How should a teacher and student cope with a situation like this.

I've been studying spanish for about a year and enrolled in a successive course. However, the course starts really early and there is only one other student, who should probably be in a more advanced class. The other student has been studying spanish for probably twice as long as me and already knows most of the grammar to be covered during the trimester. Obviously, this puts some stress on me, as I don't feel good about interrupting each exercise asking for translations and slowing the class down. On the other hand, I would definitely be in the right if I did, but that isn't much help.

How can I and the teacher work together to make this situation acceptable for all parties? Honestly at this point I'm thinking about dropping from this trimester and taking the financial hit from tuition fee I will not get back.

  • 7
    You should talk to the teacher and explain your frustrations. It is likely hard for the teacher too, when there are only two students and they are at very different levels. Perhaps you could turn it into an advantage - you know, you get to practice with someone better than yourself.
    – earthling
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 11:06
  • My solution as a student: skip class and study on my own with books or with youtube videos where I can skip or repeat different parts, optimizing my time. Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 14:40
  • 1
    ^I'd possibly recommend this for a large lecture course, but it's probably not the best idea for a class of two, if I understood the OP's situation correctly...
    – rch
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 16:36
  • Convince the other student to skip class. They obviously don't need it, you do.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 5:02
  • 1
    @OllieFord Good point. I've edited the title of the question so it properly corresponds to the question itself. Commented Aug 23, 2014 at 15:59

6 Answers 6


Having been that "advanced student" in a similar situation, I'd like to point out that in such a small class environment, there is really no reason that this shouldn't be an ongoing discussion between all three participants, throughout the duration of the course. Everyone has their own pace. In truth, everyone has their own pace through individual topics.

With a little open communication you can likely resolve this in a manner that is appropriate to the particulars of your context. In my case, I had been worried about the student that I felt was falling behind. I not only didn't worry about going a bit slower in class, but I also invited him to a once-a-week study group between the two of us. I've found that teaching concepts is the best way to cement them myself. The entire experience was quite fulfilling, and I consider the course to be a complete success - even from a purely personal educational perspective.

Your situation will be different, obviously, but the I think the only real answer is consistent, open dialog.


If the course has a specific level e.g. A1, A2, B1, B2... It is none of your problems that a guy who most probably belongs to a higher level is sitting there. You should not feel ashamed for that, and put pressure on yourself. Usually each level has its own learning/teaching goals. Look at the learning goals of your current level. If the other guy is above the learning goals simply make yourself comfortable. Continue with your own pace, because its not you who is in the "wrong place" (although the term wrong place might be misused in here). On the other hand if you are below the learning goals, then simply move one level below, this way you will be in an environment where you will feel more comfortable.

If it were up to me, I would not mind if there is a super-duper guy in the class. I would keep my own flow. I would raise my concerns to the teacher, in addition to that, if I were paying for that course I would "force" the teacher to work the situation out.

In the end of the day, it is your teachers problem to provide the best effort and ensure that she/he taught you. But for that to happen you will have to let the teacher know the situation.

  • Mostly agreed. If one student is over-qualified, we could wonder why enrolled in this class? Perhaps review, in which case it doesn't matter if the pace is slow. The reviews will still happen. Or perhaps merely to obtain a high grade, in which case it still doesn't matter. Perhaps a required prerequisite, in which case pace still doesn't matter. And perhaps to learn, but the choice of class was a poor one; and pace is the other student's problem. If the OP is in the right class, then OP's pace is the proper one. Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 0:54

There are at least two major false assumptions that many instructors tend to have:

  1. The first false assumption: Most students of most classes are very similar, with very little difference in pre-knowledge and conception. Welcome to actual teaching: You always have a diverse body of students. The bigger your class, the more diverse. Assuming that they are all about the same, and that they just understand what you are saying, is damaging and leads many instructors to just keep talking for hours on end, based on a wrong conception of their audience, and are then satisfied because they set "lecturing" (i.e. talking and illustrating) equal to teaching, leaving most students untouched (unless they are good story tellers, but that's a different topic).

  2. That brings me to false assumption number two: The idea that your teacher must be a complete expert on the topic in order to be helpful to you. It is certainly useful to know a lot about the domain, but no one is perfect. There are always "gaps in knowledge" and understanding. People might argue that an institution has bad quality control if they let non-experts teach students, but domain knowledge (or "hard skills", which in your case is Spanish) is only part of the equation. In order to help people learn more efficiently you need... well... people skills, i.e. soft skills. You need good communication, presentation, project management skills, and you need resourcefulness. Soft skills can be just as, or even more important to your teaching efficiency as domain knowledge (given you have at least a good basic understanding of the subject at hand).

In your particular case, you can help the advanced student by finding better, possibly interactive, material and maybe even letting him help you help others. There is a whole body of research showing evidence of teaching being a very efficient learner tool [1] [2]. If you have the time and motivation, you can even try flipping your classroom entirely. Make sure though that he understands the special role he would play, so he won't feel "out of place". Most of this approach requires you to be a good communicator.

Please consider this article titled "Moving away from teaching and becoming a facilitator of learning" for more information on moving away from archaic models. Don't be afraid to try out something new! "Trial & Error", a general problem solving technique, found in almost every other field, is just not very common in education yet. But if your students are aware of your shortcomings and aware of your "experiments", your attempts of trying out something new, and you are in good communication with the students, you can make the entire experience more valuable than traditional "you talk and they might or might not listen" methods, every single time.

  • 1
    Great post! For Spanish, one such experiment I'd recommend would be the Michel Thomas Method. Michel Thomas is dead, so I'm not sure how much you'd find on Youtube, but there is plenty of sample material from his method on peer to peer networks. Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 9:12

This is a hard situation to be in. I was in the same situation, different language, not all that long ago. It was a tiny class and although I had progressed through each of the preceeding levels with acceptable marks there was a student in the class who already knew 8+ other languages and whose career was based around learning and using languages. Compared to that me, who had never learned a language before in my life, and there was a huge disparity.

How to handle this really depends on a couple of factors.

One of those factors is the instructor. The instructors for the course I was in were nice and sympathetic but, ultimately, unable or unwilling to reign in the advanced student. Without instructor support in such a small class situation you will have difficulty making any changes in what is happening.

That leads to another factor... What are you willing to do about this? I spent an exhaustive semester trying to 'catch up' to this student so I wouldn't constantly feel like I was being left behind. This is tempting for a lot of students in this situation. "I will work harder! And this will make things better!" The problem is that this depends on your other time commitments(can you afford to spend an additional _ hours every day on this language), your aptitude for learning languages(some people are just slower at learning certain topics than others), your other base knowledge(if you don't remember what a conjugated adverb is then you'll have another layer of learning on top of what you are currently learning), and, frankly, your own frustration level with the course and subject material.

I don't normally say things like this but I think Wolfgang Kuehne's answer is unhelpful at best. Learning a language in a class should be a collaborative effort among students guided by their instructors. I'm iffy about the decisions to have super tiny language-learning courses (my situation became untenable once the course size dropped to 3 students) because when you run into this situation there's no buffer. Things would, I image, be very different in your situation if there was a range of other students in the course with a range of other skills. But as a student there is only so many times you can 'risk' saying something in another language to be immediately, and always, corrected by another student in the course. If there is no give and take, if there is never a time when you are correcting and the other is learning(and vice versa) then it pushes the corrected student into an unfortunate position.

Ultimately, and this may or may not be what you want to hear, I finished off the semester(it was needed to graduate on time) and I dropped the language(which I was planning on taking throughout my student career). Additionally I was put off both on the language itself and the process of learning languages in general. Having been in your situation, and maybe projecting a bit based on my own experiences; if your instructor is unwilling to go to bat for you and make sure things stay at an appropriate level, the other student is not dominating the learning time and you are not left feeling like the 'stupid one' in the class then, if you can, you should drop the class.

You have done nothing wrong. The other student, probably, has also done nothing overtly wrong(though good golly can they seem like jerks in this situation). But it's not going to be a great learning environment for you and, if that's the case, you'll get more benefit by using your time in a less frustrating environment.

  • I see you point, but I was trying to point out to VoY to first double-check the "environment". If VoY is at the right place then there is no point in feeling uncomfortable. I also think that it boils down to self-confidence. Boy, if I were the one that is "right" I would not give a single damn if those who know better in the course judge me. Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 14:40
  • @WolfgangKuehne: fair points. I'm probably going to far in the opposite direction because this hits fairly close to home. Whether or not there is a point to feel uncomfortable(or whether an outsider would think you are appropriate in feeling uncomfortable) doesn't help much in this situation. If you have a strong language speaker in a language learning class with a very small environment - it's an uncomfortable place to be. No one wants to feel stupid and it's easy to get near constant negative feedback in such an environment.
    – Nahkki
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 17:53
  • I ended up dropping the class and got part of my tuition fee back as credit I can use for another class next semester.
    – VoY
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 6:22

First remember: it's your class as well as the other student's (assuming that you have enrolled in the class with due regard to any prerequisites or other conditions that were specified). Therefore you have just as much right to be instructed at an appropriate level as he/she does. It's easy to feel stupid when you ask a question that may be obvious to the other, but try not to be overwhelmed by this feeling: as I always impress upon my (mathematics) students, the only stupid question is the one you don't ask.

A possible suggestion: ask the teacher if he/she would permit the other student to teach you some of the material during class, with the teacher observing. This could be of real benefit to the other student too: attempting to teach a subject is possibly the best way to find out whether or not one really understands it, and in such a situation the teacher may very well notice some things that the student doesn't completely understand, and by explaining them improve his/her learning too. Moreover, if the other student is learning the language with the intent of teaching it in the future, the sooner they start practising, the better for them!


I've been the "better student" (an advanced beginner) in a language group (French) where the other two parties were a native speaker, and another student (a rank beginner).

The better student tries to teach something to the worse student, and the teacher corrects one or the other, or both, if there is a mistake made.

Or the teacher teaches something to the better student, who passes it along (perhaps in watered down form) to the other student.

When you have one teacher and two students, it's not really a class, but more like a tutorial, that allows for a lot more "one on one" or "one on two" work. In a workplace, it would be like a boss acting as "team leader" with two subordinates, instead of as a "department head" with 5-10 "reports."

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