The Importance of Personalization in Language Learning: 3 Case Studies
When you study in a typical language school, you are usually given a level test and then you’re matched with a bunch of people with different backgrounds, learning styles, and goals so you all can follow the same generic syllabus. Success, in a language center, is achieving a set of impersonal, pre-conceived learning goals regardless of your motivation to learn a language in the first place. This seems to us to be the wrong approach. Just like snowflakes, no two learners are exactly alike, and the uniqueness of our preferences and needs should dictate what and how we learn a language.
At Language Trainers, we believe that tailoring our courses to the individual is not only the most motivating way to teach languages but also the most effective. When you’re a university student, you’re forced to accept knowledge as something that has inherent value and can’t be questioned or adapted to your preferences. You study what you are told to pass an exam. As adults learning languages, however, we rarely study to pass an exam. Every learner’s use of the target language has to do with very real work and life situations that are unique to every individual and, as such, call for a personalized approach.
But what do we mean when we talk about personalized learning?
Let’s start with what personalized learning is not. It’s not, for example saying “we’ll give you more audio content” to a student who’s struggling with listening, or “we’ll focus on grammar this week” to someone who mixes up verb tenses. Personalized learning is listening to a student’s needs and learning goals (whether these are personal, professional, or academic) and devising the best possible learning plan so that they can achieve these goals.
Let us show you what we mean by giving you a few examples.
One of the main reasons why clients decide to get in touch with us is because they have family in a different country and they would like to be able to communicate with them. Sometimes, it’s people who had contact with the language of their parents or grandparents at an early age and are sad to have lost it due to lack of use. Other times, it’s just people who have known for a long time that they have family in other parts of the world but never write to them because they are self-conscious about not being able to do it in their language.
For Brett, an educator who grew up in New York but also lived in South California and Portland, Oregon, learning Swiss German was an act of love:
Brett – Learning Swiss German for Love
I chose to study German because my wife is from the German part of Switzerland and I wanted to be able to speak with her in her own words. My wife’s native language is Swiss-German, which is very different from High German. It is important to me to speak the language my wife thinks in. It was great that Language Trainers listened to what I was hoping for from a tutor and paired me with someone who was able to meet my needs. My tutor, Erik, is great and we even became friends outside of German tutoring.
By the way, my German has definitely improved! I am now better able to understand Swiss German, and I have been able to use my skills to speak with my wife and her family, which is precisely what I wanted!
Thanks to his teacher’s ability to come up with a personalized course and, above all, Brett’s own willingness to connect with his wife’s family, he was able to acquire a new skill in a way that felt meaningful and purposeful.
But learning a language is not always about communicating with other people. For Sara, it was part of a personal quest toward self-fulfilment:
Sara – There’s No Right Age to Achieve your Dreams
“I am an 82-year-old retired physician. When I was younger, I lived with a family in Italy for 6 weeks. It was a wonderful experience, and I did pick up some Italian. Ten years ago, I started taking classes for a Master’s Degree in Art History at New Mexico State University. I needed to improve my knowledge of Italian. I found Language Trainers online and was referred to Francesca, who teaches me from Rome via Skype.
The most rewarding outcome of my Italian lessons with Francesca has been how much they helped me complete my Master’s Degree. The topic was Michelangelo’s letter of 1542, and I was able to do almost all of the Italian translations myself.
Though I’ve already achieved my main goal, I will continue to take lessons with Francesca as my instructor because it is just so enjoyable!”
Hearing that we’ve had a role to play in a client achieving her dreams fills us with joy. But learning that she wants to continue learning with us even after reaching her main goal makes us even happier.
So far, we’ve shared experiences of people who wanted to learn languages for personal or interpersonal reasons. But perhaps, the main reason why people reach out to us is that they need to work on their linguistic skills in order to have better professional opportunities. Such is the case of our next client, Oliver:
Oliver – Learning Languages for Professional Success
“I booked 15 hours of Spanish lessons with Language Trainers whilst completing an MBA as I wanted to brush up on my Spanish skills with a particular emphasis on business language. Johanna is a fantastic teacher. She understood exactly what I wanted to achieve and tailored the classes to this end, using relevant and up-to-date materials to add context to our discussions. She would even send interesting articles and useful resources between classes. The sessions were not only extremely useful for my initial goal but also highly enjoyable. I couldn’t recommend Johanna highly enough!”
There aren’t many universal truths when it comes to language learning, but after years of experience, we have learned two things: (1) humans have a hard time staying focused on things that they find uninteresting or irrelevant; (2) success means something different for every student.
The right spot for efficient learning, then, will depend on the ability of the teacher to come up with a personalized plan that prepares students to do exactly what they need or want to do with the language, through tasks and materials that are challenging without becoming frustratingly difficult.
If you want to try our tailored lessons taught by qualified native teachers, send us a message and tell us what language you would like to learn and what your main motivation for learning is so we can find the best match for you. Contact us now and get a free trial lesson, with no strings attached.