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Guidance on giving language lessons

Below is some general guidance on how to give language lessons, including potential learner anxities, notes on encouraging learners to contribute and a self-evaulation checklist to ensure your sessions run smoothly.

Encouraging learners to contribute

Many people are very nervous when speaking a new language. It is critical to be patient with them, and build their confidence through encouragement and praise. Your ultimate goal is to help the learner become comfortable and confident in the language, even if they occassionally make mistakes.

Potential learner anxieties

  1. Your learner may struggle to express what exactly they are looking to gain from lessons, and may doubt their ability to achieve their goals. It is essential to agree on realistic targets based on what they are ultimately hoping to achieve. If a learner finds it difficult to articulate what they are aiming towards, avoid the kind of 'why' questions that can make someone feel on the spot.
  2. Your learner may feel obliged to defer to you. Your learner may be a little intimidated: you should try to encourage them to express their opinions to build confidence. One-to-one sessions, whilst very useful because of their intensity may also be a little overwhelming to someone who is not used to being in the spotlight.
  3. Your learner may see you as an assessor. This is a difficult perception to overcome, especially if you're coaching your learner towards an exam. The key here is to be open, friendly, to encourage the learner's confidence and to make your style of teaching non-confrontational. Be careful that a learner does not feel unable to express their lack of confidence in fear of incurring your wrath!
  4. Your learner may be confused as to how to work together with a teacher in a lesson, having never had a one-to-one before. Whilst some people may quickly take the lead and specify what they want from lessons, others will be unsure and will look to you to establish a power dynamic. Here, informal feedback is essential so you are aware if the learner feels they are not getting what they need.

Encouraging learners to contribute

Learners are more likely to engage when:

  • They feel comfortable around you
  • You show them respect and support, especially when they make mistakes
  • Learning is seen as a co-operative exercise, not a confrontational one
  • You both agree upon realistic and achievable tasks
  • They are encouraged to contribute, not just to be lectured to
  • Feedback is frequent so communication breakdowns do not occur
  • They are presented with open-ended questions that are not too 'leading'

Directing discussions

Think about:

  • Regularly giving supportive, constructive feedback
  • Encouraging broader or deeper focus
  • Correcting misunderstanding in a non-confrontational way

Feedback on learners' skills/abilities

  • Link feedback to specifc positives/mistakes
  • Comment on use of particular skills
  • Be encouraging and friendly!

Balancing teacher/learner contributions

  • Review how often you intervene
  • Balance feedback with space
  • Encourage quiet learners, but don't overpower them

Closing lessons

To determine how your learner feels the lessons are progressing, ask open ended questions such as these:

  • What has been the most significant thing you've learned today?
  • Do you have any questions after today's lesson?

If you have any homework for the learner, spend time discussing how they should tackle it. Remember: the learner may not have time to do extensive exercises, or indeed may not have the inclination to do so! Homework density must ultimately be decided on their terms.

Not contributing

Avoid spelling out the answer to an unresponsive learner. Instead, try framing the question in a different way. Give some encouragement: learners can become disheartened and cease trying if they think their efforts are futile. Re-evaluate the task you are setting them and make sure it's manageable.

Self-evaluation checklist

As you work with more clients you may wish to start self-evaluating to remember what worked/what didn't, in addition to any client feedback you've received on the site. Below is some food for thought to help your introspection:

How well did I .....? Very Well Satisfactory Could Be Better
Prepare for the session   
Get the session underway (establish aims, etc)   
Ask questions and prompt the learner   
Handle the learner's comments and questions   
Respond to the learner as an individual   
Keep focus   
Help sustain learner interest   
Provide help when learners had difficulties   
Ensure key points were drawn out   
Bring things to a close and set out practice exercises   

New to Language Teaching?

If you are new to giving private language lessons you are welcome to register with First Tutors: Languages to attract potential clients. During the registration process you will be asked to declare which languages you wish to teach, how much you will charge and to tell new learners about your approach. You will also be required to submit two references and some information for an ID check.

Choosing your languages

We urge new teachers to think carefully about which languages they offer and the level to which they feel they can comfortably offer lessons. We invite learners to give feedback about their teachers, so that the teacher benefits from positive recommendations. Obviously, if you are teaching a language that you are not terribly confident in, this feedback may not be so positive! We recommend you focus on your strengths and build your reputation upon them, instead of being a jack-of-all-trades.

Beginning teaching a language

Your first lesson with a new tutee counts for a great deal. But before you even get this far, make sure your new tutee has a positive view of you. When a learner chooses you, reply as soon as you can, even if it is to reject the enquiry. If you've arranged lessons, and your details have been exchanged, follow this up a quickly as you can! Learners are often anxious when seeking a language teacher and will look to commence lessons as soon as possible. Not keeping an appointment, showing up late or arriving ill-prepared are all ways to lose a learner before you've even started!

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