12 Steps to Finding Your Perfect Language Teacher Online

find your perfect language teacher onlineDo you wish you had more opportunities to speak in the language you’re leaning?

What would it mean for your fluency if you could simply speak more often?

Well, whatever language you’re learning and wherever you live, it might surprise you to know that there is a small army of native speakers out there literally waiting to help you start practice speaking… even if you’re a beginner.

Read on, and I’ll show you the exact steps I’ve personally used to find dozens of affordable tutors on a great website called iTalki, and significantly improved my speaking skills in multiple languages.

Why aren’t you speaking?

If you’re not currently speaking your target language regularly, I’ll guess that it’s for one of two reasons.

  1. You don’t believe you’re good enough to start speaking yet
  2. You don’t know where to find native speakers who will want to talk to you as a beginner

Fair enough.

But I’m about to take those excuses and bust them wide open.

Speaking to learn

Let’s talk about why you need to start speaking.

Yes, you’re a beginner. Yes, you’ve got a small vocabulary. Yes, you probably make lots of mistakes.

But guess what? We all start out like that.

You might say to yourself: “I need to learn to speak before contacting native speakers.”

And, yes, you should probably learn a little bit of the language first.

But here’s the thing.

You have much more to gain by starting to speak now, even if you don’t know a lot of the language yet, than by waiting until “you’re ready”.

By trying to speak with people, even in the early stages, you quickly figure out what speaking “feels like” in the language (and every language is different) – greetings, common expressions, pronunciation, even body language.

Sure, you need to study your textbooks too, but the fact that you’re speaking means you’ve got an instant way to actually put everything you’re learning into practice.

This is the smart way.

Put off speaking for too long, and you simply risk becoming someone who can conjugate verbs till the cows come home… but can’t hold a simple conversation.

I call this “Speaking to Learn”.

But how can I speak as a beginner?

Easy.

Use English.

“What!?” …you say.

That right.

There’s a perception that if you use English, you’re cheating. Or that “real language learners” only ever use their target language.

But I take a very practical view on this.

There’s got to be a middle-ground between complete beginner and the point when you can hold a conversation.

And the best way to bridge this gap is by using English.

Here are the advantages of using English to get started:

  • You can quickly find a teacher, tutor or language partner
  • You can get to know them quickly
  • You can ask them language questions easily when you finally meet for the first time (online or face-to-face)

English is a big deal in this case because the one thing you’re probably most scared about is making mistakes and looking silly when you talk to a native speaker.

Right?

By using English, you can start enjoying all the benefits of working with a native speaker, even when you’re still a beginner yourself.

How to have your first session with an online tutor

If you’re thinking to yourself: “This is too simple”, or “This is too mundane”, remember this…

The biggest danger in learning a language is that you never actually start.

In this case, your single step is finding yourself a native speaker to work with.

This person can…

  • tell you how to say things naturally in your target language
  • let you practise saying your first few phrases
  • tell you how to say them better
  • help you get used to speaking the language and build your confidence
  • correct your pronunciation
  • give you examples of how to use certain words
  • …and give you a reason to study each week!

And you can use English as much as you need to in order to feel comfortable.

As soon as you start to become confident you can phase out the English and speak more in the target language.

Honestly… this has been the single most important thing that’s helped me learn to speak 7 languages.

So if you haven’t started having simple conversations in your target language yet, can you really afford to put it off any longer?

Finding affordable language tutors

At this point, you may be thinking that hiring a professional teacher might be too expensive.

And it certainly is!

Luckily, though, the best thing about being a beginner is that you don’t need language classes or a professional teacher.

Have another look at that list (above) of things that a native speaker can help you with.

Anyone with an interest in languages can help you with these things, and get you started quickly.

And thanks to the internet, you can find amazing people all over the world who will help you for as little as $5 per hour. (Yes, $5.)

These people have become known as informal tutors, and are what I use personally to learn and maintain all my languages.

They often live in places where $5/hour is very good indeed… especially without having to leave home.

So it’s great for you and great for them.

12 steps to finding your ideal language teacher

olly kevinHere’s how to get started, step-by-step.

1.  Sign up for a free account with iTalki. This is hands-down the best website in the world for connecting students and teachers,

I recently had the chance to hang out with their CEO Kevin in Berlin, and his passion for helping language learners around the world was clear, and great to see.

2.  Follow the steps to create your account, and select “yes” when asked if you’re interested in finding a paid language teacher

paid language teacher

3.  Instead of using real dollar amounts to pay tutors, iTalki has a great system of credits – known as “iTalki Credits” (ITC). You simply buy credits (for as little as $10) and then trade them for time with your favourite tutors. It’s totally safe, and there is a robust system in place which protects the student. When you book a lesson, iTalki keeps hold of the credits, and only transfers them over to the teacher once you have confirmed that the lesson has taken place and that you’re satisfied.

Let’s get you started with this.

Click the coins symbol in the top right-hand corner of the screen and click “buy credits”. I suggest you just start with $10 ($10 = 10 ITC) so you can get a feel for the system.

buy credits

4.  Now let’s find some prospective tutors. On the main screen you’ll notice a tab for professional lessons. You can check this out if you want, but I suggest going for “Informal Tutoring”, in order to get the good deals I talked about earlier.

informal tutoring

5.  Enter the combination of languages and nationality that you’re looking for in a tutor and click “search”. Be sure to select “trial available”, as this is where you can get a half-priced trial lesson to see if you like them.

Here, I’m searching for someone who:

  • teaches Spanish
  • is from Spain
  • costs less than 100 ITC per hour
  • has a trial lesson available

browse teachers

6.  Browse the available tutors and find someone you think would be suitable. There’s no special formula for determining in advance who will be the best tutor for you. I’ve worked with dozens of tutors in the past, and my conclusion is that the only way to figure out who your ideal teacher is, is by trying sessions with a few of them and seeing who you like. I have a few simple questions I ask myself after meeting a new tutor:

  • Do I enjoy speaking with them?
  • Do I feel like I’m learning?
  • Do they correct me and/or suggest more natural ways of saying things?

If the answer to both of these is “yes”, then I’ll carry on with them. This is why the “Trial Lesson” system in iTalki is so useful – these guys really understand what language learners need to get started.

Let’s have a look at one of the tutors, Bea, and see what can discover. Aside from the basic information like name and nationality, you can see a whole host of information.

In the case of Bea, we can see that…

  • she is from Spain, has delivered 144 sessions on iTalki, and has a 5 rating from students
  • speaks a number of languages well
  • has a video introduction from her (good for getting to know them)
  • charges 70-90 ITC (=US$7-9) per hour
  • has a 30-min trial session available for 40 ITC (=US$40)

spanish teachers

7.  If you think you’d like to have a trial session with Bea – and for $4, how can you not! – simply click through to her profile, then click Schedule Session

schedule session8.  Scroll down to the bottom and you’ll find the Trial Lesson option available

schedule trial session9.  You’ll then be taken to a screen where you can see the tutor’s availability and book your session!

10.  Make a note of your new tutor’s Skype ID and send them a contact request in Skype well in advance so that you don’t delay the start of the lesson!

11.  At this point, you might be feeling a little nervous or apprehensive, so I suggest you take the time to send a message to the tutor, telling them a little bit about yourself, your level in the target language and what you’d like to do in the session.

It can actually be very helpful to say like this:

“I’m just a beginner and can’t speak yet, so please be patient with me! I’d like you to just teach me some basic greetings and self-introductions, so I can get started!”

…because then you’ll feel more comfortable and happy that the tutor doesn’t have any unrealistic expectation. Of course, in reality, most tutors are very experienced and totally understand what it’s like to be a beginner, so you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

12.  Write the date and time in your calendar and try not to forget!

Nerves on the day!

Now, I guarantee you that you’ll be nervous on the day, if this is your first time chatting with a native speaker.

You might even think about cancelling and making up some excuse about your internet not working 🙂

This is totally normal, and happens to everyone.

Just remember that this is happening because you’re stepping outside your comfort zone.

But this is a good thing. No, a great thing, because stepping outside your comfort zone is the only way to grow and improve.

How to speak a language with confidence

It’s possible to make the process of learning a new language into something very complicated.

I’m probably guilty of this myself, from time to time, with all the writing I do on the blog!

However, it’s also possible to make it all very simple. So simple, in fact, that I sometimes wonder what all the fuss is about! 🙂

In the grand scheme of things, as long as you have a couple of good textbooks and you work through them consistently, there’s really only one other thing you have to do in order to eventually become a confident speaker of your new language…

Speak.

No, it won’t happen overnight.

But it will happen, providing that you get started today and don’t put it off any longer.

Click here to take the first step on the journey.

(Oh, and if you use the link above, I’ve persuaded them to give you a free lesson!) 🙂

Good luck!

 

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This article was written by Olly Richards.

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  • Hi Olli,
    thanks for that helpful article – I’m a language teacher for Italian and a language learner for Spanish and I’ve already had some sessions with different teachers on Italki – professional and non-professional ones – and I can highly recommend it.

    Especially trying to get connected with teachers sitting in street cafés in South-East-Asia the internet connection was a bit weak sometimes, but on the whole everything was perfect. Everybody showed up on time, everybody tried to help me very patiently and almost everybody even gave me homework (it was my choice).

    There could be a bit of a problem with time zones – I found a wonderful teacher from Uruguay, but as he lives in a different time zone than we here in Germany, it is rather difficult to agree con sessions (I don’t want to get up at two o’clock at night to speak Spanish…).

    So, fortunately in Europe there is a wide range of teacher, so there is nothing to complain about!

    I also find it very helpful to talk to different people – different accents and different topics included. That makes it easier for me to understand “real” people because I get used to different accents and language “styles” during my sessions.

    So, to sum it up, it’s great platform and I can highly recommend it! And I can also give you the advice: No panic – everybody is very helpful! And if you, by chance, come up against somebody who you think is not the right teacher for you, next time you can easily choose somebody else.

    Kind regards
    Christine from “Sprachenlernen leicht gemacht” http://www.chkonstantinidis.wordpresss.com

    • Hi Christine, thanks for your helpful comment. It’s absolutely been my experience too that everyone I’ve met on iTalki is extremely helpful and makes you feel at ease very quickly.

      Time zones certainly can be an issue. I’ve got round this in the past by scheduling sessions on my weekend, when I’m not at work and my tutor in East Asia hasn’t gone to bed yet!

      • Hi Olly,
        “Time zone problem” solved. I found a very helpful and friendly teacher in Spain and one in France, so time zone isn’t a problem anymore… Olly, which languages did you or do you learn on Italki? And what do you think are the obstacles why many language learners hesitate and don’t trust online tutoring?

        Kind regards Christine

        • I mainly use iTalki for those languages that I can’t speak regularly day-to-day. In my case, these are Arabic, Cantonese and Japanese.

          I think the concept of talking on Skype is still strange for a lot of people, but no more so than the general discomfort of meeting someone new for the first time. I always ask people how they feel before a date, and it’s exactly the same. The difference is, on the internet it’s much easier to get out of it! 🙂

  • Anca

    I was so looking forward to reading this post when I saw the title and discovering your insights into how you choose language tutors. What I didn’t expect, however, was for it to consist of a user guide for italki.
    Yes, everything you wrote about plucking up the courage to speak to native speakers is great, it just doesn’t tell me anything about how to choose a tutor. 🙂

    • Hi Anca, thanks for the comment. I’ve always found that there’s only one way to choose a tutor: trial and error. If you take classes in the real world, you don’t get to know anything about your teacher beforehand. The great thing about iTalki is that you do get to check out their profiles and read a bit about them. But ultimately, you’re never going to know what they’re like until you book a trial lesson and spend half an hour with them (which is what I tried to show in this post).

      Another question, I suppose, is “How do I know they’re the right teacher for me once I’ve started?” Quite simply, if you’re enjoying the sessions and you feel like you’re learning, then that’s the best sign of all! (Not always easy to find in reality though)

    • Rachel Meyer

      Anca, if you are new to the virtual tutor thing, I would only choose a “professional” teacher on Italki. It is still inexpensive, but you will have someone who knows what they are doing and how to speak effectively with a learner. Second thing is look at how many hours they have taught, and again choose someone well seasoned. Next do a trial lesson, then as Olly says, go with you gut on if you felt you enjoyed interacting with the person. If you are intermediate and above, anyone is fine on Italki, but for beginner levels def go for the professional teachers only.

      • A good tip is to look for someone who is both a “professional tutor” but also does “informal tutoring”, because you benefit from their experience with students, without necessarily having to go through more expensive structured classes.

  • Pavel Saman

    I still remember my first session via iTalki. I was so nervous, however, I got over it and just start speaking. Nowadays, it’s simply something I’m comfortable with. And just last week my teacher on iTalki told me how often students didn’t show up on scheduled sessions. So, probably a lot of people have a struggle with that.

    • Hi Pavel, it’s great that you’ve had success with that! Thanks for pointing out the importance of consistency, too. It’s such a big deal in order to make steady progress.

  • Just raising an eyebrow here, in my token way, about the $5 an hour thing. That is BELOW MINIMUM WAGE in most countries.

    If you are a language learner looking for good support, please don’t restrict yourself to just looking on italki. So many great tutors have left the platform because they can’t make a living on there. I think italki is awesome, but as a learner there’s more than meets the eye.

    And after that, thanks for this guide. It’s awesome to see personal language tutors recommended, and I believe there’s still some work to be done to distinguish experienced tutors from language exchange partners. I’ve been teaching 1 to 1 for years now and the best part about it has been making friends with people from all over the world, different ages, backgrounds, all that.

    • Thanks for the challenge on the $5/hr thing, because it’s an important point.

      Where I work in Egypt we pay temporary staff (who are usually young and well-educated) $3.90/hr, which is considered a very good wage, although in some cases they have to travel 1-2 hours across Cairo in hideous traffic in order to get to work. On iTalki they can earn anywhere from 20% to 200% more than that, without even having to leave home, enabling them to work and look after children or relatives at the same time.

      Clearly in other countries there may be much better options for teachers, but the internet has created an open marketplace, so I don’t think there should be any restrictions on who can charge what, providing there’s no exploitation going on.

      • Interesting perspective, and entirely fair of course, although this may forget the fact that someone working from home needs to invest in a great computer, high speed internet, a website and a quiet space to teach from. It just doesn’t add up to me.

        • Brett Phillips

          I am an Australian working in Russia. The economies are totally different, you just can’t compare.
          University-trained English teachers here generally earn around USD $4.50 an hour.
          Now to put things into perspective, my electricity bill in Australia was around $600 a month. Here it’s $15.
          A bus ticket in Australia: $3-6, here in Russia: $0.33.
          As for Internet, it’s world-class quality Internet for $6.75 a month.
          I agree with Olly, paying these teachers your $5 an hour opens up the world to them! With more experience and feedback, they can easily start earning $10+ an hour – something more like a Doctor’s wage!

  • Ren

    Those are really effective steps. I even followed it before I hired someone to talk to native speakers online at http://preply.com/en/skype/english-native-speakers and I found the perfect teacher.

  • Rachel Julian

    Hi, I’ve been learning Swedish for a few months now and have been putting off finding a language teacher for all for all of the reasons you listed above. Now you’ve convinced me!
    But I still have one question – I’m no longer an absolute beginner, I can introduce myself and have a little vocabulary, and I’m not sure what specific aims I could give to a language teacher to help them plan a session or know what to expect of me, as I don’t know what I’d specifically like out a session. What would you suggest I do?

    • Hi Rachel, congrats on your progress so far! The next step for you, given that you have a basic command of the language, is to start having basic conversations. When I’m at the stage you describe in a new language, I simply meet regularly with my tutor (or friends) and speak, speak, speak. If you’ve found the right person, they will be able to give you detailed feedback on your language, suggest improvements, or just generally help you practise. Don’t worry too much about the format of the session, just enjoy the conversation as you would with anyone else. The important thing, of course, is to find that person who you like and you enjoy spending time with.

      • Thank for the reply and advice 🙂
        I’ve been doing that in chat form where I can, but I’m finding it hard to find Swedes to speak with – there simply aren’t that many of them. I’ve tried GoSpeaky, WeSpeke, iTalki, and a few others, and it’s quite difficult to find anyone willing to chat.
        Any tips for how to find someone to talk with?

  • EDIT: How freaky, Rachel posted almost the exact same question 2 months ago. That will teach me for not reading the comments!

    Hey Olly, really enjoying your podcasts and now your articles. I’m at a stage where I’d say my Mandarin is beyond beginner and good enough to express most basic things (though often with poor grammar!), but not at a level where I have confidence using it and it usually takes me some time to construct what I want to say in my head.

    I’ve started having iTalki lessons again recently and I’ve asked my tutors that we use English as little as possible.

    This works fairly well, but I find I really struggle coming up with things to say, and with the past couple of tutors I’ve had there’s been some awkward silences.

    Once we’ve gone through the introductions and common things like hobbies, languages, countries visited, occupation etc, I find this is where I get stuck and lost for words.

    How do you keep conversations flowing in your target language when you’re not at a level where you can spontaneously bring sentences to mind, and still with quite limited vocabulary.

    Thanks again and look forward to reading and listening to more!

    • Hey – sorry for the late reply. Yes… as I said to Rachel, it’s really just a question of keeping going. Try to think what you’d say or ask if the conversation were in English, and then just do your best. Write down the things you couldn’t say and ask your tutor how to say them. Then, it’s just a matter of keeping at it. After a few months it will get much easier!