Posted in Reflection

From language teacher to language student – 10 things I learnt being a student on a language course

After coming off a 4-week online German course with the German Language School (GLS) in Berlin, it gave me a unique perspective on what life is like for a language learner. Here are ten things that I learnt and will remember going forward in my career as a teacher.

Speaking and listening practice is paramount

Completing tasks in the coursebook or online tasks from websites are really satisfying when you get it right. It’s a nice dopamine hit. But nothing compares to the level of satisfaction you get when you perform well during a speaking or listening task. The opportunities to practice and develop speaking and listening in the classroom is really important for learners, and sometimes they are criminally marginalised with grammar and vocabulary exercises taking up a lot of the time. A majority of the tasks prescribed in your coursebook can be completed outside of the classroom in your own time, but the practice of speaking cannot realistically be done without a partner or group of the same level, and the immediate feedback you get from your teacher. When these tasks are set up in a safe and scaffolded manner it allows learners to throw caution to the wind in the construction of their sentences and meaning; something that isn’t always available outside the classroom when talking with native speakers who can often be impatient and unforgiving.

A variety of activities really is good but it doesn’t have to be varied all the time

I like doing tasks. Even the mundane ones from a coursebook because I have a point to prove to myself that I can actually understand this language I’m learning. It is nice though when the teacher spices things up with a Padlet activity, an online task, something to that ilk, as it makes me sit up, I get a shot of adrenaline, and ready to embark on a new, albeit, short adventure. But it doesn’t always have to be varied. The truth remains the same. I need to prove to myself that I can cope with my L2 and I want to see some evidence that I am doing okay.

Focusing on emergent language really helped me 

Emergent language is when the teacher sets up an activity, we do it, and then we analyse the words and break down the sentences we produced or couldn’t think of during the activity. This is a nice approach to language learning because you get to reinforce items you have learnt, build on what you know, focus on form, and learn new items from the output produced by your classmates. I use this approach in my teaching. Now that I have experienced it myself as a language learner, I feel that it is a very effective approach to learning a language.

Well-written ICQs are important for students

Teachers use instruction-checking questions (ICQs) to check that students have understood the instructions. There are good ones e.g. ‘How many paragraphs do you write?’, and bad ones e.g. ‘What do you have to do?’. If bad ones are used it can put more strain on the learner. This happened to me. I knew the instruction, but then I had to relay the information back to my teacher in my L2, who then may have felt that I didn’t understand the instruction. Here’s an example of how a bad ICQ puts strain on the learner:

Teacher: So, what do you have to do?

Learner: Eh… I… We… Me and my… partner?… Has…. Have to… choose… pick two… pictures and say… why do… I… we… like it?

Teacher: Good.

Easier and shorter ICQs that require short answers eliminate these situations.

Setting project homework

I love project homework. You know the kind where the learners have to go off and prepare a talk, for example, on their culture, their life, job and so on. This allows me to explore the language, learn new words and structures at my own pace with something that is important to me. I also love to hear my classmates’ and teachers’ reactions and questions when I present my work. 

Don’t forget to check the homework

With that said, don’t forget to correct homework in the follow-up lesson, especially work related to projects. It can be very disheartening when a teacher forgets to look at it after putting in all that effort the night before. 

Checking homework done in a digital coursebook or blended learning system seems redundant

Looking at homework done in a digital coursebook or a blended learning system, particularly when the learner is given the answers, seems pretty pointless to me and wastes precious classroom time. Unless there is something stressing that the teacher wants to look at or a learner had a particular problem with a task, fair enough, but, otherwise, it shouldn’t eat up the time in the follow-up lesson when focus should be given to new content and achieving new learning objectives. 

Using L1 in the classroom is a useful tool

The use of L1 in the classroom is always a hot debate, and I won’t get into it here as it deserves its own blog entries. Using and comparing your L1 to your target language, especially for a lower-level learner like me, really helped. What I experienced in the classroom was that it helped me understand concepts of grammar and vocabulary quickly. I also compared my writing in L1 and L2 to give me better clarity of my L2’s structures and rules. It’s also nice to use it with your classmates for things you cannot express in your L2. 

TTT isn’t so bad online

A lot is said about the amount of teacher-talking-time (TTT) that should be present in a class and that it should never outweigh student-talking-time (STT). While this is very true in a face-to-face environment, with the online space, it is a completely different communicative environment. I feel that it is quite necessary for the teacher to speak as it can get quite awkward when there is a lot of silence, students are not always up for speaking – or may be restricted to when their mics are off: housemates/family walking around, pets etc. – and teachers naturally speak while transitioning to the next task. For me as a low-level learner, it is also an extra challenge to understand what my teacher is saying to us, and it feels great when I get those little ‘aha’ moments. 

Self-conscious of the amount of questions I ask the teacher

As a learner, I often ask questions about grammar and vocabulary, but at the same time I am aware of the amount of questions I am asking and I never want to ask two or more questions at once. So there is this barrier I don’t want to break. I don’t want to annoy my teacher or classmates. Thankfully, sometimes, my fellow classmates ask a question which I wanted to ask which reduces this anxiety. This is an important discovery. I need to make sure that students have plenty of opportunities to ask questions and if the other classmates get annoyed, I should answer it really quickly, answer the question privately during the next task and/or relay to them that this question, when appropriate, is really important and they can learn something from the answer. 

2 thoughts on “From language teacher to language student – 10 things I learnt being a student on a language course

  1. Love it! I think that turning tables and being a language student really puts things in perspective. Congratulations for not only learning a new language but also for taking valuable points and making your future classes better!


    1. I’m glad you liked this blog and thanks for reading it. Yeah, it was definitely a unique experience and was blessed with the teachers I had. I have a lot my confidence in my ability to speak German now thanks to them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s