By Anthony Hughes MLitt., Cert TESOL
From the English4Today series on online learning
More and more websites and Internet services are offering to find you the ideal English language teacher. Many of them are very good and offer excellent technical and teaching services. But how can you tell the good ones from the bad?
IDENTIFY YOUR NEEDS
Well, it is important to first of all decide what you need and want:
- Do you need English training for your job or to prepare for a job interview or entry into a foreign institution?
- Do you need to pass an English language assessment examination such as CAELT, TOEFL or IELTS?
- Do you need English to satisfy immigration requirements?
- Do you need training for a highly specific purpose? For example, you may be giving an important presentation in English or preparing a technical report in English or being sent by your organization to negotiate in English.
- Do you just want to practice your conversation skills with someone who is a native speaker?
- Do you want to study English for your own pleasure?
If you answered ‘yes’ to 1,2,3 or 4 above then I’d advise you to select online lessons with a professional and qualified English language teacher rather than just someone you meet on the Internet who can speak English.
Professional teachers may cost a little more but you will be learning a lot faster, with better direction and understanding of your needs and from someone who really knows how the English language works. Just because you know how to drive a car it doesn’t mean that you know how the engine works or can explain how to drive to someone else! And so it is with a lot of people who are native English speakers – ask them why we use the Simple Past instead of the Present Perfect and they’ll be hard pressed to answer … let alone give an explanation that you will understand.
If you answered ‘yes‘ to 5 or 6 then a native English speaker who isn’t a teacher will probably do and you can find people willing to do this on many of the sites that provide a meeting space for people interested in language learning. The advantage here is that you can usually get this sort of practice free of charge or in exchange for helping someone practice your language.
You also want to be sure that the teacher and the organization that you choose can teach you what you want – not all teachers can teach you presentation or negotiating skills in English or teach academic writing skills if you need to prepare for university.
ASK ABOUT YOUR TEACHER’S QUALIFICATIONS
Don’t hesitate to ask questions about how the teacher works, what their experience and qualifications are and what materials they will use. Some questions you may want to ask are:
- What qualifications does my tutor have?
- Do they have experience teaching the skills I want to learn?
- What materials are used for the online lessons?
- How is my progress assessed?
ASK ABOUT THE ‘TOOLS’ YOU NEED AND THE LESSON FORMAT
It is equally important, with online learning, that you are sure that you and the teacher can communicate properly using the tools that you both have. Again, ask questions and avoid problems and disappointment later on:
- How long is each lesson?
- How do I talk / communicate with my teacher?
- What Internet and document tools do I need? (e.g. Skype or MSN, Flash or video plugins, Powerpoint, Acrobat Reader etc.)
- What time zone is my teacher in?
- Do they (and you) have a high-speed, reliable Internet connection?
- Can I try a 10 minute technical test with my teacher before deciding to pay for my lessons?
ASK ABOUT THE COST AND PAYMENT METHODS
The cost may be very important to you as well but when judging the hourly rate of a lesson make sure you factor in how quickly you will get to your goals with the teacher you select and how their experience may, in fact, end up saving you money by getting you where you want to be a lot faster than a less qualified teacher.
Hourly rates for online teaching vary between around $15 an hour up to around $70 for highly specialized training. Remember, it’s not always the cheaper rate that offers the best value! Some questions to ask about cost and payment include:
- What is the rate per lesson and how long is a lesson? (online lessons usually go from 30 – 60 minutes)
- What are the payment methods accepted (e.g. online with an organization such as PayPal, bank transfer, Western Union etc.)
- What are you refund policies?
- What are the lesson cancellation policies?
- Can I get an invoice to claim back money from my employer for training?
If you’ve got a good idea of who and what you are looking for before you start you, and your teacher, are likely to avoid disappointment and to build a useful teacher-student relationship that will help you quickly improve your English language level.
© Anthony Hughes 2008, All rights reserved
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