¿Has the advancement in technology gotten to a point where people can learn a foreign language by themselves, without the need of a teacher? The idea seems to be floating in the air and some learners are beginning to think that it is unnecessary to invest money in order to learn a new language. “Why spending money if I can do it for free?”
The truth is that there have always been individuals capable of achieving this. Before TICS, internet, computers, the printing press, even before writing was invented, the need for communication made people find ways to learn other languages. Above all other things, it was the means to reach peace and practice trade that forced it upon them.
We have to distinguish here the difference between learning a second language and a foreign one. To learn a second language is easier since you are surrounded by it. Frequently not a great effort is needed for this, it comes naturally. Another story is learning another language that is not part of your heritage, your culture, your ambience. It does not come without hard work.
Throughout history different methods, systems and approaches have been developed to facilitate the teaching of foreign languages. We tend to favor one and state that particular one is “the method” that has all the qualities, the one that must be used. But the truth is that learners reached the pursued result through all of them. Some favored certain aspects and others different ones, but they all conquered the goal. So, we can conclude that the outcome is based more on the learner’s determination than any other factor.
It is true that technology now offers many advantages to make the trek easier and better but still some rather unusual qualities are necessary to make the journey successfully. The first is motivation. You have to be very decided to do it. Nobody is going to give you support. When somebody attends classes, they are going to be rubbed off by the teacher’s and classmates´ enthusiasm and encouraged by their esprit de corps.
Another point is determination. You have to be very highly strong-minded to sort all the difficulties and obstacles you are going to find along the way. You cannot stop. Even if you have lots of things to do, not matter how tired you are you have to keep going not matter what and that requires a strong will. When a student is registered in a course, they have made plans to dedicate some specific time for their learning and it has become part of their routine. And the course and the teacher are themselves demanding, they have to respond
Another point for the self learner is that he has to be a great organizer in order to plan his studies. They have no teacher, no curriculum, no guidance. They have to plan everything by themselves and they are not prepared for that.
Somehow, they have to sail without a compass. You can find certain pointers along the way, but not a well-designed path. When you are in a class, the teacher will do all that for you and they are prepared and equipped to do it.
A fourth item is the autodidact does not know if they are doing things correctly or fossilizing mistakes, they cannot gain entry to the benefits of group working or practice with others what they have learned unless they have a special circle for that. And they will not get used to leave embarrassment and awkwardness aside to speak another language like it is done in a classroom, even a virtual one.
But you could say “there are a lot of organizations that offer free classes on-line.” Although partially true, they usually give you something for free, but for a start, while they make a sales pitch por their paid courses. Even foreign government organizations, dedicated to promote their culture and national interests, charge a fee for their courses. The only case we know of a really free course is USA Learns (https://www.usalearns.org/) offered by the Sacramento County Office of Education.
What is undeniable is that you can find in the web a great deal of elements to enhance learning, particularly if the person is studying English. There are tutorials and sessions on grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, fun and games, quizzes, forums, culture, conversation. They all can be helpful and useful. Even watching TV series and movies helps, including Sesame Street for children.
The point is, although some people are capable of learning entirely by themselves these days (as they always have), that continues to be the exception rather than the rule. You can breathe easy; they still need us.