What could be better than a language exchange?
Not much, in my opinion. Except for one thing:
You see, language exchanges are great, but they're imperfect. Their loose, informal nature makes it a challenge to keep each session focused, relevant, and impactful to the learning of each individual.
Language tutoring, on the other hand, has none of these drawbacks. Hire a language tutor, and you've got someone who will be ready to teach you what you want to know, when you want to know it.
Within the confines of each tutoring session, you remain the center of your own language-learning universe, keeping you motivated and allowing you to get as much value for your time (and money) as you possibly can.
In my opinion, the potential value of language tutoring far outweighs that of any other resource on the market; however, that does not mean that language tutoring is a perfect resource, nor is it for everyone.
Today, I will share what I believe are the pros and cons of working with a language tutor, so you can determine whether tutoring or language exchange is the best option for you, right now.
Pros of Language Tutoring:
#1 Language Tutoring Gives You the Most Value for Your Time and Money
In a language tutoring scenario, you're likely going to be paying a native speaker (or a skilled non-native) to spend his or her time helping you improve your skills in the target language (affiliate).
This means that you are the focus of every session, and the vast majority of each interaction should be dedicated to your wants and needs as a learner. Often, this also means that you can direct the content of your learning according to your own likes and interests, and away from topics you care less about.
#2 Language Tutoring Keeps You Accountable to Your Learning
When you hire a language tutor, you're literally exchanging your cold, hard cash for one-on-one language practice time.
No one likes wasting money, so when you hire a language tutor, you'll quickly find that you're much more motivated to participate, do the work, and get as much value out of each session as possible.
This works similarly for the tutor, too; since they're receiving money, they'll want to do a good job helping you, in order to keep getting paid. For as long as you engage in a language tutoring relationship, the exchange of money will keep both you and your tutor showing up and ready to work hard.
#3 Language Tutoring Has a Built-In Feedback Loop
When you work with a language tutor, the dynamic can be similar to the teacher-student one you experienced while in school: you do the work, and the tutor/teacher gives you feedback on your performance.
While this isn't the most comfortable dynamic, it allows for an easier exchange of questions, feedback, and constructive criticism than is possible in a friendly language exchange.
Since you're essentially paying for feedback, you're less likely to be surprised, discouraged or offended when you get it.
#4 Language Tutors are (Usually) Qualified and Experienced Teachers
In the majority of cases, you will hire a tutor because they have certain qualifications—either they're certified to teach your target language, or they have lots of experience helping people learn your target language. Or both!
This experience means that the language tutor will be more effective at helping you improve your language skills, especially when compared to an untrained language exchange partner.
#5 Language Tutors Are Easy to Hire
For the tutor, each session is paid work, so it's in their best interests to find time in their schedule to meet with you. Many language tutors often use scheduling and payment processing apps to streamline the hiring and session booking processes.
Cons of Language Tutoring:
#1 Language Tutoring Costs Money
While language exchanges only cost time, language tutoring costs both time and money. This alone is the reason why most people shy away from hiring language tutors—they simply cannot afford it!
To make things worse, rates are not standardized either. Depending on the tutor's experience level, country of residence, and a large number of other factors, the amount you pay per session can vary widely from tutor to tutor.
#2 Language Tutors May Require Preparation or Outside Work
Like classroom teachers, it's not uncommon for language tutors to require you to complete some amount of homework or prep work between sessions. Often, this is a good thing; your tutor wants you to improve at a rate beyond what is possible with your in-person meetings.
However, having extra work to do outside of each meeting means that you'll have less time and energy to do other things. It's a worthy trade-off, most of the time, but when you're short for time, it's hard to think of homework as anything other than an annoyance.
#3 Language Tutors Aren't (Usually) There to Be Your Friend
When you meet with a tutor, there's a clear separation of roles: you, the "student" are there to learn, practice, and receive feedback. Your language tutor on the other hand, is often the "teacher", meaning they guide, instruct, and give feedback.
This hierarchy, coupled with the fact that you're paying your tutor money, can make it difficult for a genuine friendship to develop outside of your tutoring relationship.
#4 Language Tutors Can Vary Greatly in Quality
No two language tutors are the same. Each one you meet will have it's own style, pace, preferred teaching content, experience level, and so on. To further complicate things, it's usually impossible to know in advance if a tutor and his/her unique traits will be a good fit for you.
To find a language tutor that's a good match for you and your needs, you will often have to conduct trial lessons with several tutors before settling on one for the long term. This kind of trial and error is almost always worth it, but it can be costly.
#5 Language Tutoring Requires a Committed Schedule
Compared to language exchanges, language tutoring is a much more formal endeavor. Your tutor is there to help you and get paid, so you'll be expected to show up on time and ready for each session, with minimal cancellations or reschedulings.
Furthermore, a productive tutoring relationship means that you will book lessons regularly, so that your tutor can help you build on your progress at a consistent pace.
If you can't keep these commitments, it will be unlikely that your language tutor will be willing or able to work with you for very long.
Is Language Tutoring Right for You?
Language tutoring, quite simply, is the best way to get well-organized, highly-targeted language practice with a native speaker.
With a paid language tutor, you can dictate what you learn, how you will learn it, and when and how you will receive feedback on your performance. Alternatively, you can sit back, relax, and allow your tutor to lead you through the learning process, just as a classroom teacher would.
The biggest drawback, of course, is that it costs money. You need to spend your own well-earned cash to make this happen. The exchange of money also means that you and your tutor will be expected to show up, do your work, and perform as best you can.
If the stress or expense is too much for you, then I'd recommend starting with a language exchange, as discussed in the previous article.
However, as soon as you have the means, I advise you to hop on a language tutoring site or app like italki or Tandem and find a tutor today. If you put the time and effort into finding the right tutor for you, it will be the best value for your money that you'll ever get from a language learning resource!
Written by Kevin Morehouse
Kevin Morehouse is a language coach and teacher who is on a journey to make the world a more multilingual place. A member of the LucaLampariello.com team since its inception, Kevin's principal role is that of writer, editor, and content developer. He is currently learning Korean, his primary language focus since mid-2017.