Of course you’re going to be nervous.


Whether you’ve already talked to a teacher in a trial lesson or you’ve scheduled a lesson with a teacher who sounds good to you, it’s very likely you’ll be nervous. However, we must look at each student and teacher as individuals; some may not be nervous. But most of my students have told me, either during their first class or afterwards, that they felt a little anxious.


Now, here’s something you may not know, or perhaps you’ve somehow discovered; that most teachers are also nervous when meeting you for the first time! Even the most experienced teachers at italki are probably a little nervous.


The secret is that most teachers have learned to accept a little anxiety as ‘the name of the game’ (a typical feeling or behavior in an experience) and don’t let these feelings take over during the class. They have in fact learned not to let their nervousness show or affect them. After all, a good teacher’s job is to make his or her students feel comfortable.


So, even though it’s normal for language learners to be nervous, there are some things you can do to prepare for that first lesson which will, hopefully, calm you down. And here they are:



Know why you want to learn your chosen language


You’ve probably been told this before, but it’s so important that it’s worth repeating. There are many reasons why you might want to learn another language:


  • You need it for work. In this case, you may only want to learn the relevant aspects of the language to communicate effectively with customers, managers or colleagues.
  • You need to improve for a part of an exam to get into a foreign university or employment. For example, you may be good at speaking and / or listening, but you need help with your writing.
  • You just want to learn the language.
  • You’re going travelling and you want to be sufficient their native language.
  • You want to challenge yourself to learn and speak another language.


There are probably plenty of other good reasons to study another language. If you have one that is not mentioned here, tell your teacher about it. You don’t want to learn things that you already know, and ‘by the same token’ (in the same way), you don’t want to miss out on learning something you need.



Expect questions from your teacher


Usually, the first class is a getting to know each other exercise. Most teachers don’t just jump into a lesson -- mainly because they’re not sure what you want them to teach you! Even so, your teacher will probably ask a few things about you, your work, your family. You should always feel free to say that you don’t want to talk about something if it seems too personal. These questions are usually in the language you want to learn.


Most likely, your teacher will tell you a few basic things about him or herself. This should make you feel a little more comfortable and it also models how you can talk about yourself in the new language. This is all about bonding, forming a relationship with the teacher, which is sometimes the most important thing you need to build up your confidence to speak a new language.


With more advanced students, the process goes faster. And there may be a very specific objective that the student needs help with, such as editing an essay for entrance to a university.


In this first class, your teacher will probably begin to start a real lesson, depending on what you want. This is to make you feel that even in the first class you’re moving forward or accomplishing something with your new language.



Ask questions yourself!


Push yourself to enter into a conversation with your teacher, even in the first class. Making a comment about something your teacher has told you about his or her ‘life’, or asking questions is crucial to learning and using a new language. You might not be aware of the answer, but you’ll be proud you’ve asked the question.


Don’t ask too many questions about a teacher’s qualifications. Asking about qualifications and teaching history can make a teacher feel defensive -- not a good way to start off a teacher/student relationship. You can be assured that any italki teacher has been thoroughly checked out and is capable of teaching. You also have the chance to view a teacher’s qualifications on his or her profile page. And do examine the profile because you might find some common interests you can talk about.



Don’t worry about making mistakes


Beginner students: mistakes are expected, so don’t hold back. You and your teacher will decide how often mistakes should be corrected. Some students want every mistake corrected immediately (not the most desirable method), while others prefer to speak and then have mistakes corrected at the end of a sentence.


Don’t try to impress the teacher


Advanced students: Don’t try to outdo the teacher by using overly sophisticated language that ordinary native speakers hardly ever use. You’re taking a class for a reason; to learn more of a language or speak it more fluently. This is not the time to show off. You will naturally impress your teacher through good conversation skills.



The end of your first class


Don’t worry, the end of a class isn’t usually awkward. Your teacher is normally aware of the time and will let you know when it’s nearly over. Often, teachers will let you know when you have about five minutes or so left.


Unless you want to, you don’t have to commit to this teacher. Of course, thank your teacher for his or her time. Many teachers wait and see if a student wants to schedule another lesson. If you’re shopping around for a good teacher-student fit, that’s fine -- you have the right to do this, as you are the customer.


So, you actually have a lot to do before that first class! Know your language goals, study up on your teacher, remember to ask questions, expect to make mistakes, and have a bit of pity for your teacher who is also a little apprehensive about the first class with you.


Ilene Springer is a long-time italki teacher specialising in advanced language students. She is a writer and author of The Diary of an Expatriate (AUK, London) Visit her website Chocolate English.eu.


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