How important is a teacher in the language learning process?
This depends on the motivation of the learner. The most important factor in language learning success is the motivation of the learner. A language teacher can be instrumental in motivating a learner. I have personally experienced this. However, a friend, husband, wife or even an interest in some aspect of the culture can be important motivating factors as well. If the learner is already motivated, the importance of the language teacher is greatly reduced.
But many people feel they can’t learn without a teacher. What would you tell them?
Biologically, we have been learners for much much longer than there have been teachers. Our bodies and our brains are designed to learn from experience all the time. We are natural learners. Learning is a process that starts with the learner, as long as the learner wants to learn. The teacher is one resource amongst many. Good learners understand this and seek out the aspects of the language that they want to learn.
Many people feel that they need a teacher to plan and organize a course of study. Do you not think that this is necessary?
I believe this can be cut both ways. If the learner has trouble planning his or her activities, an experienced teacher may help. However, very often the teacher or curriculum imposes a learning schedule which is not realistic, and doesn’t match the interests nor learning style of the learner. Therefore I always recommend that learners plan their own learning to achieve optimum results. In this way learners can pursue subjects of interest at their own pace. They can review when they want to, and they can forge ahead when they want to. The best learner is an independent, motivated learner.