Every decision we make at Freestyle centers around the learner experience. We ask ourselves "how will this make the learning experience richer?; how will it improve your ability to reach your speaking goals?"
While many learners remain enthusiastic about going back to in-person learning post-pandemic (believe us, we get it…having had a ‘center’ in downtown Austin, we loved many of those elements!), we’ve witnessed such phenomenal learner speaking success online in the past two years that we’ve made the decision to stay 100% online.
After all, connecting people through language is our mission (as Nelson Mandela once said, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”), and if we can reach more people AND be more successful in speaking goals, tant mieux! Or gagnant-gagnant en français. Win-win!
In March 2020 - that global shutdown week - we had over 100 learners at our downtown ATX location who were all mid-semester in various levels of French, Italian, Spanish.
To a small business dedicated to our community of learners (to say nothing of the need to keep our team and instructors employed…), the decision to restart classes immediately, literally without missing a day, was easy.
What we already knew is that to do online language learning right (meaning the best way for learners to actually learn, retain and speak the language…) is the harder thing, administratively, for a program to do. We happily accept that it’s more time consuming for the administrators and instructors of a school SO that it’s easier and more productive for YOU, the learners.
It’s allll about the flipped classroom model. Widely known to be the best model for language learning outcomes, it’s also widely known to take a lot of curriculum development and extra instructor time and expertise to do it right.
And thanks to having started to develop our online learning model in 2017, we knew that week in March 2020 exactly what and how to do it to set you up for success! We started ‘flipping’ online because the data was clear by then that flipped online learning is more effective (Lam, Y. W., Hew, K. F., & Jia, C., 2022).
OUR TOP 5 reasons you’ll be more successful with Freestyle’s online model:
engaging. adj.; having one’s attention actively involved and committed; tending to draw favorable attention or interest. syn: alluring, captivating, fascinating, intriguing.
Now think of the opposite: tiresome, passive, dull, unpleasant (not that our in-person experience was ever dull ) but the online experience is by far the most engaging.
- Annotation and dynamic writing
- Polls - dynamic reading, comprehension, keeps our focus (this is where Freestyle plays with one of many ways we ‘trick you into learning’! Critically, these are anonymous! Our learners love love love that they can answer a question without the whole class knowing ‘no, I didn’t really get that point’.
- Chat - have you ever experienced a ‘chatterfall’ of words in a foreign language? Picture this: we’re watching an online movie trailer together, piecing together the words we’re understanding. Let's say some of us hear in context: marché, légumes, sac. We write them into the chat…without hitting ‘enter / return’ yet! And then once we’re all ready, hit ‘Enter’: et voila! A chatterfall of words ; or a wordcloud? Same effect: we CREATE it together online and share in other’s comprehension (We can almost feel and see our brains light up!)
- Shared files & documents vs. having to wait your turn in class. No more "wake me up when it’s my turn" sorta thing! Everyone is participating together.
- H5P adds an extra dimension of engagement to our courses with fun learning activities
- Community Discussion Board, participate with writing, listening, & speaking opportunities galore (!) at times that work for you.
- Pronunciation workshops that strengthen the core (beyond grammars, structures, and even culture!) with a refreshed focus on pronunciation
#2 More speaking and practicing time.
Even in our video-based courses, you have access to practice with our professionally trained instructors, at times that work for YOU. Combine those speaking opportunities with our monthly virtual events and you'll see why speaking makes all the difference.
Our group classes include the above but offer even more time to talk! Here's how:
- The ‘flipped model’ in general. When you’re guided into understanding the concepts before class, you have more time IN class to practice. That’s the model itself working for us all. But there’s more!
- B.O.Rs! Break out rooms - we love these, for an upgrade in the uber important pair-work of speaking practice. Imagine not having to share a physical space with a bunch of different groups of 2 to 4 people trying to be quiet practicing (and we know that’s always hugely distracting!) . Did you know that the instructors can pop in and out to answer questions and provide feedback for each individual break out room before everyone returns to the main classroom?
- Even the mute vs. unmute button gives us a win! If you don’t want others to hear you pronounce those words, say those phrases (and we know how important it is to speak out loud to learn) and simply MUTE yourself when repeating! Every time you hear yourself speak is a learning moment - and IN-person learners, adults especially, remain overly conscientious about speaking out loud. It’s hard to put ourselves out there, but we must in order to speak!
#3: Games and gamification at our fingertips.
- The newest Edtech tools offer a variety of language skill practice available via various platforms.
- Activities like fill in the blank encourage learners to apply the content in new contexts!
- All of these work for our group classes (synchronous) or self-paced (asynchronous) courses.
With our instructors as inspiring guides, their tips and insights offer a path to follow. Other learners' experiences inform our possibilities. The connections are endless (and, yes, some have even started dating!)
- A 3-D personalized experience. Connecting from home offers the ability to make learning personally relevant. Why this matters: Language Learning science tells us that our brains need content to be relevant to US to learn it. In a recent French class taught by Sarah K., students initiated an impromptu 'Show & Tell' of artwork around their home - en français, bien sûr! Learners described and compared their favorite pieces, prompting individual story telling on the origin of such works.
- Increased empathy and team bonding. Consider the bilingual mixers of our Language at Work program, where, for example at DPR Construction, Spanish and English speakers had never met one another before, and now, on site, they’re ecstatic to see each other after having connected online! A new respect for leaders learning and a new empathy for what it feels like to learn a new language.
#5 Cultural Richness.
So you can learn the language as it's truly spoken.
With the lyricism of music, translations, and shows, more readily available at a click!
The end result? A language model that works for you.
They are constantly adapting and improving the classes with approaches to help with building vocabulary, grammar, listening and reading comprehension and, of course, speaking ability in your target language.
I especially like that they use authentic material -- videos, music, recipes, literature, news, history, etc. so you're learning with real material and learning about history and culture along the way.
If you've ever wanted to learn another language, this is a great way to do it. Best of all, it's now available across geographies. It's a commitment, but worth it!