If you haven't taken private language lessons before, you might not be sure what to expect. Most people have only ever studied languages as children at school, which is a very different kind of environment! Because they don't don't know what to expect or exactly what they want, students often let the teacher decide how to organize the lessons, because they think that 'the teacher knows best'. However, you will get a lot more value out of your lessons if you have your own clear idea of how you want to use your class time. Everyone has their own unique learning style, but I have put together some tips that I think are useful. In my experience, the students who use private lessons in this way make the most progress and are able to learn well while taking only one or two classes a week.
DON'T use your lessons to learn grammar
Everyone has some problems using grammar correctly, and you should definitely use your class time to ask your tutor about any grammar topics that you find confusing. However, only very low level students really need lessons that are focused on grammar. For other students, these types of lessons are a waste of time. The main reason for this is that you can learn about most grammar topics from online resources or books that you can find in any good bookshop. There are a lot of good quality resources available, and your tutor probably won't explain it more clearly than a good book! If you still have problems after doing your own research, it's probably because you haven't seen enough examples in real life, or maybe you just need an opportunity to practice it!
Basically, even you really want to improve your grammar, you SHOULDN'T ask for grammar lessons. Instead, you need to READ, LISTEN and PRACTICE until you have a NATURAL understanding of the grammar. If, however, you ask your teacher to spend an hour explaining it, I guarantee that you will just forget it and it will be a waste of money.
DON'T use your lessons to learn vocabulary
New students often ask me to 'teach them vocabulary'. Learners are often worried about their small vocabularies and, of course, a good teacher needs to know how to explain the meaning and usage of important words. However, as with grammar, vocabulary is a topic that a student can usually study more effectively by themselves. A teacher will never give you as clear a definition as a dictionary and you can only get a deep understanding of a word by hearing it and reading it used in different situations. A teacher can make vocab lists for particular topics, but there are already so many excellent word-lists and glossaries available free online and in text books! To me, it seems like a waste to pay a tutor for something like that! There are many different strategies that you can use to improve your vocabulary (flashcards, mnemonics, special phone-apps etc.) , but 'vocab lessons' are NOT at effective method. As with grammar, the best way to improve this is a combination of READING, LISTENING and PRACTICE.
DO use your lessons to practice natural speaking
So, what CAN you expect to achieve in your lesson time? Well, your lessons should give you the opportunity to practice what you are learning about the language in a natural, realistic way. Your tutor should arrange a variety of exercises that will help you to achieve this. These could include things like discussions, debates, conversation topics, icebreakers, or any other game, activity or exercise that involves actually using the language in some way. A good teacher must also offer constant and consistent correction, because this will help you to become more aware of your mistakes. In time, this will help you to develop the ability to correct yourself. This is why it's important for a teacher to have a good understanding of grammar and vocabulary: not because we want our teacher to give entire lessons focused on a single grammar topic, but because they need to explain how and why they are correcting your mistakes. If your tutor can do this in a way that you can understand clearly, you will naturally begin to correct yourself, and one day, you won't need any correction at all!
Here are some things to remember if you want to make the best use of your class time:
Your lesson is a chance to have some guided practice in your target language, but it is also a valuable opportunity to get correction. However, if you speak too quickly, it will be difficult for your tutor to note your mistakes and you will waste this opportunity. Remember, it's not a race! Native speakers speak slowly and carefully when they want to be understood clearly, so you should as well.
Students want to have as much speaking practice as possible, but it's important to pause sometimes so that your tutor has a chance to make corrections. It's always better if your tutor can correct you immediately, because the correction will stick in your mind better and you will learn to notice the mistakes at the right time.
Unfortunately, some teachers talk too much. They try to explain everything and they don't give student's a real opportunity to speak. However, some students also make a similar mistake: they try to speak as much as possible because they think that the practice will help them to improve. In fact, learning happens when the student and the teacher communicate with each other. If you want to improve your speaking, you need to listen carefully to native speakers. This will help you to learn common structures and everyday vocabulary. Your teacher is an excellent listening resource because, unlike a podcast or a video, they can speak slower, rephrase what they're saying, explain the grammar of what they're saying and write out what they're saying. In a normal classroom, a teacher should only speak for about 10% of the lesson time because the students have other resources they can use to practice their passive skills (reading and listening), but you should expect your private teacher to speak for about 25% of the class time in a private lesson. This way, in a one hour lesson, you will have 15 minutes of listening practice and 45 minutes of guided speaking practice.
There are, of course, other ways to use your class time but, if you're target is confidence and accuracy in speaking and listening, I believe this is the best way to conduct a private language lesson. If you're studying English at the moment and you agree with what I've said here, you might want to think about booking a session with me! Please check my other articles for more tips on how to make your learning more effective.