What makes a good tutor?

I have had three tutors in German, one in Italian, two in Portuguese, one in French, four in Russian. All were excellent and all were a little different. I would be happy to comment on any of them either on this thread or via my Wall.

I think it is a good idea to talk about outstanding tutors, or even to talk about tutors that disappointed us for one reason or another.

We can also talk about the kind of qualities we are looking for in tutors, and the kind of discussions and writing correction that we find the most effective for us. Obviously this can vary from learner to learner.

The three tutors I’ve had contact with have all been excellent, too. I’ve not actually had any bad experiences with a tutor. I do agree that it’s a good idea to talk about people’s expectations from tutors and which qualities they deem most important, though.

The qualities I look for in a tutor are friendliness, a fairly relaxed attitude and of course the ability to hold a conversation. As it’s sometimes difficult to express your thoughts in a foreign language (particularly at the lower levels), I think it’s quite important for the tutor to be able to keep the conversation going and have a few of topics on hand in case the conversation dries up a little :wink:

I’d also say it’s important that they tutors genuinely have a passion for languages and for the tutoring that they do, that they genuinely enjoy getting to know new people, learn things about other cultures and broaden their minds. But I’d say that description describes most people on this site!

As I 've read in other threads, YutakaM has a good point. It’s a very nice feature that everyone can be a tutor but no one wants to waste their precious points until to find someone who is serious about it. Hopefully in the future we will be able to rate tutors as well as content.
So far neither did I have ever a bad experience with a tutor. Last year I tried 4 of them, all those who existed for Russian, and they were all great! And I m sure it will continue to be like that.
How would I choose a tutor? Hmm until now I had the reassurance that those declared as tutors were indeed serious and interested about it. If I have to choose given the situation now here is what I would take in consideration:
First of all I like tutors that they have contribute with content, especially those who have created it by themselves.
Apart from the obvious reason that content is useful to learn, it has also other advantages like the fact you can familiarize with the voice, personality, interests etc of a tutor and this makes it easier to make a meaningful and interesting conversation with them.
Also, when someone creates content means that they have put a lot of thought on what students need and this by itself is an attribute that anyone, I think, would like to see to a tutor.
Secondly I like when a tutor is active on the forum. The reasons I guess is obvious and pretty similar with the above.
And finally, the Profile page plays a role to me. It means I would like to see some bio in there and a Progress Snapshot above 0s Actual.

That’s all… Is it too much? Haha!

I agree. I think that to attract learners it will necessary to be active on the Forum, to contribute content, to have a full and interesting bio etc. We all have the possibility to choose.

I do believe that we will all benefit with a greater variety of tutors and time slots available. First we have to fix the newly created bugs.

“We will all benefit with a greater variety of tutors …”
I agree with Steve on that.

i wonder if there is no GOOD english, although i welcome a greater variety of tutors.

“i” should read “I”
“english” should read “English”

The management, tutors, and students; the strength of this community lies in the fact that these three parties are happily integrated. I hope that a delicate balance of power between the three parties is maintained.

What I value in a tutor of a conversation when I am a student?

  1. The more interesting for me to talk with my tutor the better.
  2. It turned out that I have spoken much more than my tutor, even if was I asking questions and sincerely interested in my tutor’s opinion (as I usually am). Good tutor, first of all, stimulates me to speak. It’s a controversial one.
  3. I appreciate it when a short list of my mistakes made during the conversation ( aka the Conversation Report) is sent to me soon enough after the talk, rather then when I have already forgotten it.

When I am in the role of a tutor, I try to not forget what I wanted being in the student’s skin, though I may forget now and then.

On the other hand, we should not require too much from the tutors. After all, if they are students at LingQ, they are still volunteers. You’d say they are paid. Yes they are, but for what they are paid, as students they can buy only 75% of what they have earned as tutors.

This is said in the Tutor Manual, and I believe it is fair. However, a new tutor, I’ve heard, is required first to earn $100 before she/he can be paid in money or points. So it might take a month or two for some of them to find out about 75% . And then some of them will cry out!

The following is a little essay i wrote when I was trying to work out for myself what it is to be a good tutor. It is long for a forum post, and not 100% complete but here goes:

I have been an English tutor in many different situations, for example, in high schools, on-line, in private language schools, or freelance. As a tutor, I have two roles. On one hand, I need to correct errors, suggest phrases and vocabulary, and correct pronunciation. This is straightforward. On the other hand, I need to make sure that there is pleasure in the interaction so that the learner is not bored or irritated, and will want to come back for more. When I am in a receptive mood, creating a pleasurable interaction is easy in any situation. Other peoples’ stories seem interesting. Conversation flows. Debate is goodhearted and sometimes results in a better understanding of an issue. However, tutoring is a job, too. Whatever mood I am in, I must tutor because I have been promised a sum of money. The student is a client.

In a lot of paid work, this doesn’t pose a problem because, either you are not dealing directly with people, or you are dealing with colleagues but not with customers. Even if you are dealing with customers, it is often with a specific, predetermined, and mutually understood goal in mind. For example, completing a sale, providing technical support, or explaining a bill. In all of the above, you can just quietly get the work done and for the most part everyone will be satisfied. In the case of tutoring, however, part of your job is to energise the conversation, if not be out and out entertaining, even when you are in a bad mood. How should I animate the interaction when I have to tutor after spending a sleepless night soothing a teething baby? How about when I am feeling depressed ? What about when I am just not feeling inspired? To put it more formally: As a tutor, how does one create a pleasurable or at least a dynamic interaction in the most efficient way?

An easy-to-access source of conversational energy is changing the subject. Conversation topics are evanescent. As soon as you realise you have got a hot topic going, it is time to anticipate introducing a new topic. One of the most common mistakes I have made as a tutor has been to hold on to a topic too long because I felt interested in it. In those cases, I start prompting students to say more, or start expressing a strong opinion on it hoping that others will be provoked to take a contrary position. In both cases I am met with apathy disguised as very brief attempts to answer my questions. At that point I realise that I should have launched into a new topic a while ago.

Another source of conversational enthusiasm is to provoke debate. This can sometimes be touchy because the perception of winning and losing accompanies debate, and people are concerned with losing face. On the other hand, defending a personal position can get people out of their shell and emotionally involved in the conversation. I often consider a tutoring session a success if i have been able to foster a good-natured debate among the participants.

The most powerful source of conversational energy that I can pinpoint is novelty. People are naturally drawn to new things, whether it be a current news story or the perspective of an unknown foreign culture on a universal subject like cuisine or marriage. Students often say they enjoy group discussions because they can hear about a lot different points of view. The attraction is even greater when they can associate the new information to their current worldview and thus slightly modify it. A Japanese person will likely be more interested in learning about a New Guinean marriage festival than New Guinean cannibalism because marriage, in a more general sense, is a concept they have some experience of, whereas cannibalism is not.

Now that we have identified some sources of conversational energy and pleasure, the question remains, how do we deliberately introduce this into the tutoring session even when we are not spontaneously motivated to tutor that day.

Perhaps the source of conversational energy that it easiest to deliberately introduce is changing the subject. For me, the key is to brainstorm topics within the general theme before the tutoring session begins and write them down as a list of possible questions. Afterward, scan the questions and highlight those that seem the most resonant given the group make up. As a result, I am ready to use questions at any time to change the topic, and more generally I am aware of a lot of the possible topics withing the theme that I can segue to. It usually better to ask questions containing concrete examples and that explicitly require imagination rather than memory or knowledge to answer. For example “What would you do if you were fired from your job at GM and you lived in Detroit, a city with a 19% unemployment rate?” is better than, “Have you ever been fired?” It allows the learner to articulate his feelings in the safe zone of the hypothetical, knowing he will not be held personally responsible for anything he says.

A more difficult element to deliberately introduce is novelty, or more precisely, novelty that links to the general backgrounds of the students. This is especially true when you have been tutoring the same group of people over a period of a few weeks. After a while, you start to find that, left to chance, interactions will quickly get into familiar patterns. You learn that student X will have a conservative opinion on any topic related to politics. You can predict that students Y and Z will always agree with one another because they are both from a culture that values (the appearance of) harmony. These patterns can sometimes become self-fulfilling prophesies because each group member develops an image within the group and it is easier to stay within that image while participating. So if a member is known to be a conservative within the group, they might automatically take conservative points of view on most topics. Or if a student is known to agree with the majority opinion of the group, they will gradually find it easier just to follow that pattern as a group member rather than try to convey their real opinion to the group.

Therefore, it is not only necessary to think of off-the-wall topics. More important is to present the topic in a way that prevent the old stagnant patterns from happening. The best way to do that is to link the topic to the background of the student. For example,I think one of the more successful group discussions I have had was about immigration Since one of the themes that quickly become cliché in my sessions revolves around travel, it was easy to to see the links between immigration–a new topic—and what everybody already knew about each other’s travels–an old topic. Another topic, Animal Rights, was also a good choice based on the fact that animals are a part of everyone’s lives, whether we eat, wear, or keep them as pets. Consequently, it is useful to keep a file on the personal experiences that each group member has chosen to reveal to the group, so that you can more readily steer the conversation to new information that clearly links to known information.

Provoking debate is the hardest yet can be the most rewarding way to energise a conversation. In conversations with native speakers, a good way to stimulate debate is to take an extreme and unpopular stand on an issue from the outset. For example, calling for a complete ban on gay marriage or stating that all meat eaters are immoral. However. this tactic is less likely to work with learners of English because they haven’t had time to warm to the issue and thus activate some of the essential vocabulary needed to speak about it. It is also a touchy issue because speakers of English as a second language are probably keenly aware of their own perceived inadequacy in the language. Asking them to defend a personally held position in the second language only adds a layer of stress.

A more effective way to create debate with learners is to wait for someone to take a position on a subject and suggest a a concrete application of that position that has negative or unexpected consequences. For example, if someone suggests that eating meat is wrong because it takes away the life of the animals being eaten, you could say that the large scale harvest of vegetables takes the life of many unsuspecting mammals that live in cultivated fields. In this case you can expect the learner to have some vocabulary at the tip of his tongue to further clarify his position since he voluntarily stated the initial position.

Another way to provoke debate is to take a common topic, and try to rigourously articulate your own position on it. Once I did this on the subject of food and eating by writing a detailed paper on it and publishing it in a blog. A common topic coupled with a relatively well developed and unique perspective will breathe life into the conversation as people naturally will try to express their own opinion on a subject that they feel makes up a fundamental part of their life experience.

Perhaps the easiest way to provoke debate is simply ask the learner is they want to clarify a position they have taken. For example, asking: “Is that all?” or “Would you like to say more on the topic?” This simple and direct tutoring tactic has an additional relaxing effect of letting all of the learners know that they will be given the chance to rethink or clarify their statements after they have made them.

Thanks for sharing that, Dooo. I found my own experience agreeing with you on some points and received food for thought from other points.

I think this is an interesting topic of conversation. How to make people participate in a conversation. :slight_smile: Moreover it’s an issue not only for language tutors but for any kind of tutor. But at least in the rest of the disciplines you already have the general topic or a common interest subject to talk about.
When I was taking English lessons we had to go through the conversation topics given in our textbooks. So for example, there were articles about: Saturated and unsaturated fats, something about pets in Britain, some movement that some people did transporting with their bicycles instead of cars, Egyptian pyramids etc
We never made any interesting conversation on any of these topics. Everyone in the class, after looking our teacher with blank for 5 min, we were then trying to be polite and give some short dry answer just to finish with that thing and do something else.
No one in the class had any real interest in the British culture, to talk with British people or keen to learn languages. We were all there after school or after work, having spent our afternoon to do homework for school, homework for that English class and therefore we were just bored and sleepy and waiting for the time to pass. Despite how much our teachers were trying, there was not much result most of the time. The reason for that? We just wanted to pass the exam, for having a qualification and that’s all. We were there because they sent us there our parents and indirectly our future employers.
The only tutor we ever had and we were making a bit more interesting discussions (still not on the topics of the book, but at least…) was a Greek girl that she had grow up in Canada. She had a perfect native accent in English and she could speak Greek too if we needed. She was relatively young and enthusiastic so we felt more comfortable and more closer to our interests. The most important is that she could tell us stories, incidents etc from her life in Canada and that was triggering our curiosity.
Taking that broader, in school the best teacher I ever had, he had a charisma about getting the students discuss and pay full attention in the class. As we say in Greek ‘to have our ears stretched’ :slight_smile: That was because: He was a real historian, he had written books, doctorates etc etc etc. He would never use the textbook while he was teaching. He was an encyclopedia by himself, and he would have plenty of things to tell us in the classroom that the textbook was nearly to 0. Above all he would not be scared to say his own opinion about something, supported by arguments. (The history of Greece has areas that still cause conflicts among the Greeks. And civil wars in the not so distant past. These are mostly related with the Orthodox church and their role in modern Greece, and more generally the role of the Christianity in the destruction of Ancient Greece. Teachers normally read whatever is in the textbook and avoid any criticizing and dialogue in the class for these subjects)

What I want to say is that, the teacher I mentioned above he had a strong personality, he was not afraid of contradict, he had the knowledge of the subject and he was honest. Even the “low-graded” students were engaging to his conversations and most of the time we did not mind to stay in the class during the break time, so we could continue a little more.

POPULAR teachers are not always GOOD teachers, and vice versa.

“Bad tutors will drive good tutors out of circulation.” (?)

popular tutors are usually good tutors as long as they speak in the target language and get the learners to talk. There is no way bad tutors will drive out good tutors. It is up to the learner to choose tutors that suit their interests and learning styles. I have yet to meet a bad tutor at LingQ and I don’t think this will change. Have faith in our community members.

Here is what I wrote on another thread:

I realize that making everyone a potential tutor has raised the question of quality. I have confidence in the quality of our members. I will also try to book a discussion with every new tutor in his or her language so that we can exchange ideas about tutoring, and just to make sure that the sound quality is up to our standard.

Some general thoughts may be helpful. A tutor is just one of the many resources available to a learner. We can spend hours listening, reading and reviewing words and phrases on our own. The time we spend with a tutor is more limited, and the impact on our learning is more limited. It is important not to rely on a tutor, but to rely on our own efforts.

To me the most important qualities for a tutor at LingQ are:

good command of his or her native language
ability to converse on a number of subjects
ability to draw out the learner, and let the learner do most of the talking
pleasant personality that encourages and stimulates the learner
sympathy for the position of the learner
a thorough discussion report

Not all tutors will have all of these qualities to the same extent. Therefore it is a good idea to experiment with a few tutors.