Guest Post: Questions to ask a potential language tutor

Hello everybody, I've got the honour of introducing you to Claire Handscombe from Conquering Babel. She's an experienced language tutor who started out in London and then moved to Brussels. She made this fantastic post recently about how to choose the right language tutor for you, which I didn't want anyone to miss out on. Hits the nail on the head as far as I'm concerned!

Over to Claire...

If you are going to be investing time and money in regular one-to-one tuition, it’s important that you choose your teacher wisely. After all, you may be spending more time with them than you do with some of your closest friends.

These are some questions to ask to help determine whether they are right for you.

1. How much do you charge?

Yes, that one is important, and not for the reasons you might expect. Too low a fee might indicate they do not think of themselves as a professional. If their rates are beyond your budget, you might want to find a way round this: ask if they will tutor you by Skype for shorter lessons, or if they mind if you have occasional lessons rather than regular ones. [..]

2. Are you a native speaker?

Native speakers  have flawless accents and near-perfect grammar, so you might think they’d be a natural choice. And for many, they are. But those who have studied the language may have a better awareness of its inherent difficulties and potential pitfalls; they may be more aware of difficult idioms and hard to distinguish sounds. This is something to bear in mind.


3. What kind of experience do you have?

Years of teaching experience are good for all kinds of reasons: the tutor knows what materials are available; they’ve usually tried different methods and arrived at one that works. They’ve taught people with many different learning styles – including perhaps yours – and have figured out how to make it work.

On the other hand, someone who is just starting out may well be a natural from day one. They may have greater reserves of patience or willingness to experiment with different approaches, and infectious enthusiasm.

4. What’s your approach?

This is a tough one for a tutor to answer – or it should be. If their answer includes something along the lines of “it depends on your goals and the way you learn best”, you’re quite possibly onto a winner. The whole point of one-to-one tuition, after all, is that it’s personalised to you. They may well have preferred books and methods and mention those too, which shows a good knowledge of their profession, but don’t look for anything too rigid. It’s also best if you can be more specific with your question – what is it exactly that you want to know?

5. What are your interests outside teaching?

As mentioned above, you are going to be spending a lot of time with this person, and a substantial part of that is going to be conversation-based. So it’s great if you have something in common: an obsession with The West Wing, maybe, or a passion for films, books, tapestry or scuba diving – something that you will happily talk about again and again.

In the end, though, finding a good tutor is a little like finding a good date: there’s that little thing called chemistry, and you’ll soon know whether it’s there – that’s why it’s a good idea to spring for a lesson first before you make a decision.

The article was first posted on the Conquering Babel blog in 29/10/2011. Claire Handscombe runs this blog and has also published the Conquering Babel ebook on mastering your target language, available here.