Private Tutors vs. Language Partners

We live in a wonderful, exciting time. With so many language exchange platforms available today, everybody with a smartphone may learn any language at no cost. Yet, along with LE applications and websites, language learning marketplaces for private tutors and students are booming.

Who wants to pay for a tutor, when everybody can practice any language with a native speaker for free? Why haven’t free language exchange websites swept language tutoring away? In most other markets, there wouldn’t even be a discussion!

I think the reason why private tutoring still exists is the same why people go to gyms and pay to personal trainers, even though there is ample opportunity to purchase affordable sporting equipment for home use.

It’s commitment.

People hire private tutors and personal trainers to secure motivation. When you invest your time AND money, you are determined to carry on. Most home sporting equipment ends up sitting in a basement, collecting dust. The majority of people who install language learning applications quit after just a few weeks. But, when you know that there is a trainer/ tutor waiting for you make you get up and do what is better for you (to work out, to study), not what you want at this very moment (to grab some snacks and watch Netflix), maintaining progress is so much simpler!

As a language teacher, I hate being a gendarme for my students. I like to think that my students hire me for my ability to inspire them, and to explain complex Russian grammar in a simple and clear way. Even if my assumption is accurate (to some degree), that doesn’t mean that I’m not pushing my students a bit more than what they would do on their own, and that doesn’t mean that my students do not expect me to push them harder.

For a student, hiring a private tutor also means making sure that the other side takes lessons seriously. One of the complaints I’ve heard from language learners is that their LE partners do not contribute to a session or offer their fair share. For example, English speakers usually complain that their partners prefer speaking English and only randomly insert a few words in the other language. Most likely, it happens due to mere convenience, because people naturally pick the language that both sides are capable of understanding, but it’s a lesson, but it was supposed to be an exchange, not just a natural conversation!

It’s different genres, and that confusion is a usual source of dissatisfaction. On the other hand, when you pay to your private tutor, you expect to get a structured lesson and spend your time most productively. Time is money – do you want to spend money to make your time more efficient? Or save money to spend more time?

What else can a language teacher do what LE partner can’t? Not much, in fact, but please consider this:

  • Good language teachers are trained to design lessons in the way that makes learning most efficient.
  • That includes stress lowering techniques and invoking the previously learned material from your memory for your best performance.
  • You simply learn faster if your teacher develops tailored lessons for you and uses the best language teaching practices.

Of course, not every teacher is good in instructional design, but if you check reviews on any of the language learning websites, you’ll figure that out.

Learning a language with a native speaker is like learning how to drive from a good driver – there’s nothing wrong with that, and many have learned driving that way, but that doesn’t work for everyone. I, for instance, took private driving lessons because my husband, being a remarkably good driver, is not the best driving instructor. I was scared as hell, my ego hurt, and we were fighting all the time.

A private teacher from a driving school was calm and unemotional, and that’s why I passed my driving test on the first attempt. When I became confident and comfortable behind the wheel, I learned a lot of superior driving techniques and tricks from my husband, but not until then. If you feel that you need somebody who would set up your learning routine, navigate you through the first stages of the language acquisition, and give you the boost so that you can proceed on your own, maybe hiring a private tutor is a good idea.

Is it possible to achieve impressive results with a language exchange partner? Absolutely! I have had fantastic experiences with my language partners! Finding a perfect match is not easy, but when you get a good LE partner, you have all you need, namely, somebody to speak to, somebody who corrects your sentences, somebody who teaches you real, actual word usage and explains cultural peculiarities.

The only downside of LE sessions is that both you and your LE partner are slightly less committed, and your classes tend to become less consistent over time. But, hey, this could happen with a private tutor as well!

If you are lucky to have a good language partner, make most of your sessions (see my tips and tricks for language exchangers here) and be happy!

Here you can book a free trial lesson with me.

Photo by Nathan Russell.