20 August 2019

Lone Cowboy or One of the Herd? – Individual vs Group Language Training

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We all know that language learning is a well sought-after skill and a multilingual workforce can provide access to more markets and give organisations greater global power. But what is the best, fastest and highest ROI way to learn?

If you are a professional who has been considering brushing up your foreign language skills but can’t commit because you don’t know what kind of course is right for you – then don’t worry, you are not the only one.

When you think about organising in an intensive language course, does it conjure scenes of sitting in classrooms with verb tables and a teacher that hovers over you with a red pen?

Does it sometimes seem like it’s impossible to improve your language skills to the degree that you require within the given time-frame?

If all of that sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. You are one of many professionals who are struggling to figure out what language training you need to do your job in our increasingly global world.

You may have been in a situation where you were assigned a trainer by your HR/L&D department to take up a business English course, and you didn’t get along at all – hours were wasted and your language proficiency didn’t improve at all.

Or maybe you sat in a group training organised for a few people across teams in your organisation and the teacher bounced between present simple and future perfect. No one in the room really achieved the goals they had for the class.

Well, maybe you just weren’t in the right kind of course for the way you need to learn. So here I’ll review a few of the options you have for language learning. You can then identify which is the ideal language-learning structure for you or your team so that you can get the maximum value from your language learning budget.

When One-to-One Language Training is Best

One-to-one training is definitely the least complex to organise as this kind of training is specifically tailored to suit you and fit your needs and objectives.

Here are some of the points to consider if choosing one-to-one language training, either as the language learner or an L&D professional organising the class for your team:

  • Individual training helps you to gain confidence as there is only you, the trainer and four walls listening to you.
  • This is the best way forward if you are focusing on preparing yourself for a particular presentation or sales meeting. The lessons can focus on the language required to accomplish your particular mission. For example, if you are looking to get a new job in France, then training with a specialist trainer will help you achieve that goal in a shorter space of time than group sessions because you will more quickly learn specific language required in the recruitment process.
  • It is easy to organise and can even be done online, or through a blended solution of online and offline, if time and location is an issue.
  • It is ideal for working on pronunciation issues as your trainer can focus on your very specific weaker areas and doesn’t have to consider at a selection of errors arising from different linguistic backgrounds (which is often the case in group training).
  • It is fantastic for more advanced students as the trainer can focus on adding the final polish to your language skills and can correct as often as the learner likes/needs.

When Group Language Training is Best

Group training often has a lively dynamic as the diversity of different people in one group can get people interested and talkative. There is less pressure on an individual if they are sitting alongside other non-native speakers and this can lower the inhibition to participate.

Aside from the most obvious cost factor (1-1 training will almost always be more expensive), here are some advantages of group language training:

  • Group classes are great for lower-level students. When starting a language, it’s good to be in a group – there will then be time to reflect and cover ground with grammar and vocabulary. A lot of repetition can be necessary to start with and it seems more natural with a group than with a 1-1 trainer.
  • Group sessions can be based around a topic or industry such as English for Lawyers or English for Media Consultants and this is valuable for working on topic-specific vocabulary as well as networking with like-minded fellow students.
  • Group courses are good for communication skills too. If you are a sociable person who likes to debate topics, you may find a group course is for you. Some people learn best when listening to others, so they benefit from the interesting discussions that happen in group lessons, and this improved their ability to converse in the language naturally. Group learners often learn as much from one another as they do from listening to the trainer.
  • You can also make good friends in your lessons and increase your international business circle, or establish stronger bonds with your colleagues.
  • It can also be very interesting to engage in modern cultural topics with each other, such as Brexit or work-life balance. The ways that stereotypes and unconscious bias in today’s globalised world are expressed in other languages becomes essential in learning more effective communication.
  • If you are planning on taking an examination in a language, the group course setting can be a better way to be presented with the format of the exam. It also means that you and your group mates can share notes and prepare for exams outside the classroom and provide each other with a benchmark level to be at.

Know Your Goals

Gone are the days when language learning could be practised in a one-size-fits-all method. To get the best method for your course, the first thing you need to be clear on is your goal, i.e. what do you want to be able to do with your language skills and how long do you think it will take you?

Then it’s time to talk to an expert and make a plan (SIMON & SIMON’s Account Managers are here to help with that part – click here to let us know what you’re looking for).

I most often recommend taking a group course in the target language and augment it with 1-1 lessons in the afternoons.

If you are learning the language in your home country a group course is a good place to start but just make sure the levels of the other learners are comparable to your own.

This can often be the frustrating thing about company courses where everyone is put into one group to save on costs. If this is the case, the course should be content-based such as a Writing in English course or Conference Calls in Spanish so that it teaches skills that are needed from pre-intermediate through to advanced and everyone can benefit.

However, you should still closely consider whether the levels are too far apart, because ultimately, even if you are saving by bringing these people into a single group, you may end up having a lower return on the investment as the learners don’t progress enough. 

Try different approaches

Of course, you can re-adjust the course format after a period that makes sense for the learner.

Remote learning is also an option. Blended learning options with a mixture of video calls, online resources and 1-2-1 classes are a great way to keep the momentum going after a period of intense learning to start things off.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you stick at it for a while and identify the things you enjoy about language learning, and what is giving you the most progress. This will make it a thoroughly enjoyable and mind-opening experience, while also giving you maximum value for the money spent.

Learning a new language can improve your job prospects, broaden your mind and boost your confidence, as long as you are getting the best experience in a way that is suited to you and your learning style.

“A different language is a different vision of life.” Federico Fellini


About the author: Vanessa has been training Communication Skills in English and Intercultural Awareness for over 25 years in several countries including Austria, Switzerland, India and the UK. Now based in the UK she trains an array of clients in English, often assisting them to perfect international presentations, parliamentary speeches or negotiations in ESL. She speaks fluent German and has herself had a bash at a few languages over the years.


Still Unsure If You Need 1-2-1 or Group Language Training?

Our multilingual Account Managers are here to help you and your organisation craft a bespoke course that makes sense for what you need within the budget you have.

Click here to let us know what you’re looking for and we will be in touch as soon as possible to discuss your requirements.

Comparing Group vs Individual Learning
Article Name
Comparing Group vs Individual Learning
Can’t decide between going for an individual language learning session or a group one? Then, this guide from S&S should help.
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SIMON & SIMON International
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