Working with a Language Tutor While Living Abroad
Learning a new language is one of the most challenging and rewarding things you can do. As an expat, you might not have much of a choice in the matter. Learning a new language might be a requirement of the job. It may be a necessity for navigating life in a new country. Or maybe it is something you always promised yourself you would do to make your time overseas as rich and memorable as possible. No matter your motivation, it’s nearly impossible to do on your own. Working with a language tutor is imperative, but the choices can feel overwhelming. Here are the pros and cons of several different options.
Enrolling at a Language School
Language schools offer the most structure. They are the perfect learning environment for someone who thrives on routine and deadlines. The language tutors have teaching credentials, experience, and references. And their curriculum is balanced. It includes grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing, and conversation. Some language schools issue report cards and completion certificates. This is a great if you’re studying a new language for both personal and professional reasons. However, language schools are not for everyone. The formal curriculum may be very dry and not very imaginative. As such, it’s not the best environment for someone who needs a relaxed, social, stimulating environment to learn. And, of course, language schools can be expensive. They’re not necessarily the best option for an expat on a budget.
Hiring a Student to Teach you the Language
A less expensive and more flexible arrangement is to hire a university student. University students frequently moonlight as language tutors. It’s common to see ads offering their services on bulletin boards, in the student newspaper, and in online forums. For many expats, working with a university student is the perfect solution. Young students can identify with expats. They know what it’s like to a new place and start a new, challenging phase of life. University students often speak multiple languages, which is very helpful for bilingual expats who are trying to add another language to their skill set. And students can even serve as a defacto tour guide if you want your lessons to take place in a different museum or cafe or public park every week. But working with university students isn’t a perfect situation. Their exam schedule could interrupt your routine. They might transfer or graduate in a semester’s time. And there will be no report card or certificate at the end.
Thinking Outside the Box
University students aren’t the only “unofficial” language tutors out there. Not all expats live close to a university – or identify with the younger student demographic. But there are plenty of alternatives if you know where to look. Start by accepting the help that you’re offered.
When you move to a new country, you’re bound to run into people who generously say “let me know if there’s anything you need!” Take them up on that offer. Ask the neighbor across the hall who they would recommend for language tutoring. Follow up with the HR rep at your new job and get a list of resources. Take the boss’s spouse up on their offer to socialize. Invite them out for coffee and do a little brainstorming. A retired public school teacher, a stay-at-home parent, a struggling actor, or a freelance writer may appreciate the opportunity to supplement their income and share their culture. Just be clear on what you’re expecting from the arrangement. Do you want structured lessons with vocabulary, grammar, homework, and assignments? Are you fine to help them improve their English as they teach you their native tongue?
You can also work with a language tutor from the comfort of your home. Online tutoring and languages lessons are more and more popular. Your arrangement could be as simple and informal as meeting with someone on Skype to practice your vocabulary. Or you could enroll in a more formal program like italki. There are even amazing apps that help support learning a new language. Working with an online tutoring program has a number of advantages.
Your lessons continue uninterrupted when you travel out of town. You can schedule lessons very early or very late in the day. And you don’t worry about transportation or weather or child care or interrupting your workday. Depending on your preference, you can easily have several short lessons each week instead of one long session. You can even do it in your pajamas! Therefore, it’s the perfect set up for someone who learns best in their own comfortable home environment and it can be very accommodating for an expat who prefers several short lessons a week instead of one longer session.
However, online tutors don’t force you to get out of your comfort zone. You are rehearsing what to say at a cafe but you’re not actually doing it in real time. It lacks the immersive experience. Online learning might be affordable and convenient but you run the risk of only absorbing the information on a theoretical level. You still might find it hard to test your new skills in the real world. In conclusion, this option might be best to supplement working with a tutor at a language school or in a public setting.
Questions to Ask All Prospective Language Tutors
No matter which style of study you choose, there are a few key points to consider when approaching a new language tutor.
- Ask prospective tutors what a typical lesson will look like. How do they structure them? Do they assign homework? Will they correct it prior to your next lesson?
- Does your prospective language tutor have background and training in teaching grammar? Grammar is a difficult subject to teach, even for native speakers. Without it, your tutoring sessions are essentially conversation practice. And that is still extremely valuable! But you should be paying less for conversation sessions than language lessons.
- Can they provide references? Can you speak to a previous client about what their experience was like? What did they find the most rewarding and the most aggravating about the experience?
- Can they pass the initial meet and greet? Do they show up on time? Do they actively listen to you? Are they organized, polite, and personable?
Learning a new language and finding a great language tutor can be an awkward experience but it’s also a very rewarding one. A good tutor should put you at ease and make every step of the learning experience an exciting one.