4 Ways to Make the Most of Your Language Tutor

Claire Handscombe


There are many good reasons for using a language tutor. But those tutors don’t come cheap, so here are some tips for getting the greatest possible return on investment.

Get a good one

It may be tempting, what with the current economic climate and all that, to skimp and get the cheapest one possible. I’d caution against that: too low a fee can indicate that this is a hobby for them, rather than something they are seriously dedicated to.

If money is an issue for you, it’s best to see if you can have slightly fewer lessons (one every two weeks, for example). You could also ask if they do shorter lessons, which they may be happy to over Skype. (If they have to physically travel, a lesson of less than an hour is usually not worth their while, especially when you consider preparation time and carrying books around.)

Some tutors also give discounts for block bookings of lessons. Do your research: ask your friends, get recommendations from LinkedIn, send them a friendly email with some insightful questions.

Trust them

They know how language works; they also know how people learn. When they say, “you don’t need to know that yet”, there’s a reason for it: maybe they know that telling you know will muddy other things they are wanting to teach you; maybe you don’t yet have the necessary building blocks in place to fully understand the concepts involved. When they tell you that you need to do certain exercises or learn something off by heart — trust them. They are professionals. If the doctor tells you to take these antibiotics, you take the antibiotics, because you assume that all those years of medical school have taught them something. Guess what? It’s the same for your language tutor.

Do your homework

To return to the medical analogy, imagine if you never brushed your teeth between visits to the dentist. How painful would those visits be? Exactly.

You are busy. Your tutor understands that; they will not put you on detention or demand that you pay extra if you occasionally don’t have a chance to do your homework. But they would really very much prefer that you did it regularly: doing homework helps you consolidate and remember what you learn in the class. You will progress much faster. You won’t have to keep going over and over the same things, because you’ll have absorbed them.

Plus, you won’t have to spend the first ten minutes of the lesson explaining that the cat ate your homework.

Be nice to them

Always give them plenty of notice if you need to cancel or reschedule a lesson. Always pay them on time, when you say you’re going to pay them. And send them a Christmas card. A happy tutor is a better tutor.

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC

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