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  • Ilinca Stroe

Learning Romanian: with or without a teacher?

Today, whether you are an expat professional, a local office worker or a migrant un/skilled worker, you are expected to know (a bit of) a foreign language. Especially in the European Union, where linguistic competence and multilingualism are Union policy (in, for instance, the Europe 2020 Programme), lifelong learners had better be actively engaged in a language learning process.

But should that learning be formal (e.g. post/graduate courses), non-formal (e.g. language centre courses) or informal (e.g. via web surfing or socialising)? Should it be online, using apps, video tutorials and/or Skype classes, or should it be the classical classroom-based, face-to-face type? On your own or with a teacher? And how about those special programmes which guarantee you can become fluent in such and such language in just 2 weeks? Finally, what’s meant by “learning a language”? Is it dabbling in it, so you can utter “hi”, “bye” and a few other pleasantries? Is it getting by in it, so you can order food and drinks in a restaurant? Or is it really mastering it, so you can chat with a native speaker on an equal footing, without them having to worry about speaking more slowly (or loudly) because addressing a non-native?

Those are typical questions you may find yourself asking when it comes to learning a language nowadays. Answers have been conflicting, and accepting one or another really depends on your objectives as a language learner: in other words, how far do you want to get in your language learning? Dabbling, getting by, mastering? So leaving that to you to clarify, let’s have a look, instead, at some tips about language learning which apply across the board. Approached critically, they may prove relevant to you whether you set out to reach beginner or advanced level in a foreign language.

Firstly, BBC recommends that, while “there's no single universal foolproof method to learn a language”, when doing so, you should:

  • practise at least 10 minutes daily

  • listen to audios (CDs, podcasts, etc.) in that language as much as you can

  • watch videos and (online) TV to expose yourself to the sound of the language and to pick up new vocabulary aided by the visual support

  • write in that language

  • think or talk to yourself in that language, even if it’s just some phone number or a shopping list

  • revise regularly what you’ve learned

  • visit a place where you can use that language

  • have a learning partner

  • not be afraid of making mistakes [1]

Secondly, Benny Lewis, author of Fluent in 3 Months, suggests you should

  • focus on learning “the right words”, i.e. the common, core vocabulary of a language, consisting of around 300 items, because that ensures you comprehend about 65% of what you listen to or read in that language

  • learn cognates, i.e. words which mean the same thing in your language

  • immerse yourself in the language via technology (apps, online TV, YouTube channels, etc.)

  • speak the language “right away”, live with a native via Skype or on

  • make “at least 200 mistakes a day” – exaggeration aside, “embrace making mistakes”

  • work on your accent and intonation to sound more native, mimicking the musicality and rhythm of the target language

  • use the plethora of free resources available [2]

Indeed, free language learning resources abound online even for a rare language like Romanian. This page, for example, lists six e-resources for learning Romanian, of which well-known Duolingo is one, offering “Romanian for English speakers” in minimum 5 and maximum 20 minutes a day. But then again, interviewed by The Guardian, the founder of this app admits that Duolingo cleverly “gamifies” language learning, yet it remains, at the end of the day, only “an educational way to kill some time” – while “the truth of the matter is that learning a language takes months or years.” [3]

Besides Duolingo, a learner of Romanian can take Benny Lewis’s advice about using free online resources and access

So free online resources do abound, encouraging and enabling independent learning. And yet: since most tips-and-tricks lists, irrespective of whether they support online learning, fast learning or formal learning, recommend making mistakes as a building block of language learning, one cannot wonder who corrects the mistakes, with independent learners. Obviously, not being afraid to make mistakes isn’t, per se, a guarantee that the learner will make progress. Mistakes need to be noticed, processed and corrected. And that can only be done properly by a teacher. Of course you can always ask a native pal to correct your speaking or writing mistakes, but it is only teachers who are qualified to correct errors both tactfully and productively, ensuring that your self-confidence isn’t shattered because of the way the correction is done, and ensuring that mistakes turn into learning opportunities, into occasions to improve your accuracy and upgrade your language.

Therefore, the abundance of free online resources should be used not just, blindly, for the sake of exposing yourself to as much language as you can, but rather as a complement to your regular classes with a teacher, as part of a self-directed learning process supervised, guided and/or fine-tuned by a teacher. Because it’s ultimately down to a teacher to point out, correct and help you learn from the listening comprehension mistakes, reading comprehension mistakes, speaking and writing mistakes that you will make as a learner.

But error correction isn’t the only reason why language learners had better study with teachers. Teachers are also your first learning partners: the role models you try to emulate in reaching native-level mastery of the language. Besides, teachers are often your classmates who can make a lesson good fun in various ways, whether by taking up a funny role in a role-play with you, or simply by their energetic personality and teaching style. Last but not least, teachers are there to motivate and re-motivate you whenever you’re a bit down about your learning: they are your (self-)motivation reservoir and your first and most solid support when it comes to building up trust in your own capacity as a language learner and user.

If all that is still hard to believe, just watch this demo by International House teachers of Romanian: it’s all there – evident, visible, enjoyable! :)

Notes & Sources

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