Have you ever been bored during an English class? What about when you were taking the Spanish or French elective at high school?
If you have, then you know teaching a language isn’t easy. Being articulate and fluent in you native language doesn’t mean you’ll be a good teacher.
Sure, language acumen is a crucial part of being an in-person private language tutor but that’s just a prerequisite to a whole list of skills you’ll need if you want your students to stick with you.
Crucial Tips for Aspiring In-Person Private Language Teachers:
1. The Student’s Goals
Teaching the syntax and vocabulary of a foreign language isn’t your only task as a private language tutor. You’re also supposed to help your student achieve his underlying goal for learning the language in the first place.
Below are common reasons why someone would want to learn another language:
Because they’re moving or traveling to another country
To ace an academic or work related exam such as IELTS, OET
To communicate with relatives and friends who speak that tongue
To handle business and work transactions without relying on an interpreter
Customize your lessons to fit your student’s goals, so they don’t feel frustrated learning words and phrases they may never use in actual conversation, which is typical in self-taught language learning apps with limited vocabulary programming.
Location is an important consideration for in-person private language tutors because the learning environment will affect your student’s experience in many ways.
As a private French tutor, doing your sessions in a cafe with lots of people might be the most obvious thing to do because it gives you and the student stuff to talk about. This ambiance is great if you’re already teaching an advanced learner who can converse on random topics, but this won’t be a good location for a beginner learning the pronunciation and varying inflections of French— there’s just too much noise.
You don’t need a certificate or diploma to teach your mother tongue.
Unfortunately, some students prefer tutors with credentials, such as Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate, which is commonly requested for English tutors in Korea. If you don’t have credentials, use testimonials or recommendation letters from former students to boost your credibility instead.
The most important thing is that you can explain the verb conjugations, tenses, sentence structure, and other basic grammar concepts that affect your language. Language structures vary widely, so you should never assume that a student will understand how to form sentences or conjugate verbs in the language you’re teaching based on a few examples you give.
For instance, in English the order is subject-verb-object, as in “Sheila eats the apple,” but in Japanese the correct order is subject-object-verb so it’s “Sheila apple eats” or “Sheila wa ringo (the apple) o taberu (eats).” Without proper explanation from a skilled Japanese tutor, the student will just think they’re doing it right as long as the verb is at the end of the sentence—and that’s not always the case.
Screenshot from Google Translate
4. Your Curriculum or Lesson Plans
Some private language tutors have a pre-planned curriculum, and they’ll insist on using it for every student.
While some students may appreciate this organization and professionalism, those with a specific goal may think the materials are irrelevant. After all, why hire a private language tutor if they’re just going to give you the same curriculum that you see in self-paced language training videos?
Yes, as someone with experience teaching languages, your potential students should value your suggested learning materials and exercises. But you should also be open to customizing these materials to their goals and experience level.
Whatever your hourly rate is, a student is paying you more than what they would’ve for a language learning app or online course, so if you want to keep your students—and attract more—you should be flexible in tailoring the workbooks, dialog practices, and exercises used in your lessons.
Pro Tips: Ask your students what they like to talk about and try to include that in your lessons.
You might want to come across as an easy-going tutor but this approach will not only ruin your schedule and cash flow, it will impact your student’s progress too.
Encourage students to meet with you at least once a week, and to schedule appointments by batch at least two weeks ahead of time. Doing this gives you time to plan lessons in advance, and create an optimal route if you have multiple appointments in one day.
Sticking to a weekly tutoring session also helps students progress faster compared to those who just practice when they have free time.
Pro Tip: Use a free appointment scheduling app like Calendly, so students can schedule their lessons anytime without having to contact you.
6. Teaching Style
Great tutors are flexible when it comes to their teaching style. They could be conversational with adults learning a language for fun, or more formal with students trying to ace their AP Spanish Language Exam.
The teacher-student dynamic you have should be flexible, too. For instance, experienced language learners may insist on using flash cards, or a specific method that’s worked for them in the past. In this case, you should defer to their experience and adapt your teaching style to what they know already works.
Goal-oriented students, like those who want to focus on pronunciation or verb tenses, may require you to keenly watch their pronunciation and grammar errors. Treat these students as a chance to level-up your tutoring skills.
Language learning doesn’t stop after your tutoring session is over. Your student needs to practice what you’ve just discussed, or else he’ll forget it before you even have another session.
Good students— or at least those serious in their language learning—will appreciate you for giving them homework that they can do outside of the lessons. Aside from pushing your students to practice in between lessons, the homework will also emphasize grammar and spelling rules they might have missed while they were so focused on pronouncing words right.
Ideally, you should go over your student’s homework and discuss what they didn’t understand before you proceed with the next lesson.
Check out the resources below to get some homework inspiration for your students:
Italian writing exercises for beginners
Printable French grammar and vocabulary worksheets
Japanese Hiragana writing exercises
German grammar worksheets
What do you do when your student clearly doesn’t understand what you’re explaining? Simply translating things to English won’t always work, so you need a way to talk around hard to understand vocabulary. It’s even harder if your student doesn’t understand English in the first place.
That’s why it’s important to have visual aids, euphemisms, clichés, synonyms, and any other means you can find to describe the word. A French and Spanish teacher in UK, for instance, uses a task-based teaching method that uses computers, audio-visual aids, and even toys such as animal plushies during lessons.
It’s All About the Students
Like any other job, the key is to keep improving. Keep improving your language skills, and most importantly, keep working on your ability to connect with your students.
When you’re not sure what to do with a challenging student, just come back to this list and see where you can find an opportunity to connect with them.