Learning a new language (at some point) is a goal that is held by a non-inconsequential number of adults. That is precisely why every second person has the Duolingo app sitting on their phone’s home screen – more often than not, begging for the user to pick up their learning streak again.
I, too, was one of these Duolingo users – for many years, in fact – until I decided to say goodbye to the green bird and hello to a virtual tutor instead.
Learning a language: The process that works best (for me)
As I mentioned earlier, I have been in an on-again-off-again relationship with Duolingo for a long time. My most recent dalliance with the app was for a six-month period, during which I attempted to improve my Spanish-speaking skills. I was definitely learning words, but my conversational abilities still sat at next to zero.
It was at this time that I was introduced to a website called Preply by a friend who has also been learning Spanish for some time. He explained that he uses the platform to speak with a tutor (who has since become a friend of his) and that the experience has allowed him to comfortably build his ability to speak in the language.
So, I decided to give it a try. When I arrived at the website, I filled in a short questionnaire designed to help you find the right tutor. It asked which language I wanted to learn (obviously), as well as what my goals were, when I wanted to take classes and what my budget was. From here, I was served a selection of recommended tutors – each with a profile and reviews to check out. I signed up for a trial lesson with a tutor based in Mexico and have been taking classes with her three times a week for almost three months now.
I’ll also add that I haven’t been gifted a subscription for review here; this is simply an experience I pay for that I’ve gotten a lot out of – so I wanted to share it with you all.
My day-to-day with Preply
Before my first lesson, I took a short test with Preply that assessed my level of ability, which was then passed on to my tutor, Gaby, before we got to work.
When I meet with Gaby, we do so via a virtual classroom on the Preply website which is basically a video meeting where the teacher can share their screen and walk you through whatever material you’re going to cover. You can also type messages to each other, but mostly, you are speaking in real-time – and in the language you are learning. (At least, that has been my experience.) During my first lesson, I absolutely freaked out and said little more than “si” and “gracias”, but I quickly got over that initial nervousness and now do my best to speak only in Spanish, too.
The Preply classroom will tell you how many minutes you spoke for during the class, which is a nice little indication of how you’re improving – at least when it comes to confidence in speaking.
In addition to the classes, Gaby will send me homework or ‘tarea’ that I can make my way through during the week. I’ll also try and send voice notes to her regularly so I’m practising speaking about everyday things and getting feedback on my sentence structure and pronunciation.
I can’t stress enough just how much of a difference all of this has made in my language-learning journey. Duolingo certainly offered some useful basics, but in three months on Preply, I’ve made more progress in my Spanish than ever before. I’m by no means a pro, but the improvements in my communication skills are clear. Having a wonderful tutor certainly helps, but the practice of speaking on a video call for three hours a week is just a world away from spending a few minutes on an app each day.
It’s honestly been quite the motivator to see how much I have been able to learn in a few months. I watch a lot of Spanish TV and listen to Spanish music most days, and now I find I understand phrases I absolutely would not have known a few months back. And I’ve had (very simple) conversations using the language skills I have learnt so far, too. It’s one of the most satisfying learning experiences I’ve ever had.
When it comes to cost, tutors will set prices at varying levels, so you can select a range that feels affordable for you. I’ll also add that if you end up working with a tutor whose work you’re getting a lot of value out of, there’s nothing stopping you from offering to pay a little extra via PayPal, if you like.
The other benefit I’ve found that comes with learning a language is that while it is difficult, booking in that time means you have to stop whatever you’re doing and focus on the lesson. I usually take classes during my lunch break when I’m working from home and it prevents me from accidentally working through lunch, or even thinking about my daily stresses – my brain is too full trying to think of how to say words in Spanish!
Also, according to Cambridge University, learning a language is incredibly good for your brain, helping to protect it against things like dementia and improving memory, concentration and general communication skills. Hard to argue with all that, hey?
You can read more about the Preply platform here.
Lead Image Credit: Canva/iStock