Anyone who is learning a language knows that the hardest part is speaking it, especially when you are first starting out. But the key to improving (as with everything) is practise, practise, practise! One of the best ways to get that practise is with a conversation tutor...a paid conversation tutor. Read all about why it is worth it and how to get started.
Since I started my German learning journey I have tried many different ways to improve my speaking and conversation ability. I have done language tandems, had conversation partners and even participated in the GGG Benevol - Deutsch Konversation. Although all of this practice has helped me to improve, the best results have been with a paid conversation tutor. Although this method is not free (like tandems or conversation partners), it is much less than paying for formal language lessons and there are a number of other benefits that come with it.
It's less awkward
For me this is the number one reason why I am happy to pay for a conversation tutor. I find small talk difficult in English, so having to make it in an unfamiliar language, often with someone I didn't know very well, is really torturous for me and I am always overly concerned about making mistakes. By paying for conversation practice, I find that I am less self conscious and not as concerned about making mistakes because I am compensating this person for listening to my bad German 😂.
Tutors can guide and structure the conversation
Tutors also have a lot more experience making conversation with people who are new to a language. They tend to speak more clearly and slowly, have conversation topics at the ready (which means you don't have to think about what to say) and can make corrections in real time as you go along. Good conversation tutors can also provide ideas for conversation starters, whether it be describing an image, reading an article or listening to a podcast. They can also tailor the content of these materials to your interests. For example, I enjoy cooking so my conversation tutor had me review some cooking vocabulary and then describe to her how to make my favourite recipe. This exercise was really meaningful and really helped me remember the vocabulary because it was so relevant to my interests.
It's a great way to immerse yourself in the culture
Because I live in Basel I always seek out Swiss conversation tutors. Not only can they help me with things like the Swiss dialect, they are also a great resource to learn about different Swiss customs, places to travel and generally what local life is like. I find this very interesting and it makes language learning so much more relevant to me.
Although there are many benefits to meeting in person, an online conversation tutor is extremely convenient. There are so many sites with online calendars and booking systems and it is so easy to find a tutor that fits into your schedule. Booking a weekly lesson is a great way to ensure you practise, because if you are anything like me, if it is not booked, it will not happen. Just make sure you know the cancelation/rescheduling policies of the site you are using so as not to be charged for missed classes.
It's not very expensive
While you can expect to pay CHF40-50/hour for a certified language tutor, conversation tutors are much cheaper. Because you are learning in a less formal matter, you don't need to worry about whether or not they are certified, you simply need to find someone you can talk to and a good tutor can be found for CHF 15-20/hour.
There are many sites where you can find online conversation tutors. To find a tutor simply indicate the language you want to learn, your level and browse the videos of the tutors available. You can also refine your search to indicate where your tutor is from (i.e. if you are searching specifically for a Swiss tutor). Many also offer a free trial session so you are able to try without committing.
What to look for when choosing a site
When choosing a site make sure to do your research. Read some online reviews and explore the policies of that site. Not all sites are created equal and some may also offer extra features and teaching tools like vocabulary builders, chat messaging and more. Here are a few things to consider before you choose.
What is their renewals policy? Make sure you know this ahead of time as many sites will auto-renew the number of purchased hours on a monthly basis.
How easy is it to try new tutors, or change tutors? Can you transfer unused hours?
What is their cancellation or reschedule policy?
Do purchased hours expire?
What kind of resources does the site offer? Chats, vocabulary builders and other leaning tools are often built in.
What are the site reviews?
What to look for in a tutor
There are also a few things to consider when picking a tutor. There are literally thousands to choose from so recommendations are the best way to start, but failing that, here are a few things to consider:
Does the tutor have experience with conversation training? This can be really helpful as, they will have better experience with materials and conversation starters, (i.e. articles, podcasts, pictures with vocabulary etc.)
What level does this tutor cater to? Many tutors specify whether they have more experience with beginner or advanced students.
Is this person a native language speaker? This makes a huge difference with pronunciation, it is always best to find someone who is a native speaker of the language you are learning.
How long have they been teaching? How many students do they have? This will give you an idea of their level of experience.
What are their reviews?
What is their schedule? Tutors will post their availability online, make sure that it works with your schedule.
Language Tutor Websites
Too much choice can also be a curse! This article: 10 Top-Rated Online Language Teaching Websites can help you to make your decision. The sites are listed below:
Langua Talk www.languatalk.com
Verbal Planet www.verbalplanet.com
Live Lingua www.livelingua.com
I hope this helps you to get on your way to becoming a multilingual chatterbox! If you have any tips of your own, please tell us in the comments.