Thursday, 5 February 2015

Adapting to classroom learning

Before coming to GenkiJACS, I studied first through audio courses, then in one-to-one lessons with a tutor, mostly once a week. At the school, there are typically four hours of lessons a day (on the standard course) in groups of 5-6. This is a bit of a difference, and takes some getting used to.

The most obvious thing is, you're not the centre of attention. This may be a plus or a minus for you; when I started with my tutor, I was initially stressed by having all the expectation on me, but got used to it. In a classroom, you get proportionally less feedback and monitoring because you only answer about 1/classmates of the questions. It's a little easier for you to fade away and (deliberately or subconsciously) avoid things you find hard, because someone else may pipe up, or the teacher may turn to someone else. This reduces stress, but of course it also means you're not necessarily going to overcome those fears.

Naturally, a class has to be managed to suit the group as a whole, not an individual. If you're used to individual attention, that's not to say you won't get any. At the same time, there's only so much time and energy that can be spent helping one person out, or following up their curiosity. Classes have to be stricter about sticking to the syllabus, unless the whole group wants to go off on a tangent. This means you won't end up getting derailed by one person's sticking point or endless curiosity; on the other hand, it makes it harder to flesh out your understanding by considering other cases, or following up a thought or question about the point you're studying or its cultural context. I'm not suggesting GenkiJACS is some kind of rote-learning school, simply that a teacher of six people can't afford to waste the time of five by going down a rabbit-hole, in the way that might happen with my previous tutor.

On a related note, you need to be considerate of the other students in class. I for one have a bit of tendency to dominate the class at certain times and in certain moods. I'm older than most of the students, very curious about language, and I was used to one-to-one study with a teacher who was endearingly willing to share this interest. My brain and background in actual linguistics also means I tend to approach language learning quite systematically, and want to iron out potential confusion or flag up tricky areas early on, because I've learned painfully that it's easy to learn bad habits or false assumptions, and then very difficult to drop them. But for the rest of my class, it's occasionally useful that I check on some point of grammar, but often they probably just want to learn the language that's being presented, and I try to be sensitive to that.

Group learning also means less face-time with the teacher, and more practice with other students. In some cases, this is more or less as effective, and other students often have interesting insights that can be very helpful, although all should be taken with a pinch of salt, of course. Pronunciation or subtle wrongness of usage is less likely to get picked up on, although some keen students are actually sharper on grammar mistakes than some teachers, if the teachers want to focus on the core point of the lesson.

Learning tends to be rather more structured than in individual study. You're much less likely to blunder off into bits of grammar you don't know and aren't really ready for yet. This can be a little frustrating when there's something you'd like to express and feel held back by the syllabus, but it does mean you tend to get a solid grounding to build towards more complex points, rather than leaping about learning a bit of this and a bit of that without the understanding to link them together.

Another difference is in the amount of revision you tend to do. Because students inevitably learn at different paces, good classroom teaching always involves going over material more than one in slightly different ways. For example, vocabulary is usually presented, tested, practiced in small groups, and tested again a few days later. Grammar points are usually covered more than once, moving slowly from memorisation of forms to use in sentences, and then to more casual use mixed in with newer material. It isn't safe for the teacher to assume all students will have memorised everything from yesterday's lesson, unless you're in really intensive environments like diplomatic training where utter commitment is demanded.

This contrasts a lot with one-to-one learning, where you will typically only cover material once and practice a bit, then return to the topic if you repeatedly make mistakes. Drilling vocabulary or inflections one-to-one is both boring and a waste of time, and much better left to the student to practice in their own time. Here, the tendency is to forge ahead rapidly, which is good in many ways. However, it can also mean that a lot of vocabulary (in particular) is thrown up in passing but quickly forgotten. I think the classroom method may work better for remembering everything covered in class - though on the flipside, the one-to-one approach may mean you tend to remember what comes up repeatedly, and not expend too much effort on bits of language you don't currently need to use.

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