Learning a New Language? Don't Forget the Teacher!

By Sarah-Jane Williams

In today's digital age, where so many terrific resources are available online, it can be tempting to try and learn a new language without the help of a teacher. There are many self study guides, phrasebooks, online exercises, pronunciation tools, and more available out there, and all are really great for helping you to improve your linguistic ability. But you do still need a teacher. "Why?!" I hear you cry – let's break it down and look at some common questions:

"I have Loads of Foreign Friends Who I Practice With. Why do I Need a Teacher?"

Practicing your language skills with a native speaker is a great way to get in loads of practice, hear new vocabulary in context, and increase your confidence. It is very likely, however, that friends will not correct your errors. If they can understand you, they will generally let little mistakes and slips slide by – which is great for a friendship, but not so great for increasing fluency and accuracy.

A teacher will chat about a range of topics with you, but will also listen for recurring errors, make a note of problematic areas, correct your pronunciation and grammar, suggest ways that you can increase your vocabulary range, and plan further lessons to build on your existing knowledge.

A real danger with relying on friends alone is that any bad habits are repeated that often that they become entrenched in your mind and difficult to undo at a later stage when you realize your error. Teachers give constructive advice, address weaker areas, encourage you to develop, and dish out praise when you meet your learning aims!

"I Learn Lots of Words and Phrases from Music and TV. Why do I Need More Instruction?"

Listening to music and watching TV is an excellent way to pick up new words, hear things spoken in context, and get to grips with a whole range of different dialects and accents. Listening alone, however, does not allow you to practice your new words. And, you have no way of knowing whether your understanding is indeed correct. Slang, idioms, and colloquialisms feature highly in music and TV – each is perfect for an advanced learner who wants to start talking more like a native speaker BUT it is also important that people understand when informal speech is and is not appropriate.

A teacher will discuss the different ways in which we use language, provide realistic and useful examples, and may run through some role play scenarios to help you to truly understand how to speak. There are cultural considerations that may need exploring, and that human interaction is worth more than songs and television alone. You really don't want to be walking into a formal job interview, for example, relying on the words you've learnt in your favorite pop song!

"I Use Speech Software to Help my Pronunciation. How Can a Teacher Beat This?"

Listening to sounds is a brilliant way to ensure that you are speaking correctly. Listening to a problematic word can really help you to remember how to say it correctly. Such programmes cannot, however, correct you if you are still saying it wrong. The human ear can pick up those subtle errors that you may not even notice yourself. A teacher can also explain how to form the sounds using your mouth, teeth, and tongue, making it easier for you to create sounds that may not naturally occur in your own language. You can have a detailed study of phonics, rather than simply hearing a word spoken.

"There's Loads of Self Study Courses to Choose From – Surely I Don't Need a Teacher As Well?"

Self study course have loads of benefits when learning a language. You can study at your own pace, in any environment, and you follow a structured learning plan. They are a great supplement to any form of study – but they cannot replace a teacher. Self study cannot correct your errors. It cannot explain things to you in greater detail. It cannot add areas that you are interested in, and it cannot focus on your weak points.

A teacher will not spend unnecessary time on areas in which you are proficient and confident but they will address any problem areas and things that you find challenging to make sure that you really understand a language. A teacher can tailor your studies for YOU. Your studies are as unique as you are, and a teacher recognizes this, rather than adopting a one size fits all approach. We communicate and interact with people, not books, DVDs, CDs and websites. This is why you need another person as part of your learning experience.

Being taught by a teacher is a vital part of learning any new language. Online study means that you can still benefit from the experience, wisdom, character, and personality of a teacher with greater flexibility than ever. You can enjoy a range of exercises and teaching methods and techniques for numerous topics and grammar points, as well as considering different styles of speech and cultural considerations. You can study from the comfort of your own home, at a time and on a day that suits you without compromising any aspect of your development.

About the author

Sarah-Jane Williams is a teacher and writer from the UK, who currently lives in Thailand.

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