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Finding an English language tutor - what to look for and what to avoid

Many students whilst with me have told me about their bad experiences with so-called "tutors" who they found on the internet and used because they looked cheap. For each of these students, there are probably another ten who, as a result of their bad experiences, just gave up trying to find a genuine private English tutor.

There are many people who advertise themselves as "tutors" when in fact they are unqualified amateurs. They may speak English but they cannot teach it. They do not care or even realise that the students who pay them will never obtain proper English tuition from them.

I once had a telephone call from a woman who wanted me to show her how to "do some English tutoring". She had no English teaching qualifications, let alone teaching experience, or even a relevant bachelors degree. I politely refused. (I once taught a man who was training for the professional CELTA English teaching qualification - he would one day teach students.)

There is an English expression that says "You get what you pay for". Professional tutors charge professional fees for a professional service, ie fees that reflect what they and their services are truly worth, being trained and qualified, having years of experience, and being heavily booked by students. Amateur tutors charge rates that attract their victims - although these students will never obtain proper English tuition.

Some professional English teachers teach in a college during the day and just tutor one or two students in the evenings and at weekends. Some professional English teachers, such as I, run a full-time English tutoring business and just teach in a college once or twice a week.

Whether you use a business such as Richard English Tutor, committed to providing a first-class tutoring service, or use a more casual tutor, it is essential to look for a professional English teacher. If you need a doctor, do you look for someone who is healthy and perhaps has a biology qualification? No, you look for a doctor who is trained and qualified in medicine and can therefore treat you. If you need a lawyer, do you look for someone who knows about law and perhaps has a legal qualification? No, you look for a lawyer who is trained and qualified in legal practice and can therefore advise you. If you need an English tutor, do not look for someone who can speak English and perhaps has an English qualification - look for a teacher who is trained and qualified in teaching English and can therefore teach you.

The law protects you from amateur doctors or lawyers, but unfortunately it is legal to be a private English tutor without qualifications - there is still no legal regulation of the profession. Amateur English tutors are still free to damage your English learning, and your purse. You therefore need to protect yourself and make sure that you hire only a genuine professional English language teacher.

There are several important things to look for when seeking an English language tutor, including:

(1) Relevant professional teaching qualifications, such as the University of Cambridge CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults), to show that the tutor has been trained in how to teach you the English language effectively.

(2) Relevant academic qualifications, such as a degree in English language or law, where much formal English is used and studied and perfect grammar is critical to meanings and outcomes. (Note - English literature is not relevant because it involves much reading of dialogue and informal English, eg in plays and novels, written with artistic licence, where perfect grammar is not necessary or studied).

(3) Relevant experience, ie many years of teaching in EFL or ESOL classrooms, and many years of private tutoring.

(4) Native speaker of standard authentic British English, so their, and ultimately your, spoken English will be easy to understand.

(5) Living in England, so their English is fluent and up-to-date.

There are also several important things to AVOID when looking for a tutor, including:

(1) Advertisements with English errors in them. There are many of these on the internet. How can anyone teach you English when they cannot even write correct English in their own advertisements? (Unfortunately, you may not spot them, as you are looking for a tutor to teach you English - get an English teacher to check it for you.)

(2) Advertisements where the "tutor" does not reveal their identity - no photograph, no telephone number, no email address, sometimes even no name. What do they have to hide?

(3) Conversation only "tutors". You can practise conversation with any English speaker (for free), which will help your fluency, but not always your accuracy. To become more accurate, learn which errors you make, why, and how to avoid them, you need a real teacher. A properly trained, qualified, and experienced professional English language teacher can help you with this and any area of English.

(4) Cheap fees. Remember, "You get what you pay for".

(5) No website. How serious and established are they?

If you find a tutor who has the first five of these attributes, and none of the second five, you have probably found what you need - a genuine professional private English language tutor.

Copyright © 2009 Richard Johnson BA (Hons) LLB CELTA

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Copyright © 2008-2015 Richard Johnson BA (Hons) LLB CELTA















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