Some of you may have read my previous blog post I wrote after having 1000 lessons on Italki. After spending so much of my time learning languages online (on skype usually), I am now well aware of what kind of teacher I need and when it’s time to find a new one.
My requirements for an online language teacher vary depending on whether I am a beginner or an intermediate level student. The site I use most regularly is Italki but I have also used Verbling. The key differences between these sites are that Verbling has an integrated platform for lessons built into their website so that you don’t have to use skype. You can still see your teacher on the webcam and you can share screens and documents. In my experience it works very well. Italki is just setting up the same kind of platform but the lessons are done on Skype at the moment and teachers can share screens or documents such as a Google document. Verbling only offers one hour lessons (apart from 30 min trials), whereas many teachers on Italki offer 30 minute lessons. On Verbling, the teachers seem to all be professionals whereas Italki has a mix of Professional Teachers and Community Tutors who offer informal lessons. Professional teachers on Italki tend to be qualified whereas Community Tutors are not always qualified and are not expected to plan structured lessons or provide materials. Community Tutors tend to offer speaking practice or could perhaps correct some written work for you.
Let’s say I am about to start learning a new language this week. As I believe in the ‘Speak From Day One’ method, I would be looking to book an online lesson within the first week of starting a new language. As a beginner, I usually need well-structured lessons because I will not be able to do much speaking at this stage. I therefore look for a teacher who provides materials and a planned lesson to take me through all the basics and to try and get me to speak by using exercises or prompts right from the first lesson. I would expect any Professional Teacher to be able to provide that. However, you can also find some Community Tutors who will provide materials and well-structured lessons. Read the feedback from other students to get an idea. I have occasionally come across some tutors who will come into the lesson and say “So… what do you want to do then?”. Unless they are offering me some choices, I would be put off from using that teacher again. At beginner level, it is important to me that I can learn the language with a well-organised, creative and supportive teacher. At this stage, I don’t want to be trying to create lesson ideas myself as well as trying to learn how to speak a new language! Some Community Tutors don’t teach beginners at all because they don’t have the materials to provide. That is fine if they state that in their profile and you know beforehand.
By this stage (a high A2 level upwards), my needs tend to be different. I tend to like a mixture of professional and informal tuition at this stage. If I am A2-B1 level then I will probably still need some structured lessons with grammar exercises. At a high B1 or at B2 level upwards, I then tend to focus mainly on conversation because I have covered so much grammar by that stage and should be confident in using the language. I would then look for a Community Tutor who is skilled at keeping up a conversation, asks me lots of questions and likes to discuss a variety of topics. I prefer to discuss articles or videos on various themes as this will widen my vocabulary at the same time as improving my speaking and listening skills. Another good way to widen your vocabulary is by using English as a Foreign Language websites where you can find hundreds of conversation questions on lots of topics. Then all you need to do is to ask your teacher to ask you these questions in whatever language you are learning. This method works really well for me. Without having different themes to discuss, you may just plateau and become bored as you may end up just talking about the same things all the time.
Other Issues – Anxiety, Personalities, Recommendations etc
Lots of people feel anxious before taking lessons online. Firstly, it’s a new language, you are likely to feel nervous. Some people aren’t used to Skype. Then some people worry about the lesson itself and what the teacher will be like. A lot of these worries can be reduced before taking your first lesson in order for it to run smoothly.
When I first book a lesson, I normally send the teacher a message to say what level I am in the language and if I have any areas of weakness. If speaking the language makes you nervous, you could mention that too. A good teacher should be able to adapt to various learning styles, identify your weaker areas and help you to improve. By sending this initial message, you have given the teacher an opportunity to prepare an appropriate lesson for you.
With regards to Skype, it felt a bit weird to me in the first place because the first time I used Skype was for a language lesson! However, any awkward feelings should start to disappear the more you get used to it. To me now, it’s just like being face-to-face with someone. In fact, I have had some camera-shy teachers who only used audio. You could suggest that too. You could also speak to friends and family over Skype before taking language lessons and you’ll get used to how it works.
Even if you take my advice above, you may still not find the right teacher right away. Some teachers may be good at their job but their personality may not be ideal for an anxious student. I am generally not an anxious student. However, I had very little confidence in speaking French because of an awful teacher at school who would make us feel stupid whenever we made a mistake. After my school years, I did not look at French again until about 2 years ago. By the time I went back to French, I thought I would do better than before because by that time I was already fluent in some other languages. However, I was not used to the pronunciation so I still had my doubts about that. I decided to book a lesson with a Professional Teacher on Italki and I sent her a message to tell her my level was very basic and that I was very unconfident about trying to speak French. I therefore would have expected her to be understanding about that. However, I was wrong and throughout the lesson she would not let me finish a sentence. She interrupted me constantly to correct my pronunciation instead of allowing me to try and finish a sentence first which I found annoying. Then at the end she made me feel useless by rudely saying “You have so many things to improve”. So of course, I never wanted a lesson with her again. I found her rude and completely unsuitable for an anxious student. She did have a lot of experience and in fact, I knew other people who had used her for lessons before in other languages. This proves that just because your friends find a teacher suitable, it doesn’t mean they will be suitable for you. Forget the bad lesson and move on. I then tried another Professional Teacher for French who was much more patient, did not interrupt me and provided me with materials for my level. I have stuck with her ever since and after around a year I also started having informal sessions with a Community Tutor to discuss articles on various themes.
Both teachers worked very well for me and after two years, my French is now B2 level. I can comfortably read news articles, watch videos and summarise them and talk about lots of different topics without having to prepare first. So my bad experience turned out to be a success story!
I have met some wonderful people on Italki and Verbling and some have become my friends!
Checklist (for all levels):
- Think about what kind of lessons you want/need.
- Read the teacher’s profile carefully and watch their video.
- Read through previous feedback which may tell you more about their lessons.
- Contact the teacher before you book a lesson to ask any questions you may have.
- When booking a lesson, send the teacher a message explaining your current level and what your aims are so they can plan a suitable lesson for you.
- Expect to try out several teachers before finding the right fit. You may get lucky and find your first teacher is perfect for you!
By registering on this link for Verbling , they will give you free credits of $30 to use on future lessons after you have bought 10 lessons from them.
By registering on this link for Italki , they will give you free credits of $10 to use on future lessons after you have bought 1 lesson.