How To Learn A Language – An Overview Of Methods And Options

Courses, books, apps or language trips — different language learning methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a brief overview.
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How To Learn A Language – An Overview Of Methods And Options

Illustration by Ginnie Hsu, courtesy of the Bright Agency.

Are you wondering how to learn a language, but don’t know where to begin? For better or worse, there are a lot of different language learning options to choose from. Because all of these choices can be overwhelming, we’ve prepared an overview for you of the advantages and disadvantages of each method. Let’s get started! 

Learn A Language Offline:

Language Schools

If you’re wondering how to learn a language, the method that probably comes to mind first is language school. It makes sense: This is the method you’re already used to, from language courses in school, at university or community colleges. You might also be familiar with group courses as part of continuing education at your company or a language school.

The advantages of language schools are:

  • Courses take place on a regular basis.
  • You learn from a teacher, usually an educated language instructor.
  • You practice speaking with other people from the beginning.
  • You learn with guidance and a fixed structure (which could be a disadvantage depending on your learning style).

The disadvantages of language schools are:

  • The price can be high: On average, courses cost between $15-$30 per session.
  • Classes take place on a specific schedule and take up large blocks of time during the day, so there’s little flexibility.
  • Someone else sets the curriculum and decides the topics.
  • Usually, the courses only take place one to three times per week, but it’s best to learn daily.

Private Language Tutors

Lessons with private language tutors are often used as an alternative or in addition to group courses — especially for individuals who can afford them. 

The advantages of a private language tutor are:

  • Lessons are individually designed to meet your needs, both in terms of topics and methods.
  • You get great conversational practice from the beginning, and you have a sense of the “human aspect” of your new language.
  • You learn with guidance and have a fixed structure for learning.

The disadvantages of a private language tutor are:

  • They’re even more expensive than classes and typically start at $20 an hour. 
  • Because of the price, individual sessions likely take place only once a week (but it’s best to learn daily).
  • The lesson takes up a larger block of time during the day, as your lesson should be at least an hour long.

Tandem Partners

Learning with a tandem partner is a language learning method where two people with different native languages teach each other their respective language. 

The advantages of a tandem partner are:

  • Learning a language with a tandem partner doesn’t cost anything.
  • You have a learning partner and the benefits are mutual — and perhaps even a friendship grows from it!
  • From the very beginning, you have contact with a native speaker to practice.

The disadvantages of a tandem partner are:

  • There’s a lack of professional qualifications. Not every native speaker can explain their native language well (there’s a reason why teaching qualifications take years to complete).
  • In practice, one language is often spoken more than the other, typically the one that both partners have more practice with.

Language Trips And Time Abroad

Language trips can be a great method for those who can afford it. They usually last from two weeks (like intensive courses) to a semester (as part of the Erasmus program), but can go up to a year. Of course, you can also choose to move abroad for a longer period of time.

The advantages of language trips are:

  • You get to be completely immersed and surrounded by your new language. It’s hard to find a better way to learn a language in this regard.

The disadvantages of language trips are:

  • These trips are often very difficult to organize (between the travel plans and the bureaucratic process of obtaining a visa).
  • Language trips are typically expensive, depending on your program and destination.
  • A trip abroad, especially for a longer period of time, is difficult to fit into your everyday life.

Language Learning Textbooks

Language learning courses often come in book format as a supplement to group courses, but there are also many that are designed for self-study.

The advantages of language learning textbooks are:

  • You can determine your own learning pace and prioritize sections that are important to you.
  • The lessons are generally developed by professionals.

The disadvantages of language learning textbooks are:

  • Lack of input about pronunciation (even when the book comes with a CD or a download, it’s often inconvenient to combine the different formats).
  • A general lack of feedback. For written exercises, there might be some “solutions” provided, but there’s no feedback on pronunciation.

Learn A Language Online

Language-Learning Apps

One relatively new way to learn a language is with language apps, which have different approaches, price points and levels of quality. A general overview of the advantages and disadvantages of learning via apps is difficult, which is why we’ll use our own app — Babbel — as our reference.

The advantages of Babbel are:

  • With Babbel, you can learn wherever your smartphone, tablet or computer is. Our lessons are also available offline, so you can learn while commuting, traveling or anywhere you don’t have the Wifi password.
  • 15-minute lessons keep learning interesting and make it possible to learn every day.
  • Babbel is available at an affordable price and the more you learn, the more you get for your money.
  • Our courses are created by 150+ language experts, linguists and teachers.
  • You get direct feedback — both for what you write and for your pronunciation.
  • Our dialogue trainer helps you practice conversations in a new language so that you’re ready to talk to people in the real world.

Video-Based Courses

Video-based courses are similar to in-person lectures, except that the teacher isn’t physically present.

The advantages of video-based courses are:

  • They are often divided into short units that make it easy to learn every day.
  • The courses often focus on a particular topic, which is especially helpful when you need a refresher on something specific.
  • Many courses are available for free on YouTube, like our Spanish in 60 Seconds lessons.

The disadvantages of video-based courses are:

  • There often isn’t any overall concept or learning goal for the course.
  • The videos mostly support passive learning. You don’t have to speak or write anything yourself, which means you miss out on vital practice.

Private Language Tutors (Online)

Private language teaching with a tutor can also be done online. Unsurprisingly, the advantages and disadvantages of this method are similar to those with a private “offline” tutor.

So which language learning method should you choose? Our suggestion: don’t pick just one!

Although we at Babbel know the efficacy of our product, we also believe that there isn’t just one method for how to learn a language! Every method has its advantages and disadvantages, so combining as many learning methods as you can is the way to learn effectively. That way your learning stays varied and your success is guaranteed!

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