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Nikola
Community Tutor
What do you want and how do you find it?
This post is inspired by several discussions I've seen here where people presented different opinions on how knowledgeable a teacher needs to be in order to teach a language, what students need and who can provide it for them. We all have different standards as learners. Some want to be be able to communicate basic things and some want to be able to participate in academic debates. People who aim higher might find the idea of accidentally learning something that's non-standard, misspelled or mispronounced quite worrying, while those with lower expectations might be more relaxed about it.

I would like to approach this from the students' perspective this time because a lot has been said about what others should expect or find sufficient. I'd like to know what kind of language learner you are.

What level are you hoping to reach in your target language?
What kind of teacher/tutor/language partner could help you achieve it?
Are you confident that you can choose the right person yourself?
  • if you're looking for a native speaker: can you tell whether the person you found is a native speaker or not?
  • if you're looking for someone who understands grammar: can you tell if the person you found has the relevant knowledge?

Think of people with needs/expectations entirely different to yours (i.e. much higher or lower).
Could they be taught by the same person as you?
If not, who should teach them?
How will they find them on italki and how will they know they found a suitable person?

Please note that the primary focus of this discussion is on the learner and how their needs differ from other learners'. It is also an opportunity to try to imagine what someone who is not you might want. The aim is to learn about diversity rather than make bold claims as to what absolutely everyone should demand/find sufficient.
May 27, 2020 6:27 PM
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Comments · 25
Well, downvoters, you are getting slow, I have to say. I saw the +1 before you got to give me three thumbs down. Someone beat you to it.
May 27, 2020
What level are you hoping to reach in your target language?
Depends on the language. In general an intermediate level or even just tourist level is sufficient for me.

What kind of teacher/tutor/language partner could help you achieve it?
For a language I'd like to be fluent in: highly proficient in the target language, needs to know the ins and outs and a stickler for grammar. Should be strict with me. For Chinese: needs to have really good pronunciation.
For a language I'm intermediate in: good listener, interested in a lot of things, intelligent, there should be chemistry between us
For a language I'm a beginner with: should know how to teach me without resorting to English, has to be patient

Are you confident that you can choose the right person yourself?
Mostly yes. In most cases I was quite happy with the teachers I chose. I even found the best teacher of my life on italki.
  • if you're looking for a native speaker: can you tell whether the person you found is a native speaker or not?
Not on a beginner level. I'm afraid I can only tell for English. Even though my Japanese and Chinese are pretty solid, I think I could still be fooled.
  • if you're looking for someone who understands grammar: can you tell if the person you found has the relevant knowledge?
Yes, because I'll ask very specific questions and if they can't answer them and I find out later, that the rules are pretty much straightforward, I'llbe disappointed And also on beginner level, I'm able to see if a teacher is bad with spelling.

Think of people with needs/expectations entirely different to yours (i.e. much higher or lower).
Could they be taught by the same person as you?
Maybe, maybe not. I'm really into grammar, spelling, etymology, linguistics. Other people might be bored by that. But good teachers can cater to different students.


May 28, 2020
@Nikola
"Just wondering... do you think that your ability to pick up on someone's poor grammar in your target language might have something to do with being a teacher yourself? [...] Do you think an average learner would still be able to spot something that's off?"

My first foreign language was Latin and my third was Ancient Greek, that's why I got a pretty good base of grammar knowledge and while studying several languages and becoming a language teacher myself, I developed some language awareness, so I love thinking about languages and connecting the dots. I don't know if the average learner can spot if something's off.
May 29, 2020
@Miriam
Just wondering... do you think that your ability to pick up on someone's poor grammar in your target language might have something to do with being a teacher yourself? If I remember correctly, Natalia also used to teach. Do you think an average learner would still be able to spot something that's off?

@Ricardo
Thank you. It wouldn't surprise me if someone turned up and said that chemistry is overrated and what is it anyway. That would be your and Miriam's polar opposite: a person who believes in more "objective" qualities. What would they want in a teacher?
May 29, 2020
Yeah, I'm good at detecting bad grammar and spelling, even if I'm still at a lower level but that doesn't mean that I can detect if the teacher is a native speaker or not. Some native speakers show very sloppy writing and also make grammar mistakes. Sometimes proficient non-native speakers show better writing skills. So, I personally, would also take classes with non-native speakers (all my English teachers were German and it worked out quite ok for me). For me, it's not important to sound like a native speaker (I guess I'm too lazy and not talented enough to even try) but just sounding like an educated and proficient non-native speaker is ok for me.

How will they find them on italki and how will they know they found a suitable person?
One could either ask friends with similar learning styles for suggestions or also check out the lesson history of people who seem to have similar approaches.


May 28, 2020
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Nikola
Language Skills
Czech, English, German, Italian, British Sign Language (BSL), Swedish
Learning Language
Italian