How to Find Your Ideal Language Teacher for One-to-One Classes

3 unconventional questions to ask teachers before hiring them for individual lessons

You want to have one-to-one classes with a language teacher.

You want to have one-to-one classes with a language teacher.

You probably have questions about how their lessons work, their fees, qualifications, experience, and other practical details.

But what questions can you ask them to find out if you two will be a good fit for each other?

Here are three useful ones.

Why do you do what you do?

Powerful question. Asking this can help you discover the teacher’s beliefs about teaching and give you an idea of their larger vision of the world.

These are important details to know as we are more likely to gel with people who believe what we believe. And you definitely want to gel with the person you’re going to have one-to-one classes with.

“Why do you do what you do?” is a tough question to answer though. It requires deep reflection. So don’t expect to get precise responses right away.

I bet most teachers will instinctively reply, “Because I love helping people,” or “Because I love languages,” or “Because teaching is my passion.”

Thank you, but these replies don’t tell you anything new. Dig deeper.

Tell them you’d love to get a more insightful perspective because it’ll help you discover if you’re a suitable client for them.

Give them time — even days — and they might get back to you saying, “Because I want to live in a world where people are not afraid of who they are, no matter how many language mistakes they make. I don’t believe in perfection. I believe in authenticity,”

or

“I’m an explorer. A day without learning something new is a day wasted for me. And teaching is the best way to learn,”

or

“When I was in school, I hated learning languages because of my teachers. I want to be the teacher I never had and make people fall in love with learning a language.”

Now we’re talking.

Once you got this precious information, ask yourself if you believe what they believe.

For example, do you believe languages should be spoken perfectly or authentically? Are you an explorer too? Are you trying to be a better person than someone you met in the past? Maybe a better parent? A better boss? A better partner?

If you share the same or similar values with the teacher, that’s great news. If not, no panic. This question alone won’t make or break it.

Ask the following too.

What’s language for you?

The way a teacher sees language influences the way a teacher teaches language.

For some teachers, language is this:

a brick wall
Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

A brick wall.

Every brick is a word and the cement that joins the bricks is the grammar. Learn the bricks and how they are cemented together and you’ll learn language.

For these teachers, language is fixed. Nothing moves. They see language as a system governed by rigid rules and wouldn’t hesitate to correct you if you said something that breaks those rules.

But for other teachers, language is this:

a galaxy
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

A galaxy.

Every star is a word and every constellation is a structure, a pattern, or a phrase. Nothing is static. New stars are born daily. Others implode and disappear. It may look like it’s total chaos, but it’s not. There are rules, only they keep changing because the universe is in constant evolution.

For others, language is this:

a toolbox
Photo by Quality Pixels on Unsplash

A toolbox.

Every word, phrase, and structure is a tool that can help you transform a thought into an audible message, so you can create connections with those who hear it. The better the quality of your tools, the better the quality of the connection.

So ask your teacher, “What’s your metaphor for language? What’s language for you?” They may not have thought about this before so, again, be patient.

Then think: does their metaphor for language make sense to me? If so, that’s a great advantage. If not, share yours with them and see if they resonate with it.

Then ask them this last question before deciding whether or not you should hire them for one-to-one classes.

Who is your ideal language learner?

Teachers have preferences about learners just like you have preferences about teachers.

Who are their ideal learners? Who do they work best with? Who has the power to unleash their full teaching potential?

Ask them and you may discover you’re the worst learner for them — or the perfect one.

I, for example, work best with adults who love reading, writing, creating, and learning about the world. I like working with people who are motivated, curious, open-minded and have a clear idea about what and why they want to learn.

Who’s this learner for your teacher? Ask them to describe them.

Is that you?

Then draw your conclusions and decide if this is the teacher you want to have one-to-one classes with.

Final thought

Every language teacher out there will tell you they’re passionate about their job. They will promise you they will tailor their lessons to your needs and will help you become more confident and fluent. Some will also mention they have this or that teaching qualification.

All this is great.

But working one-to-one with a private teacher is like having a romantic relationship. Love won’t happen if you don’t get on well with your partner. Learning won’t happen if you don’t get on well with your teacher.

I hope these three questions will help you find the best learning partner for you.

I organize book clubs for advanced (C1/C2) learners of English and have a private email where I share inspiring reflections, nonfiction book recommendations, and content updates.

You can join me here. 

Fabio Cerpelloni is an English language teacher, writer, author, and podcaster from Italy. You can find out more about him and his work by clicking on his glass of beer in the photo.