Imagine that knowledge is a run-down old house on a quiet suburban street.
You’re thinking of buying and renovating this house but you want to make sure it’ll be a good investment. The owner invites you to take a look around one night. There’s only one problem: it’s incredibly dark inside.
As the owner leads you from room to room, he occasionally flicks the switch on a lamp but the dusty and inefficient bulbs barely illuminate the darkness. You squint into the corners of the rooms but can only make out vague shapes. What should you do?
Well, luckily, you brought along a torch (otherwise known as a flashlight). Now you have a tool to illuminate even the gloomiest corners. You point the torch into the darkness and shine a bright white beam onto anything you want to see in more detail.
In this analogy, the torch symbolises questions.
Asking carefully-composed questions can often mean the difference between knowledge and ignorance. We all get confused sometimes. A concept or a procedure can be obvious to the person explaining it but seemingly incomprehensible to us.
Questions, however, allow us to tackle a complicated topic on our own terms. We can begin to fill in the gaps in our lack of understanding and ‘illuminate’ even the darkest corners of our ignorance. We just have to be prepared to ask.
That’s why every student and prospective student of English should have a few questions ready to fire off when they’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. In fact, these questions should start from day one.
This article is going to give you a head-start. We’re going to look at 10 questions which you can use to help select an English teacher from the varied and talented teachers available on italki. You don’t have to ask every question here, of course. But keeping a few in mind will help you to better understand the process of taking an English course, achieving your language goals, and progressing to the next level of language ability.
So, let’s take a look at ten questions to ask your English teacher:
1. What’s my level?
There are many ways of expressing ability in language learning. It could be from Beginner to Advanced or it could be A1 to C2. However, your English teacher should be able to assess approximately where you sit on a scale of English ability. This might be by asking you questions or reading a piece of your writing. They can also point you towards online tests which will give you a more accurate idea of where on the scale of English abilities you currently reside.
2. Which areas do I need to improve?
Some students are fantastic speakers but write terribly. Others have honed their listening skills through hours of practice but can’t seem to communicate their own ideas verbally. Your teacher should be able to assess which of your four skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) need improvements. It could be, however, that your skills are fairly well balanced and you need to improve generally. But without asking, you’ll never know.
3. What resources will we be using?
Some teachers prefer online resources, others books. Some love to incorporate YouTube videos into lessons. Some even have a list of ability-appropriate movies, novels, and songs which you can get stuck into. But all professional teachers will be using some sort of resources. Asking this question will help you pick out the teacher whose approach to learning resources best matches your needs.
4. How long will it take to achieve my language goals?
It’s great if you’ve already got language goals. Whether that’s moving up to the next level or being able to watch movies in English. But how long do you think that’ll take? Your teacher will be able to advise you. Bear in mind, however, their answer may depend on how many hours you can commit to study and how much work you can feasibly carry out away from lessons.
5. What’s a realistic target for ten hours of study?
This is a smart question because it looks at concrete goals over a set time period. Course packages on italki offer a set amount of tuition (often at a reduced cost) so you can aim towards achieving a few realistic targets over a few weeks. Once your teacher knows where you want to be, they’ll be able to advise you on how much you can achieve over the space of a package of lessons.
6. What can I do outside of the session?
Another great question which never fails to fill a teacher full of confidence in their new student. Your teacher should have heaps of advice here. It could be practicing your conversation skills with a fellow learner or it might be ensuring you always complete your assigned homework. Either way, this is a great question to make sure you’re getting the best out of language learning both inside and outside the session time.
7. How do I need to prepare for each session?
A well-prepared student is often a very successful student. But what does that mean in practice? Well, your teacher will be able to shed some light on this. Maybe it’s keeping all of your learning materials in a folder which you make sure you’ve always got on hand as the session starts. Or maybe it’s ensuring you’ve got a notepad and pen ready to take notes throughout the class. Ask and you’ll find out.
8. How will you structure the sessions?
This is an important question if you’re looking at improving multiple skills (which most people are). The structure of a session means in what order and how long you’ll focus on various aspects of learning. Will there be 10 minutes at the start to review last week’s homework? Will you spend 15 minutes at the end practicing pure conversation? Will there be a grammar component? Will we spend time on pronunciation? Ask this question to find out.
9. How should I arrange my self-study?
There are many ways to learn outside of the formal classroom setting. It might be by reading books, studying grammar, or even watching TV if you’re a high-level student. But your teacher should have an idea of how you’d benefit the most through self-study. Ask this question for tips, advice, and pointers on how to maximise your time away from formal sessions.
10. What should I do next?
This is an obvious question if it’s your first time taking an italki session. Maybe you’ve never learnt online before? Should you contact the teacher again before booking a session? Should you buy a package of lessons or book sessions on a one-by-one basis? And which course should you book? Many teachers have various courses available catering for general, academic, or professional learners. But don’t worry. This is all in a day’s work for your prospective new teacher. Let them know you’re unsure and they’ll be more than happy to guide you through the process.