These days there are all kinds of classes available for the budding English language student. Here are 5 of the most common English classes. Which type of class do you go with?
Traditional language lessons were heavily reliant on grammar-based instruction, with lots of explanations of rules, lots drilling of structures and lots of translation exercises. But grammar alone doesn’t get you very far. Vocabulary is more useful. If you’re dying of thirst in a boiling hot English-speaking country (although, let’s face it, that’s unlikely to be the case in the UK), it won’t do you any good to know that in English pronouns must usually be expressed, that uncountable nouns don’t take an article or that the object follows the verb if you don’t know the words ‘want’ and ‘water’.
Grammar is, of course, important. Along with vocabulary it forms one of the two key language systems, and to speak a language well you cannot ignore it. However, the crucial thing is not merely to know the rules and to be able to produce beautifully constructed examples of the present perfect continuous in isolation, but to be able to use the grammar – and that can only come from practising the language in communication-based activities in class and actual conversation outside.
If you have very specific objectives in learning English, you might want a private class where the teacher can tailor the lesson exactly to your needs. The intense one-to-one practise not only maximises your time with the teacher but also allows the teacher to focus on your specific areas of difficulty and provide lots of feedback.
However, it can be tempting for both parties in this type of lesson to allow the class to become a kind of one-way exchange, with the teacher asking lots of questions and the student merely answering. In the case of English in particular, this can be very detrimental to the student; question forms are tricky to master in English, and it’s important that a student has lots of opportunity to practice them.
It’s also important to practice discourse skills, responding and reacting naturally to what the other person is saying. Simply answering a series of questions doesn’t achieve this; therefore, despite the one-to-one nature of private classes, group classes that make good use of pair-work activities are often much better at providing good conversation practice.
3. The mixed-skill group class
This type of class is usually very dynamic, with the teacher maximising student speaking time through pair and group work activities and ensuring that there is a good balance of receptive skills practice (listening and reading) and productive skills practice (speaking and writing). Grammar is introduced, practiced and reviewed as part of a communication-based approach to learning.
Although they usually follow one of the many excellent course books available, teachers often adapt the material to suit the particular class or create their own resources. The sociable nature of group classes – where everyone is being encouraged to chat and share opinions and stories in English – also ensure that real conversation is practiced, both with the teacher and with classmates.
4. Exam-preparation classes
This type of class can be very intense. Not only do they have to cover the language tested in the exam, they also have to teach exam skills. Unlike general English classes, where there is usually a wide variety activities, this type of class usually practices exam-style tasks over and over so that students become familiar with the format and timing of the tasks.
Remember, however, that the best exams test real-life language skills – conversation skills, listening skills, the ability to use grammar and vocabulary appropriately and so on. Therefore, to really prepare well, you still have to practice using English in non-exam-based, communicative situations, both inside and outside of class.
5. Skills classes
Many academies offer courses that provide focussed practice in a particular language skill or a particular kind of English. Conversation classes are particularly popular, but there is also academic English and business English, as well as English for a particular field of work, such as Aviation English or English for tourism.
This type of class can be ideal if you need English for specific purpose or you want to focus on one particular area, but as with all of the above, the way to progress and proficiency is to actually use the language as much as you can.