How to find a great online teacher
I’ve mentioned a few times now that I study a lot with online teachers, or Skype teachers as I like to call them. For me personally this is by far the most effective way to study. Well, one on one in person may be the best way.
With a good teacher the biggest advantage is that you can skip over stuff you know and you can spend an extra hour or ten on something you don’t understand. The class will not move on until you get it. This dramatically cuts down of homework and googling time to try and make sense of a grammar rule or another. The other big advantage is that you have to speak right from the get go and you learn to understand quickly because there will never be a classmate to bail you out, but there will also never be a classmate to make the class come to a grinding halt because they don’t understand something. For that reason it’s a lot more intense and with just two or three hours a week, you can progress very quickly. For me personally when you are in the middle of the dumb stage (aka uhming and ahing and trying to come up with a basic phrase), I find it much easier on Skype. I think most of us feel embarrassed and unworthy and whatnot, but on Skype you don’t know them, you probably don’t see them (usually we screen share) and they live in another country. So what, if you stumble over every other word. I find it much harder one on one in person, but that may be just my problem.
The biggest challenge however is to find a good or even great teacher, so how to do that? Google is your friend. The Spanish teachers I’ve worked with I mostly found by just googling. If you type ‘Spanish skype lessons’ a few hundred results come up. Some better, some worse, but it’s worth it to spend the time to go through a number of them. A lot does depend on the individual teacher much more than the actual website though.
Another good website to find teachers is italki. They use their own currency system, basically you buy credits and the teacher only gets the money if you mark the lesson as completed. It adds a bit of security and it also gives you easy access to a huge number of teachers. The trial lessons are usually 10 credits for 30 minutes which works out to about a US$1. As an added bonus you can easily find a language exchange partner to practice. Like the google way, the success and the quality of the teacher varies widely, but the majority I have studied with proved very helpful.
Another place to find teachers are actual language schools. A great number of immersion schools also offer online teaching. That can be really neat if you plan to attend that school at some point, or if you’re looking for a school it’s a good way to judge their lessons and materials.
The Skype forum always has people looking for teachers as well, but I found they are mostly native speakers without any actual teaching experience. Native speakers make great language partners, but for the most part they aren’t very good teachers. Teaching your own language without any actual training is not easy. For the most part we don’t know why we say something the way we do. We don’t know the rules and we certainly don’t know the challenges faced by learners. It’s great to practice your conversation skills, but to study it’s far easier with a qualified teacher.
Also the large majority does offer a free trial lesson where you can talk to the teacher, get an idea of their style and see if it suits you. Make sure you spend some time to think about your goals and what exactly you want out of the lessons. For Portuguese for example I was looking for someone who was used to teaching Spanish native speakers as well as English speakers, because there are unique challenges for both. I figured if I had someone that could highlight the differences it would help me and so far it has. The point of one on one classes are that they take advantage of what you know already rather than just following a lesson plan. You also want to feel comfortable with the person, because you likely will spend a fair amount of time talking to them and more often than not, you’ll talk about yourself and your life.
Personally I prefer to just deal with the teacher directly and pay them over paypal after I get to know them a bit and cut foreign currency fees and commissions for third party services.