Fact-Check & Editorial Responsibility: Kris Broholm
How to pick the right language tutor online can seem like a daunting experience. In this post I try to make it simple by sharing my philosophy when picking an online tutor for my favourite tutoring platform.
Which Tutoring Platform to Use?
I highly recommend iTalki as the tutoring platform of choice. It's easy to use and has the most amount of teachers and tutors anywhere.
With that being said, most of the advice below is applicable to any tutoring platform.
How to Pick the Right Language Tutor Online
Step 1 – Professional or Informal?
The first decision you will have to make when picking an Italki tutor is whether to hire a professional or not. Professional tutors have qualifications to either teach in the language or a language-based degree. The lessons they offer are also generally of higher quality, often providing extra assignments, home work or other materials outside the lessons.
This obviously costs more than the informal tutors.
Informal tutors are just that. There is no requirement for them to have qualifications and they are not required to provide great preparations or materials for the classes, although many informal teachers might do this anyway.
The line between the two is very interesting because you can find professional tutors who do the minimum and are not worth the extra cost, and on the other hand you might informal tutors who provide everything but at a bargain price.
My opinion is that if you are a very new learner, like I am with my Hungarian, then getting a professional tutor is probably worth the price difference. When I'm so new to a language I need a lot more hand-holding and explanations, than say Russian, where all I need is speaking practice.
In that case an informal tutor might be better.
Step 2 – Native or non-native
Once you've decided whether you want a professional or informal tutor it's time to go look at who is offering the language you're interested in. Simply do a search for your language combination, for example I'm choosing Hungarian in ‘teaching' and English in ‘also speaks' as I prefer to be taught in English.
Besides, somebody with a high enough level in Danish and Hungarian is very rare.
Anyway, once you have a list of tutors you'll in many languages have a choice between native and non-native speakers.
Of course the non-native speakers have an extremely high level in the language, often equivalent to a native speaker but they are not natives themselves.
So what to pick?
The obvious choice seems to be to pick the native speaker, and that's perfectly acceptable.
But allow me to offer a counterargument for picking a non-native speaker.
Unless the native speaker also happens to have a degree in her/his native language it is very rare for them to know on a theoretical level why their language is as it is. They can definitely give you perfect pronunciation and tell you what is wrong and what is right – but they might lack the insight to explain to you why something is wrong.
The non-native speaker has a much better understanding on how the language works in theory, because he or she at one point had to learn it after something else. This gives a comparison the native speaker does not have and very often you'll have more insights this way.
It's like the old example, why are non-native speakers of English often better than natives? Because they ‘studied' it on a much more intense level for many years, whereas the native speakers simply committed everything to memory. They can't explain anything except it's right or wrong.
Either way, I don't have an answer for what is the best option. I'm just saying don't discount non-native speakers immediately, as they might provide a great deal of insight and value not available to native speakers.
Step 3 – Quality indicators
For most languages you'll have a vast selection of tutors for both informal and formal tutoring. Since we can't book lessons with everyone, which would be ideal, we have to sort in them using the data Italki provides.
Mind you, these are just indicators of quality and not hard facts. However I do believe that with so many tutors available, some sorting has to happen.
I find these indicators to be the most important when trying to find out how to pick the right language tutor.
- Sessions completed. If this number is lower than say, 20, then it indicates a lack of experience in teaching online and could also mean they are not taking it very seriously, which will lead to a worse experience for the student. It probably also means they don't have extra materials that an experienced tutor might have gathered over time.
- Rating. Anything less than 5 and I'm out. Because I don't pick tutors who have few sessions, this rating should be fairly accurate.
- Activity Level. When you click the stars in an Italki profile, you'll be shown a table with how many lessons the tutor has had in the last 3 months. Be very careful with picking tutors who have very low numbers in this field, as it might mean they are not very active. This means you might get a lesser interested tutor, or somebody who's not taking it very seriously.
- Student Feedback. Sometimes hard to find, but for the more experienced tutors be sure to browse through the student feedback to see if anything stands out. Key pointers are things like: Preparations, assistance outside the lessons, materials provided and many more. Any negative feedback should count strongly against the tutor as it's very rare to see.
- Punctuality. In the table after clicking the stars you'll also see the teacher's attendance rate. I personally think that attendance is very important. If they do not have a perfect record, approach with caution.
The above is from a professional English teacher on iTalki called David Mark Evans. As you can see he has great stats.
- 5.0 rating over many lessons.
- Very active recently
- 100% attendance.
So I would be happy to give David a try, if I were learning English.
Step 4 – Try a variety of tutors
For most languages you'll be able to find many high quality tutors. The key here is to try many of them until you find your favourite. You have to have a good chemistry and feel comfortable in the lessons to get the most out of them. Likewise you also need to find a tutor whose teaching style fits with your learning style.
Sometimes this takes some time to find.
Luckily Italki offers you trial lessons, which are basically cheap 30 minute lessons you can get with tutors to try them out. You get a couple of trial lessons when you sign up, after that you'll have to pay the full price to try out tutors.
There you have it. My favourite ways of finding a competent Italki tutor.
Do you have any other ninja tips on how to pick the right language tutor online?
Kris is the founder of Actual Fluency, and has spent the last 8 years becoming an expert in language learning software, methods, and techniques.
Originally from Denmark, he now lives in Portugal and speaks 5+ languages at varying levels. His other interests are Wine, Online Marketing, and Travelling.