Looking for a tutor is just the same as looking for any other type of service. You have to find a way to make the connection between you and the best person to do the job at the right price. But making that connection can be difficult. How can you know who is the right language tutor if you don’t know anything about language tutoring? I’m a language tutor with many years of experience. Let me offer some advice.
First, get your priorities right
There are, proverbially, horses for courses and so there are different types of tutors who are best for specific purposes. First of all, let’s debunk one myth and that is that a native speaker is invariably better than a non-native speaker. This is not the case and it’s also an insult to people who, like me, have spent many years learning a language and reaching a high level in it. At a higher level, it can be good to have a native speaker. At beginner level, a good, experienced non-native tutor will nearly always be better than a native speaker with no teaching experience or language awareness.
If you want to learn and progress in the language, then an experienced language teacher with a good knowledge of the language – native or non-native – will be best. They will know what to cover and how to help you learn most effectively. They’ll be able to explain about grammar and vocabulary. They will already have taught many students and built up a range of techniques.
If you already have a reasonable knowledge of the language and just want to practice with someone to get some conversation practice, my advice is this: There is no such thing as ‘just’ conversation lessons. All language sessions involve learning, practicing and finding out about the language, and to get the most out of them you need to do more than just conversation. That’s why you are going to learn more from an experienced tutor, who will include conversation.
But if you really want to just converse with someone in the foreign language, then there are cost-free options such as joining a local group. You could use a service such as iTalki, which matches you up with a speaker of the language you are learning and in your sessions you spend some of the time speaking English, and some of the time speaking the foreign language. I intend to find out more about these services, please subscribe to my mailing list.
If you are looking for a private tutor to help a young person preparing for an exam, such as the GCSE and A level in England and Wales, the Highers in Scotland or Leaving Cert in Ireland, then you will need a tutor who can help guide the student through the exam and help them gain the knowledge and exam techniques in order to do well.
A teacher with experience of teaching GCSE and A level languages in a school full might make a good candidate, but a tutor like me, who knows the exams and has been an occasional examiner, can also be helpful. I can introduce some alternative approaches which students won’t find in schools. At GCSE (age 16) level, being a native speaker is not the priority. Having a good knowledge of exams and exam techniques, having an empathy with the student and being able to build their confidence is far more important.
But where are you going to find this person? Well, my advice would first of all be…
See if you can get a recommendation.
Do you happen to know anyone who has used the services of a private tutor and who might be able to recommend one? My guess is that your answer will be ‘probably not’. Word of mouth is important but it doesn’t always extend far enough to bring the right people together. I’ve heard that schools might be able to recommend tutors to provide extra help to their students. But I’ve also heard of schools where parents are advised that their students do not need to have extra tuition as the school provides everything they need to pass the exam. This is of course a load of… Well, let’s just say every student can benefit from some extra tuition! So unless you have a recomendatio, then you will need to use an agency. And my advice would be…
Choose your agency carefully
I have worked with many agencies, some good, some not so good. I know the different ways they work. Some agencies seem to have the priority to make as much money as possible for their owners. Others appear to have the aim of matching people up with the right tutor. Be very careful if you see an agency quoting rock bottom prices. The chances are that tutors are less experienced, maybe students. Beware of any false claims. Look carefully into the background of the agency, where they are based and who owns them – often that information is not on the site. Use your judgement.
As mentioned, the criteria are different for school students studying for exams and adult students who just want to learn the language. Look for the necessary expertise and experience in
Look at it from the point of view of the tutor
Some agencies take payment directly from the customer and then forward payment to the tutor – less commission. In some cases, they hold on to the money until the end of the month.
Other agencies provide you with a list of tutors from which you choose. The agency then contacts the tutor advising them a client has asked them to make contact. The tutor deals directly with the client and takes payment from them. At the end of the month, the tutor needs to forward the commission to the agency. The system works on trust, but if a tutor fails to make the commission payment they won’t receive any more referrals. I have used this system and I find it works fine.
There are some agencies that provide just an introduction. They charge a monthly subscription, which can be upgraded to a ‘gold’ membership, which is intended to provide extra visibility for the tutor.
Contact a tutor direct – No intermediary, no extra costs
Finally there are tutors who have their own website or social media channels and are directly contactable by clients. I fall into this category. I have my aidan.co.uk website which has been online since 1997. Since launch, I’ve used it to find countless clients for language teaching and my other services. I prefer to find clients this way as I can deal with them directly and I do not have to pay any commission. I don’t have to charge the client anything extra to cover the commission.
The advantage of using a tutor with his or her own website is that you can see their expertise and experience without reference to a larger agency. You know what you are getting.
So if you are interested in finding a tutor for German or English – or for GCSE French and German, please get in touch. If you’re looking for tutors in other languages I may be able to give some personalised advice on which agencies are good and which ones to avoid. I don’t like to publish that information online!