Before starting any course you should ask yourself some questions in order not to be disappointed later. Many times my potential students have walked in through the door thinking they needed a specific course to then realise, during the classes, that they needed something different, by which time it is too late, or at least late enough to have to start thinking about it all over again. In order to avoid this situation everybody should ask himself or herself some self-awareness questions, and then try to answer them being faithful to his/her reality and needs. The main questions you should ask yourself are:
Without motivation or with the wrong one, things will not happen the way you expect. This is connected to the next question.
There are mainly two reasons why you think you might need a course, one reason is intrinsic (just for itself and because you love it) or extrinsic (society is creating this necessity). By now you would have worked out that we never learn things with the same intensity and involvement if we don’t like what we are doing.
The reasons why you take on a course will determine your success, and again motivation is the key.
Research shows that without passion things are not impossible, but they are more difficult to achieve.
Learning is a process and you need to give yourself time to process the information, interiorise all the new concepts and put into practise what you’ve learnt. If you don’t dedicate time, you will move on slowly, but if you saturate yourself you will only produce gaps in the learning process. Both attitudes are as bad, and as you are the one who knows your limitations, you are the only one who should put your timetable together.
This is a tricky one, but it’s still true that if you want quality you have to invest money. In Spanish we say “lo barato a la larga sale caro” (cheap leads to expensive in the long run) and this has always been true for me, not only in education but with anything in life. If you try to fit a cheap installation in your house, what will happen sooner or later? Exactly what you are thinking: you will have to pay again for the job to be done properly, so you would have ended up paying for both the cheap and the expensive option. In the end, a cheap solution turns into the most expensive solution ever, with no guarantees of long-term benefits.
Having a clear target helps with your timetable and to focus with a purpose. There’s nothing more demotivating than to feel you are not moving on. Setting targets and looking back every month at what you have achieved until then is the best self-motivating carrot you can give yourself.
After you have answered all of the questions above truthfully, you’ll be honest with yourself. Only once you know where you stand will you be able to take your learning to the next level which is:
Start designing your path of “how to get there” and here is where your mentor is of great importance.
Find someone who is genuine with the help he/she delivers. This someone also has to have a passion for what he/she is doing, otherwise, you might become somebody’s extra income while he/she is trying to get somewhere else. This attitude from your mentor tends to have a negative impact in the quality of the classes you receive because there’s no bigger picture, there’s no clear path for you because this “supposed” mentor is only playing by ear. In other words, you need an expert with his/her pockets full of resources eager to share with you.
Think about it this way: a good mentor is like an excited parent waiting to see his/her kid’s next steps. A good mentor wants you to learn while enjoying the ride, but you will also get told off when you are not doing your best to improve or when you are procrastinating. Moreover, mentors like parents have a sixth sense that can detect when you are telling porkies!
Another thing you might be doing wrong is to look at the “How much is this going to cost?” without looking at the “How much am I taking with me from each session?”. The fact that there might be many people “allegedly” offering “the same” tends to devalue a product in ways you wouldn’t even imagine. There is an English idiom that goes as follows and that expresses very well what I’m trying to say here: “pay peanuts, you get monkeys”. A good mentor would teach you all the lessons to pass an exam but a great mentor would inspire you to think for yourself and eventually become language independent for life. Now answer this question for me: Can you really put a price on that?
So you are convinced now that you need a mentor and you are looking for one. Where to start? Who do I trust? Internet is wonderful with this, ask for references, Google your needs and when you have done that, do your research, find out who this person is, his/her trajectory, ask for a private interview, go to his/her webinars, read his/her blog, sign up for his/her weekly newsletters until you are comfortable with your choice. At the end of the day you are going to spend many hours with this person, it can get a bit personal at times, and you will share many hopes and future dreams with him/her, you might even end up being friends, so you may as well find someone you feel is on your wave length and that can almost read your mind.
Having arrived at this point, you should then think of how much you are worth and what is the quality you want to receive after each session, and moreover, why would you settle for the average when you can have the best mentor ever? Nowadays, and thanks to new learning technologies, this is very easy. And here is where I play my part.
My job is to create awareness, to make you realise the whys and why nots of your decisions. To screw your brain, to push you to the limit and finally make you learn more beyond your initial expectations, and how do I manage that?
The first step:
But why do you need a timetable for?
Analyse the phrase: “You learn more when travelling to a foreign country than in the language school”
Now ask yourself: “Why is that? What is the miracle?”
Let me break it down for you:
When you travel you are exposed to the real thing. Nobody walks around in the street with subtitles on their chin so you understand them. Nobody will ask you what your level of English is. In any case, they will speak louder and slower in order to compensate for the lack of knowledge. Safe to say that doesn’t normally work!
What happens when you travel or live abroad is that you are pushed to the limit, and what happens when you are pushed to the limit?
So my next questions are:
In my twenty years’ experience, I could give you more examples. I think I have seen it all by now. Your language school keeps to its side of the bargain, but your lack of exposure outside of the classroom depends on you.
There’s no magic potion: only work, effort and hours of exposure will help you reach your target of learning any language. Until AI is not advanced enough to implant a chip in your brain to learn passively, all learning still requires time and effort.
So, now let’s go back to the creation of a timetable. This is important because you need to dedicate time for reading, listening, speaking, practising your grammar, learning vocabulary, and writing.
For some of these areas you won’t need much help. There are books and many free videos there for you to work on specific problems on your own (this considering you already have some kind of level, otherwise you’ll need a teacher to start you off for a couple of levels minimum). But for the speaking and writing you will need the assistance of a human being. So here again is where a good mentor comes into play.
If you are self-sufficient and eager enough to learn, you could find your way around the practical part through specific social groups like Twitter or Facebook. Those groups allow you to chat regularly to people from all over the world. If you are not shy, you can even assist free live online workshops or conferences. For example, I found the members of my Gothic writer’s tribe this way. For me it’s a great opportunity of talking about my passion with other people from all over the world, without leaving the comforts of my home.
The other benefit of social media is that you can read people’s works, blogs and books while you socialise. You will not only be improving your speaking in a natural context, but you will also be learning about other cultures, their ways, sayings, among a lot of other aspects and the best part is that:
And you can do them on your own, and this is what I highly recommend my students to do during their spare time, where I’m not there holding their hand.
However, what you want is the best of both worlds and you still need some kind of guide to give you feedback on your writings or correct your pronunciation by providing you with all the philological explanations. Also, you still need to do exams, to test yourself, to see how much you have moved on since you started your journey. So we go back to the mentor concept again.
As you can see, the learning process is not a two day crash course on how to ride a bike, it’s all about many different parts of a big jigsaw that can turn into a Frankenstein learning or an Emmental cheese if you are not careful. Despite what many people think, learning a language is not something that you do during one year and then you are sorted. Learning a language is a long time life quest and you shouldn’t take it lightly if you want to conquer your own holy grail. The next thing you have to do now is to ask yourself the following question:
What do I want to achieve by learning English?
Once you have the answer to this question, you can take the whole process seriously.