6 Tips for Working with a Tutor

Spending a lot of time actively using your target language can do wonders for your progress. At the beginner level, a tutor is the best investment you can make. So without further ado, here are my tips for having a successful language tutoring experience:

1. Look online

Unless you’re living in a country where the target language is spoken, you will find a lot more tutors online than offline. Having a bigger selection is always better, as I will also explain in the next few points. Besides, online you can take advantage of the fact that a lot of tutors live in countries where cost of living is much lower than in your own, so you can pay them somewhat less than you’d pay a tutor in your country and it will still be a higher wage than they could earn locally – a win-win situation.

2. Experienced tutor for inexperienced students, inexperienced tutor for experienced students.

– If you’re an experienced language learner, you probably have a very clear idea of what you want your language lessons to look like. Experienced tutors do, too, and are unlikely to complete change their habits. Inexperienced tutors are more likely to accommodate you.
– If you are an inexperienced student, it is good to have a tutor who knows what he’s doing, that’s why I recommend experienced tutors for inexperienced students.
Essentially ONE of you should be experienced, not none and not both. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Ideally, the tutor should share your interests. Lessons are much more interesting and more effective when you have something to talk about that interests both of you, no matter whether that is the news, language-learning, foreign cultures or sports. This is especially important for the intermediate and advanced level, where you’ll (hopefully) do a lot of free talking rather than just following a textbook.


3. Individual lessons for speed, group lessons for persistence

1-on-1 tutoring is great if you want to progress quickly, because the tutor can spend his/her entire energy on helping you past your weaknesses and you also get a lot of speaking opportunities. The more students there are, the less chances you’ll have to speak, and the more time will be spent explaining words or grammar you already understood. So generally I’d recommend 1-on-1 tutoring, except if
a) you have trouble motivating yourself to study – group pressure helps immensely
b) you’re finding 1-on-1 lessons too intense, especially as a beginner
These conditions are actually quite common, so weigh this carefully. I have just started to take group classes in advanced Chinese at Dalarna University (online) and I’m suddenly spending a lot more time on Chinese than I otherwise would.

4. Use the target language

The more time you spend listening to the target language, the better. So your tutor should not spend a lot of time using your native language but try to communicate everything in the target language and you should try to do the same. I’m not saying it’s bad for the tutor to translate words you don’t understand. I think it’s better to have the translation and move on rather than spending a lot of time trying to understand a convoluted description and getting sidetracked from the actual discussion. (I know some polyglots would disagree with me and that’s fine; choose your tutor according to your preference there.) The important thing, and that we can all agree on, is that the tutor won’t use your native language much.

5. Have them write stuff down

During a lesson, you will invariably learn a lot of new words, including words not featured in the textbook. Have your tutor write down every word you don’t know, so that you can learn them later. Note this is another reason I prefer online tutoring, because online it’s much less hassle to quickly write something down in the text chat without losing track of the conversation. It’s also much less hassle to later copy the words into Anki – especially if you’re learning a language with a foreign script, you’re much less likely to make copy mistakes if your tutor wrote down the words on the computer.

6. Master one topic at a time

A lot of conversational classes suffer from lack of structure. If you want to master conversation as quickly as possible, I found that it’s best to work on one topic at a time. So you might pick the topic “the weather” and then talk about nothing else during 30-60 minutes. Talk about the weather right now, the weather in different cities, that really cold winter one year, the time you went on vacation to the Caribbean, and so on. If you spend 30-60 minutes talking about a single topic, each word and expression will come up so often that it easily enters your memory. Also, there won’t be too much vocabulary in one lesson because it all centers around one topic. This way, you can even choose a comparatively advanced topic (e. g. “nuclear power”) and learn to talk about it despite being a beginner, if that’s what interests you. At the beginning of the next lesson, briefly talk about the previous topic and then choose a new one.

Using these tips, you can make the most out of your language tutoring experience.

Where to find tutors?

Probably the biggest site offering online language teachers is iTalki. There you can really find tutors for any language, including rare languages. Most of the tutors are cheap or reasonably-priced. Enjoy your language lessons!