The Buddy System: 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Learn a Language Alone

Posted on 01. Oct, 2014 by in Language Learning

We all remember clutching someone’s hand so we wouldn’t get left behind on a class field trip: the good ole’ buddy system. It’s a simple action, holding someone’s hand, but it provides that extra layer of safety and accountability we all needed at a young age. What about now that we’re a bit older, though? Can we still benefit from the buddy system?

Image by Mats Lindh on

Image by Mats Lindh on

If you’re learning a language, my answer would undoubtedly be yes. I don’t mean you need someone to figuratively (or literally!) hold your hand through each step of your language-learning journey. But it’s also unwise to go it alone, especially if you’re the type who gets bored easily or lacks motivation. Here are five good reasons you should use the buddy system when learning a language:

1. Make yourself accountable.

It’s really easy to skip the gym if you usually go by yourself—nobody ever has to know! The same goes for studying a language. Don’t feel like spending 30 minutes reading the next chapter of your language book? If nobody even knows you were planning on doing it, it’s all too easy to just brush it off for a day (which can turn in to two days, then three days, until… well, you see my point).

It won’t help just to tell someone you’re going to learn a language, either. Studies have actually shown that those who tell others about their goals are less likely to achieve them. Chances are, if you’ve divulged your lofty goal to learn Thai over the next 12 months, you’ve received a lot of praise and admiration. And when you can get that positive feedback without having to put in the hard work towards achieving your goal, it’s like a placebo for real accomplishment. Why put forth the effort when you already get that little high from the praise?

Here’s where the buddy system helps. If you made a pact with a friend to study a language together, you are there to hold one another accountable. For example, that chapter you didn’t feel like the reading earlier—if you both agree to study the same chapter at night and go over it together the next day, it’s a little harder to just skip out.

2. Celebrate accomplishments together.

Your language-learning buddy isn’t just there to force you to do the work, though. One of the most motivating byproducts of learning together is having someone who truly understands how hard you’re working. There’s no better feeling than sharing major accomplishments—your first real conversation, that time you finally understand when and how to use the subjunctive, you name it—with someone who has been through it themselves. Take advantage of the buddy system and you’ll have someone there to cheer you on and celebrate each little victory along the way to fluency.

3. Put the language to use.

Not all of the benefits of the buddy system are the warm-and-fuzzy type. One of the most practical reasons to learn with a partner is that it gives you the opportunity to use the language. Even if you’re the ultra-motivated type and don’t need to be held accountable or get a pat on the back every time you use the right case, learning on your own doesn’t give you much opportunity to speak the language.

Even if you’re both beginners who still butcher basic pronunciation, having a speaking partner around on a frequent basis is an advantage. Speaking isn’t just about perfecting your pronunciation. in fact you can get by just fine in a foreign language with an accent—I mean Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his uber Austrian accent, ran California for a while, didn’t he? Having a speaking partner will help you get comfortable producing and using the language at a more rapid pace, a skill you’ll need when conversing with native speakers. And when it’s a friend who is at a similar skill level as you, it provides a comfortable environment to stumble over your words and make mistakes without fear of judgment or failure.

4. Fuel some friendly competition.

Another benefit to learning with someone at your level? A little friendly competition. Sure, it’s motivating to have a friend counting on you and cheering for you, but what about a friend who is competing with you? For some, this can be demotivating, and language learning certainly shouldn’t be a race. But FOMO (fear of missing out) is a powerful emotion. You wouldn’t want to be the one who gives up on the language, only to look back 6 months later and see how far your friend has progressed. Use that as fuel to better yourself, not best your friend.

 5.Share the experience.

Lest you think I’m a monster who turns everything into a competition, let me say that I think the #1 benefit to learning with a buddy is simply that you have someone to share the experience with. Watching a foreign language film by yourself? Not bad. Turning it into a full-fledged movie night where you get together, make a recipe from your target culture, and watch the flick together? Wonderful. Learning a language takes a long time and a lot of effort, but sharing that experience with someone else makes it a lot more enjoyable. Learning a language as a duo (or a trio or an entire family) redirects the focus from the destination to the journey. It doesn’t get much better than that.

What about you? Are you learning a language with a friend or family member, or do you prefer to learn alone?

8 Mistakes That Haunt Language Learners (and How You Can Avoid Them!)

Posted on 29. Sep, 2014 by in Language Learning

Language learners of all abilities and backgrounds have something in common: they make mistakes—lots and lots of them. Language teachers and experts actually encourage making mistakes, as each false friend you employ and every verb conjugation you mangle is a learning opportunity. Learning by doing (even doing wrong) is powerful. So, keep on makin’ mistakes, language learners… as long as they’re productive mistakes.

Beware, though! Some language learners make the wrong kind of mistakes—disastrous errors actually prohibit them from improving and progressing. Are you inadvertently sabotaging your language-learning efforts? Check out this SlideShare to see which mistakes are haunting language learners, and learn how you can avoid them.

Not Ready to Completely Flip Your Language Classroom? Try the Sideways Classroom Model

Posted on 24. Sep, 2014 by in Language Learning, Trends

You’ve heard of it by now: the flipped classroom model. To oversimplify a bit, this educational model requires students to listen to traditional lectures (delivered in video format) at home, thereby freeing up classroom time for more interactive learning activities. Here at Transparent Language, we’re big fans of helping teachers flip language classrooms, but this model is not without its critics.

Image by Alan Levine on

Image by Alan Levine on

Asking students to take active responsibility for their own learning is a daunting step, both in terms of students’ discipline and their access to new technologies. All teachers know how hard it can be to motivate some students to do their homework. Asking them to watch and absorb lectures at home? Forget about it. Even in an ideal world where all students feel inspired to learn on their own time, it’s unrealistic to assume all students have access to computers, tablets, or internet at home. A WiFi connection may feel ubiquitous to those of us living in the land of smartphones and tablets, but the reality is that nearly 30% of households in America do not have internet access. So, while the flipped classroom model may allow teachers to fill class time with hands-on lessons and group activities, it’s not for every school, or every student.

But don’t flip out! There is a way to reap the benefits of flipped learning without turning your classroom on its head. You can ease into flipped learning by simply tilting your classroom to the sideways classroom model. Like the flipped classroom, a sideways classroom leverages technology to deliver instruction outside of the classroom, but does so via after-school programs. For a well-equipped school district, this alleviates concerns about at-home internet access and motivation. Students still consume video-based lectures, but in a controlled environment that provides all the necessary tools and supervision. This sideways setup still frees teachers from giving the same lectures repeatedly to multiple classes, and opens up classroom time for more applied, interactive lessons.

As author Emily Ko so nicely puts it in the Edudemic article:

“While flipped learning is about transferring control to students to make them more involved and more responsible for their learning experience, sideways learning is about making learning and study tools accessible to all students. The delay [between] the lesson and feedback is minimized, and there is greater connection between students, study groups, and teachers.”

This flipped classroom alternative is ideal for schools equipped with computer labs and similar technology, lessening the burden on students and giving teachers the quality classroom time they work so hard for. So, if the “flip” seems like too great a leap, consider working with your school administration to tilt your language classroom a bit to one side instead.

Have you flipped or tilted your language classroom? What advice do you have for other teachers considering the change?

Looking for language-learning technology to integrate into your flipped or sideways classroom? Check out Transparent Language Online and see how other schools have benefited from the program.