10 reasons to consider getting a language tutor

Posted on 17/10/2011


Maybe I’m biased, but I think a language tutor can help you immeasurably with your learning. Here’s why.

1. Motivation

You need an iron will to keep going with self-study alone beyond the initial buzz of the first few weeks or months. It’s useful to know that one person at least will be able to tell if you’ve made any progress. And it doesn’t have to be weekly if it doesn’t suit your budget – a quarterly review may be enough to keep you on track.

2. Feedback

Working through a textbook is laudable, and a great way to put the foundational stuff in place. But what a textbook won’t do is talk you through why you made a mistake, or give you endless alternative answers so that you will see that yours was, in fact, also acceptable. A teacher can draw those things out, and that’s where the real learning often starts.

3. Conversation practice

A textbook won’t talk to you either, and neither will even the most sophisticated app. Since most people learn a language in order to communicate with those around them, it makes sense to replicate this situation from early on and to practice it as much as possible. In an evening class, there simply isn’t time or opportunity for everyone to have as much of a go as they want or need to.

4. Confidence

Fluency in conversation comes with practice; accuracy comes with slowing down enough to get the sentences right, just as a six-year-old draws his letters reallllly carefully. A few months later, he’s got the hang of it, and so will you. In a group lesson, you often won’t get the chance to slow down long enough to focus on forming a correct sentence, and in a real life even less so. In a one-to-one setting, you can take all the time you need for this until you are confident enough in your abilities to try them out in the real world.

5. A chance to ask questions

When you are talking with a tutor, you don’t have to worry that you are asking a stupid question: chances are it’s not a stupid question, and they are used to answering it anyway, and in any case there is nobody there to judge you, or tut at your for going off topic. If you need the imperfect tense explained to you again, you can have the imperfect tense explained to you again. If you have questions about specialist vocab related to getting the plumbing fixed in your French holiday home, you can ask. (Though, erm, in certain cases they may need to go away and do research.)

6. External processing

Some of us think best when we talk; something that seems abstract on paper comes alive when we discuss it. The language tutor is a sounding board, and can help you think through aspects of language yourself – which is often even more useful than having him or her tell you the answer straight away.

7. Help with pronunciation

Some sounds are difficult for native English speakers to hear – like the difference between “ou” and “u” in French. But (trust me on this for now) you don’t want to get them wrong. Sometimes the only way to learn is by imitation. You watch your tutor’s lips closely and try to replicate the pattern. And you can do this endlessly, since there isn’t anyone in the class wishing you would hurry up and move on.

8. Flexibility

Private lessons fit around you and your schedule. They take place at a time and place to suit you, and can usually be re-arranged (with a reasonable amount of notice) if something comes up. A good tutor comes armed with a plan for the lesson, but ready to drop it if you’ve had a hard day and need to take it slightly easier, or you have something you need help translating, or you feel like doing something more creative that day. They encourage you when your confidence is flagging, and are strict with you when necessary. Now tell me, does Rosetta Stone do that? Does your textbook?

9. Advice on resources

There is a wealth of resources out there – particularly for the most popular languages, like French, Spanish and English – but that doesn’t mean they are easy to find, or that they are all as good as each other. Your tutor will know about all kinds of books, apps, and websites to help you learn, and will be able to guide you as to what will help you best, especially once they get to know you, your needs, and your learning style.

10. Personalised lessons

It’s this very thing – this knowledge of you, your needs, and your learning style – that is the most compelling argument for personal tuition. With private tuition, you can spend an entire lesson on the minutiae of the subjunctive if that is what you want to do; you can read a text on motorbikes if that is where your interest lies. You can skip over the points you can remember from secondary school and spend longer on the sounds you find hard to pronounce and getting them just right. In short, you get personal attention that matches your goals.


— for more hints and tips on language learning, buy Conquering Babel: A Practical Guide to Learning a Language here in the US and here in the UK.
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