How to be an awesome language tutee

This is the flip-side of yesterday’s post about how to be an awesome language tutor. After teaching and tutoring for a decade, I feel like I can work around a lot of my students’ “shortcomings”, but you can learn a lot even from a tutor who isn’t very experienced or motivated. Being a good tutee means you’ll get the most out of your time with your tutor. Given that one-on-one language learning can be pricey, you won’t want to waste time or money.

These are tips to learn to use the language you study, and not just study the language with an expensive coach walking you through the basics.

1. Know your goals: Students who can’t explain their motivation or goal for learning English are not going to be successful English students. If you only have a vague idea about how learning another language would be “cool”, maybe you had better think about taking guitar lessons or learning to crochet. If you need to learn enough English to pass a test, get a job or a promotion, or talk to your partner or their family, then you have a specific goal/destination to move towards.

Personally, the most Chinese I ever learned was when I was preparing for a standardized Chinese test called the HSK. I didn’t need to take the HSK, but I wanted to learn more Chinese and the HSK was a useful measure of my progress. It gave me a goal and a deadline. That motivated me to cram far more characters into my head, in a shorter time, than ever before.

2. Prepare ahead of time: Have a sense of what you want from the tutor in the long-term as well as questions you want to ask each class. For example, if you know what lesson you’ll be doing the next time you meet, look up on your own the words you don’t know. That way you aren’t using your tutor as an expensive human dictionary. Instead, your tutor can use their time to check your comprehension and practice speaking with you.

3. Keep a consistent schedule: This is good for you, anyway, and will go far in creating a good relationship with your tutor. Your teacher is a person, too, and as such, they need to earn rent money. If you’ve booked two hours a week with them, that’s two hours that another paying student can’t have. If you cancel on them whenever you feel busy with other things, that’s two hours of pay they’ve lost. Don’t do that! And don’t do that to yourself–if you don’t make time to study, you aren’t going to learn.

4. Force yourself to use your foreign language for the whole class. You might be scared to do this in the beginning, and that’s okay. But as soon as you can, make sure that you and your tutor are only communicating in the language you are studying. If you don’t understand a word, ask your tutor to define it, in your second language. Otherwise, you aren’t learning a language–you are just learning about a language.

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