Which online language courses are best?

Which online language courses are best?

Published: Apr, 12, 2022 | By: Lucas Weaver

So which online language courses are best for learning a new foreign language you ask?

Let's start by clearing up your definition of "best" for this situation.

If we analyze the criteria categories of quality, convenience, and price, you can set your own priorities for your online language lessons to choose the course that fits your needs the best.

If your priority is budget-friendliness, the highest quality lessons may not be the best fit for you. Likewise, if the highest quality possible is your top concern, then your best rating may not be very affected by price.

Either way, this is something that only you can determine for yourself. But for the purpose of this post, I'm going to focus on the highest level of quality as the number one parameter for our definition of best.

How to determine the level of quality of online language lessons

The way we'll judge the quality level of available online langauge lessons is by determining which ones will lead to your greatest language ability increase and achievement.

We're not trying to be cute and just learn a few new words on Duolingo. We want lessons that will lead to real language learning and high levels of vocabulary and grammar knowledge retention. You want to actually be able to use the language in real-life situations in order to accomplish your ultimate goals.

Speed of learning and teacher effectiveness

While our top priority in our online language lessons is long-lasting sustainable language skills, which will of course take time, we shouldn't take too long to reach our goals. You want to improve as quickly as possible without sacrificing learning quality.

The two most important factors in this equation will be the effectiveness of your teacher and your commitment to the lessons. We'll cover your part later in the post, but for now let's focus on the role of the teacher.

If you think about any skill you've ever tried to teach someone, it wasn't easy in the beginning. You try one thing and see if your student responds well, and if they don't, you keep trying until you find something that connects with them, and eventually the student gets the feeling that something just "clicks".

The more experience a teacher has, the more tricks they have up their sleeve to get you to this "clicking" feeling. The more students they've taught, the more likely they are to have taught a student with a learning style similar to yours. This means they can quickly realize what type of learner you are, and then they can adapt your lessons to fit your learning style.

This is a huge benefit, as it saves you countless hours of lesson time (which ultimately saves you $$). If a teacher is less experienced, they may teach you from a "cookie-cutter" lesson plan template that is meant to be a one-size fits all. But you know from your own experience in life of trying to explain the same thing to different people: people can be very different, and what works for some won't work for all.

What can ultimately make for the best online english lessons is having the best teacher possible. It's no different from anything else in life. Want your car fixed in the best way? Take it to the best mechanic. You shouldn't be surpised if your car breaks down again in a week if you took your car to the cheapest repair shop you could find. Same goes for your language teacher.

You can find many online language lessons on the internet for very cheap prices, but you have to be aware that you get what you pay for.

Learning from a native speaker

Another important factor related to the teacher is whether or not they're a native speaker of the language they're teaching. This has nothing to do with their experience, but it's equally as important.

Much of your language learning in online language lessons will actually come just from hearing your teacher and being exposed to how the speak and say things. You'll learn almost as much just from listening to them as you will from any lesson material. Your brain is great at picking up on patterns and forms subconsciously. After enough practice, it will begin to build these forms into your own memory and try to fit your own production of the language into these forms.

This is why it's crucial to have a native speaker with good speaking habits for you to be exposed to. If you have a teacher that's not a native speaker, they will almost undoubtedly have some quirks or errors in some of their word choices or ways of saying some things. If you're exposed to these on a consistent basis, you will pick up on them and reproduce them yourself.

Learning from your mistakes

According to proven and well-documented neuroscience studies, one of the most crucial elements in the learning process is making mistakes.

When you make a mistake, it triggers an increase of acetylcholine in your brain. Acetylcholine is what's called a "neurotransmitter", meaning it carries information between neurons in the brain. This transfer of information is ESSENTIAL in learning new skills. Without it, you would learn nothing.

Basically, by making mistakes, your brain realizes that it doesn't have enough neurons recruited for this skill you're trying to do. It then produces more acetylcholine in order to recruit more neurons for the task. Over time, more and more neurons are recruited, and more synapses are built, which is in essence the biology of how your brain learns new skills.

Why does this matter?

Some language teachers, programs, or courses, focus too much on making sure you feel comfortable in your lessons. They don't want you to make too many mistakes because sometimes that's not as fun of a learning experience (and it requires more work on their part!).

Don't get me wrong, there's a time for building confidence and having fun. That's also crucial to the learning experience.

But your online language lessons should feel difficult and challenging. You should feel similar to how you feel when you're just leaving the gym when you finish your lessons. If you're not a bit tired after your lessons, you probably weren't challenged enough.

Think about how muscle building works.

You go to the gym and lift heavy weights. Your muscles say "Oh no, we can't lift these heavy weights! Brain, help!" Your brain then gets to work on converting protein into new muscle tissue so that your muscles will be stronger. Then over time, you can lift heavier and heavier weights.

It's the same for language learning!

You have to challenge your brain to the point where it says "Man, we're not very good at this language. We need to get to work!"

By making sure you're enrolled in a challenging course with a teacher who will correct your mistakes, you're giving your brain the stimulation that it needs to learn your new language in a way that will last.

Homework, homework, homework

It might be a slight exaggeration for me to say this, but I'll say it anyway: If you're taking online langauge lessons that don't give you homework, you're probably wasting your money.

It can be very useful after you've learned a language to an effective level to do something like a speaking only course that will help keep your language skills sharp. But only after you've acquired the skills you need.

Until that point, you should be spending a few hours a week outside of your actual lessons doing consistent homework.

Homework is what helps your brain get the repitition it needs to actually learn the skills to a point where you don't have to think about them later.

Do you know what the difference is between the student who answers the question immediately when the teacher asks it and the student who is still thinking about the question?

The student who answers the question immediately knows the subject, the student who's still thinking understands it.

It's sometimes easy to understand a new concept when you're taught it. Someone tells you a new word, and you think "Oh, that's cool!". But then you forget it within 15 minutes. Vs if you had actually practiced using that word with them for the next 15 minutes, then you would actually know the word.

In short, as they say in sports: "Practice makes perfect". And without homework, you almost certainly won't get enough practice to go along with your online language lessons.

Language lessons should make you excited

Last but not least, the best online lanuage lessons for you will be the ones that you actually keep attending.

You need to have a lesson structure and format that fits with your personality and learning style, and a teacher that you enjoy.

You can have the most experienced teacher from the most prestigous language school in the world, but if you don't actually like the lessons, you might not stick to them, and you definitely won't learn as much.

Try and learn as much about any language lessons you sign up for before you actually commit to them. Ask about things like teaching methods and styles, the material they use, and the lesson flexibility. Make sure that all of these things fit with what you're looking for, or at least sound like something you can get comfortable with.

Taking the next step

“A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step.”

As so the ancient Chinese proverb goes, so too is the journey of taking online language lessons. The first step is the hardest, the one where you actually start learning that new language you've been putting off for so long. But don't worry, we're here to help.

We've seen hundreds of students who were at the point you are now, and they all found it convenient and fun once they were actually in the habit of doing their language lessons each week.

Whether or not you want to learn from one of our expert teachers at the Weaver School, we're happy to help you find the right online language lessons for you. Just send us an email at contact@weaverschool.com and we'll be glad to give you that little guiding nudge you need.

Best of luck with your language learning journey!

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Lucas Weaver from the Weaver School

Lucas Weaver founded The Weaver School in 2016. He's passionate about using the latest learnings in neuroscience and education to create the best language learning experience possible for our students, so they can quickly build effective language learning habits that will last for years. Lucas is a graduate of Texas A&M University and after 7 years of living in the Netherlands, he is currently traveling through Southeast Asia while learning their languages along the way.

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