Surprise! It’s a bonus post from the Learning Online series!
Welcome back to Learning Online!
This week we’re looking at ways to evaluate your online teacher. Having knowledge of a subject does not automatically make you a good teacher in that subject. That’s why people go to school to teach [duh]. However, when dealing with languages I’ve noticed tons of people who think being a native speaker is enough. When working with a teacher online you want to make sure that their teaching style works for you, and that you’re getting your money’s worth. If you want to know what to watch out for while working through your lessons, read on!
Are they organized?
One of the biggest roadblocks to progressing through your language study is a lack of organization. This applies to your teachers as well.! Students count on their instructors to have a plan of their own, as well as guide them through it. If the teacher isn’t put together (in their process or their thoughts), how can the student depend on them?
Lessons should ideally follow a consistent format. Once you’re a couple lessons in, you should know what to expect as far as tasks you’re required to complete. For instance, with my Korean teacher I know that I’ll have to do at least five things during our lesson or as homework:
- Dictation Exercise (Either writing out sentences or recording myself speaking0
- Creating sentences from grammar points of the week
- Reviewing PDF lesson of the previous chapter as well as the new chapter (she gives the new chapters as homework for next class)
- Talking about what I’ve been doing since the last time we met
- Correcting sentences from the previous week
Of course she switches it up from time to time, but for the most part I know exactly what’s expected of me. Trust me, it relieves a lot of stress. I don’t like surprises unless they’re tiny, cute, and puppy shaped.
Most of us know at least one person who talks in circles. Hell, some people do full on corkscrews. You know the ones. They can’t finish one thought before they get the next one out…(guilty). It’s one thing when it’s your annoying coworker. It’s another when it’s the person you’re currently counting on to teach you advanced Hungarian.
A good teacher will express themselves in a concise manner. They won’t jump all willy-nilly between subjects and have you completely lost. Make sure that if you’re having a difficult time following along, you let the instructor know. This is especially important with there being no fact-to-face contact. It’s can be difficult to tell when someone’s struggling a bit.
There should be a main focus and the teacher should stick to that focus. It’s very easy to get caught up and go off on a tangent, especially when you’re passionate about the subject you’re teaching! But don’t be afraid to give them a gentle nudge back in the right direction if they start to drift. Try asking a question or suggest going over a certain point in more detail.
Are they prepared?
There’s a few things as irritating as coming to class and finding that the teacher is woefully unprepared. Granted, this is usually an issue on the student side, but i have definitely had classes where teachers have literally been like, “Um. So yeah. I have no idea what we’re doing today. Let’s just go over what we did last week.”
Teachers, even if they aren’t using specific textbooks, should still show up armed with a set of tools. If you’re taking lessons geared more toward reading, they might have articles for the two of you to work through. Focusing more on speaking? Teachers should have at least a few conversation starters at the ready just in case. No teacher should be habitually unprepared.
Side note: I say ‘habitually’ because, well, shit happens. Teachers are people too! You just don’t want it to be a constant thing.
How well do they communicate?
Ah, communication! You’d think that as language learners if anyone’s going to be an expert at communication it’d be us. Nope. Not exactly (…guilty. Again.). Sometimes even teachers struggle when it comes to having open and honest communication with their students.
Note that there’s a level of subjectivity here. I feel that any good teacher will give you consistent feedback on how you’re performing, as well as areas where you seem to be having the most trouble. Using my teacher as an example again, she always tells me what it is specifically that I need to improve on.
Damn you, Korean intonation.
Not everyone needs to be told outright or reminded often. It all depends on how you learn best and knowing what tips you from, “I’m totally willing to improve my skills,” over to “Sweet baby cheezus I suck at everything and this is a disaster.”
I know it seems like a lot to think about, but you’ll be glad you did!
What are some things you take into consideration when evaluating how well your teacher is working for you?
Back for part two of the Learning Online series!
In this post, we’re going to discuss the steps to take when searching for your online teacher. My advice is related to my experience using online marketplace type platforms, italki in particular. However, most (if not all) tips can be applied when searching outside these types of sites as well! Also, go ahead and click below to get your worksheet to help you keep track.
Let’s get into the steps you should take to make sure you’re choosing the best teacher for your learning.
I’ve noticed that people tend to go to a site, browse the profiles of the first teacher or two and then immediately jump to book a class.
Full disclosure: I’ve definitely done this before, which is why I know it’s a bad idea. There’s dozens, if not hundreds of teachers available who are willing to teach the more popular languages. What’s the harm in going through more than just the first 10? I know we’re conditioned to want everything immediately. The language community is guilty of this. But just like properly learning a language is going to take more than a week, choosing the right teacher is going to take more than a 5-minute browse.
When I first started looking for Korean teachers on italki, I promised myself that I would look through all of them. Korean on italki is still in its infancy compared to behemoths like Spanish or French, but there are a decent amount of options available. If I hadn’t done this, I definitely would have missed out.
Sure, there were the standard options of going through leveled plans. But I was surprised to find a teacher who helped you learn through puppets! I also came across a teacher who specializes in teaching the Busan dialect. So, so very relevant to my interests. Even though I knew it wasn’t part of my short-term goals, I added him to my list of teachers to consider once my level is high enough. Some teachers specialize in test-prep. Others will have you sounding like a native in no time with their pronunciation classes. There’s a lot out there!
I recommend going through at least 50 teachers. I know that sounds like way too many, but not all teachers will align with your goals or your learning style. By the end of your browsing, you should have at least 3-5 teachers that you know you want to check out a second time.
Sounds like a no-brainer right? It is, but there’s a lot of people out there who don’t know how to read reviews effectively.
Let’s say you want to buy a tablet. You see a really expensive one that everyone loves, but you’re currently surviving on ramen and PB&J and don’t have $700+ to spare. You come across a cheaper one but it has less favorable reviews. What to do?
There are a lot of good teachers on online teaching marketplaces that are passed over because people don’t look past the star rating. Yes, it’s a quick indicator, but what are the specifics? Someone’s negative might be your positive. Say the only negative-ish comments about a teacher are that they’re very demanding. If you’re someone who needs (and wants) a kick in the ass to keep yourself on track, is this really a negative? If that less expensive tablet only has a lower rating because it doesn’t support some fancy 3D technology that you don’t care about…is that really a reason to pass it over?
View everything in context with your goals.
Peep Their Offerings
Going off of the above, make sure the teacher actually has the classes you want to take. Not all teachers offer test prep or conversational options. I’ve seen teachers who already have textbooks and prepared materials, but others are relying on you to tell them where you’d like to start. Hell, there are some teachers who don’t even offer all levels of learning.
And then there are the packages. *rubs hands together menacingly* If you’re between two or so teachers that you know you’d want to do more than one session with, definitely look to see if any of them offer packages. Some teachers will discount their classes if you take a group of them.
Need a little more help? Download the worksheet below to keep yourself organized while you hunt for the perfect Teacher!
Here we are, well into the new millennium and computers are officially and forever a thing. With the current tech climate, it’s no wonder people are taking their learning online. But what if you’ve never done it before? How do you know if learning online is even for you? I’ve done my share of learning both on and off the computer and have been able to find what works for me.
This month I want to help you all add working with online teachers to your study regimen. Thus the Learning Online series is born. Tadah! Part one will be all about making a game plan so you know what you’re looking for once you start researching your teachers. Make sure to grab your worksheets below!
Set Your Goals
First off, know your level. Are you a beginner? Do you have a few months or years of previous study under your belt? Your goals as an absolute beginner are not going to be the same as when you’re upper intermediate. However, don’t be afraid to push yourself.
A major problem people have when first starting out is having main goals that are too broad; they should be bite-sized and attainable. Your long term goal should be general because it’s the end, not the means. It can be anything from passing a proficiency test to being able to hold a 10-minute conversation. From this, you’ll break things down into smaller steps.
For instance, that conversation. What is it you’d like to talk about? What kind of vocabulary will you need for that subject? Maybe there’s a specific grammar point you’ll want to know, such as the future tense. These steps are going to be your main goals. It’s a lot easier to visualize and work toward learning 20 vocabulary words or a grammar concept than “I want to be able to talk to a native speaker for 10 minutes.”
You have to have clear-cut goals before you go looking around for teachers. How are you going to know which one is right for you if you don’t know what you want in the first place?
It also helps your future instructor. If you’re able to tell them upfront what it is you expect from the class, it’s easier to tailor the learning experience to you. Showing up and saying “I really want to learn Arabic” isn’t much to work with. “I want to focus on passing the writing portion of the German B2 exam” gives a much more concise picture of where you want to end up.
Platform: Online Marketplace vs Independent Teacher
There are two main ways to find online language teachers; an online marketplace or on an individuals teaching website. Both have their pros and cons.
These have become increasingly popular in the last few years. Online marketplaces employ thousands of different teachers in an easily searchable database. Prices and course options are listed up front. Many teachers will offer free or reduce priced trial classes in order to bring in more students. Examples include sites like italki and Verbling.
PROS: Teachers are easier to find as they are all in a central location; there are more instructor options to choose from, teachers tend to take on more clients, easier to find teachers with specializations
CONS: Lessons may be less personalized, the number of options can seem overwhelming
These are instructors who, while they may still be on larger platforms, also have their own websites where they offer their services. They may work alone or along with a small network of other instructors. These teachers may have instructed in physical locations before moving online.
PROS: Teachers are likely to have fewer clients at once, allowing for more personalized lessons; teachers may have a greater ability to tailor to your schedule
CONS: Not as easy to shop around for the perfect fit; because of market websites’ popularity, it can be more time consuming to find compatible teachers that work independently.
You know what you want to do and where you want to do it. But how much time are you willing and able to put in? Having an idea of the frequency of your online studies will help when looking for a teacher to work with. The first questions to ask yourself is if online learning will be the bulk of your language study regimen, or if it’s just a supplement to offline classroom/self-study.
If you want to do the bulk of your studying online, you’ll likely need a teacher who can produce a curriculum for you. They can provide you with customer textbook/study materials, or they may suggest you go and purchase one of the more popular textbooks for your target language. You and your teacher would work through the textbook layout and they would provide you with homework and feedback. It mimics traditional classroom learning, you just do it from the comfort of your own home instead!
If studying online is just a smaller piece of your overall plan, then you likely don’t need a full-on curriculum. Perhaps you’re part of a classroom learning environment already or have even been learning on your own through various other methods. Working with a teacher online is just a way to reinforce what you’ve already been learning offline and you likely don’t need it to be as rigid in structure. As a supplement, working with a teacher online can also help you focus on specific areas such as pronunciation or reaching a certain level of proficiency for an exam.
Don’t forget to grab your worksheets!
For most language enthusiasts, learning a language centers on two things: Listening and Speaking. Many polyglots are in such a rush to be able to talk about how much they love languages in their second language, that reading and writing often get pushed to the background.
I’ll concede that having a conversation with a native speaker is the best way to really get to know a language. But after that…then what? There’s a wealth of information (and fun times) that you’re missing out on because you aren’t able to jump headfirst into a great book or an article the way you would in your native language.
It doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds, promise!