First of all let me say there is no right or wrong answer. As with many things it is often a factor of time and money as well as your own personal preference and prior exposure to learning. How we learn is different for each of us. You were probably taught early on there are three primary types of learning, auditory, visual and kinesthetic. Do you know how you learn best? What is your style? Not sure, take this quiz1.
Some people thrive in large group settings where they can get caught up in the whirlwind of learning while others grow in one on one session’s. Can you multi-task? Do you learn better through practice and conversation? Knowing how you learn will help you identify the best type of class, session or workshop to look for. Having an environment where you are comfortable will allow you to truly focus on the language at hand and achieving your language goals.
Where are you in your learning cycle? Have you been pre-disposed to the language already? Do you have a very specific goal for learning the language that could potentially be interrupted with the instructor training a larger group? If you opt to take a group class and find that you are further ahead of the group you may become frustrated. In this case taking private lessons would be more beneficial for you.
Whether a student is better off taking group or private instruction has much to do with his or her goals and desires for learning the language in the first place. Often when a student comes with prior proficiency in a language and has very specific areas that he or she wants to work on, it is almost always advisable to take private instruction. Having the opportunity to spend one on one time with the instructor will help you achieve your personal goals versus the goals of a larger group.
It is also important to keep in mind as you contemplate whether to take a class or a private session, the less commonly taught languages are also less likely to be offered in group instruction, unless there is a group that wants to study together and all of the people are willing to agree to the same schedule. As a rule of thumb, group classes should not have more than 12 students, since the objective is to develop speaking and listening proficiency. Of course, for the student a class size of four to six is considered ideal for a group setting.