Tutoring a language: All you need to know

MY BACKGROUND IN TUTORING
I started tutoring when my mom, an English teacher, moved to Japan and passed her students on to me. I mostly learnt from watching her give lessons. It helps if you’re a language learner yourself – you’ll figure out what the best way to learn a language is, and then use that way to teach.

CAN YOU TUTOR A LANGUAGE THAT’S NOT YOUR NATIVE LANGUAGE?
Of course. I’ve found that in South Africa, Korean schools and tutors are extremely sparse and difficult to find. For that reason, many people started approaching me personally and asking for lessons. When I realized the demand was there, I started selling myself as a tutor, but I always provided a disclaimer that I’m not a native speaker. In this case, always tutor BELOW the level you speak. Don’t attempt to tutor someone who’s as advanced as you are – you don’t want them to be correcting you! If you’re unsure about a topic before teaching it, be sure to do your research beforehand.

WAYS OF TUTORING & FINDING STUDENTS

  • You can register at a language company or school near you. You may need certifications, though.
  • You can start your own tutoring side business. You don’t need a degree or a physical location. You can either tutor at home, at the home of your student, or on Google Hangouts and Skype. I started a Facebook page for South Africans learning Korean and once the group grew, I started posting that I teach Korean too.
  • You can also register on websites like iTalki, but remember that the website will take a fee of your earnings. 
  • One-on-one tutoring is the easiest for me because I can focus all my attention on the student’s requirements. I’ve tutored a married couple before, and as much as it was wonderful to have them participate in games and discuss topics with each other, their levels were different and I often had to focus more time on one student.

YOUR FIRST LESSON
You might feel nervous for your first lesson. What if the the student’s level is higher or lower than you expected? What if they don’t talk? What if they don’t like you? All of these questions are normal, so don’t worry. Remember, your student is here to learn from you and they’re probably more intimidated than you are! Treat them like a friend. Get to know them and their language goals first before you dive into lessons. Give them equal time to talk and don’t jump in immediately to correct any mistakes they have. Be gentle when they do have a mistake, and try and allow them to fix the mistake themselves first.

For your first lesson, it’s a good idea to do a casual level test. You don’t need to prepare a difficult exam per se, but try and get a mix of speaking, reading, writing and listening to gauge where your student is at. You can be really creative with the activities. Don’t put pressure on them to perform – you can try having a conversation with them, have them tell you in their target language why they want to learn the language, and so forth.

TUTORING TIPS
Firstly, I don’t use lots of textbooks, but if you’re just starting out it can be beneficial to purchase (or have your student bring) a textbook that you can guide them through. Some students may interpret this as you not taking enough initiative, whereas others like the structure of working through a book.

Personally, I prefer to make weekly lessons, as I can adjust this to the student’s interests and levels. I use various sources, textbooks and games to compile my own lesson. I’ll include their name in example sentences as well, which is always a nice surprise for them to see and shows that you put effort in as an instructor. I’ll often reuse lessons for students and just change their names if I’ve included names in the example sentences.

My favorite activity for sentence building is to write different words on flashcards in various colors, and then have the student build sentences. For example, I’ll write verbs in red, nouns in green, locations in blue and time words in purple and they have to take one card from each pile and make a sentence with all of them. For more advanced learners, you can make them take 2 cards from each pile to create complex sentences. I also give them the flashcards to take home and keep.

I also make board games for my students. These make excellent warm-up activities. I’ll either write in English or in their language, and have simple prompts for conversations. It works kind of like snakes and ladders, so just a basic game with a die and place markers. I’ll add stuff like “what are you afraid of?” “tell me about your best holiday” “who’s your best friend?” “pretend you’re at a cafe ordering a coffee with me” and so forth. This gets them comfortable to talk and you can teach grammar and vocabulary at the same time without actually having to go into detail preparing a lesson.

I also don’t give my students lots of tests, but you can choose to do that as well. The only time I did test my students was when I was doing an intensive JLPT bootcamp to prepare for the JLPT exam.

Finally, be open with your student and allow your teaching methods to change and adapt over time based on what you experience with your students. Let them give you feedback on your teaching style so that it’s a mutual positive experience for you and your student.

ADDING PERSONAL TOUCH
Branding: It’s not necessary, but you can brand your worksheets by adding a footer with your website or contact details. This helps get new students if your student ever lends their worksheets to someone else.
Snacks: If you tutor in person, provide your student with tea and cookies! It warms up the atmosphere shows your student that you care about them not just as a student but as a person.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU TEACH?
It’s best to check with your student what their requirements are. I’ve had students who want lessons 3 times a week, whereas others were more than happy to casually have 2 or 3 lessons a month. Chat to your student about their needs. Do they have an exam coming up? If so, more intensives lessons are necessary. Remember to give them homework and assignments so that you can check their progress and keep them studying when you’re away.

KEEPING AND LOSING STUDENTS
Manage your students’ expectations in terms of pricing and hours. You might be more comfortable having your student book and pay for a month in advance, whereas I prefer payment after each lesson to avoid having to pay a student back for a cancelled lesson. Remember to treat your student like a friend and a learner. Being warm and helpful goes a long way and will ensure your student will come back to you. Finally, don’t be upset when your student decides to end lessons. It might not be a reflection on your tutoring style – it could just be that they have other priorities or troubles with finances.

All the best with your tutoring activities!

Love,
Lindie

2 thoughts on “Tutoring a language: All you need to know

  1. Thank you very much for your helpful advices! I want to be a language teacher in the future and this post helped me a lot to understand language students. I hope learn more with you here and on youtube.

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