Learning is a lot like tennis. Much better if you have a partner.
When I was in school, I spent a lot of time playing table tennis against the kid sitting next to me. Every school break we would compete against each other in the assembly hall. When we first started playing, I had no idea about table tennis and he was a little bit better than me.
Bit by bit, I started to improve. But he was always just that little bit better than me and always stayed just a touch ahead. Sometimes I won games but, in the end, he won the match. Not that it bothered me. I loved the challenge of trying to beat him and I gave him a run for his money.
I also credit him for having taken me from a 20% (fail) in maths in January to a 95% (A) in June. He was very studious and, as we sat next to each other, I pestered him to explain mathematical equations to me. We then went on to compete against each other in mock tests to see who could complete one the quickest with the highest score. I’m sure you can guess that he won most often.
So, what’s this all got to do with language learning?
It is generally believed (Krashen et al) that the most effective level of input that will motivate a learner to make progress is one that is at the level of the learner’s current skill level, plus a little bit higher – just right to experience success while being challenging enough to encourage progress. In very much the same way as my table tennis. I could compete well enough to keep me interested (and occasionally win) whilst always being pushed to improve.
The belief that the level of language should be right for the learner has shaped the world of TEFL. Learners are put into groups that correspond to their level and then taught in a softly softly way to make sure that they do not get overwhelmed. This is fair enough and also makes good sense. The only problem is that neither the level nor the topics can ever be exactly right for the learner. Furthermore, when learners are confronted with real life situations, they can not cope with native speakers („they speak too fast“, „I can’t understand the accent“). An equivalent would be me suddenly having to play table tennis against the Chinese olympic team….
My point is this: Only you can really decide what is right for you. Trainers would do themselves a favour if they involved you more in setting learning targets and encourage you to get used to dealing with native speakers by looking out for opportunities. Furthermore, the use of a mentor will do wonders to improve „your game“. Peter (I forget his last name) was not a teacher, but a peer, and so he was more in tune with my learning needs than the (pyschotic and completely incompetent) maths teacher sitting at the front of the class….