According to Dr Britt Andreatta’s book Wired to Grow, “Research has revealed five powerful learning connections that can help move your learning into long-term memory that can be easily retrieved.” One of those is Music, which I touched upon in a post about Learning Russian through Song and another is Social Engagement. To quote Britt again, “We are innately social creatures and social learning helps us maximise that aspect of our biology.” (As someone who, in her day job, works with a learning platform designed on the basis of Social Constructionism, that rings true to me.)
So although you can get a long way by teaching yourself, there are obvious benefits to learning with other people in a class, be it face to face or online. Although I was getting automatic feedback from Duolingo and could check my answers to quizzes in my Take Off in Russian book, I was missing human contact. So I’ve signed up as a “member of the general public” (ie, not an on-campus-student) to the Beginners’ Russian elective class at the University of Central Lancashire, taught by the very ebullient and very Russian Svetlana Baeva. I’ve been to two classes so far, unfortunately missing the last one as I was in – er – Russia! – and it’s been a fascinating experience on several levels:
- It’s been well over 30 years since I was in a language learning classroom as a student, and I’d forgotten the dynamics, the pleasures, the fears. I know this one: pick me, pick me! I don’t know this; I’ll put my head down so she doesn’t see me..
- I’m over 30 years older than the rest of the class, mainly UCLAN students on language degrees. But I don’t care – and I don’t think they do either!
- I see the lesson both from a student view point and a teacher viewpoint. I taught MFL for 28 years and seeing Svetlana’s enthusiasm and the energy she puts into her lessons reminds me just how physically demanding teaching a language is, especially to beginners who don’t have enough knowledge to be set a task for several minutes so you, the teacher, can have a break.
- UCLAN uses Blackboard! Course materials and extra resources are on Blackboard. As someone who has only ever used Moodle, I welcome the experience, not so I can ‘diss’ Blackboard, but so I can compare and contrast. Sveltana has added all her class powerpoints and many links to YouTube videos and Russian language learning websites such as RussianforEveryone and RussianForFree. It does mean that when I missed a class I was able to find out what I missed and catch up via the learning platform.