Once a student complained to me: “Y’know, I’m just not making enough progress. It’s been a year now and I feel like I haven’t moved.”
Have you ever felt this way?
The funny thing is how he saw the whole learning process. I replied:
“You’ve only had about 12 lessons this whole year, and you’re not doing much else outside of our sessions. That’s about 20 hours. You’re actually doing fine considering how much time you’re spending on your English.”
In his eyes, he was thinking that he’d been learning English for a whole year. He was travelling a lot and decided not to study much on his travels.
I saw 20 hours.
That’s just nowhere near enough.
I spoke about this topic with my Czech teacher:
“You need about 800 to 1000 learning hours to reach proficiency level in a language. That sounds daunting. Do you tell your students how many hours they really need in order to reach their desired level..?”
She looked at me, surprised:
“No, NO, David! If we told them that, we wouldn’t have any students left.”
We of course then laughed about it, but it’s true – depending on how advanced you want to be, learning a language requires hundreds of hours.
The New Trend At Language Schools
Despite the fact that you need lots of hours’ practice in order to learn a language, many private language schools are going in the opposite direction, quite often in response to ‘client feedback.’
In order to fit with your modern working lifestyle, there are more and more once-a-week classes on offer.
Do you see the problem here?
For instance, last year a student told me she wanted to come to her class just once a week:
“Twice a week is too much time. It means I need to leave work early to find a park, and then it takes a while to drive back home.”
I think the schools are making a mistake – instead of downsizing their offer to attract the less motivated students, they should actively promote the need to invest a lot of time into your learning.
They should be seeking to attract the most motivated students.
But there are some economic concerns. A typical once a week semester course will cost around 7000KC in the Czech Republic. Some students will think: “No, I won’t pay more, I’ll pay for the cheapest course.”
The irony of learning is that you’d probably reach your goals quicker and for less money by learning more intensely – you’ll forget much more by coming only once a week.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to study with a teacher or that you can’t mix up your methods. If you decide not to study formally and instead go out and speak in pubs and at English events, your overall level will not improve much without a number of active hours each week.
In other words, teacher or no teacher, you need to find the time for your learning.
3 Big Tips To Kick Off The New Academic School Year
With the new semester beginning across Europe, keep in mind the following principles if you want to take a big step forward in your learning:
1. Invest Time In Your Learning
Once a week isn’t enough if you want to make a lot of progress. Aim for 5 hours minimum per week, preferably 10.
If you are attending a once a week course, it means you’re responsible for finding another 8 hours or so each week. But it’s not that hard:
- Reading a book or your favourite website – devote 30 minutes a day
- Writing a story or practice email for work or an exam – that can be an hour a week
- Attending a seminar or workshop in English for listening practice – that’s another hour
- Speaking at English events and parties – easily another 4 hours
- Then you can do some traditional grammar or vocabulary study for 10 minutes a day
- For extra conversation practice you can find either a professional teacher or a conversation buddy through websites such as Italki.
2. Be Clear About What Kind Of Course And School You Want To Attend
Look, not everyone attending a course at a language school is serious about improving their English. Some just have 90 minutes spare each week and would like to go out and perhaps meet some new people and make some new friends. And that’s fine.
You can tell these people by how often they speak their own language in class – if you’re with a group that can’t speak the language you’ve all paid for (ie English), then either tell them off or change class (or school). Definitely tell your teacher about it and maybe you can find a way to join a more motivated group.
To compare, last semester I had one class that were very language-curious. They asked me questions that required me to follow up, and they took the time to email me to further the interaction and discussion. And when we had our end of term pub session they all seemed to enjoy speaking English and have fun in English.
Another group I had didn’t like speaking English with each other. A few even told me: “I don’t like speaking English with other Czechs.” Well, to be honest, schools need to do a lot more to make sure they don’t enrol or that they offer them individual lessons instead.
If you’re attending a group course, then be prepared and enthusiastic to join in. If you all work hard together you’ll make a lot more progress – regardless of who your teacher is.
Things to look out for when you choose your course/school:
- Does the school organise parties, events and extra workshops and seminars for learners?
- Does the school communicate with students in English or another language? The best schools and the best teachers will speak to you in English (or whatever language you want to learn) the moment you walk through the door
- Do the other students speak to you in English or in another language? Don’t stay in a class where they can’t speak the language you’ve all paid to speak!
3. Get The Benefit Of Compound Learning
This is the secret of learning. I’ve asked all my zouk teachers how they reached their high professional standard, and it’s the same as learning a language. First, it’s a ton of work.
But secondly, here’s what I noticed:
My zouk teachers will give lessons for a few hours a day.
Then they’ll practise with their partner for about 10-20 hours a week.
And then when there’s a Latin party on a Friday evening, they’ll be dancing the whole time, from 10pm to 1am, and sometimes till 6am in the morning!
All this practice means their understanding and performance doesn’t just grow, it soars – each hour is added onto the previous hour.
This is what you don’t get from once a week learning.
If you do what the top learners do, it means each day you’re adding to your previous knowledge and understanding.
Stand Up Or Walk Away..?
Is this all daunting?
Does it scare you?
Only about 1% of learners in any field really make it to the very top level. If you want to just have some fun, maybe learn a little each week, then that’s fine.
But if you want to make great progress, your first goal is to devote 10 hours per week to your learning.
How you find those 10 hours is totally up to you.
It might seem strange at first, but once you do your 10 or more hours a week, you’ll enjoy the ride and definitely feel like you’re making progress.