
  • Greater flexibility – by using the application, you have the possibility to adjust the intensity of the course to your skills. In SuperMemo, you are supported by an algorithm that adjusts the frequency of material repetitions to your individual predispositions and pace of remembering. Online language learning also means the freedom to choose when to study – you don’t have to adapt to the group. It is you who decides when and where to start. Live video lessons are an exception.
  • Access to teaching materials from anywhere with Internet access.
  • Learning conditions – students choose them themselves, which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, if, for example, it is difficult to concentrate at home with children running around. However, this does not change the fact that you do not have to adapt to anyone and you can organize your perfect study spot.

DISADVANTAGES:

  • The need to develop self-discipline – when learning a language at home, you have to develop a passion and work on regularity, because this is the basis for success both in learning a language online and in language school courses. However, at home you are not supervised by a teacher, so sometimes it is harder to mobilize yourself to work.
  • Technological barrier – still present, especially among the elderly.
  • Online courses’ reputations – online course certificates tend to be poorly regarded. Fortunately, when it comes to learning foreign languages, it is not diplomas that are most important, but real-life skills. The increasing popularity of online learning also means that the approach toward online language lessons is changing.

Advantages and disadvantages of learning at a language school

Huge numbers of people during the coronavirus era began to use various forms of remote education to a greater extent. This forced change in the mode of learning has contributed to general reflection on traditional teaching. Will it be replaced by online lessons? The future will show. Despite the current circumstances, classroom lessons, including language lessons, still have many supporters. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of traditional language courses.

ADVANTAGES:

  • First of all, direct access to the teacher’s / tutor’s experience and knowledge – this is one of the greatest advantages of classroom courses. When you’re able to ask the teacher a question during class, you don’t have to waste time looking for answers and hints on your own.
  • Mutual motivation – learning in groups can be mobilizing, healthy competition between students often helps to rise to a higher level.
  • Easier to overcome the language barrier – while learning in school, in classroom lessons, you can use the language in practice, while interacting with the teacher and course participants.
  • Opportunity to work in groups – you will develop your teamwork skills better during courses at a language school, and these types of skills will be useful, not only for acquiring language competences.
  • Discipline – it is easier to find it when you have to face periodic tests verifying your knowledge, or when you know the teacher might ask you a question.

DISADVANTAGES:

  • Waste of time – you have to spend a lot of time commuting. You also have to adapt your schedule to the timetable.
  • Costs – these are often higher than in the case of e-learning, because the price of full-time courses includes the teacher’s remuneration. When you use an app and online language courses, this cost disappears.
  • More stress in confrontation with other students – which most often results in a language barrier – for some, this barrier can be difficult to overcome.

5 tools to help you learn a language at home

If you decide to learn a language online, you should find out about some extremely helpful tools.

  • Google Translate – an intuitive and free tool that can be successfully used as a dictionary. The impressive database of languages ​​makes the application built into the browser helpful, both in learning popular languages, e.g. German or English, as well as more exotic ones, such as Catalan or Hindi.
  • LyricsTraining – a language learning app with music clips – learn vocabulary by karaoke.
  • SuperMemo – online language learning courses based on the SuperMemo spaced repetition method, which facilitates permanent remembering and making systematic progress.
  • LanguageTool – a simple search application that checks the correctness of the written language, catching both spelling, grammatical and stylistic errors.
  • Grammarly – another application that works well as an assistant that detects language errors, typos and grammar errors in real time. It can be added to the Chrome search engine and used for free (in the basic variant).

Between learning a language at home and in the classroom

There isn’t one, right way to master a foreign language. It is worth using several methods that complement each other. You can support learning in courses with SuperMemo’s spaced repetition method. It is also worth exposing yourself to the foreign language as often as possible, e.g. by listening to foreign-language podcasts or watching tv series in original language versions.

Online language learning tools perfectly complement traditional lessons and vice versa. A real treasure is if you can find a language teacher who can make their classes more varied using interactive teaching aids. It is worth testing a number of tools and finding your favourites. Above all, it is never worth taking your knowledge for granted when searching for the optimal path in self-development.