Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Is Too Steep a Climb For Beginners?

Too steep a climb? Recently, I started a somewhat traditional online Swedish course and was surprised by how difficult the first few lessons were for me. And that was even though there were only 7 or 8 new words/expressions in each lesson.

Swedish is a Germanic language – and I speak Dutch and German fluently – but getting started with a new language (even if it's related to a language you know) is best done with small steps at first.

Learning Swedish made me a language learning beginner, again. It made me think about how beginners can best learn.

As readers may recall from an earlier blog post: my husband and I had used our Spanish 1 course in preparation for our stay in Spain last year. Spanish was a new language for both of us, and at first the going was slow.

But, the similarity of Spanish to French and Italian (languages we know) soon took us out of the “beginners” rank. What seemed to help was learning language in context, something we've built into our all of our courses.

I expect that I'll experience the same with Swedish: Yes, I'll find the language difficult to learn at first. But by practicing Swedish in context, and with "comprehensible input" (a notion popularized by the linguist Stephen Krashen) I'll soon no longer be a beginner. Besides, knowing other Germanic languages - English, Dutch, and German - will eventually boost my progress.

Early Feedback

Based on the feedback from users who responded to a questionnaire about our GamesforLanguage courses, we had concluded that our first few lessons were too easy.

Maybe some players had come to this conclusion because our games made the beginning lessons indeed seem easy. “I was learning, but it didn't feel like learning” was an early, typical comment.

Expanding Lesson 1

We therefore began expanding the first lesson ("Scene") of our German 1 and our Spanish 1 program, which initially consisted of three foreign dialog lines with about 16 new words.

The additional six dialog lines, however, stopped many beginners from progressing to the second Scene. Did they feel that learning a new language was too steep a cliff to climb? We decided to wait for more feedback before expanding the French and Italian scenes.

What makes different?

By learning a language (Swedish) that at first seemed to have fewer similarities with languages I already know, I put myself again into a beginner's shoes (for the 5th time, actually).
I experienced first hand the difference between a typical language program and GamesforLanguage:

Rather than teaching and drilling lists of words and short expressions (hello, good-bye, thanks, how are you?, I am fine, thanks, etc.) GamesforLanguage deconstructs, practices, and reconstructs the dialog of a story beginning with Scene 1.
Words and expressions, as in the examples above, come up as well, but later and always within the context of "The Story."

Indeed, the learner is immersed in real life, every-day language right from the start.
While those with some background in the language will find the program easily accessible, beginners may need to slow down and add an online course like Duolingo to get momentum.

We invite your feedback

We love comments and feedback! So, if you have tried our course or have experience with other language courses, just add your comment below!