In later posts I will explain how I chose my teachers, and exactly what a typical lesson looks like.
I have self-studied Chinese - I'm clear about that
About 99% of what I know is through listening to podcasts (90% was from ChinesePod and 10% was Popup Chinese), studying books & websites, working through flashcards (read my posts on the topic here), reading comics & children's stories, etc.
I have also learned by having conversations with people, asking questions, having language exchange partners, being corrected by strangers that I'm chatting with ... and having a teacher on & off.
I have not attended classes, lectures, or immersion programs. I therefore am happy with the label that "I have self-studied Chinese" - although I do gladly acknowledge all the help I have received from countless people along the way. (I am even grateful to one my one Chinese friend who, when hearing that I am learning Chinese, told me not to bother - as a foreigner I would never make much progress! Thank you thank you thank you for pissing me off enough to study harder :-)
While in London, Athena and I would meet somewhere between once a week and once a month - and even though I haven't had a lesson with her in 1.5 years, we still stay in touch - it's wonderful how well you can get to know someone even when you're talking using really short sentences and simple words!
Now in Hong Kong, my teacher for the last couple of months has been Judy - we're meeting about once a week (though my travel schedule makes that a challenge!), and doing a variety of talking, reading, sentence dissection, etc.
I am not saying that self-study is the only way, or even the best way. But for me, I wouldn't do it any other way. And of course people use their teachers in their own way.
- One of my friends (he's in his late 30s) is learning Russian, and he meets a teacher every week. She's strict - and he's a little scared of her. So usually the night before their lesson he stays up late, doing homework, memorising words. Their relationship works because it's the fear of the teacher that gets him to study. I don't know how sustainable this is, but for now he is further than he otherwise would have been. I can't work that way, but it works for him.
- Another friend (around 30) is learning German, and he also meets a teacher weekly. He doesn't fear her, but he uses her as an excuse. He seems to think that because he has a teacher he doesn't actually have to learn material himself. So he doesn't. He lived in Germany for two years, with weekly lessons, and I've watched him struggle to ask for a menu and a bottle of water in German. I couldn't let myself do this.
Ultimately you will only know a language when you can speak it, understand it, read it. There's lots to learn, and only you can do that - a teacher cannot do that for you. Successful language learning comes down to a massive chunk of self-study, so spend some time this year finding your self-motivation ...