“Do you realise I’m speaking to you *almost* as fast as I speak to a French person?”
I was a bit stunned by this question: I hadn’t. For me, I was trying just as hard, and making as many mistakes, as the previous 3 times I’d met with my French tutor. After he asked me that question, it sunk in: I was making some good progress.
Did I still make lots of grammar mistakes? Oh yes. Wrong gender endings, and a bunch of other things that will just take some time to perfect? You bet. Still, I was ecstatic to be listening at *almost* a normal rate in French, for a whole hour. The humungous coffee in front of me also helped.
I searched for a private tutor because I wasn’t making progress as fast as I wanted. I’d been to all my classes, been a good teacher’s pet and done my homework, and listen to podcasts quite often, but I wasn’t feeling like I could have a good conversation yet. I’ve had private tutors in the past (for Spanish and Japanese) and they worked wonders.
Hang on.. aren’t private tutors expensive?
They can be. Many aren’t. For $20 an hour, I get to enjoy great coffee with a genuine Frenchman who is about my age, is patient (thankfully) and speaks fluent French (funny about that). $20 an hour? At once per week, or even once per fortnight, that’s nothing to pay for the results you’ll get.
Does it really help?
Absolutely. Rather than focusing on grammar and vocab like one does in classes, you bring any specific questions you have, and spend the rest of the time talking about whatever you want: the weather, your pets, or what you did on the weekend. That’s the real way to learn a language, and makes you feel like you’re making great progress because you’re having a real conversation.
How to do it
- Think about who you know. Is there anyone who’d be willing to chat with you for an hour for the price of a beer or a coffee? A lot of people know someone who speaks the language. If someone asked you to talk to them for one hour in English in exchange for a free drink, would you do it? I would. And I have. It’s a win-win.
- If you don’t know anyone, start with websites like www.gumtree.com (AU and UK), www.craigslist.com (US) or www.tutorfinder.com.au (AU). You’ll find loads of native speakers looking to make a few extra dollars in exchange for speaking with you. An email or phone call, and you’ll be sitting in a cafe speaking French/Spanish/Chinese/whatever language you want.
What to look for
These are the things I have found to work best with private tutors:
- They’re not jacks-of-all-trades. I’ve seen people advertising tutoring for beginners’ French, beginners’ Spanish, Chemistry, Science, and on and on. These are not the kind of people you want to tutor you. Find someone who specialises in your language.
- They’re not (necessarily) a teacher. I like native speakers who aren’t teachers, and who have studied a language before. Why? I learn enough grammar in class, so I don’t want to focus on it over coffee. I do, however, want someone who knows what a verb is, and who can explain basic questions I have. I don’t need a super-qualified teacher who’s going to lay out a specific lesson plan for me, because I get that in my classes anyway. Super-qualified people also tend to have higher prices.
Good example: My current French tutor is from Paris, has just moved here with his partner, and charges $20 per hour where we spend the whole time speaking in French. He’s studied English and speaks very well, so he knows what “past tense” and “conjugation” mean. He’s not a professional teacher, so he doesn’t nitpick when I make mistakes – but he does point them out so I can learn from them. He’s also open to teaching me naughty words, which I then use to surprise other French speakers and get myself in trouble with teachers.
Now that I’ve ‘sold’ the concept of private tutoring, will you consider one for your own target language?
I hope you do. It’s cheap, easy, and fun. Oh, and you’ll be kicking a** at your language in no time.
Question: What’s your experience with private tutors and how to get the best out of them? Would love to hear in the comments.
Photo Credit: Fornal
If you liked this post, you might like My Book, which is full of lots more techniques to help you conquer your foreign language. If you’ve read it, I’d be forever grateful if you could take a minute to write an Amazon review. In any case, thanks for reading!