I think deeply about language learning and language teaching, although I only do one of those actively at present. And what I’ve found from aggregating a multitude of people’s opinions and my own experience is that everyone is unique. What a shocker, I know.
But I think it really does come to some teachers/tutors and beginners as a surprise. The one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the appropriate one to take, and I’ll tell you why.
The other day, I was chatting with a nice Spanish tutor online about my level after he got done introducing how he runs classes. I had taken part in some mock-homework, so he could show me how his exercises worked. They were excellently conceived, if a bit on the traditional side; and this is where my downfall came in. I can be very detail-oriented when I want to be, but it’s not my natural focus. If this were the 70s or 80s (before I was born), and you gave me an essay to edit on a typewriter for the final draft stage, I’d probably do okay at spelling and grammar (naturally, as I love languages and noticing nuance here is a talent I possess), but I’d make a few mistakes here or there for the sake of the big picture. I’d probably want someone who finds joy in correcting minor errors to take over for me at that point. This is why the teacher with whom I met’s homework proved difficult.
I corrected his exercises in ways he didn’t expect and under time pressure, said things wrong or missed simple cues which I knew the answer to. When I asked the teacher what my level could be (a good way to see if said leader of the class is paying attention or is being honest), he said upper-intermediate with dashes of advanced, noting primarily my performance on his exercises–a caveat which, I’d assume, he thought he’d cleverly hidden in the midst of running a class. I have to give him points for that, as well as how he noted the breadth of my abilities couldn’t be proved with just one class. He did, however, say something a bit contradictory and which falls on battle lines for some people (not me, though, as I try to remain objective): “we can’t know your actual level until you take a test.”
As I mentioned, some people get up in arms about testing. I personally don’t like taking timed tests for various reasons, one of them being I am a natural perfectionist and tend to second-guess myself. It makes testing a whole lot harder. But the die-hard testing enthusiasts have another view, which the aforementioned teacher alluded to: “the test determines your level, not you.” I see the reasoning for this. Objectivity is the name of my game; but sometimes, you really have to trust yourself. This requires a certain ability to remove bias from the equation, such as reflecting on your skills with a clear head. And it’s a good habit to get into and become a practitioner of.
Point being is that I felt exceptionally low after that lesson with that particular teacher, because I know my skills are at least at advanced-low. I was able to follow his face-paced, inflected speech, which flew by me at a rate faster than I’d ever heard or had to keep up with at a success rate of about 98% or better for the hour-long call. I understood everything in his written documents, and if I didn’t, I could guess from context fairly easily.
But this teacher made me step into a severe case of imposter syndrome, and merely because of nerves.
So for all those out there that feel inadequate, I’ll say this: you probably do know more than what your teachers expect if you’ve been studying on your own prior to or outside of class, and all it might take is getting that knowledge from a receptive to an active base, and further building confidence to use it in real-time. There are a lot of factors at play here, and it’s all complex and individual to you.
However, one clear thread stands out amongst the muck and disorder that comes from over-analysis and paralysis: you are in control of your own learning, and teachers are there to guide you to success. I don’t mean that you should be overly perfectionistic like me, but rather realize that that you have the power to change things you don’t like about your learning plan, (sometimes) your guides, where and when you get to your goal, etc. Not everyone has the same opportunities, or the same abilities, but it’s my belief that there’s no shortage of grit and desire to win and succeed in this world–
So, what are you waiting for? Seize the gauntlet.
Featured image by Towfiqu Barbhuiya.