IWTYAL 190: Tips for new teachers on iTalki

Miki asks: “How should I teach Japanese on iTalki?”

Episode Summary:

  • Firstly, be honest about what you are offering and your experience level
  • If you have no experience, you can still help Japanese learners a lot
  • Begin as a “community tutor” and offer conversation lessons so you can get experience
  • Have an honest talk with the student about what they’re looking for an how you can help. Ask questions like:
    • What are you looking for?
    • How would you like me to help?
    • Do you want me to correct your mistakes, or let you talk?
  • The most important skill you have to develop as a teacher is the ability to listen
  • As the student is speaking, make notes of common mistakes, look for patterns – are they making the same mistake all the time?
  • Let the student talk as much as possible, and try to encourage them to speak (that’s what most people want), make them feel amazing!
  • Every now and again, stop, and show the student what kind of mistakes they have been making (be selective), or opportunities to improve
  • At the end of the lesson, ask the student what you could do to improve.
  • “What would you like to work on next time” is a good question that allows the student to say what they want, without risking offending the teacher

Resources Mentioned In Today’s Episode:

Full Transcript:

Good morning everybody, welcome back to the, I Will Teach You a Language podcast. Thank you so much for listening. It’s exciting times here in London, I’ve been talking recently about my new project, Languages of London. Where I’m getting people together, forming a movement of people who are learning languages and we’ve had two meet ups now and they’ve been fantastic. We had another one last week, lots of amazing people coming. We’ve got more and more people coming each time and you know what’s really great about this, is the quality of people that are coming as well. The way that we describe the event is, it is for bringing together people with a common love of languages and London being what it is, so full of people from all around the world who speak different languages and everybody loves languages. Well not everybody but most people love languages and the kind of people that we’ve got coming to these events now, is really wonderful.

Everybody mentions to me- like I’m blown away by how- just how many interesting conversations I had over the course of the evening. We’ve got a great venue as well at the Wellcome Cafe, with two L’s, on Euston Road here in London. It’s just overall really great and I’m super happy that this is going on and I’m also very thankful to have a wonderful team of people around me as well who are helping organise the events and doing business cards and flyers and all kinds of stuff like that. So I’m really happy about that, if you’re ever in the UK or ever in London, then you should definitely check out the meetup group because not only do we have these free meet ups but we’re also doing lots of language events as well around the place at workshops and community events, things like that. So go to meetup.com, look for Languages of London, you will find us and I hope to see you at one of our events at some point.

Before we get into today’s question I’d like to thank the wonderful sponsors of the show, who are kind of featured in the questions actually. It’s all about iTalki, which is the place where you can get language lessons or become a teacher. And if you’d like to get a free lesson you can go to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/free lesson. Now it’s time for today’s question, it’s from Japan and it’s from Mickey.

Mickey: Hi Olly, I’m Mickey from Japan. I restarted learning English about one year ago. I really appreciate you great podcast. Your podcast is always a great help to stay motivated and every time I really learn a lot from you. Today I would like to ask you about teaching Japanese on iTalki. I take all my English lessons on iTalki. Every time I finish the lesson, I feel so happy and become more confident in English. Now I’m thinking about becoming a Japanese tutor on iTalki so that I can take more English lessons using the money which I earn by teaching Japanese and of course, I would like to help Japanese learners. If I become a tutor I’ll listen to the each student’s needs but as you always say, Japanese is a difficult language. So if there is anything that I should keep in mind when I teach Japanese, please let me know. I would love to hear your advice. [Japanese 00:03:27].

Hi Mickey. Thank you very much for a great question and I think it’s a wonderful idea as well to go and teach Japanese on iTalki. [Japanese 00:03:39 – 00:03:53]. So Mickey loves taking English lessons on iTalki and she wants to teach Japanese. Have the experience of doing that and make a bit of money as well so she can take more lessons in English on iTalki. I think that’s a fantastic idea. Obviously I love iTalki, you know that but how do you do it? How do you start teaching if you don’t have any experience? Well if you think of languages, it’s hard. This could- this episode has the potential to be a huge rabbit hole, so I’m going to give you some kind of headline thoughts here. I’m going to tell you really what I think the most important things are for you to do because there’s potentially a lot of people also who listen to this podcast who have thoughts about taking lessons with iTalki.

Taking lessons, I mean actually teaching lessons with iTalki and why not because here’s the thing, you don’t have to be a professional teacher. There are two classes of teachers at iTalki, you have the professional teachers who are very experienced with qualifications and that’s fantastic but you also have community tutors who are people who will basically give you their time to help you practice the language that you are learning, for some money. And it’s great because I mean I use there’s all the time because many of my languages, it’s like- Japanese would be an example, I’m not really looking for a teacher but I am looking for someone who I can just practice with reliably and who can give me a bit of feedback and correct my mistakes as well.

So two different kinds of teachers for different purposes. So Mickey, I’m going to assume that you’ve never taught Japanese before and you haven’t trained as a teacher so you’re completely new to this. You can still offer a huge amount because there are lots of people out there learning Japanese and people are always looking for someone nice to talk to. If you’ve got someone who is just looking for kind of conversation lessons, a speaking partner, then often the best speaking partner is someone that you get on with well and who you like talking to. So that is an extremely important thing and Mickey I’m sure you’re very, very nice, you’re interested in languages and so there’ll be lots of people out there who would really love to meet you and have you help them practice Japanese.

So here’s what I would advise you, firstly be very honest about what you’re offering and your experience level. You can create a profile on iTalki with a video and all of that. Tell people very honestly, “I’m not an experienced teacher, I don’t have any qualifications but I really love languages and I’d love to help you practice Japanese. Give you some speaking practice and help correct some of your mistakes or whatever else I can.” If you do that you’ll get the right kind of person looking for you. Don’t try and write a kind of big profile saying how experienced you are if you’re not. Be very, very honest and that’s the best thing to do. When you get a new student or when someone asks to take lessons with you, have an honest talk with the student about what they’re looking for and how you can help.

So I would be asking questions like, “So what are you looking for in these lessons? How would you like me to help you? Do you want to just talk? Do you want me to correct your mistakes?” These kind of questions help the students think about the way that they want to study and it means that you can kind of be as informed as you can so that you know the way that you are teaching them or the things that you do in the lesson time is what they’re looking for. Ask them lots of questions. Now Mickey, you asked if there’s anything special about Japanese in terms of your teaching and if you should be wary about anything in particular in Japanese. I agree that Japanese is harder than other languages but the thing is, you’re not setting yourself up here to be a professional teacher who gives structured lessons and follows a curriculum.

Maybe you’ll do that in time but for now, really the main thing that you have to offer students is the ability to help them practice speaking and to be a good listener, to give them feedback. That’s the main thing you have to offer, so in that sense in Japanese is just the same as any other language. You probably won’t be teaching complete beginners, I would also probably recommend that you don’t at first. So people will already have- be able to speak a little bit of Japanese. The most important thing that they do is simply to practice, so I wouldn’t worry about Japanese itself, you just focus on the actual- or on doing what you can to help students in the lesson. So to that point, how should you teach them? What should you do?

Well there’s one skill above all that you have to develop as a teacher and that is the ability to listen. The more you can listen to your students the more you’re going to be able to help them and all great teachers are great listeners. The best way that you can actually do this in a lesson is by listening very closely to the language that they are using. So the first thing you’ve got to do is to let the student talk as much as possible. Your main job is to encourage them to speak. Ask them lots of questions, push them a little bit, get them to- if they stop speaking ask them why. Ask them to say some more, encourage them to speak and make them feel amazing because that’s what people want. They want to feel that they are on the lesson with you, speaking Japanese and doing it successfully.

So first of all, you have to get them to speak as much as you can. As they’re speaking, listen very closely to their Japanese and have a piece of paper and a pen there with you and start to make notes of mistakes they’re making. Don’t write down everything but make notes of things that they say that really affect communication. So if they say something but you still understand, then that’s not such a big priority but if they say something and you really don’t understand or you think it really makes it difficult for you to understand, that’s the kind of thing that you want to focus on. Write down those mistakes that they’re making. Don’t stop the student talking, don’t interrupt the flow of the conversation but just make notes yourself.

Then look for patterns because what you’ll find is that the student makes the same kind of mistakes over and over again, we all do this. I was having a Cantonese lesson this morning with Priscilla and she was telling me, “Look Olly, you’ve got to stop doing this,” because I kept saying the same- making the same mistake over and over. So have a pen and paper, write down the common mistakes that you hear and then after a while, after you’ve been speaking for maybe 10, 15 minutes or so, then stop and then have a feedback session. Show the student what kind of mistakes they’ve been making or show them opportunities for improving. And the simplest way to do that is to write down say for example- let’s say you’ve got five sentences that they said that were not great, in Japanese; well what I would often do is actually write those sentences and send it back to them.

If you’re on Skype you can just write down those five sentences and send it back to the students and say, “Look, this is what you said, can you notice any problems with that? Can you think of any ways to improve that sentence?” So you’re getting the students to recognise their own mistakes or getting them to recognise what things about their speaking which can be improved. But what’s important is that you don’t just send them every mistake they make because that’s going to depress them and overwhelm them. Instead, you want to be selective and only send them things that they’re making regular mistakes with. If you just focus on doing that, taking notes, listening carefully to what they’re saying and then every now and again, stopping and feeding back certain interesting language points to the student for them to reflect on and to think about, then you are already going to be a really wonderful teacher and you’re going to be helping them a lot and they will thank you for it.

Now at the end of the lesson, ask the student what you could do to improve because students know what they want often or at least they know if- well they know what they don’t like and it’s really important that you ask the student to let you know somehow what you could do differently that they would like more. But the problem is often students don’t want to give negative feedback to a teacher, they don’t want to say or hurt their feelings in any way. So a really good question you can ask at the end of the lesson is, “What would you like to work on next time? What would you like us to do in the lesson next time?” That way it’s- that’s a really good question because it gives the student the opportunity to say what they want without actually risking offending the teacher.

There’s a big difference between saying, “What did you think of today’s lesson?” that’s a bad question. A good question is, “What would you like us to work on next time?” Or you could even ask, “What would you like us to do differently next time?” because this way Mickey, what you’re going do is you’re going to get feedback from the students on your teaching. And if you keep doing that, you know, that’s how you learn different ways of teaching. Every student is different, every student is going to give you a different piece of feedback but as a new teacher it’s really important that you ask those questions so that you can experiment with different things, try new things out and you very quickly start improving. So I hope that was helpful, good luck with that. I think it’s a wonderful thing you’re doing.

If you would like to ask me a question, please do. What Mickey did, was she went to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/ask and you can do the same thing too. So please do that, leave me a question. I’ve got quite a few questions in the queue but I do try to answer everyone, unless it’s totally off the ball. So go ahead and do that, if you have enjoyed the podcast recently and you’d like to help me out, then please go to iTunes and leave me a review on iTunes because reviews are great. They help other people find the podcast and you can do that by going to the iTunes Store, searching for I Will Teach You a Language and then leave a review and rating there. I would be very, very grateful for that.

Now at the end of every episode, I like to leave you the resource on the topic of the show. This is one I’ve mentioned before but I’ll mention it again because I think it’s very relevant for any of you listening who are teachers and it is an article I wrote. It’s really popular actually, teachers have been forwarding it and circulating it around themselves and it’s called 19 Quick changes you can make today that will make you a better language teacher. It includes tips such as, talk more about yourself, spend less time on reading, listening and writing; stop thinking of yourself as a teacher and many, many more. So if you want to find out what that’s all about and have a bit of qualification for those abstract statements, then you can find a link to this and many other things on the show notes and you can do that at iwillteachyoualanguage.com/episode190. Thank you so much for listening and I’ll see you back in the next episode of the podcast.

Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode. I really hope you enjoyed it. You know, one of the questions I get asked most often about language learning is how to improve your memory because things get so much easier when you learn new words and you don’t forget them later in conversation when you really need them. So what I decided to do was to put together a short email course, it’s a three-part email course over three days that teaches you my favourite techniques for memorising vocabulary and actually putting that vocabulary into your long term memory. It’s a short course, three days, it’s completely free and if you’d like to sign up for it please go to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/freememorycourse.

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