How to work efficiently with an italki community tutor
So you have decided that you would like to practice speaking German (or any other language you’re currently studying) and want to give it a try with an italki community tutor. Great. In this article, I’ll give you some tips about how to work efficiently with such a tutor.
If you have never heard about italki, please read this article first and if you don’t have an italki account yet, sign up with this link and receive USD 10 in italki credits for your future language lessons.
The series of articles about how to use italki efficiently consists of these articles (the articles 3-6 will be published soon):
- Improve your German on italki
- How to work efficiently with a community tutor
- Working with multiple teachers
- How to afford professional teachers when you’re on a budget
- Advantages and disadvantages of structured lessons
- Speaking practice – Avoid these pitfalls
But let’s now find out how to work efficiently with an italki community tutor.
What is a community tutor?
A community tutor is a person who speaks your target language as a native speaker or on a native-like level. If you’re on a budget and looking for a cheap tutor, you are likely to meet someone who has no prior experience teaching a language. There is an exception, though: New community tutors on italki often start with prices as low as USD 5 for 30 minutes of speaking practice and some of them may have experience teaching offline or on other platforms. Especially for German, there are community tutors who charge almost as much as a professional teacher – and are often as good offering structured courses and having a lot of experience. But these are not the kind of community tutors and lessons we are interested in at the moment. If you’re reading this article, I assume that you’re an independent language learner who wants to practice their speaking skills with a native speaker.
Which lesson length should I chose?
italki tutors can offer lessons of 30, 45, 60 and 90 minutes. A 60-minute lesson is standard and set as default by italki. All teachers have to offer 60-minute lessons. Only a few teachers offer 90-minute lessons and I wouldn’t recommend doing 90 minutes as a student unless you have a very specific reason.
If you’re a beginner or low intermediate student, 30 minutes of speaking practice once or twice a week is normally a good option. Communicative B1 students may also give it a try with 45 minutes. If your German is already pretty good, it’s totally your choice and depends more on how communicative you are and how much time you have.
How often should I take lessons?
Practice makes perfect, you will know that. However, especially at the beginning of your language learning journey regularity and quality are more important than quantity. If you schedule a lesson every day but don’t find the time to prepare, study and review between lessons, you will only get stressed. If you study just German, one or two lessons a week are a good idea. If you study multiple languages or need to maintain languages you already speak more or less well, you have to figure out what works best for you. In my experience, one lesson every 10 days is a minimum requirement if you want to see progress.
How to prepare as a beginner?
If you want to work exclusively with a community tutor who just offers speaking practice and doesn’t provide any materials, you need to learn some vocabulary or the conversation will be stuck after 5 minutes. Check this list of about 200 common words in German. Once you’re familiar with them you should be able to hold a simple conversation of 30 minutes with a community tutor. It’s okay to print the list and have it lying next to you while you talk to the tutor, by the way.
Start preparing for the lesson at least one day before. If it’s your very first one, you will introduce yourself so make sure that you can say where you come from, where you live, what your hobbies are, which languages you speak etc. A good community tutor will help you when you get stuck, ask questions, write down new words and correct you. If that’s not the case, choose another tutor.
The “Carla will nach Deutschland” book was written for independent language learners who are starting to learn German from scratch and wish to practice speaking with an italki community tutor. At the end of each chapter, there’s a set of questions that encourage you to talk about yourself applying the vocabulary from the text you have just read.
At an A2 level, you already have quite a bit of vocabulary and should use your lessons with the community tutor to practice what you have learned. Starting the lesson by telling the tutor about your activities since the last lesson is always a good idea as it will allow you to practice the present perfect.
Here’s a PDF file with some conversation questions for A2 students that you can use during your lessons. Try to answer each question as detailed as possible. There’s no need to rush. If it takes you 15 minutes to answer one question, that’s great. Challenge yourself by talking as much as possible.
How to prepare as an intermediate student?
Congratulations if you’ve achieved an intermediate level of German studying on your own. Or perhaps you took a traditional course for the basics and would like to continue on your own now. As an intermediate level student, you can communicate pretty well and have mastered the most important grammar. Your main goal when working with a community tutor will probably be enhancing your vocabulary. If you’re a communicative person and found a tutor you get along well with, casual conversations will help you achieve that goal.
However, don’t fall into the trap of talking always about the same things. Most of us aren’t adventurers who do exciting new things every day but rather have daily routines which don’t change a lot. The intermediate level is the right level to start talking about more abstract things, things that are important to you, that you’re thinking about. Prepare your lesson by choosing a topic and try to talk about it on your own. Take notes and look up unknown vocabulary, then you will feel more secure in class. But don’t prepare a presentation, memorize it and hold a monologue. Your tutor will probably ask some unexpected questions. Accept that challenge.
Once again, the tutor should write down new words and corrections. If a tutor fails to do so, remind him politely. Some community tutors honestly think that it’s enough to have a casual conversation and it doesn’t come to their mind to write something down. If you tell them what you expect, most of them will do it.
How to prepare as an advanced student?
If your German level is already C1, you need a tutor who is able to listen attentively and correct even minor mistakes. As an advanced student, you probably aim to talk about all kind of topics. This works best when you prepare by watching a video or reading a text before the lesson. Share your source with the tutor. Most of them probably won’t watch a long video but skimming a text and get a rough idea about the content should be possible.
Start by summarizing what you read or watched and then discuss the topic with your tutor. Force yourself to use grammatical structures you still struggle with and try to use words that you normally don’t use. At an advanced level, you speak the language well enough to express your opinion but many people tend to avoid difficult structures and try to navigate around them.
As there are quite a few differences between spoken/informal and written/formal German, it will be beneficial for you if you regularly write texts and correct them together with your tutor.
Working with an italki community tutor requires a certain amount of preparation from you as a student but also gives you more freedom concerning your choice of topics. You are in charge of your learning process and that includes choosing a tutor who really helps you improve. Don’t hesitate to give it a try with another tutor if you’re not happy with your current one. There are plenty of teachers available on italki.
By the way, if you love reading you can also talk about the contents of a book with your tutor.
Happy language learning!