Updated: Jun 11
Here is an overview of 5 ways you may be wasting your money on language classes. That’s right. Your money may be heading straight down the drain if you're spending it on language classes. Let me explain how.
1. You're Not Researching or Screening the Teacher/Class
The first way you can throw your money out the window when taking language classes is by not researching or screening the teacher or class. When you are ready to start taking classes to learn a new skill or improve your current language skills, it’s very important to know what kind of class you’re getting into.
The first thing you should research is what level of the language is being taught or that the teacher has experience with. This may sound obvious, but many learners don’t do this and they end up in a class, where a) they can’t follow a thing because it is above their level or b) it is super boring and they are not learning anything new because the material is too easy. Teachers also have experience teaching at different levels. It’s important to know if your teacher is experienced at your level, so you can get the lesson you are paying for. For example, if your teacher typically teaches beginners, but you are an advanced level student, they may be simplifying their language simply due to habit, and you will not get the native-level input you need.
The next thing you should research is what style of instruction will be used in the classes. Be familiar with your own learning styles to figure out if this class is right for you. Are you a visual learner? Auditory? Kinesthetic? Make sure you have a teacher who understands this or uses a variety of methods. For example, if you are a visual learner, and your teacher lectures the whole time, you may not pick up too much. In addition to this, is this a class where you have a say in the learning process or is it more authoritative where the teacher dictates how and what the lessons are about?
Finally, to find the right teacher for you, you should know a little bit about their personality and their comfort and openness with different topics. If you want to discuss more taboo topics, such as politics or religion, make sure your teacher is comfortable with this. If you want to learn the gender-neutral pronouns of your target language, make sure your teacher is up to date with what is culturally appropriate for their LGBTQ community. In many situations, you can have a trial lesson with a teacher, a discovery call or see a video introduction. For example, the online platform, italki, with thousands of teachers available for over 100 languages, has the option to message the teacher, watch an introduction video, and take a trial lesson before booking a full lesson. Make sure you do this!
2. Not Doing the Homework or Review
The next way you can waste money on language classes is something you are responsible for, doing the homework! Why would this waste your money? Let’s put it this way. You had a great lesson. You learned a lot. You have another lesson next week. You did NOT review what you learned. Studies suggest that people lose an average of 50-70% of new information after 24 hours and even more so after one week. So, one week later, you didn’t review, and you have forgotten over 70% of what you learned. So what does your teacher have to do? Teach you that 70% all over again (Finkenbinder, 1913).
It’s normal to have to review material class after class, but if you are LEARNING the same material (not a quick review) each time, you are wasting a serious amount of time, energy and money. Believe me, I’ve done it several times. It’s a waste of time for you, but also for your teacher and fellow students, because the teacher likely made a whole new lesson plan for the next class, but is not able to teach it. Teachers give you homework for a reason. It’s not to make you feel overwhelmed with your lack of time throughout the week (I know! We’re busy!). It’s so the information that you learned doesn’t disintegrate into thin air before they see you again. So just do the homework! At the very least, read through the new information before the next day and again a day or two later, and again before the next class. You can do it! Thank me later.
3. Having Classes Too Spaced Out
This is closely related to #2. If your classes are too spaced out, such as more than two weeks apart, you may not be able to hold onto the new information that long. Your teacher may also not be able to remember how you were doing, because, let’s be honest, hopefully they have other students besides you! It’ll be like a discovery call or intro lesson all over again.
If you’re going to have long time intervals between classes, make sure to be doing some sort of homework consistently in the meantime. Use the new vocabulary and grammar that you learned frequently and in memorable experiences. This brings us to the next point.
4. Not Getting Additional Language Experience Outside of Class
It’s great that you are now doing your homework, attending class consistently and you’ve found the perfect teacher and class for you. But wait, now you are getting a little too comfortable with this teacher-student atmosphere. You can discuss these topics your teacher has prepared for you, but can you go to the store and speak with a native speaker? If you travel to the country, will you be able to find your way around? Rent a room?
It’s important to get additional language experience outside of your class for two reasons. One, getting this experience will solidify your knowledge in certain areas, by being able to use the language not just in a structured class activity, but in a real-life experience. Two, it’s possible for you to become overly familiar with your teacher’s pronunciation, rate of speaking, level of language (that they may be simplifying for you), and just them as a person. You might end up with anxiety speaking with other people who are not them.
Some ideas for getting additional language experience include: finding a language exchange partner, joining a language club (I know a good one!), watching tv shows and movies in your target language, watching news or instructional videos, or participating in a hobby club that is conducted in your target language, such as a poetry club in Spanish.
5. Not Voicing your Interests/Goals
This is the final way you might be wasting your money on language classes. Discussing your learning goals with your teacher is very important. If you don’t, you may end up with a bunch of vocabulary that you won’t use and will likely forget, and you won’t be able to communicate in the situations where you need to.
Here’s an example. You are learning French because you want to discuss art history. However, you haven’t told your instructor about this goal. You start to learn about furniture, family members, getting directions, slang, many great things, but you still cannot discuss the different artistic periods and the various media of painting and sculpture, such as watercolor and charcoal. Don’t skip this step. Discuss your language-learning goals with your teacher.
Honorable Mention: Another mistake not listed above is NOT participating in class. This is your chance to use your new language in a safe space. Don't miss it. You'll regret it next time you need to speak your target language, but haven't practiced or gotten feedback from a teacher.
Now that you have seen the various ways you can waste your money on language classes, I hope that you will make some changes and keep that money’s worth! This will not only benefit you, but also your language teacher and fellow students (if you are taking group classes). You will learn a lot more in the process as well, and become fluent faster. Have you ever made these mistakes before? And will you keep these in mind next time you book a language class? Let us know in the comments below and share with your fellow language learners, so they won’t make the same mistakes.
P.S. Learning a language is such as invaluable skill which is absolutely priceless. This post in no way wishes to deter you from learning a language. It is to help you so that your language classes bring you the outcome you desire. In addition, keep in mind that there are other ways to learn languages outside of the typical language classroom. So, whether you take language classes or not, just keep learning!
Finkenbinder, E. O. (1913). The Curve of Forgetting. The American Journal of Psychology, 24(1), 8–32. https://doi.org/10.2307/1413271