Traditional learning method
Like many of us, I learned my first foreign language in school. As a German, learning English as a second language in school is mandatory, though I also chose to learn Latin and French a few years later. Unfortunately, besides English, I could never pick up the other two languages to speak them fluently. Regarding Latin, it was for obvious reasons, as it is a dead language. Nevertheless, it was extremely frustrating to me that although I studied the language for five consecutive years, with classes at least two times per week, I could not effectively communicate with native speakers. Although I probably could have made a bigger effort, like practicing vocabulary more often or consuming French media, I blame the teaching method partly.
The teaching method at my school can be described as rather conservative. Learning grammar every class, followed by exercises in the textbook, maybe some speaking or listening activities now and then. Consequently, my peers and I were unmotivated in every lesson. Although I liked the idea of learning a new language to put into practice on my summer vacation or for future jobs, it turned out to be not as fun as imagined.
A different approach
Compared to my French, my English progressed very well in the meantime. I was lucky enough to make three language trips to Malta and the UK for three consecutive years and became fluent in English. With an English course of four hours a day and fun activities in the afternoon, these language trips can be more described as a vacation because the language course didn’t feel like school at all. I started to realize that I maybe need to change my learning technique.
Fast-forwarding a few years, I started to learn Dutch while living in Belgium. After the language trips, I attended my first language school and realized that it was not only the fun activities after class that fulfilled me but the course itself. I learned Dutch rapidly in this class because my motivation was much higher this time, as well as the motivation of my classmates. When I started to learn Spanish in another language school, I had an even better experience. The teacher was great, so funny, and full of new ideas. Besides the normal exercises you need to do to learn a language, meaning learning grammar and applying it, we watched videos, played games, and even sang typical Spanish songs. All in all, we had a blast.
Researching innovative language schools
Wondering whether that was a coincidence, I researched innovative language schools. AIP Language Institute is one of them, having small classes, interactive whiteboards in every classroom, a special structured class schedule, the possibility to take the course completely online, and fun activities after class.
But what is innovation? According to the Meriam Webster dictionary, “Innovation, for its part, can refer to something new or a change made to an existing product, idea, or field. One might say that the first telephone was an invention, the first cellular telephone either an invention or an innovation, and the first smartphone an innovation.”
For the research, two groups were asked the same 20 questions. One group consisted of people from other language schools and the other group of students from the AIP language institute. The people were split into these two groups to see whether the expectations of group 1 aligned with the experience of group 2.
Just like me, their purpose of learning a language was being able to travel and speak the language of the locals, get to know other cultures better, get more job opportunities, or just for the sake of learning a new language. The innovation that everyone appreciated as a learning technique is a conversation of all kinds, like being forced to speak Spanish daily to waiters or the host family. Also, designing a very interactive class with various activities as improving the conversation skills is gladly accepted.
Student’s experience at AIP Language Institute
The first group expected small classes at AIP Language Institute so that the teacher could focus on each student equally and provide personalized learning material to awaken interest. Everyone stated they would like fun activities in class so that they forget that they are learning. One interviewee wished that they would also improve the confidence of the people.
It was interesting to see that the expectations perfectly aligned with the experience of the students from AIP. They described the school as having an open atmosphere with lovely teachers and interesting classes. In the classes, you are surrounded by many international students and the teachers only speak Spanish to you, which pushes you to speak and grow your confidence. But besides the learning part, the students truly valued the after-school activities, where you can meet new people and learn more about Spanish culture. One student described the time at AIP as “beyond learning just a language since you are meet amazing people, have many options at the school and lots of fun activities in the afternoon.” Someone said, “it has broadened my mind apart from learning a language, but it also improved my confidence and gave me some new friends.” Lastly, their opinion about the teachers and teaching methods was incredibly high. They said, “the teachers are interested in you, and it all feels very much on a personal level. Sometimes they will even join the after-school activities. The classes are fun and interesting!”
Both groups thought well about the class structure of AIP. They liked that it gives the classes some system, you know what to expect and work on several learning skills. Eventually, you can use the learned grammar and vocabulary from the comprehension part in the conversation part, which is, according to the students, the most fun part of the class!
Lastly, some recommendations from the interviewees on how to have even quicker learning progress: watch some Spanish series or movies, try to speak with as many natives as possible, maybe with a language exchange, and practice vocabulary.
What are your preferred innovative learning techniques and what would you recommend for better progress?