A survival guide for language school

If you’re part of any Expats community for a certain length of time you’ll start to hear and see several questions pop up regularly.

In Copenhagen the most popular questions by Expats (in no particular order) goes a little something like this:

1.    How can I find an apartment/house/small piece of floor where I can live and also get the crucially important CPR number (without which you cannot sneeze in Denmark).

2.    What shops are open on public holidays.  There is a flurry of holidays in Denmark from Christmas to June which means this question seemingly gets asked many times in a short space of time.  To be honest I’m not altogether convinced it should be in the ‘top 3 questions asked by expats’ (unless Google is on strike).  But never the less it is.

3.    And lastly, what is the best language school to attend for those brave or courageous enough to attempt the language.

What language school should I attend?

What language school should I attend?

Everyone who is learning a language (in my case Danish) wants to make the right decision when choosing a language school.  Everyone wants the magic switch to master the language
I’ve been hunting for the magic switch for nearly a year now.  Every morning I wake up wondering if during my sleep if I’ve miraculously become ‘bilingual’.   So far, every morning it has been the same result as I wake up and realise my world is still primarily reliant on my mother tongue,  English (or ‘engelsk’ as it is called in Danish).   It is precisely at this point when my shoulders slump as I realise I will have to keep going to language school.

When choosing a language school the best thing you can do is take a Cinderella approach. One size (or type) does not fit all.   What is right for one, wont be right for you. 

So before you start listening to others recommendations here are 5 ‘language school survival tips’ to also take into consideration:

1.    Every teacher is different
Every teacher is different.  Just like you, they will have their strengths, weaknesses and preferred way of teaching/learning,  which may or may not resonate with you.  Whoever your teacher is, give it a bit of time and see if you are learning and enjoying it.  If you wake with dread each day or if your teacher doesn’t sing to you – then find another one. Change classes.  This doesn’t necessary mean having to change schools either.  Within each language school you will come across a wide range of types and personalities of teachers.  Try them out and see who works for you.

2.    It’s a game of bluff
Soon enough you’ll be confronted with what seems like the whole class nodding in understanding to lengthy sentences being spoken in the new language.   If (like me) you’re sitting there thinking that your own learning must be extremely poor because you can’t understand the spoken Danish and have no idea what is going on, don’t.  Everyone (particularly in your early classes) is most likely ‘bluffing’ (guessing) what is being said.  It’s a terrible domino effect when you have one person who does that as others soon follow their lead.  Before you know it you have a whole class of nodding heads, a teacher who thinks they have an extremely clever class and in reality not a hell of a lot of understanding going on.  So don’t be shy.  If you don’t understand something, ask.  Chances are 90% of your class are also thinking the same thing and have the same question.  A good teacher will also be aware of this and include just enough English to ensure learning flows or at the very least explain the grammar rules in English.

3.    Do not compare yourself with any German speakers or anyone who has lived in Denmark for more than 2 years

Simply by living in another country you will be picking up words, phrases and your ear will become more ‘tuned in’ to the language.  Meaning those who have lived in a country for any significant time before starting language classes will have a higher base knowledge to begin with.   Do not compare yourself and your progress with them.  Similarly, when learning Danish don’t compare yourself and your rate of learning with anyone who speaks German.  This one took me a while to click on to, and has left me regretting my decision not to learn German at High School.   For those that know German, Danish (comparatively) will be a walk in the park to learn.  Which is great for German speakers.   But not so great for my personal morale in class.

4.    Don’t just ‘pass’.  Pass with class.
Your language school will of course be happy if you simply ‘pass’ each module.  They will then get to go on their summer holidays as well as (in Monopoly terms) pass ‘go’ and collect more money for you to start the next module.  

Your focus however needs to be on truly learning the language.  Learning Danish (or any language) is not a skill you can ‘wing it’.  If you want to speak Danish you need to be putting in the hard yards both in the class and outside it.  Aim to pass each module well – don’t let the school rush you just so tests fit within their timetables.  Choose your own pace, change classes if need be and put in extra time so you can pass well.  You’re learning a language, not how to paint a house.  Near enough won’t be good enough.

5.    You can’t learn a new language just by attending language school

It would be nice if we could simply attend school 1,2, 3 or more times a week and learn the language in our allotted ‘x’ hours.

The reality however is that this will not be enough.  You also need to actively participate outside of class to learn, reinforce and practice.

Read the local papers.  Find Danish speaking clubs. Force yourself to order your next pastry in Danish.  And hang out with 2 year olds.  Super helpful for nailing some of the basic but life long fundamentals of the language such as min mor (my Mum), hendes mor (her Mum), deres mor (their Mum).  Personal pronouns become much more meaningful in real time.

Read childrens books, watch childrens programmes, watch Danish television (i.e Matador) with Danish subtitles, or English programmes with Danish subtitles (ie. Friends).  Slowly through exposure and repetition things will begin to click. Og du vil tale dansk.  Måske 😉

What did they say?

What did they say?

Please like this post below if it has helped you understand your own language schools frustrations (or at the very least brightened your day) and please also share your best language school tip!  There must be more.