Being alone can be difficult. Being alone can be depressing. Being alone can be unproductive. Being alone can be lonely. What does this have to do with learning a language? Everything. Bear with me.
I decided last year to devote more of my time to expanding my own online course that I have had since I moved to Brazil. The first thing I did was reach out to a colleague that I met that year at an ELT meeting. Thankfully, Stephen jumped onboard and brought with him two others. I brought with me one of my friends that had also worked with me in the past and a colleague from the course I worked for, and later added more. What happened next for me was amazing. I began planning more, producing more, blogging, sharing and developing the business name as well as my name as an ELT professional. As the business, and I grew, I realized that for years, I had been spinning my wheels working as an individual.
So, I had a small group of awesome professionals to grow with, to share with and to build a business with. This blossomed into reaching out and building a new network of professionals over the internet that were just like me. Small businesses trying to grow. I soon joined and built up a community of teachers and professionals that not only cared, but shared and helped each other. This has been a great experience and has resulted in invitations to review other courses, blogging, and presenting with some very impressive ELT organizations.
The key, community. I thought about community, which is something I have always championed in the classroom and later online. I then started a Facebook community for learners. Our community English learners group, ENGLISH STUDENTS worldwide has been running for about 3 months and has grown to over 2000 members in over 150 countries and keeps us busy. It is a learning community for students to post questions, doubts, share posts as well as a place for fellow professionals to share their posts with students. Almost immediately, a handful of members started a WhatsApp group that is still active today. We have grown so much, I have had to add a moderator, my friend Ana in the UK, just to keep up with all the postings. She is getting overwhelmed and it’s time to add more moderators to continue.
The point, community works. People, even when it comes to individual learning, need the support, the help, the nurturing of a community to succeed. This brings me to some of the reasons you, as students, need to join a community, whether it be a group or conversation classes.
Being with others makes us happy. Group activities and sharing with others is in our DNA. We are social creatures. Socialize while you’re learning. Why feel alone when there are millions of others just like you out there who would love the interaction just as much as you?
Being with others in a learning situation helps to relieve stress. The pressure is off. Having a “friend” there is always welcome for support, comradery and it beats being lonely while you’re studying. Group study has always been a way to improve since grade school.
Studying and interacting with a group opens your mind to different ideas, methods, tricks, outlooks and allows us to see things from many different angles. This will make for deeper, more memorable learning and even gives us insight into other cultures from around the world. Working with some Brits and a New Zealander certainly has taught me a lot about grammar, vocabulary and idioms.
By sharing with others, you will see their flaws and hopefully will become aware of your own. We are global communicators now and we need to learn to accept other people’s flaws in order to improve our understanding. Remember that we all make mistakes, even native speakers. By learning with others, we will build patience with them, and realize that people must be patient with us while we are learning.
I was asked at the end of my presentation for an international webinar if I liked presenting to large groups in a webinar setting. My answer was no. I hated it in fact. I need the interaction of others to be more dynamic and to have fun myself. Having a reaction, seeing the reactions, having instant feedback is so much better than just talking to a “room” of faceless listeners.
There is nothing better than being in a group setting learning, studying, practicing and interacting for building confidence. Studying alone or privately with a teacher during your development does nothing to help you speak in a group. I have known many students who can be close to fluent with their teacher yet freeze and choke when faced with a group or new individual. Learning in a community will assure that you don’t have this problem when the time comes to speak to others.
To quote John Donne, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Be part of the main. As a learner, you will find success just as I have as a teacher. Join a community and grow together. You’ll find it offers much more than just learning the language.
Rob Howard is the owner of Online Language Center. He is a teacher, tutor, trainer, material designer and author for English as a foreign language. He is also a consultant and has been a frequent speaker internationally regarding online retention as well as using technology in and out of the classroom. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts in the U.S., he is currently residing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.