Is attending Language lessons alone enough practise time for language learning?

Is attending Language lessons alone enough practise time for language learning?

Diary submitted by Charlotte C, Erasmus+ internship in Valencia

Learning a language can be an extremely difficult task, especially if you’re learning a different language to the mother tongue of the country, you’re studying in. One of the most difficult aspects of language learning in this instance, English, is said to be the mastering the art of Speaking and Listening. This can pose even more difficulties if you do not have friends/family members to practise speaking English with. 

Whilst professional, English lessons in a school or an academy are designed to promote as much student talking time (STT) as possible, practise can often be scarce, and limited, which may lead to lack of ability when developing these Language skills. 

Therefore, many language learners often look for other activities or opportunities to communicate with native or other speakers of English as means of practise. This is really important, as it not only allows you to practise the art of communication and understanding in a foreign language, yet also allows you to practise your pronunciation, grammar techniques and listening skills, practising the ability to comprehend others accents and spoken dialects in order to respond. 

However, what kind of out of class activity would be appropriate? 

I would propose, that attending a social event, held in the form of a ‘language café’, or a social event whereby English learners get together and interact in a natural, informal setting would be a perfect opportunity for further practise of English. 

These are often held in cafés or bars and enable students to interact with other speakers of English practising the art of everyday conversations and learning about others’ experiences. Students would also be able to meet students of various levels, ages and nationalities, and could discuss different aspects of the language, and may even be able to help each other if needed. 

This could be implemented in a number of ways.

One example could be a games night, organised for teens held at a youth centre:

Activities: Various board games and team building games placed around the centre

Groups: Students would be divided into small groups suitable for each game (for example a game of checkers would only require a maximum of 2 students). Students should be in groups of mixed ability, ages and genders. 

Time allocation: The session could run anything from 30-120 minutes, depending on attendance. Students could be persuaded to spend a maximum of 10-15 minutes at each activity, and rotate partners and sessions as conducted by the monitors of the session. 

Formation of session: Students should be encouraged to engage in different activities with different people throughout the session. At the end of the session, the whole group may come together to form a large group task, involving all participants. 

Formality: It is important to remember the objective of this club. Clubs should try to be as informal as possible, letting students speak freely and engage in conversations throughout. However, monitors can step in at any time, to control other factors such as student behaviour, monitoring students and helping with English where necessary. However, this should be implemented in a minimal, relaxed way. 

Other ideas for “Out of English clubs” may include adults joining a quiz night at a local English bar, where students practise the art of answering different questions types, or just attending a basic language café whereby students are encouraged to engage in everyday basic conversations with other students of differing ages, genders and nationalities. 

All of these designed social clubs are a really good way to practise language, but in a less formal situation in comparison to classroom learning. It can be fun, educational and also a chance to make new friends. The social event would be suitable for all levels and could be adapted depending on the age of the students. 

One point to remember is the importance of inclusion of each and every student. The Club should be a friendly, welcoming place. It should be held in an accessible place for all, with good transport links, and should be a place of equality. 

Of course, there may be some negatives to such interaction. For example, some learners may struggle to fit this event into their daily schedules and may struggle to attend. Of course, this is a voluntary activity, and therefore students would be able to choose to partake, if they felt it is something they would like to do. Therefore, although some students may be shy, and not want to or have the ability to communicate, the social activity could be adapted to all students, and organisers should be engaging to all students, which would therefore minimise the number of shy or uninterested students. 

Many students studying English in non-English-speaking country do indeed participate in such events, and many linguists/theorists of language learning suggest other means of practise for these language skills and suggest a theoretical importance of such clubs, in agreement with my reflections surrounding such activities. Therefore, I would suggest further reading, to gain an insight into other ideas for an “Out-of-class club”. 

References: 

Eccles, J., & Templeton, J. (2002). Extracurricular and other after‐school activities for youth. Review of Education26, 113–180.

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