Welcome to the 21st century, language lovers! Tech seems to be seeping to every aspect of life these days, and language learning is no different. From learning apps like Duolingo to exchanges with native speaking partners, technology has been shaping the way people acquire language over the last couple of years. In similar fashion, online language lessons carried out over Skype have been increasingly popular as the opportunities provided by technological advancement improve. So what are the main differences one can expect when taking lessons over the Internet as opposed to traditional, face-to-face lessons?
A Step in the Right Direction
The more up-to-date teachers have been incorporating aspects of the virtual world to their language lessons for years now. It would be silly to limit your language learning to one textbook, one workbook and a listening CD (like in the good old days) when there are so many different options available on the Internet for both teachers and students. Taking lessons fully over Skype would seem like a natural next step from that. They definitely offer a completely new level of flexibility, since neither the teacher nor student needs to spend time commuting to their agreed destination for the lesson, and require the most basic of tech equipment – usually a laptop and an Internet connection to which most people these days have easy access.
It also increases the pool of teachers you can have access to when finding one for your target language. For face-to-face lessons you are obviously limited to the teachers that live in your city, when added the additional factor of trying to match your schedule and organising and travelling to your lessons, this might limit your options significantly. There is no such problem with Skype lessons, since your choice of teacher is almost limitless. Skype lessons are also a popular option for teachers for the same reason.
In addition to ease of access to teachers, it might also prove a lot easier for a beginner language learner to take lessons in the familiar and safe home environment. Since just beginning to learn (and speak) a new language can be a stressful and exhausting experience, the home field advantage can prove to be an important psychological boost. The first few times when you’re struggling to speak your target language, the (mainly imaginary) pressure you feel from your teacher can be quite frightening – but just turning of your webcam for that section can help you get over that initial scary part. And Skype lessons make it easy to “cheat” – using online dictionaries or Google Translate to quickly look up words and expressions you don’t fully understand without disrupting the flow of the lesson.
The Other Side of the Coin
The most common objection to Skype lessons might be the lack of real human interaction during the lessons. Although you do get the webcam video feed, or screen sharing and other technological gadgets to help you throughout the lesson, in a world where communication is moving online more and more, the traditional student-teacher relationship might be worth preserving. It’s a known fact how important body language is to communication, and with your view limited to what your teacher might be showing you on their webcam, this could prove to be a drawback. Especially, if you are taking your first steps to getting to know a culture different to yours and would need to get to know the peculiarities specific to that particular culture.
The other drawback to online lessons might be that it just means spending more time behind a computer. These days, when kids can spend 6 and adults 8 hours a day in front of a screen, a break is sorely needed. After coming home from a day of work of staring at a computer screen, the last thing many of us want would be to spend another hour looking at a screen with a teacher on it. At this point, grabbing a coffee in a nice café whilst practicing your Spanish with your teacher might sound a lot better.
Is the Future Here?
As we have written before, a lot of language learning comes down to your own preferences and motivations. This is also the case with Skype lessons – they definitely offer a lot more choice and flexibility to your lessons, but also can prove to be slightly isolating. It may be that the best takeaway from this would be to do a bit of both – for example, start with Skype lessons where you can feel more confident practicing in your own home. You can then evolve to intermediate and advanced levels where understanding the culture and peculiarities of your target language become more important and the physical presence of your teacher can be a bigger benefit. In any case, it is important to find what works for you with learning and just keep at it!