After a lengthy hiatus from Japanese studying, I am back in the game and more motivated than ever. I attribute this to all the extra time I have since graduating and a new-found understanding of my brain and what learning styles work best for me. I’ve always loved the idea of a tutor who can work with me on personal strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve tried this route in the past, but now know exactly what I want from a tutor and what I believe their role should be in my path to fluency. I’ve recently had trials with 2 tutors prior to writing this post and have 1 more scheduled this week, so I thought it’d be helpful to document the process to choosing the right tutor for me. This may give you an idea on how to go about setting up your own tutor qualifications and give you the nudge to start searching for your own, if you haven’t been convinced to do so as of yet. If you’re learning a different language and stumbled upon this post, I hope you decide to go the tutor route as well!
Things to consider:
- Availability – Finding a tutor that has evening and weekend availability is a must for me, but most important is someone who can meet consistently. My last tutor did not work out mainly because she never knew if she would be available until the week of class. Inconsistency led to a lack of discipline on my part. I know my weakness and I seek to avoid it. A tutor should give you a consistent enough schedule. Of course, emergencies and other plans come up, but for the most part you should be meeting weekly or bi-weekly.
- In-Person or Virtual? – I am not too sure what I prefer since I have yet to try a virtual tutor, but I will be trying one later this week! I feel like even with the added inconvenience of travel time, I will still prefer to do lessons in-person. I am curious if virtual tutors incorporate reading material or other visual aids during the lesson or if they focus more on the conversation aspect. Those of you who are from a city or town that is nowhere near a Japanese tutor should definitely try a virtual tutor out.
- Price – The cheap route isn’t always the best route. Tutors that charge the lowest prices aren’t always trained to teach. In my experience with 2 tutors that charged low prices, my Japanese learning was not their priority and some times they arrived unprepared or were inpatient with my progress. When searching for a tutor, look for someone invested in your learning. Of course, do not equate price with skill, but just keep this in mind when wanting to go for the most economical choice. One tip I learned when wanting to hire a highly-rated tutor was to try and contact them directly rather than go through a tutoring service. They may be able to work with you and offer discounted rates without sacrificing a lot of their earnings like they would be forced to if you hired them through a service. I will add, if you are a broke college student like I was, try out a few inexpensive tutors. If a tutor happens to have little to no training, but you tell them exactly what you want out of your lessons and put a little more work into helping them help you, it may work out great for you.
- Adaptability – A good tutor should be able to adapt to each of their students in order to meet their individual needs. This is difficult to achieve with a large group, so it is the reason I prefer private tutoring. A tutor should keep your learning goals in mind including the purpose for wanting to learn the Japanese language and adapt to your interests and learning style. The teacher should provide relevant materials as well. My first tutor would provide worksheets with grammar so advanced that I would get frustrated and wouldn’t learn. Even when I provided this feedback, she insisted we work from them. A tutor should challenge you, but ultimately they are working for you and should be taking your cues to what’s working or not.
- Challenge – As mentioned above, while a good tutor shouldn’t bombard you with material that overly frustrates you, they shouldn’t let you get off easy. You should feel challenged and they should be able to gauge the appropriate level for you depending on your personal goals. Going too slow won’t help you progress.
You should expect a quality tutor, but remember that a successful tutoring relationship requires work from both tutor and student. A tutor is not there to learn the language for you, but to provide guidance. The majority of the work is done by you, and they will identify your strengths and weaknesses. This is a mistake I made with my first tutor. I showed up to lessons, let her take control of most of the curriculum, and expected to learn the language with very little effort put in during my free time.
Another plus in hiring a tutor for language learning is having a guaranteed conversation partner. It is difficult to practice conversation skills living outside of Japan. Honestly, while finding a language partner for free may seem appealing, it’s easier to pay someone for consistency. You don’t have to rely on someone’s good will or whether they’re in the mood for a lesson that day.
So, have you hired a tutor or are currently looking around for one? What criteria do you think is most important? I’m interested to know! I’ll be updating with another post soon when I’ve made my final decision.
Image by: babeharu @ DeviantArt