How to Survive Your First Online Language Tutoring Session

One of the biggest crazes in language learning in recent years is online language tutoring.

Using Skype, Google Hangouts, or another video chat platform, you can now chat with people from across the world, right from the comfort of your own home. This not only makes language learning much more efficient, but a whole lot easier, too!

Despite these benefits, I’ve come across many language learners who are simply too nervous to take the leap and take advantage of all of the things that language tutoring has to offer. 

Even though tutoring adds a lot of convenience to your language learning, it also adds a lot of uncertainty and pressure, because now you’ve got an expert to give you feedback and keep you accountable.

There are, of course, ways to decrease all of this stress; in fact, making language tutoring into something you enjoy and look forward to only takes a little bit of preparation and communication.

In this article, I’ve gathered five steps you can take to prepare for an online language tutoring session with a brand new tutor, so that you not only survive, but rather...you thrive!

A quick note before we start: For the purposes of this article, I'm going to assume that you'll be booking a tutoring session on Italki

In case you're not familiar, italki is currently the most widely used language tutoring platform available today, and it's one that both myself and Luca have used for hundreds of lessons each.

1. Research Before You Book a Lesson

One of the biggest mental obstacles towards taking online language lessons is simply not knowing what to expect.

Before booking a lesson, you might wonder:

  • What's my tutor like?
  • What is her teaching style like?
  • Will she expect me to speak all in my target language?
  • How does she give feedback? Is she strict, or laid back?
  • What do other students think of her methods?

The list of questions you could have is nearly unending. And while the answers to some of those questions may be inconsequential to you, it's possible that some could be the deciding factor in whether or not you ultimately learn.

My best advice here is to never go into a lesson without doing as much research as possible first.

Fortunately, italki makes this easy with teacher profiles.

The majority of italki teacher profiles have large amounts of information to help you make the best and most informed decision possible before booking a lesson.

This includes things like:

  • Number of students
  • Number of completed lessons
  • Spoken languages (native and non-native)
  • Rating (out of 5 stars)
  • Experience and Education level
  • Response and attendance rates
  • Introduction video (filmed by the teacher)
  • Course offerings and prices
  • Important policies
  • Teaching Materials
  • Reviews

This may seem like a lot, and it is. But don't ignore it! All that information is there for your benefit. Taking the five or ten minutes necessary to read through a teacher profile could potentially save you hours of frustration—and potentially money, too!

2. When in Doubt, Ask Questions

Occasionally, you'll come up with a question that is not directly answered on a prospective teacher's profile page. 

In that case, I'd recommend sending the teacher a direct message with any or all questions you may have.

italki makes this easy with the "Contact Teacher" button featured prominently on the right sidebar of every page.

Why ask questions beforehand, instead of during the first lesson?

This allows you to:

This also can benefit the teacher, as well; if you have a question or request that would make you a poor fit for your teacher from their perspective, sending the question through a message gives them a way to let you know that.

For example, back when I was learning Spanish, I was following a very specific method of my own design. As part of this method, I wanted to work with tutors that were willing to provide very specific feedback on my pronunciation and writing skills.

Instead of just booking a tutor and hoping for the best, I sent direct messages to a number of potential italki tutors, describing my learning plan, and asking if they'd be willing to help me with it.

Some tutors accepted, but others actually turned me down. And that's a good thing! By giving the tutor the opportunity to filter themselves out of my search, I was able to more reliably find the right tutors for my exact needs.

3. Introduce Yourself Early

So you've read up on your tutor's profile, corresponded with them on a few questions, and are finally ready to book a lesson.

What's next?

Before you hit "send" on that first lesson request, you need to do one incredibly important thing:

Introduce yourself!

Italki allows you to send a short, text-based message along with every lesson request. Do this whenever you book a lesson with a tutor for the very first time.

Just as reading tutor profiles helps you get to know the tutor beforehand, a short, well-written message will help your tutor to get to know you, before you ever speak face-to-face for the first time. It may also help the tutor to tailor the first lesson to your exact needs, which will make the whole experience go more smoothly.

What kinds of information should you include in your introductory message?

  • Your name (specifically, the name you'd like to be called by during the lesson)
  • The kind of lesson you've booked (or are interested in booking)
  • When you started learning your target language (i.e. month and year)
  • What you think your current level might be (i.e. beginner, intermediate, advanced)
  • What your learning goals are
  • How often you would like to meet

If you're not comfortable writing all that in your target language just yet, you can write it in English. Just be aware that not everyone has the same reading level in English, so keep things as simple and readable as possible.

Oh, and don't write an essay. Keep the text to 100-150 words maximum. That way you're providing just enough information to be useful, without flooding your tutor's inbox.

4. Have Your Tools Ready

If everything has gone well up to this point, you've found a tutor, booked your lesson, and are ready to sit down and learn with them for the first time.

The next and final step that you should take before your lesson is to prepare your tools—that is, assemble everything you might need during your lesson, so you have it ready when the time comes.

This could entail many things depending on your preferences and learning style, but examples could include:

  • Having a notebook, pen, and paper on your desk
  • Opening an online dictionary (or Google Translate) in a new browser window
  • Making sure Skype is installed, updated, and working properly
  • Making sure your computer, Internet access, webcam, and microphone are all working properly.

Taking these proactive steps will give you confidence and peace of mind during your tutoring session. If you can start your tutoring session knowing that you've got everything you need to learn with (and it's all working properly), you'll be in the best position to make the most of the lesson time. 

5. Leave a Review

Okay, I'll confess: this last tip doesn't exactly help you survive your first learning session, but it does help other people survive theirs, so that's why I'm including it.

Remember those reviews that you read as part of your research in the first step?

After you've completed your first-ever online tutoring lesson, I want you to go back to your teacher's profile page and leave a review of your own.

Simply take 5-10 minutes and write about what you and your tutor did during the session.

Include things like:

  • Your general feelings about the lesson (was it easy? hard? exciting? something else?)
  • The session length
  • What topics/activities you completed during the lesson
  • Where did you do well? Where did you need help?
  • Your tutor's strengths
  • What you expect to do next with the tutor

These kinds of reviews are valuable because they help other prospective students make their booking decisions, just as you did earlier. They give a short, but detailed look into what an actual session with your tutor is like.

And since that's the type of review you want to read before you book a lesson, it's exactly the kind of review you should seek to write.

Conclusion

Most of the stress that comes with working with a brand new language tutor simply comes from not knowing what will happen when you jump onto that video chat and greet your tutor for the first time.

Fortunately, the best language tutoring platforms on the market today give you countless opportunities to inform yourself as much as possible about who your tutor is, how she works, and how your class with her will go. You just need to do a little bit of research and proactive communication, and then the tutor hiring process becomes a delight, rather than a chore.

I recommend that you go on italki, pull up the tutor list for your target language, and start looking for your next tutor right away. If you get lost, or are unsure what to do next, come back here and review the steps. And then, once you’ve successfully survived your first online tutoring session, be sure to leave a comment below letting me know how it went!

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.

  • Rose Barbaro says:

    Thank you for the beneficial information, Want book a session for Italian language .

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