Photo: bredgur, Feature Photo: dmjarvey

If participants end up alienating each other rather than working together, learning a new language in a group setting can be a trying experience. Here are four behaviors to avoid.

My Croatian language class is a compact group of four. On our first day, during the round of introductions, I wondered which one of us was going to be the class speed bump; that student who unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) adds to the challenge of a new language through certain traits of disruptive and annoying behaviour; I’ve been there myself during one particularly difficult attempt at Japanese.

1. Class Clown

Well timed jokes help keep the classroom environment light. They are frequently used as ice-breakers, learning tools, security blankets, and a class clown comes with the territory. But when a student uses the group as a comedic punching bag, it gets in the way of learning. It gets even worse if the jokes are culturally and socially inappropriate. During my junior year in college I signed up for basic German. A week into the course, during a group exercise, the class clown struck with an incredibly inappropriate Hitler goof, and while the professor handled it as calmly as she could, the remainder of the class was spent in squirmy silence.

The way to go: If you are a chronic joker, curb your natural instincts. Gauge the mood of the room before vocalizing and try to restrict yourself to three or four cracks per class. It’s also a good idea to read up on the local culture before joining a language class. This way you don’t offend anyone or come across like a negative adjective.

Photo: Mr Wabu

2. Class Express

Every student has a different learning pattern. Some are naturally gifted when it comes to languages. They can get into the most complex knots of a language and sort them out without breaking into a sweat. It’s very impressive, but occasionally, these students can get into the flow of things and take the discussions off on a tangent, leaving the rest of the class stranded on the sidelines. For students who have a slower learning curve, this can be a pretty discouraging experience. Also, since the dialogue is restricted between just two or three participants, it creates pockets of isolation for the rest of the group, and in a way it slows down the progress of the class as a whole.

The way to go: There’s no need to hold back, but since you are working it a group it’s unfair to disrupt the class. Instead make use of the breaks between the lesson and time after class to ride the tangent. Also consider individual lessons instead of group based ones.

3. Class Catch-Up
Other students, and I’m part of this group, have to work harder with new languages. The hours are longer and the pace is slightly slower. This is just part of the learning process, and isn’t a problem till a lag is created between lessons. Miss one lesson or miss out on an important concept and students struggle to move forward. It forces the class to yo-yo between topics already covered. I found myself in this situation after missing a few lessons of my Japanese language class. I constantly held up the class for clarifications and explanations; from there on it was a losing battle.

The way to go: It is best to consult the teacher and workout a schedule for catch-up classes after hours. It may double your course work, but this gives you the opportunity to catch up with the rest of the class, without holding anyone up or without losing out.

4. Class Whiner

Learning a new language can be frustrating at times, especially as you begin to navigate the grammar. Some students are more affected at such times than others and may act out with constant whining and complaining about the grammar – the rules, the exceptions to the rule, the structure of the sentence, irregular verb conjugation, silent letters. But constantly holding up the class for empty arguments like ‘but that doesn’t make sense!’ or ‘but that’s not the rule,’ is tiring for the group as well as the teacher. It also eats up into lesson time.

The way to go: Remember, languages are fluid. They come with rules that don’t always make sense. It’s just one of those things, like turbulence and taxes; you take them in your stride and move on.

Community Connection

Have you ever had a particularly disruptive student in your language class? Have you ever been one? Share your experiences in the comments below.

For more about learning languages, check out Matador’s focus page on Language Learning.