I like to think of my language-learning journey in two parts:
Before I ever hired a tutor. After I started working with tutors.
The transformation between part one and part two was huge. I’d like to tell you exactly what happened.
In college, I decided to study Russian. I was a pretty average language student: focused and curious but shy, apprehensive about my abilities. One of my friends in class was a star student, and he casually mentioned one day that he had a private tutor at home.
My friend’s revelation piqued my interest. Maybe if I get a tutor, I can be just as good, I thought. As a college student, I couldn’t afford an in-person tutor but I did stumble upon iTalki.com. The Russian tutors on the site offered really competitive prices. I went crazy and found myself four tutors (four means I’ll be four times better than my friend, right?). I met with each of them at least once a week for an hour each.
After about a month, the difference was insane!
Talking regularly with my tutors definitely improved my Russian. However, the biggest progress was in my confidence. I wasn’t scared to talk in class anymore. I had enough conversations that I could respond to anything my teacher said, even if just to say “I don’t understand. Can you please repeat it?” At some point, the class felt too slow for my pace.
Several years later, I decided to learn Korean. I thought about my experience with Russian and opted to learn Korean with only the help of tutors on the site. Having been spoiled with personal attention, I had no interest in going back to a regular class.
Private language tutors are not cheap (though they can cost as little as $5 per hour for some languages). Here are some reasons why the investment is worth it for me.
Tutors Save You Hours of Wasted Time
Most of us are busy balancing jobs, families, friends, personal projects, sleep, and many other obligations in life. Myself included. It feels as if there is never enough time in the day.
While tutors require money from you, what they give you in return is hours and hours of your life back. Spend the money to cut down the amount of time you spend learning a language. A grammar concept you need 20 minutes to read about can be explained by a tutor in just 5 minutes. You don’t have to waste time going over topics you already know, as you will certainly have to do in a group class.
But one of the best things about a tutor is the ability to get speaking practice. My tutors save me a lot of time with this.
When I wanted to find language exchange partners, I would spend hours looking for people.
I had to send 30 messages before getting a few responses back. Of those who did reply, I then had to sit through several unproductive Skype sessions before finding a person I liked (if there were any at all). Some people wouldn’t even show up. Some would refuse to help me speak the language, only concerned about their own goals. It felt like a huge waste of my time.
If you find a great partner, it can be a phenomenal experience. However, if your partner decides to stop the arrangement, you have to go through the whole process again to find someone new!
My tutors are much more reliable and I worry less about my time being wasted. Even if our session wasn’t good, I still walk away feeling as if I have learned something. Best of all, they save me hours of headaches and disappointment I would have gotten if I looked for language exchange partners.
With a Tutor, the Focus is 100% on You and Your Language Goals
I remember a Swedish course I took several years ago. The class was big with students of varying abilities (as is typical with most classes). Despite it being an intermediate-level class, we spent a lot of time relearning concepts already covered in the beginner levels. Many students simply forgot and needed a refresher. They also were working adults with families and had a hard time completing the assigned homework every week. The teacher had to make sure the class moved at a comfortable pace for them. This caused a great deal of frustration for me and was the ultimate reason I stopped attending the course.
With my tutors, the focus is always on me and what I need.
I never feel like I have to sit through something for other people. For example, when I first started learning Korean, I already knew how to read the Korean alphabet and say basic things. My tutor was able to move past that portion and onto something I didn’t know. In a regular class, it would have been nearly impossible (and quite impolite) to make such requests.
Similarly, when I took the intermediate-level Russian class in school, I fell behind. It had been a year since I finished the beginner-level course and my skill was quite rusty. Having a tutor who patiently went at my pace helped me catch up to my classmates and gain more confidence in the language.
More Choice than Traditional Language Classes – You Can Find a Tutor You Like
One of the best parts about working with tutors is you can choose who to work with. In a school, you usually don’t have a choice (or very little). Your teacher can play a huge role in your experience with the language, so wouldn’t you want to choose the right person?
Tutors vary in their educational backgrounds, teaching methods, specialties, prices, and locations. We all have different needs and one person cannot satisfy everyone. If you’re moving to Spain, you might want a tutor who can teach the dialect from Spain. Or maybe you’re looking to take a proficiency exam and would like a tutor who specializes in test prep. It’s worth the money to be able to find the right instructor best suited for your unique situation.
Having choices also lets you choose someone who gels with your personality. I have a much better experience when the tutor and I can have good conversations and share the same sense of humor.
Tutors Take Learning as Seriously as You Do
As I mentioned earlier, it’s quite challenging to find a language exchange partner who fits well with you. Since no money is involved, you’re likely to encounter people who a) will not show up to your scheduled sessions or b) leave your arrangement prematurely.
On the contrary, it’s rare for me to find a tutor who doesn’t take classes seriously. In all my years of using iTalki, I’ve had maybe one tutor who flaked on me. It’s not something I worry about because 99 percent of the people I work with have proven to be super reliable.
Taking it seriously isn’t just about attendance. It’s also about how class is conducted. Your language exchange partner may not care much about helping you learn. They may be more interested in taking as much time as possible speaking your native language. With tutors, since you are paying them, they have an incentive to help you achieve your language goals. Almost every tutor I’ve worked with has shown a lot of interest in my progress and given me confidence to continue growing.
In a group class, you will find students with varying degrees of motivation. If you are a serious learner, being in a class with casual students can be a recipe for frustration. Unmotivated learners may distract and derail the class if the teacher isn’t careful. Paying for one-on-one lessons means you can avoid the negative influence of other students on your learning experience.
How to Find a Great Language Tutor
If I’ve convinced you to take your learning to the next level and find yourself a great tutor, here are some ways you can start searching.
The first type of tutor is an in-person tutor. Classes are held at your home, the tutor’s home, or a public place. You can find them on local Facebook groups, in newspapers, or around community centers. If a school nearby teaches your target language, you can see if a teacher there would be available for tutoring. You may also look at websites such as Wyzant.com or Craigslist.org.
The second type is an online tutor. These people generally charge lower rates because they do not have the added hassle of commuting. They may also live in a place with a lower cost of living. Additionally, looking online gives you the biggest selection of tutors since you’re not limited to just local residents. Classes are usually conducted over Skype, Zoom, or another application agreed upon by you and your tutor. The most popular websites to find online tutors are iTalki.com, Verbling.com and Preply.com.
No matter where you find your tutors, keep in mind that they are not a magic pill to suddenly make you fluent. You must still spend a lot of time studying and reviewing independently. However, tutors can help accelerate your progress and put you on the fast track to fluency if you bring the dedication and hard work.