Note: this is a repost from my German blog. The original article is here.
I’ve tried six different tutors at this point (5 professional, 1 “community” tutor which is just someone who doesn’t teach the language as their day job and does online tutoring on the side), kept four of them (the first pro was flat out bad, the community tutor was “meh”), and one thing I’ve consistently noticed about the good ones is that they all have a plan and it’s a plan that works because it’s based on lots and lots of experience teaching people the language – they’ve already worked out all the various needs and problems that they know you’re going to have because they’ve done this hundreds of times before with other similar students with similar needs. In the words of the eminent physicist Niels Bohr:
“An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.”
Every single tutor I’ve tried, even the bad one (one out of six isn’t bad!) had at least a decent quality plan (the problem with the bad one wasn’t their plan): they had exercises, games (I’ve got a great story about this I’ll share below), workbook pages, something prepared for the lesson prior to the lesson beginning. Here’s my point:
You don’t waste any time trying to figure out what to do.
And for beginning language learners, that’s huge. Because they typically do spend a large portion of their time trying to figure out how exactly to go about learning the language in question, at least if it’s their first one they’ve ever learned besides their native tongue. You don’t have to do this, the tutor who has tons of experience getting people to learn this language already knows what to do, so every second of your time is spent taking positive action towards your goal and making actual, real progress.
Ok, so here’s the story: I was having a lesson with Mo (great teacher, by the way) and she decided what she wanted to do for that lesson was play a game with me. It went like this: she would start to tell a story, in this case about someone simply getting up in the morning, and then I would have to continue it (in German) by making up the next part of the story (I said, in German of course, that he had a cup of coffee), then she would do the next part (he had toast for breakfast), then I (he also had orange juice!), then her (the phone rang, I learned the word for “to ring”: klingeln), then I (it was his mother), then her (she was very excited: “aufgeregt” means “excited”), then I (because the neighbor’s dog had peed on her newspaper – I learned how to say “to pee” in German: “pinkeln”!), then her (she wants him to come over), then I (because she wants him to fight the neighbor: I learned how to say “to fight”: kämpfen), and on and on. What fun! Fun, and, most importantly: effective (frequently these two thing go together, as I’ve stated many times, right?).
This turned out to be fantastic. I learned so much new German (vocabulary, grammar, everything) in that single one-hour session, I was just astounded – I should note that the few examples of new vocabulary I learned that I mentioned above were but a small portion of everything I learned that session, those are just a few examples I picked for you. I was exhausted and ready to end by the time it was over, but in a good way. I felt like we genuinely accomplished significant progress. This was far, far more than I could’ve possibly hoped to accomplish on my own with any kind of self-study method (textbook, self-study course like Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur, etc.).
Regardless of anything else, I will say this about tutors (good ones): they’re extremely time-efficient. Probably the most time-efficient method out there, or as we Americans like to say: you get the most bang for your buck.