How to find a good tutor and make the most out of your online language lessons

What I love about taking lessons

I’m very vocal about the fact that I take online language lessons on italki, and as such, one of my most-asked questions is advice on how to find the right online language tutor. This post will go into detail about tips on how to choose a tutor that suits your language learning needs, what to look out for when booking a tutor, and how to have a successful first lesson.

About three years ago, I was a somewhat opposed to taking online lessons. I thought that self-study was the way to go for language learning! 

As I started working life and becoming more busy, I realized that I really enjoy the idea of having a tutor as they can plan a language curriculum for me. It takes the pressure away from having to plan my own language learning. There’s always somebody who I can practice speaking with. and tutors can give me homework or activities that are very specifically suited to the skills I need to work on.

Things to look out for in an online language tutor

Related blog post: Tips to have a great first lesson

1. Tutor personality & vibe

This is something that is really important to me. I was looking for a new Spanish teacher about a month ago, and my friend recommended someone to me. I took a trial lesson with them. The tutor was very, very soft-spoken. That projected onto me and I felt scared to speak up and be expressive and enthusiastic. I wanted to be able to joke around and be excited, but working with a tutor who was very serious and quiet felt like I had to reflect that.  All the tutors on italki have to submit a video where they introduce themselves. That helps you see whether the tutor is overly enthusiastic or more quiet and serious, etc. Try to think what type of friends you hang out with, or what type of teachers you’ve had at school that you liked. Then, choose a tutor whose vibe matches yours. Right now I do have a Spanish teacher who I really enjoy, they are enthusiastic, they’re happy, and that spills over to me. It makes me feel excited to talk, and not afraid to make mistakes.

2. Tutor specialization

When I took Korean lessons on I italki last year, I specifically booked it because I wanted help for the TOPIK Korean exam. I searched for TOPIK as a keyword and I looked through the list of tutors who were specifically trained in preparing people for the exam. If you’re going to do an exam for like DELF for French, then you can look for a tutor who does preparation for that. I like to book professional tutors, not community tutors, for exam purposes. 

TL;DR: watch this post in a video format

3. Voice, dialect and accent

If you are learning a language like Japanese or Korean that has distinct feminine or masculine sounding language, be sure to pick the one that will suit you. If you are looking to speak more feminine in Japanese for example, it may help to get a female tutor because there are slight nuances in the language that make it sound more feminine or more masculine when you speak. When I just started learning Korean I had a lot of male friends who I was talking to, and I picked up some words that didn’t sound very feminine. When I was talking to people early in my Korean language journey, they said “you kind of sound like a dude”! That was weird for me, because I did want to sound more feminine when speaking Korean. Usually if I am looking at for Korean tutor, I will book a lesson with a female tutor for that reason. Similar goes for a language like Spanish that has variants depending on the country it is spoken in. Choose a type of Spanish first before deciding on a tutor! I used to learn Mexican Spanish, and now I’ve transitioned to Spain Spanish.

4. Your goals

Related blog post: Rethink your language learning goals

If you are looking to get more speaking practice, find somebody who is very confident and comfortable and can keep a conversation going. You can’t always know that from the start, but watching the video and reading the reviews as a tutor is going to be helpful. My goal in Hungarian was just to talk as much as possible. If you and your tutor have nothing in common, and you’re not going to take a structured grammar lesson, the conversation lesson might not flow so smoothly. The reason I booked my current italki Hungarian tutor is that his introduction video mentioned things that we have in common. We always have something fascinating to talk about during our lessons. He also spoke very slowly during his introduction video, and for a difficult language like Hungarian, it was important for me to get someone who can speak slowly, at a pace that I can understand. Keep in mind your language learning goals. Are you looking to learn for a test? Do you just want to practice speaking? Are you looking for structured grammar lessons? There are tutors based on different specializations that you can filter for on the website you are searching on.

How to prepare for your first language lesson

It’s crucial that you book a trial lesson with a tutor. This way, you are not signing everything away on a five-lesson package with a tutor who you don’t even know is going to be good. Come prepared with questions. Ask them things like, what is your language learning methodology? How do you think students learn best? What kind of resources or materials will you provide me? Will you be able to correct my homework? Are we only going to do speaking lessons or grammar too?  Communication is very important. Have a conversation with your tutor and tell them what your learning goals are. If you are new to lessons and you don’t know, ask them what they would recommend.

Related blog post: Getting the most out of italki lessons

A significant thing that I like to do before conversational lessons, especially if I’m a beginner, is to write down some phrases. It makes me feel a lot safer. For instance, I know that my Hungarian teacher always asks me how was your week or what did you do? I might look up new words beforehand and write one or two sentences if I don’t know the relevant vocabulary based on what I did that week.  Obviously, you won’t need to do this if you’re already intermediate or advanced. This is just to help you feel safer as a beginner. If your tutor gives you a curriculum or some slides, be sure to review it before the lesson to feel more comfortable. If you sign up using this link, you will get $10 credits on italki after you spend your first $20! I hope these tips have been helpful. 

Good luck with your language learning!




One response to “How to find a good tutor and make the most out of your online language lessons”

  1. Julia Avatar

    Do you recommend to have some of the ‘basics’ down (like the alphabet, introductory phrases, ect) before booking a tutor, or can you start lessons from an absolute beginner?

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