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

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6 unique ways to improve listening in any language

You sit at home and read your textbook, get all the questions right, and speed through your Duolingo and Memrise apps… but then once you have to talk to a native speaker, suddenly, you have no idea what they’re saying! Why is listening so hard?

Remember, listening is one of the most important aspects of communication. When you were a baby and you learnt your native language, did you start speaking immediately? I’m pretty sure your mom didn’t put a textbook in front of you when you were learning to say “mama”. You learnt by listening to her, right? That’s the process we need to adopt. In many languages, I prefer to listen to the language way before I dive into learning how to speak it. This way, I’ve come up with 6 techniques you can implement to improve your listening comprehension in any language.

01 | Draw it out

Listen to what someone is saying (on a podcast, on the radio, or on a TV show), and draw it out. This will help you identify intonation, so that you sound more natural when speaking, and so that you’re able to identify sound patterns in the language you’re learning. If you want to be very technical, you can draw a graph on paper with lines indicating high/low pitches, and then draw a certain word or sentence out. It’s important for languages such as Hungarian and Vietnamese, where questions don’t have a rising tone, unlike in English. Here’s an example:

Sound-graph

02 | Siri and your GPS

If you use Siri, you can change the language she talks in. What’s great about Siri is that what she says also appears in text. Siri has also been programmed to sound like a natural in each language, so you might notice subtle differences in intonation, humour, and formalities in each language. Additionally, change your phone language to your target language, and your phone GPS should start up in that language. I learnt the words for “left” and “right” in Hungarian by listening to my GPS – I didn’t even have to look the words up once!

03 | Call some strangers (no need to show your face!)

For Chinese, I like to use the app called Goodnight. Many Taiwanese people use this app, and since there’s no video feature, it’s purely a voice chat app. It’s great to hear how people answer the phone, what things they normally say when starting a conversation, and of course, to get used to natural pronunciation and filler words.

For Japanese, there’s an app called Saito-san. It does have a video function though, so be careful for people who are there for PG-18 reasons. I don’t recommend it for younger learners. If you can filter through the weird people, it’s an excellent way to practice both your speaking and your listening. You also don’t have to have the camera on either and can choose to do just a voice chat. They also have a broadcasting feature where you can host your own little live audio show.

For Hindi, Arabic, English, French and more, you can use the app called Wakie. It’s a phone-call app like the ones above, but with a wider audience. Also no camera, so you don’t need to be afraid of making mistakes at all.

04 | Shadowing

Shadowing means repeating what someone is saying. You can do this through any audio material, like the radio, a TV show, a podcast, or even music (though often, for tonal languages, tones are ignored when singing). Listen to slow news as well, such as News in Slow Japanese. By shadowing, you’ll get used to how native speakers speak, which in turn will make listening to them easier since you’ll be used to intonation and word usage. If you constantly listen to Japanese music, TV or radio, for example, you might hear a specific grammar structure being used and then you’ll say “Oh! I remember that. Now I see how it’s being used in daily conversation”. You’ll feel good about yourself and it’ll be easier to listen to native speakers.

05 | Slow down video and audio speeds

If you’re watching a YouTube video in your target language, you can slow down the speaking speed. You can also slow own audio on VLC. Another thing you can do is use the listening sections from standardized exams to hear slow audio. On YouTube, you can find tons of videos for JLPT listening, and the same can be said for the Korean TOPIK and Chinese HSK. The beginner levels are usually spoken slower, making it easy to hear the words clearly.

06 | Learn filler words and interjections

Native speakers don’t sound like they do in textbooks! It’s important to learn filler words. In English, some filler words are “um”, “uh”, “well”, “hmm” and so forth. Similarly, other languages have their own unique ways of pausing during speech, and these often don’t appear in textbooks. You can look these words up, but the best way to learn them is by speaking or listening to natives. Watching TV shows in the language is also a wonderful way to pick up filler words. In Korean, Japanese and Chinese TV, you’ll often see filler words and sentences written on the screen like playful subtitles. These are good because you can hear the word and see it visually, helping solidify it into your memory.

It’s a workout!

In closing, remember to make listening a part of your language-learning routine. Think of it as a workout. You can’t go to the gym and just do leg day every day. Your arms won’t be toned and your legs will be insane. You might be excellent at grammar and vocabulary but you may not have confidence to speak because you’ve never practiced speaking and listening. Everything is connected, so by practicing listening daily, you’ll be ingraining native grammar into your memory too. Just remember, practice makes permanent, not perfect… so make sure you check things with native speakers if you’re unsure!

 

Tips & tricks for vocabulary acquisition

New language learners often look at others and think learning vocabulary is something that happens quickly. They seek for ways to speed up their vocabulary retention. It’s not wrong to look for ways to learn faster, but one needs to keep in mind that having vocabulary words stick in your long-term memory takes a while!

Methods to try

GOLDLIST
Lots of people use the Goldlist Method for remembering vocab. However, it is not my favorite because of the long time between learning a word and reviewing it again, but it’s nice and structured.

FLASHCARDS
Write the word on one side of a card/paper and on the back write its meaning/pronunciation/usage. If you don’t like paper you can use apps like Anki. You can go further and categorize the cards into piles of “know” “review” and “new”.

REMEMBERING WORDS 
Make sure to use your words as soon as you learn them. You can write them in sentences and have them checked on websites like italki, or you can use it with a native speaker and ask them to correct you if you use the word wrong.

LABELLING
You can label things around your room/house. Stick a piece of paper to your fridge that lists the word for “fridge” in your TL. You can do it with anything from your mirror to your closet to your potplant.

SHOPPING LISTS/PLANNERS
I usually write my shopping lists and planner/diary entries in another language. For example, if I have a “meeting”, I won’t write it in English, but rather in a language I’m learning. Especially if it’s a new word (like “call plumber”, for example), writing it down more than once in your planner will engrain it into your memory if you use it enough.

NOTETAKING
I find it much faster to write notes using Chinese characters/Korean words mixed in with English. It sounds insane, but writing “名” is much faster than writing “name”. Fellow students in university used to get frustrated when they asked to borrow my notes because half of it wasn’t English. I guess this is just for speed rather than vocab retention. You can make up your own ways to write things. For example, instead of writing “design”, a word I use a lot, I take the Korean word 디자인 and shorten it to ㄷㅈ – two characters which are super fast to write!

Finding new words

Watching TV shows/movies/dramas can help you pick up new words easily if you make sure to write them down when you encounter them. Korean/Japanese/Chinese shows are especially good because they often put the word being said on the screen (especially with explanations or something funny someone said). You can also watch shows with subtitles in your TL rather than your native language so you’re sure about the spelling.

Listening to music/radio/podcasts: Same concept. You might not know how to spell the word that you hear, but you can try, and then type it in to a dictionary app and check if you were right. In terms of checking word meanings, you can also do a google search/other search engine search with the word to see what pictures come up.


tl;dr: Here’s a video to go along with this post!