Are teacher/tutors superfluous to learning language

I have been a teacher and tutor of English for a long while, but I find myself thinking that the role of language teacher, as I and most other teacher/tutors have played it, is really superfluous to learning language.

Teachers, if they are native speakers of the language, have one, and only one, resource of value to a student… they are an infinite source of examples of more or less correct or, let’s say, “usual” or “commonplace” examples of the target language. That is, they can usually intuitively judge whether a language chunk is appropriate or inappropriate and if it is inappropriate they can provide an analogous appropriate examples.

When I say resource of value, I mean something that is worth paying money for.

With the internet and the large amount of resources that it provides, a student of language, especially if the language is English, has a huge number of examples of comprehensible native speaker usage. For most purposes in their usage of language, they can learn at least one useful chunk of language for free that will serve them well in most situations they encounter if they were ever in contact with people where that language was spoken.

A teacher may also be charismatic, charming, funny, inspiring etc, but, if you take what I wrote above as a given, for the purposes of learning language, is paying for the company of what amounts to an interesting companion really worth it?

I don’t find classes useful but one-on-one tutoring can be useful.

With classes, there is very little personal time because the teacher can’t get to know your language ability quickly. Therefore, they can’t cater to your needs properly. This is not the fault of the teacher but merely the nature of class environments.

With a one-on-one tutoring environment, a good tutor will know exactly what level your are at and how to teach you best.

I would think that the best approach to language learning is a mix of tutoring, self study, immersion and attempting to talk with natives.

But, what is point of the tutor getting to know the student’s needs? Can anyone know the student’s needs better than the student himself? And then can’t the student help himself (say the student is learning English) to large amounts of content that are available for free or for a very nominal fee? What useful things can the tutor do for the student? Can the tutor actually cause a student to learn?

I think Ed, that a teacher can be instrumental in motivating a learner, inspiring, stimulating, encouraging. i would not underestimate this.

As to one on one tutoring. I am in favour of it. It is, however, expensive, and at an early stage it can be a little intimidating.

No matter how good a learner is, he will inevitably make mistakes. He needs a tutor to provide him with feedbacks. Also, each language has its idiosyncracies. There are invariably times that a learner feels that he is stuck. A good tutor can guide the student out his troubles quickly. A tutor can also provide the student with relevant cultral information. For example, I am learning Spanish now. One day I want to visit South America. Whatever information a tutor can provide me with will be far more valuable to me than the info I can find on the net.

I don’t know if I answer your question correctly though…
As a learner of English, I definitely need tutors. I cannot think of LingQ without tutors.
Of course you can learn the language, especially English, from the great amount of source on the internet. However, learning only by yourself and learning with tutors can be very different.
Not only native-speaker tutors have rich usage of the language but also they can teach (consciously or unconsciously) the culture that is rooted deep in the countries where the language is spoken.
Maybe you can learn how to use the language by yourself instrumentally but learning the language with tutors will make the learning deep and culturally rich. It is not only the matter of correcting mistakes.
Till now your discussion slots have made my English leaning more fruitful and enjoyable. You encouraged me to learn more. I really appreciated your tutoring.
Tutors are like sport coach…? They can correct athletes’ foams, encourage them, accompany with them as a mentor…

My question is whether teachers are superfluous. Lot’s of things I spend money on in my life are superfluous. Do I need to buy take out coffee from Starbucks (or wherever)? Do I need to drink beer? (especially my 2nd or third one on a row :). Do I need to see this hockey game? Etc

So I am not denying that teachers provide inspiration, feedback or cultural information. I am just asking whether teachers are superfluous to actually learning the language to a degree that the learner can reach a tipping point and learn all the cultural information by simply living in the target culture.

The reason I am asking this question is that, as a teacher, my philosophy is: if the student is capable of doing something for himself, my job is to invite him to do it, and not do it for him. And now with the resources available online, I do not see any point at which the student needs a teacher to take another step towards the tipping point of self integration into the culture.

I suppose it’s possible for a student to learn a language all by himself with the resources available online. OTOH, if he is guided by a good tutor, he will no doubt be able to make quicker progress. Sure, you can go from Vancouver to Toronto on foot. That doesn’t make the planes/buses/cars superflous.


My previous post states my definition of “superfluous”. If saying that drinking a 3rd beer is superfluous implies to you that I think planes/buses/cars are superfluous for the purpose of traveling long distances, then you are misunderstanding me.

Let me restate my claim: For the purpose of learning a language to point of functioning orally well enough in the target culture so that cultural information can be gathered for free through the natural process of observation and making acquaintances, tutors/teachers are superfluous. (I added the “orally” here because I realise that in formal situations, such as writing research papers, business letters etc… the basic material is not as accessible.)


I used an exaggerated example to try to get my point across. Let me try again. For discussion’s sake, let’s say a student would be able to reach a certain level of proficiency in 3 years time if he studies by himself. With the help of a good tutor, he’s able to cut the time to, say, 2 or 2-1/2 years. I think many people would think that the reduction in time is valuable. It’s like taking a bus rather walking to a place. It saves you a certain amount of time. The bus ride is also more comfortable because you don’t have to sweat a lot. Likewise, learning with a good tutor makes the ride smoother and more enjoyable. Well, so you can insist that the tutor is still superflous. To many people though, this is good value for money.

I believe that what is necessary is someone, a native speaker, to talk to. If such contacts are readily available, a tutor may not be necessary.

I think that writing is very helpful to one’s learning if we have the discipline to do it. A tutor or someone to correct the writing is very helpful.

I enjoy my contacts with my tutors here at LingQ. For the first year or longer I had no need or desire to be in contact with a tutor. I was content to just improve my comprehension and grow my vocabulary on my own here. Once I had enough confidence to be able to handle a conversation I began interacting with tutors and I enjoy it.

I am far more motivated than the average language learner. (Just look at my statistics). I also know how LingQ works and why it works. I think that for a newcomer to LingQ, and someone who is less confident about how to learn languages a tutor can be invaluable.

So, to me a tutor is not superfluous, to answer the first question.

I might add that the activity of some of our tutors here at LingQ is outstanding. I have been learning Russian and Portuguese, and my tutors have been creating content that is specifically tailored to me needs. Ana did so earlier for Portuguese, and the recent content created by Rasana for Russian is simply outstanding. I know that Vera and Irene have similarly been active in creating and providin content in German, and then there are Emma for Japanese, Berta and Liz for Spanish, Serge and Marianne and Margo for French. I know have left some out. This is the kind of tutor learner interaction that is fantastic and helpful.

It is not just the one on one lesson, it is the full range of interaction that is achieved, including the personal contact, that is so helpful. Most people do not stay on task when studying on their own. Tutors can help in many ways.

Your example (good tutor = time reduction in achieving a certain timed goal) is common sense, when that situation happens. But the situation you describe does not happen that often in my teaching experience. (about ten years).

Most such experiences I have had with tutoring are with people who are not goal oriented. The few people that are goal oriented tend to be part of a TOEFL or Cambridge test class and are using the teacher purely as a speedy resource for appropriate language chunks and as a personal testing coach. These last 2 tutor roles I can understand because in those situations speed is of the essence and the knowledge about taking that test is not readily accessible.

For the general learner, --interested in constructing a direct relationship with the complex world of a foreign culture,-- sweat, confusion, discomfort, all approached with a positive ,“can-do” attitude, is, in my experience, essential to progress.

Since the last few years of internet development, I have never seen any convincing evidence that having a tutor helps people more than just authentic comprehensible input such as LingQ provides


I am not just focussing on LingQ, but on my general experience.

As for the public’s interaction with LingQ, the following is just my opinion:

The concept behind the website is simple:Text plus audio,chunked with flashcards, provides comprehensible input. Large amounts of repeated comprehensible input creates language acquisition, a formula I agree with wholeheartedly. It is fairly straight forward. People interested in learning language can disagree with it, but it is not hard to understand.

The reason many people need LingQ explained is they have an image of themselves as language X speakers and they want a secret, quick and easy, formula. They are, in a way, repelled by the simplicity-- or some might say mundanity-- of LingQ.

I believe they want a distraction more than they are interested in learning, and their preferred distractions are not related to reading and listening. So after they get into a text and start LingQing and find is not distracting enough, they find they just want to talk or invent some kind of intellectual system in order to nail down the language (grammar).

Still telling themselves they want to learn, they post a message saying, “How does this work?” which I read as meaning, “What’s the magic formula?”

Of the people who grasp the usefulness of the integrated tools LingQ provides and have accumulated a large database of vocabulary on their own (like you), those who want tutoring are often more likely to sign up with a tutor that shapes the conversation, rather than one that allows the conversation to shape itself.

What is more valuable to the student? A conversation in which they had to spontaneously devise the themes and convince others that they are worth listening to? or a situation where the tutor is arbitrarily deciding who and what gets heard.

I have no doubt the tutors you have had are great. And I am not really talking about original material creation, which, by the way, is maybe the greatest strength of LingQ.

To my mind a good reason for not calling a teacher/tutor superfluous is this: If the teacher/tutor is working with students who are learning their first foreign language, he is teaching HOW to learn a language as much as teaching the language itself.