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Avoid these 5 common mistakes to get the most out of language tutors

Although better value for money than college or a language school, private language tutors can be a costly way to learn a language if not used properly. Even on platforms such as Verbling, where students and teachers connect online, if you want a qualified, well-rated tutor, you’re looking at a minimum of $15USD/hour, and should expect to be paying anything between $20-40 depending on language being learned and experience.

But, let’s just set one thing straight: a private language tutor isn’t in and of itself a waste of money. Having somebody who is invested in your learning, who is familiar with, and can empathise with the kind of learning difficulties that you are facing can mean that you’ll have a much better chance of getting to grips with your target language.

You’ll have a better chance of picking up native-like pronunciation, and you’ll in general feel more motivated to succeed with the discipline of meeting with, and being accountable to somebody. However, without a little hard work, and clever use of your private tutor, you’ll soon find that your investment in your education isn’t as effective as it could be.

Here are five avoidable mistakes that are easy to fall into when learning a language with a private tutor.

1) Using tutors as your only source of practice

Having a private tutor means you’ve got unrestricted access to a native, or native-like speaker of your language. However, you shouldn’t forget that they are just one of possibly millions of people who speak your language, and it’s important to be exposed to a wide variety of native input. Do not think that your tutor is a substitute for real-life practice through face-to-face language exchanges, diary entries on Lang-8, or even just enjoying music, films and podcasts in your target language.

Key point: Your tutor is there for the tricky stuff. For general day-to-day speaking and writing practice, find a free alternative.

2) Not setting a consistent schedule

One of the biggest advantages of a private tutor is the accountability that a regularly scheduled meeting will bring. Whilst it might be tempting, especially with a particularly easy-going tutor, to schedule meetings when you find a gap in your schedule – it’s an easy way to burn out quickly. In my experience as a private tutor, the students with whom I have a regular weekly time slot are the ones who make the most rapid progress. Not only is the discipline useful to keep your studies accountable, but it’s also helpful for your tutor to be able to plan a suitable curriculum.

Key point: Set a clear schedule with your tutor and make it your top priority to stick to it.

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3) Leaving the curriculum up to the tutors

If you pick a qualified tutor with a good degree of experience, it is likely that they will have a come across a learner like you before, and will have suggestions for learning materials, textbooks and exercises. If, however, you find that the lessons that you are taking are somehow ill-matched for your level, or don’t respond to exactly the kind of material you want to learn: it’s your responsibility to tell your tutor. A professional tutor will in no way be offended if you ask them to speak a little less English to you, to give you extra exercises, or to change the workbook you are using.

Key point: Communicate your wants to your teacher, and help them to help you.

4) Not reviewing post lesson

The two hours after your lesson are almost as critical as the time of your lesson itself. Be sure to schedule lessons at times when you’re not likely to be busy immediately after, to allow you to decompress and collect your thoughts after the lesson. Be sure to review every piece of material that you went through with your teacher, and re-write the notes that you took in a digestible format. This process alone will ensure that the information you’ve learned will transition to your long-term memory, but it shouldn’t stop there. Make sure that in the time between lessons you’re constantly reviewing material, noting questions that you’d like to bring up with your tutor next time.

Key point: Make sure that you consolidate and summarise what you have covered during your lesson.

5) Not self-teaching between lessons

If you’re losing weight, you don’t just think about what you’re eating and how active your lifestyle is at the time you meet your personal trainer. The same is true for language learning. The majority of your learning should be happening outside of your scheduled lessons, and the lessons should be used only for the parts of your study which can’t effectively be learned when you are by yourself, and to provide a means of directing your self-study. Online tools such as LinguaLift are perfect for this.

Key Point: Think of your lessons as a focus point for your self-study.

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Do you have any tips on how to make the most of one to one classes? Share with us on Twitter!

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