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Is Learning English Online Legit?

It’s common for people to assume the only effective way to learn English or any other language is in a traditional classroom. This bias is informed by our own experiences with education. What I mean by this is two things. First, that many of us learned a language (or at least made a feeble attempt) in a typical school environment. Secondly, we often invalidate or devalue learning which takes place outside of the classroom. Yet, learning a language online or in ‘real life’ situations helps many students to acquire a language much more practically and effectively than in schools.


Consider the experiences of friends and family with regards to learning a language. How many of them are fluent in their target language? Your answer is probably in the range of zero to a couple. But that shouldn’t be the case, right? Most of them probably went to traditional brick-and-mortar schools and language institutes for several years or even longer! So why can’t they use the language practically? There’s a number of reasons, but the most significant is that schools emphasize two domains of language, reading and writing while neglecting listening and speaking. And don’t get me wrong, being literate in another language is great, but chances are unless you’re studying a dead language your primary goal is to speak another language. Most people have this motivation because they need the target language for business, for travel, to enter a foreign university or just for satisfaction.

Before we get to online learning solutions, let’s consider two questions – Is it legit to pay hundreds, thousands, potentially even tens of thousands of dollars on language education with no practical results? Is it legit to spend years learning a language and only be able to make an introduction and declare, “My favorite color is blue. I like cheese pizza. Where is the bathroom?” Of course not. It’s clearly unacceptable, but it’s the paradigm which pervades language learning worldwide.


Ok, now onto the question posed in the title, is learning English (or another language) online legit? Of course it is. There’s a huge number of reasons, but I’ll select just a few. First, students who learn online often study with a teacher 1:1. That enables teachers to provide much more individualized programming for the student. Students don’t need to waste time on things they already know and can focus on what challenges them most. Also, students learning for business will need different language skills than those who want to use the language for travel, and that kind of customization can be accommodated easily. Of course learning online also enables teachers to instruct more effectively. For example, they can incorporate authentic materials (news articles, movie clips, music, etc.), and they can avoid using watered-down materials and textbooks with ineffective and outdated methods for language instruction. And finally another point is that the teachers can be just as qualified if not more so. A good plurality of teachers who offer lessons online have lived and/or taught in another country and have post-secondary degrees.


At this point, you should understand some of the problems which plague language learners and that online learning is indeed a great option for many language students. I also suppose I need to state the obvious - not every physical school inadequately prepares students to practically use a language and of course not every online language teacher does a great job. Yet, I’ve heard a lot of people write off e-learning a language and that’s a failure to understand language acquisition and the goals most students strive to achieve. 


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