Learning a language often begins with a curriculum - a procedural, tested process by which a language is broken down into comprehensible parts. Once a part is completed there is a sense of accomplishment. If the teacher offered you something too difficult, such as a video of a university lecture in that language, you might be discouraged and give up.


Instead, a teacher can offer a small, achievable challenge that will motivate you to continue. Lev Vygotsky called this the Zone of Proximal Development and good teachers often apply this idea to help students get started in a language.


But what happens when the curriculum ends? You completed the textbook but are you fluent?



Living Languages


Modern languages are ‘living’ - they are as complicated as the people who speak them. The clear vocabulary and explanations your curriculum gave you may seem different than the language you encounter when talking with a native speaker.


You have received the basic structure and essential vocabulary, but now it is time to begin to interact with authentic language, used to communicate ideas and feelings rather than curriculum goals. Many users on italki are at this stage. A user often writes a message like this:



At this stage, the path towards fluency seems less clear than before. However, your intuition is excellent. You came to italki to practice communicating with real people. This initiative demonstrates that you want to take control of your learning, though you may not know where to start.



The Truth


Teachers may not want to admit it, but we do not really know where you should start either. We offer 1:1 lessons that are designed just for you. However, in order to make materials for your lesson, we need to know what motivates you.


Take some time before you meet a teacher or language partner to consider why you are studying and how it relates to your everyday life. With this information, teachers should provide you with authentic resources rather than sterilized curricula with unnatural language.


You are the teacher now. Take control of your language learning by communicating your needs and being realistic about the steps you need to take. Expect to speak more than your teacher and prepare to make mistakes. Do not expect tidiness; living languages are messy. When needed, do not be afraid to ask your teacher or italki community members to get out their brooms to make something more clear.


“Slow and steady wins the race.” Be consistent in your studies and patient about your progress. Learning from real-world materials does not offer the same clarity of progress and achievement you received from completing that language course or passing that test. Instead, take pride in the times you communicate in the language and become acquainted someone or something new.



Authentic Resource Suggestions


Learning languages is becoming more efficient and engaging every day due to online resources and services. Well-presented information and arguments are a perfect complement to the peer-to-peer connections on italki, just as in discussions in your native language.


When you share your knowledge or feelings, you are more invested in what you say. If you are seeking to build fluency in a language, here are some resource suggestions you might consider:


TED - Technology Education and Design - there are thousands of videos available for free.  Besides subtitles, there is an ‘interactive transcriptof each talk so that you can read along while you listen.

Newsela presents world news articles at your level of language proficiency.  If you sign up for a paid subscription, they have tools you can use to track your progress, check your comprehension, and practice writing.

The staff of Vimeo chooses their favorite uploads from a variety of genres such as Animation, Time Lapse, and Music Videos.  The videos are usually shorter than typical TV programs and movies.

Lyrics Training gives you tools to  improve your listening comprehension of popular music around the world and to practice your pronunciation.


Hero image by Anna Vander Stel on Unsplash