3 Personal Pathways to One-on-one Language Learning
When you sign up for one-on-one language learning, you become the complete central focus for your teacher and for lesson planning.
One-on-one language learning will completely hone in on your desires, needs and goals, but you still have a lot to learn.
Here we’ll show you what it’s all about, how it works, how to find a teacher and how to maximize your learning.
- The Virtues of One-on-one Language Learning
- How to Supercharge One-on-one Language Learning
- 1. Pick your teacher carefully. Here’s how…
- 2. One-on-one doesn’t mean only one.
- 3. Make the most of the time when you’re alone.
- 4. Have a say in the direction of your learning.
- 5. Look for one-on-one opportunities where there seem to be none.
- 1. Language exchange partners
- 2. Language tutor/teacher
- 3. Friendly native speakers
The Virtues of One-on-one Language Learning
Research has shown that the smaller the class size, the better it is for language learners. Students in smaller groups have been found to outperform their peers in language abilities like pronunciation, reading and communicative skills like listening and speaking.
Hey, you can’t go smaller than one-on-one, and it has loads of awesome benefits up for grabs.
One-on-one language learning has the flexibility that classes of a dozen—or even classes of two and three—just don’t have. Your teacher, tutor or language exchange partner can make you the absolute center of their world and tailor the sessions to your specific needs.
One basic need is a schedule that works for you. One-on-one lessons can be scheduled at your most convenient times. You don’t need to drive through red lights just to catch the second half of the class. You’re the only student, so classes don’t start without you! Of course, you do still need to get to class sessions on time, out of respect for the other person. In this case, perhaps you can call up ahead of time and reschedule—another thing that’s not possible with a larger class.
In addition, sessions can go at your pace. You can breeze through the stuff you already know, then really dig deep with those pesky verbs that are giving you a hard time. You can go backwards and forwards, jump between topics and go into certain corners not contemplated by textbooks.
This flexibility is really the most crucial thing here, because no two language learners are ever the same. One-on-one language learning can easily be responsive to your idiosyncrasies, styles and goals as a learner. Language materials are often linearly set in stone—recorded, written—and generally appealing to the lowest common denominator needs of all language students. When working one-on-one with someone, you can give special attention to the skills and concepts that you most need to hone.
You can always ask your teacher to slant the sessions according to your specific goals. Studying Chinese for business? Korean for travel? Russian for romance? Let your tutor or teacher know about it so you can get the kind of sessions you have in mind.
Imagine the quality of interaction you’ll have when you’re the sole focus of the lesson. You don’t need to wait for the teacher’s attention so you can ask a nagging question, request a quick clarification or give a simple suggestion. You have a direct route to the teacher, and unlimited access to the source of information. You ask your questions without fear that other students will think negatively about you. And you won’t be slowed down by somebody who just went to the restroom.
Not only is one-on-one language learning flexible and focused, it’s also really fast. It lets you cut directly to the core of the lesson. No time is wasted on classroom management, like checking attendance or waiting for everybody to quiet down.
From a teacher’s perspective, a one-on-one situation not only makes their job much easier, it also makes their work a lot more effective. They have a better grasp of the target: you. They can better gauge what works and what areas need more work. They can easily know if you’ve mastered the topic or not. You won’t be able to fly under the radar or ride the coattails of your classmates. You’ll be compelled to listen because the teacher’s attention is fixed on just one student.
All that redounds to you learning the language with efficiency like no other.
That said, let’s proceed to the next section where we talk about some of the ways you can crank up one-on-one language learning into overdrive.
How to Supercharge One-on-one Language Learning
1. Pick your teacher carefully. Here’s how…
If there’s one message that hit you hard in the previous section, it should’ve been how awesome one-on-one language learning is. The next big message is about the importance of choosing the right teacher/tutor or partner. It’s not rocket science, but you do have to do some work.
And it’s not about picking out a rock star. Nope, it’s more about fit. Is he or she the best one-on-one partner for you?
First, you might have noticed that we’re not talking exclusively about teachers here. For one-on-one learning, you’ll have the choice of getting a teacher, a tutor or a language exchange partner. (There can be overlap between the three.)
- A language teacher often has a degree and certification, plus experience with teaching your target language professionally. Their one-on-one sessions (online or in person) might be just be side gigs, in addition to their classes in a local school or university.
- A language tutor is often a native speaker of your target language or somebody who’s fluent in it. They may be tutoring full-time or doing it part-time while having another non-language-related job.
- A language exchange partner, unlike the other two, often comes free. It’s a win-win situation where two people teach each other their native tongues. For example, you’re an English speaker looking for one-on-one sessions in Russian. There are certain websites and apps today (more on those later) that pair you with Russian native speakers who are looking for English native speakers. You have something that they want, and they have something you want. So you teach what you have and in return, they’ll teach you what you need to know. No money is involved, just the friendship springing from mutual benefit.
So let’s say you’re on some website and browsing through the many language teachers, tutors or language exchange partners available at a click. Here are some tips on how to pick the right one for you:
a. Study their profile — Don’t just read it, read between the lines. Deduce possibilities from the data you’re given. For example, you might see from a profile that a prospective language partner is 24 years old, male. But that’s just the basic info.
Next, read what he writes about himself. Think through the way he describes himself and presents himself to the world. You can glean personality from even a short paragraph. For a professional teacher, you might look for their experience and background. For a language exchange, you might look to see if you two have anything in common that will be fun to chat about.
b. That picture though — A picture does say a thousand words. But what words? Look at that one picture they use to present themselves to the world. Almost everyone flashes a wide smile on those things, but look for other clues. Looking at the picture, what three adjectives immediately jump to mind? When it comes to a language exchange partner, you might just look for a friendly face. When it comes to tutors or teachers, you’ll want to look for more professionalism.
c. Study the reviews — If you’re on the hunt for a teacher or tutor, you’ll probably see reviews and ratings from past students. Mine them for insights. Understand exactly why they get those scores. Yes, they always get ten stars out of ten, but why? Is it because they’re funny? Is it because they can pace the lesson very slowly? (That may not be so hot for those who need to learn a language fast.) Again, read between the lines and see if they’re the right kind of teacher for your goals. Don’t just base your decision on, “She’s really funny!” It’s about fit, remember?
Read several different reviews and take note of the words former students keep on mentioning, like “kind,” “intelligent,” “deep” and so on. They give you a clue about what one-on-one sessions with them are like.
d. Send them the first message — Drop them a hearty “Hi!” Your investigation might have created some friendly questions. Ask away. Ask a teacher what they love most about their job. Ask a tutor what they do in their free time. Ask your language exchange partner why they want to learn your native tongue.
See what he or she has to say. You’ll learn a lot once you receive the reply from the other person.
e. Interact with them — After all of the above has been said and done—studying their profile, mining their picture, reading the reviews, messaging back and forth—you’ll still only have a rough picture of what your partner is like.
There’s really nothing like being in a one-on-one video chat with the teacher, tutor or language partner. That’s how you really get to know them. So take things out for a spin! Book some trial classes so you can see if it will be something beneficial for you. The first session might be a bust because the two of you are still adjusting, but by the second or third session, you’ll be able to decide if it’s working or not.
If you’ve caught somebody who’s vibe matches yours… then hold tight!
2. One-on-one doesn’t mean only one.
When you’ve met a teacher, tutor or language partner who’s a keeper, consider yourself lucky. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking you should only choose one. You can actually have as many as you want. This isn’t marriage, so play the numbers game.
In this wide, wide world, there’s not just one person who can help you on your noble quest. There’s plenty of them. “One-on-one” doesn’t mean only one. It simply means that, during each language lesson or conversation session, you’re learning from one single source. But you can actually have as many language sources as you want.
If you can afford plenty of teachers, then have at it! Have one teacher to give you more formal lessons, and a tutor to carefully comb over your problem areas after class. Have a teacher give you lessons, then have a language exchange partner who’s down for more casual conversation. Have multiple language exchange partners in case one flakes out on you, and you’ll never miss a week of conversation practice.
Each person will give you a look into the target language and culture unlike any other.
But don’t fret if your budget is limited. Language learning partners do come free and you can have as many buddies as you can fit into your social life. Don’t have that scarcity mindset.
3. Make the most of the time when you’re alone.
Here we talk about one of the most explosive ways to increase the productivity of your one-on-one sessions. The secret is this: Never come empty-handed.
It means that during those down times when you’re not engaged on Skype or in-person learning, you should actually be very busy preparing and visualizing what you want to do.
Don’t wing it. Study ahead so you can hit the ground running. For example, if you’re going to be learning tenses in the target language, hit the books days before and learn the basic rules beforehand. Get the basics out of the way and save the sticking points for the teacher.
Even when you know that the tutor or language exchange partner will be going over it, have the fundamentals in your pocket anyway. That way, your one-on-one session will become sort of a review of the basics, and a drill down on the thornier parts of the topic.
Watch videos on subjects that you’d like to cover. YouTube has an endless supply of videos, while the video-based program FluentU contains native media clips with interactive subtitles, vocabulary lists and other language learning tools that can help guide your language exchange.
You can prepare target phrases or topics that you would want to try out or ask about during the one-on-one. Have some phrases ready and ask for nuances. For high-quality interaction, prepare your questions.
You actually need to write these things down. A paper full of thoughts will come in handy, and if a meeting is to last for 45 minutes, have an hour’s worth of material ready. That way, you’ll never run out of things to say.
4. Have a say in the direction of your learning.
One of the biggest advantages of one-on-one language learning is that you have more say in what takes place. This doesn’t happen very often in most learning situations. A regular class is at the mercy of a syllabus designed by somebody else. A book has neatly lined up chapters, and it’s the job of the students to march to its beat.
In one-on-one language learning, you’re the drummer of your own beat. Don’t think that your teacher is omniscient and holds all the answers to everything. The worst thing to happen would be finding yourself in a one-on-one situation and only passively going through the motions of learning, as if you’re being forced to take the lessons.
No, take advantage of your privileged position and have a say in your learning. For example, tell your language exchange partner the topics that put a smile on your face. Let your teacher know which of the linguistic skills you’re not so confident about.
Which areas confuse the bejesus out of you? Is some pronunciation always tripping you up? If you’re not sure of something, ask the question and let your tutor clear the air. Don’t be a passive bystander on your own journey.
Don’t worry, you won’t be stepping on somebody else’s toes when you spontaneously bring up something during the session. (Hey, you’re the only student there!)
5. Look for one-on-one opportunities where there seem to be none.
So far, we’ve talked about teachers, tutors and language exchange partners as the main resource for one-on-one language learning. But in reality, one-on-one opportunities are everywhere—both online and in-person. You just need to open your eyes to spot them. What looks like a mundane situation can turn out to be a quick one-on-one language learning opportunity.
For example, did you notice that when you greet somebody in their native tongue, throwing in some common phrases, they immediately assume you speak their language and engage? They give you a rapid and winded reply that almost makes you want to turn back time. (Come clean and tell them that you’re still learning and they’ll be more than happy to oblige for a super quick lesson.)
Or, in online forums, you could locate those people who take the time and effort to write long and nuanced explanations about language questions and reach out to them. They obviously care enough. Reply to these kinds of posts and ask for a clarification. This will engage the writer and you may have just found another one-on-one resource.
One of the best ways to make yourself the lightning rod for people who want to help is to post questions in forums. Each reply is a potential learning buddy. (You can try to transfer the whole interaction to Skype, later.)
These are just some of the ways you can tap into one-on-one language learning. They do add up. Each interaction will add precious texture and clarity to your language skills.
In the next section, we go into the resources territory and look at some of the places, online and offline, where, believe it or not, one-on-one language learning partners are actually waiting for you.
3 Personal Pathways to One-on-one Language Learning
1. Language exchange partners
A language exchange partner is a kindred soul. As a fellow language learner, they understand what you’re going through. And if your gut is in knots when chatting with them for the first time, it will be the same for them. So get through that awkward phase and do yourselves a favor.
Here are some websites and apps where you can find awesome language exchange partners:
The site is one of the best places that helps folks trade languages. The whole process is really simple. Do a targeted search by inputting your ideal language partner, the language that they speak and the one they’re trying to learn. Hit “search” and out from the woodwork come wonderful individuals fitting the bill.
You can choose the type of interaction that you’d like. There are options for video chat, voice chat, face-to-face meeting and text chat. The last one, for example, would prove useful for those who want to hone their writing and reading skills. For chats, you have the option of picking the native Conversation Exchange software on the site itself, or your can transfer the whole interaction to Skype, FaceTime, Hangouts, etc.
Easy Language Exchange
This site was started by real language learners who know a thing or two about the struggles of acquiring a new tongue. Today, it has blossomed into a community of over 100,000 folks who genuinely want to help one another.
It has built-in chat, voice and video calling so you don’t really need to go somewhere else. To initiate interaction with others on the site, create an account first. (Everybody will be able to see your information, so try to create an interesting profile. Remember, they’ll also check out your account before they respond.)
Besides the search and engage feature, which is really its heart, ELE also has a forum and a blog that can help you further hone those language skills.
The previous two bullet points are language exchange sites. The next two are language exchange apps, meaning that you can download them to your smartphone and render the whole experience mobile.
Bilingua is an app that takes pairing language learners very seriously. Just because your languages complement doesn’t mean you’ll be the optimum partners for one another. You should have the same interests and personalities as well. So Bilingua, as part of the onboarding process when you create an account, gives you a series of questions designed to highlight your personality and interests. Bilingua will use this information later on to find you the most suitable language exchange partners. (So needless to say, answer truthfully.)
With Bilingua, you’ll have plenty of learning tools necessary to make language exchange productive, educational and fun. For example, you have the “smart chat” feature that assists you with knowing what to talk about, even feeding you phrases that you can use.
You also have games, quizzes and a managed list of vocabulary words which you can review at any moment. And last but not least, you’re given statistical insights into your progression so you can self-correct when necessary.
This app has transliteration, translation, grammar correction, text-to-voice and voice-to-text functions. Not just a bunch of unnecessary bells and whistles but high-powered features leading to a successful language exchange.
The interactions on HelloTalk are a mix of text, audio and video. And you’re given every assist to bridge every language gap.
For example, the translation function comes in handy during those times when you don’t know how to say (or type) something in the target language. What you do is simply use your first language and let the app translate it for you. It will convert your communication to something understandable to the other person. Your conversations won’t stall.
You can even automatically convert the things you say into text. Simply long press the audio file and choose “Speech to text” and you’ll have a visual (text) record of what you just said. Your partner can see the text for better understanding. The makers of the app have really left very little room for misunderstanding.
2. Language tutor/teacher
When you climb Mt. Everest, you’re going to be needing the services of a Sherpa, a professional guide who helps you reach the mountain top.
Need professional help in conquering your own linguistic summit? The following sites will help you find the perfect tutor or teacher:
This site is a veritable marketplace of native-speaking language tutors who can help you get unstuck. Read tutor reviews and ratings and find somebody who fits your lifestyle, goals and learning style. Your free Verbalplanet.com account comes with a personal progress tracking analytics that displays your tutor’s assessment of your performance in one-on-one sessions.
This site houses the profiles of countless of qualified native speakers who can help. Remember when we talked earlier about fit?
When you search, you’ll get to search based on prices, availability and even the other languages they speak—so if your native language is Chinese or German, you can find a language teacher to teach you in that language. You get to see a video introduction made by the teacher, in addition to the usual written introductions. And on each teacher profile, there’s a table showing their free schedule so you can see how it fits with yours.
Plus, the technology here makes accessing tutoring sessions extra smooth. You don’t need Skype or another third-party program. It’s all here! Why don’t you book a trial lesson today?
This is an resource for online language learning that has the advantage of being aligned with a universal standard, the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). They cover a variety of common European languages, and all the teachers are professionals who have been pre-screened.
Because the site is a little more structured than some, you get the benefit of quality assurance, but you still have the freedom to choose your own teacher. You can search tutors based on their prices, set up a time and meet with them over Skype. Many teachers here even offer a trial class, so you can try them out to see if their teaching style and methods work for you.
Knowing that your tutor is sitting on the other side of the world is all well and good. It’s a testament to the power of technology to bring together people who are thousands of miles apart. But how about tutors who are living in your area? Local talent that’s just as smart, knowledgeable and passionate?
Wyzant is set up to unearth those teaching treasures who live so close that you can actually arrange to meet them in person. The site asks for your ZIP code and searches its database for teachers and tutors in your area. Follow this link to see who's available close to home.
When meeting people you’re unfamiliar with in person, always take precautions. Bring someone with you. Arrange to meet in a public place. And most important of all, stay there! You can always find a quiet corner in a busy coffee shop.
3. Friendly native speakers
If you live in a big city like New York, you’ll find plenty of language learning associations, non-profit entities that have resident native speakers who are just overjoyed to know that you’re interested in their language and culture. In fact, one reason for these groups’ existence is to conduct cultural campaigns to promote awareness and appreciation. You can attend their gatherings and see if you can network with some native speakers.
The French District for French and Germany in NYC for German are just examples. Consulates, embassies and cultural centers also have similar programs.
If no specialized organizations exist in your area, try general expat associations or Meetup groups and check if there are speakers of your language. If no associations exist, do the leg work of asking around. Ask your local grocer, local council and your network of friends. It will all be worth your effort.
Experiences with native speakers via this route are highly enriching. You’ll not only be learning about your target language, you’ll also get the huge bonus of learning customs and traditions. You’ll learn about food, festivals, family, beliefs and generally a different way of looking at the world. As such, it will make you a more insightful language learner and person as a whole. Grab any opportunity to network and engage with native speakers in your area.
So there you have it!
You’re now not only aware of the awesome benefits of one-on-one language learning and how to exploit these advantages to the hilt, you also know where to find these kinds opportunities. It’s high time to experience the journey for yourself.
Go right ahead! It will be one of the most fulfilling decisions you make as a language learner.