Many of the posts in this blog are about how and why to learn a new languages, so for a change, let’s look at a different question. Where do you learn?
In the classroom
The classroom is probably what first comes to mind. You want to learn a language, so you sign up for a class. And language classes are an important part of the learning process for most people. They bring structure and make sure that the different parts of grammar and vocabulary are all covered. A good teacher will also be critical of your language usage, so that wrong pronunciations or sentence structures can be ironed out as soon as possible.
However, people rarely become fluent in a language from classwork alone. The time exposure is just too limited, and no matter how good the learning materials, they will always be behind in sponteneity as compared to real life use.
At your desk / in the living room
You’ll get the most out of your lessons if you revise your lessons at home. Get the concepts straight and try to use what you’re taught. If you cannot use the new concepts, find ways to exercise them or ask your teacher for help when you go back to class.
Now, not all of us have the time or discipline to sit down for a while longer to revise and prepare classes. This is a pity because you will not get the maximum out of your language class. But you can limit the damage by weaving the revision into day-to-day life…
At home / with friends
… for example with family and friends. Let’s say you are learning Spanish. If you have Spanish speaking friends, make use of it! No matter how much you are still at a beginner level, they will appreciate your using of Spanish phrases. If you’re still very slow, you may not want to be in ‘exercise mode’ all the time, as it can be a strain on the conversation. Set a time limit of, say 10 minutes and then switch to whatever you usually speak together. Then stretch the time limit.
It is easier to learn a language in a country where it is actually spoken. So if you’re doubting about holiday destinations, try and lean to a country where you can order food in the language you’re learning. It’s not just the mileage you get, but also the realization that what you’re learning is actually being used in real life. Which helps your motivation.
On the Internet
Lacking language buddies nearby or the time and budget for a holiday, you can always turn to the Internet to find people to speak with. LiveMocha is especially designed for language learners who want to exercise.
This may be tricky, but it happened to work for me, as I was learning Mandarin in Singapore and many of my colleagues were Mandarin speakers. While in general we used to speak English, not to exclude anyone, I did drop in an occasional Chinese e-mail, which always led to an enthusiastic reply (in Chinese). If you can’t be that informal with colleagues or clients, it is probably better to wait till you speak the language a bit better. Not to give a poor impression.
For many people, language learning starts in the classroom. But your aim should be to take it out of the classroom and into some of the locations I described above. Not only will it help your progress, it’s also simply fun.