In recent months, I have seen many examples of experienced polyglots and language bloggers who posted guides to finding the perfect language tutor. There was the instructive article from Fluent in 3 Months, then a guide from I will teach you a language, and Judith Meyer also featured tips in her blog Learn Langs.
Experienced language learners agree on one thing: Learning a language with a tutor is a true game changer.
It’s impossible to progress as much if you don’t start speaking your language at some point. And for an early stage learner, picking a tutor means working with someone who can help you bridge the gaps with ease.
Language tutor or language exchange?
Well, there isn’t anything in particular to tell you about what will work best for you. I work as a language tutor and my years of experience have definitely taught me a lot about learning styles, quirks of the German language and how to motivate and coach my students. All these skills are what an experienced tutor can offer you.
I wouldn’t recommend tackling a language exchange before you have learnt at least the essential structures and phrases of your target language. This often comes at early level A2. Starting an exchange too early will leave you feeling frustrated and stupid.
You do not get top quality at bottom prices
For the purpose of this article, I want to assume that you have made up your mind and you are looking for a tutor.
Now here is the part I want to talk to you about. I disagree with what the other articles are telling you. Let's talk about price. Most other articles include a sentence that goes a little like this:
Language lessons online are very cheap, you can get them for just $5 an hour.
$5 an hour? That’s less than you pay for a drink at Starbucks. Now I know that wages and currencies vary around the world and I’m not stupid, so please don’t come commenting with the “$5 is lots of money in xyz!” argument. Your online teacher's costs are not just measured in time-per-hour. They also have a family to support, an internet connection and webcam to buy, personal development to cover. These are all part of the job, and that’s the case even if they live in the cheapest country in the world.
Self-employed language teachers will price themselves as low as they can because they really love working with you. But when they are taking on 50 students a week because the price per lesson is very low, they become mediocre teachers. If you are able to approach the exchange with a mindset that considers both payment and benefits, you will not be ripped off.
Read on to find out how to find exactly the right partner for your needs and your budget.
How to Find a Price that Works for You
In order to help you select the right language learning partnership, it is helpful to approach sites like italki with a clear image of what you are truly looking for.
And please look beyond italki, because many of the greatest and most experienced teachers I know have their own blogs and websites. Comment below if you’re looking for a tutor in a specific language and I’ll happily connect you.
Option Number 1: The freebie
Look for a language exchange partner and simply swap time helping them practice your native language for time practicing your target language.
- You don’t even have to look online because many foreign students or residents in your town might be looking for language exchanges too.
- Sharing the language learning experience is very motivating and you’ll see the partner’s success just as much as yours.
- There is a learning curve and this exchange may be frustrating at first. You have to be comfortable setting boundaries and working with rules, otherwise you become someone else’s free teacher.
- Your partner will speak the language but may not be able to explain it
- You give as much as you get, so prepare to work hard
Option Number 2: The super bargain
Look for lessons under $10/hour and take advantage of the low living costs in other countries. Bear in mind these types of prices are below minimum wage in most countries, and probably this includes yours.
- Maybe you will find a great tutor for peanuts
- This is a Trial and Error technique, it takes longer to find someone you click with
- The cheaper language teachers tend to be those supporting themselves temporarily, so you don’t get ongoing support as most cheap teachers decide to move on to another job within a few months
My personal verdict on this option? It’s better than nothing, but the worst of both worlds.
Option Number 3: The professional
Hire an experienced language tutor for a minimum of $20/hour. Look for someone who is showing their expertise and commitment by having their own website, blogging about their work and knowledge and giving you a clear idea of what lessons will be like.
I’m biased, and here are my Pros:
- You’ll get a free consultation from most experienced language teachers and they will clearly tell you which goals you are working towards, and keep you committed
- The lessons tend to be tailored, long-term and built for you
- You’re doing a great thing because this is the way to support an experienced professional
- Professional teachers strive towards working full-time for you, so they can offer a flexible schedule and will fit the lesson times around you
For more details on HOW you can find that tutor that's worth your time, here is a list of questions you should ask them.
Cons? Well, we'd all love to get more free things in life.
A Tip for Ethical Teachers
For language teachers who are reading this article and excited about stepping up their business, here’s some important advice:
- Be serious and trustworthy: I would not charge a student until I know for sure that I connect with them. I don't take on each one, only students that understand my style. I don't want people to spend money on me unless I feel like I really understand what they need.
- Commit to your business: If you don’t want to be seen as some kind of fly-by-night operation, you have to show your worth to your potential student. Be worth their investment, be around and be reliable. You can’t do this without a brand and website, but it’s not as difficult as you may think.
For more information, have a look at the “Teach Languages” section here on Fluent, and in particular you should investigate the Savvy Brand Toolkit. This step-by-step course is written for language teachers who are excited to build a true brand and start standing out as one of the best out there.
What’s your opinion on language lessons?
Have you taken part in language exchanges? Do you currently work with a tutor?
I want to hear about your experiences, so please leave me a comment and tell me more about how you’re learning languages yourself.