Why I Don’t Like Language Classes

Sounds like a bit of a shocker coming from me, doesn’t it. But it’s true – language classes make me feel stressed and incompetent.

After last week’s Portuguese lesson, my friend and classmate Sofia remarked that I hadn’t been having a very good time in class that evening. Probably, so she surmised, because of my toothache. (I’m having some dental work done at the moment, but the pain is fairly well controlled by painkillers)

No, Sofia, this is how I am, ALL THE TIME, in language classes.

She’s going to have to get used to it.

My pet hate is having to read aloud. As a teenager studying Russian, I always dreaded the part where we were taking turns to read aloud from the textbook. I would practice for hours at home alone in my room, to the point where knew the text almost by heart, but it was no use. In class, my windpipe would constrict, and my pronunciation was all over the place. It was pretty much the same sweaty-palmed experience in my English class.

It’s not a fear of public speaking per se. Although I don’t particularly relish the first five minutes, I can stand up in front of hundreds of people and give fairly engaging presentation – I even enjoy it, as long as I know what I’m talking about.

When I worked as a Braillist for six years, part of the job was reading aloud to (blind) colleagues who were checking the Braille against the print version. Totally fine – I was in the room with only one other person who I was comfortable with. But as soon as there’s a classroom, an ‘audience’ and an expectant teacher involved, I completely go to pieces.

Do you feel like going in to hiding in your language class? Raquel, my intercambio, clearly does. But I think this was more to do with me taking a picture of her, rather than feeling shy about speaking German...

Do you feel like going into hiding in your language class? Raquel, my intercambio, clearly does. But I think this was more to do with me taking a picture, rather than her feeling shy about speaking German…

It’s not just reading aloud that frazzles me. When it’s my turn to construct a sentence or come up with a basic line of dialogue, more often than not I get stuck, out of pure nervousness. It doesn’t help that I’m a reticent foreign language speaker who hates making mistakes. When I’m not 100% sure, I’d much rather not say anything at all.

I’m not alone in this, I realise. A good friend of mine told me that he didn’t start speaking until he was four years old. Then, one fine day, he pointed at a vehicle parked outside their house, asking, in a perfectly formed sentence in the genitive case, “Wessen Auto ist das?” (“Whose car is this?”). This rather late start, btw, didn’t stop him from becoming multilingual.

It’s obvious that my performance failure has nothing to do with other people’s expectations of me, but is down to my fear of not measuring up to my own.

The upshot of it is, even though I’m generally considered to be “good” at languages, I struggle like hell in certain settings. I’m not like a fish in water as soon as I step into a language class, far from it. I get caught up in boxing against my own shadow. Six years of therapy should sort me out…

Despite this, I evidently still go to language classes and I do get a great deal out of them. So, I guess, it’s more like a love-hate relationship.

As an aside, my Portuguese class is about to fold, due to lack of numbers. We’re down to just three. I may go elsewhere in May if another class can be found, or continue on my own. I have placed an ad on a website looking for speakers of Brazilian Portuguese who want to improve their English or their German. Let’s see what comes of it…

24 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Like Language Classes

  1. gkm2011

    I make lots of mistakes now – and I miss the classroom setting. When you have a good class and everyone is working together – that’s magic! Glad you keep going though and good luck on continuing your studies.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Thanks 🙂
      I no longer take Spanish classes – we’ve covered it all, and it’s just a matter of practicing and chipping away at the coalface, lol. I’m years away from reaching this point with the Portuguese… I can’t even be thinking about it in those terms, or I’d just give up right now.
      I guess with the Chinese, you’d need to be attending classes for years and years to become proficient at writing, whether you’re a fluent speaker or not. Luckily, that’s not the case with European-origin languages. Thank you Romans!!!!

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  2. languagewanderer

    That’s interesting what you wrote. Personally I don’t like formal classs because I know that I can learn it all by myself and usually I’ll do it faster. However, sometimes it’s good to practise conversations and it’s difficult to do it alone:P

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      1. languagewanderer

        Oh I see 🙂 it all depends on preferences. Not all ways of studying are good for everyone:) good luck!

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      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        Thanks! We all have our preferred methods. I just wish I absorbed information faster… it takes me ages! I don’t think I actually want to be doing any speaking for at least another month or even two…

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      3. languagewanderer

        I think that if you don’t feel like spekaing, don’t do it then 🙂 There are many language learners who want to remain ‘quiet’ for some time untill they feel they are ready to speak:-)

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      4. languagewanderer

        Hehe ok, it’ll be a secret 😛 but I think that for eksempel Steve Kaufmann has a similar attitude as you when it comes to spekaing 🙂

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      5. languagewanderer

        Oh definitely 🙂 he’s a well-know polyglot and has a site and a yt channel with interesting videos. I personally like his attitude towards language learning.

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  3. con jamón

    Hi Interesting post – and concur fully (M). Partner S excels in a classroom environment. I prefer 1-2-1, watching language videos, translating documents and testing my own vocab before inevitably checking my phone app (Collins dictionary by the way, excellent) to check that the word is what I think it is. I think it starts in the childhood classroom and one’s experience of it. When we arrive in Spain we’ll be dumped in the deep end and will have to learn pretty quick – but that’s the best way isn’t it? Talking and listening to ‘real’ people.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Hi there 🙂 there are three websites I can highly recommend for getting to grips with the Spanish SPOKEN in Spain. Without understanding colloquial expressions you’ll be totally lost. They are:
      http://www.spanishpodcast.org/ (This is gratis, there are lots of podcasts and transcripts)
      http://www.newsinslowspanish.com (I subscribe to this, worth every penny!)
      http://www.notesinspanish.com/ (again, subscription based, but so worth it.)
      The sites above are the best ones I’ve found. Steer clear of shelling out for sites teaching ‘generic’ or South American Spanish. Although useful and interesting, this won’t help you much in Spain if your aim is to have have day-to-day conversations with ‘normal’ Spanish people.
      Hope this helps 🙂

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  4. con jamón

    Brilliant, thanks. We’re aware of Notes in Spanish and love it (only listened to free podcasts) – in fact we include it in our blogroll (along with yours). We will check the other two out.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Worth paying for the transcripts… and once you’re subscribed, you can wait for their ‘special offers’, which happen every few months, then you’ll get more material at a bargain price.
      Another thing that has worked really well for me is placing an ad for intercambios (1-2-1 language exchange chats over a drink/coffee) with http://www.tusclasesparticulares.com. It’s free, and you can specify your area/town and meet lots of new people face-to-face. Demand for English speakers is voracious, so you can afford to be quite discerning. E.g. If you prefer to meet people who are a bit more mature with some life experience behind them, be sure to specify an age range that is a bit higher than you’d stipulate in the UK. Spanish people tend to live with their parents until they’re about 30 or even older, and they won’t have lived in other cities to attend university, for example. You can’t always generalise, of course, but this is what I’ve found.

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  5. Catarina Capelo

    Hi,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. I speak Portuguese, but I am from Portugal. Even though I know a considerable amount of expressions, it is not the same. If you need help, you can contact me.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Aw, thank you, that’s much appreciated! Right this minute (well, apart from typing this), I’m doing my Portuguese homework for tomorrow… smoke coming out of my ears…

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  6. Rachel

    I’m the same. It’s funny, I can speak pretty easily in German or Spanish with my friends (or with complete strangers), but as soon as my teacher starts talking to me, I clam up. German School starts with going around the class talking about what we did during the week, and I dread having to go first. And the other week my Spanish teacher called on my to give a verb ending with -ir. I stared at him like a beached fish for a few minutes and then said, “Tener?”

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