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Speaking Practice on italki - Avoid these pitfalls

This is the last article about having German or other language lessons with italki teachers and tutors and making the most out of them. 

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:  

  1. Improve your German on italki
  2. How to work efficiently with a community tutor
  3. Working with multiple teachers
  4. How to afford professional teachers when you’re on a budget
  5. Advantages and disadvantages of structured lessons
  6. Speaking practice – Avoid these pitfalls

In this article, we’ll discuss the pitfalls you may encounter if you decide to use italki just for speaking practice and tell you how you can avoid them and make the most of your lessons. 

1. I always end up talking about the same topic

We all enjoy talking about things we are interested in and there’s nothing wrong about it. However, if you’re an intermediate or advanced student who would like to increase their active vocabulary, you need to prepare at least mentally for your lesson. Otherwise, you run the risk to spend another lesson doing small talk, tell your tutor about favourite hobby or discuss the same topic for the 10th time. This may be okay for some people but if you feel frustrated because you don’t see any progress by doing this, it’s time to take action. 

If you book speaking practice lessons without materials you are responsible for the content of the lesson. That means you need to prepare. This can be simply a mental preparation by choosing a topic you would like to talk about. Or you prepare by reading a text, watching a video or listening to a podcast to make yourself familiar with a topic and perhaps write down some key vocabulary you would like to use during the lesson. 

You will gain most from your lesson if you review the new vocabulary used in class afterwards. 

2. My tutor is a great person but doesn't behave like a teacher

I’ve sometimes had problems with professional teachers who were so professional that there was no personal connection at all. This may not be a problem for you, depending on your personality. However, I prefer to have a good personal relationship with my tutors. Unfortunately, the result is sometimes they don’t behave like tutors anymore. It happened to me with quite a few Latin American tutors. We had great conversations but many tutors didn’t correct me and didn’t help me to find a word I was looking for. This is more likely to happen when you already speak the language well, of course. 

The solution is simple: If you would like to continue with a particular tutor, you need to tell him or her what you expect. Or you change the tutor if you prefer a fresh new start. 

As a teacher, I’ve already fallen into the trap, too. Especially with students I know well and I have a lot in common with. Working with a GoogleDoc that we use for new words and corrections helps because I’d find it embarrassing to end the lesson without having written any single word on the GoogleDoc. So, as a student, you may need to encourage your tutor to use GoogleDocs, not all are familiar with them. 

3. My tutor corrected so much that I'm totally confused now

This is a pitfall that mainly effects beginners. Your tutor means well and writes down a lot of new words for you, explains grammatical details and you end up feeling totally overwhelmed. If you end a 30-minutes with three pages of corrections, new words and other notes, don’t even try to learn everything. Instead, it makes more sense to ignore many of the corrections and focus on reviewing and memorizing a few things that are really important and that you are very likely to use again in one of the next lessons. Don’t worry if you think that all information your tutor gave you is important. Yes, it’s probably true but your tutor will then give you the same information again in another lesson. Don’t feel bad about making the same mistake several times. If your tutor is nice (and you should only work with nice tutors, of course) he or she won’t mind to correct and explain the same thing several times. After a while, it will stick although you didn’t really study it. That’s also the magic about language learning with speaking practice. 

4. I have regular lessons but my grammar doesn't improve

When you notice that your grammar doesn’t improve you have already made the first step to solve that problem. Just by speaking, your grammar won’t improve much or just very slowly. Does your tutor correct you? Pay special attention to those corrections if they involve grammar and review them. If you don’t understand the correction don’t be shy, ask your tutor. Some people learn grammar well by being exposed to the language a lot. If that’s you, then the solution is  to read and listen a lot. Reading is something you can do on your own. How many of our books have you already read? German is a language with big differences between spoken and written language. Read this article to find out how to improve grammatical concepts that are used almost exclusively in written German. 

When you have lessons, listen carefully when your tutor speaks. Ask your tutor questions to hear how he or she uses the language. Many students are so keen to speak themselves that they don’t see the minutes when their teacher talks as an opportunity to practice their listening comprehension and pay special attention to the grammar. 

Last but not least, take a look at a grammar book and memorize some rules. Especially for beginners, this is often the easiest way to learn grammar. 

When I read a text with my Hungarian teacher, she often asks me to pick one or two grammatical structures that I find difficult to understand and then we have a closer look at them and I try to use them in my own sentences. It’s totally okay to practice the same grammar several times, by the way. 

5. My tutor talks too much

In the last paragraph, I recommended to spend more time listening to your tutor. But what if you encounter a tutor who doesn’t stop talking or tries to explain you things you already know? Unfortunately, these people exist. In my experience, they are often extroverts who don’t even notice what’s happening. If you’re an extrovert yourself and if you already speak the language at least at an intermediate level, you may get along well with such a tutor. It may even feel like a natural discussion for you. For introverts who take their time before they say something, such a tutor is often a nightmare. If you would nevertheless like to continue with that tutor, tell him or her directly that you want to speak more. A good ratio in a speaking practice lesson is 70:30. You speak about 70% of the time and the tutor speaks about 30% of the time. If the situation is too stressful for you, change the tutor. For German and all other major languages, there are plenty of tutors available. 

6. I'm just a beginner and speaking practice is stressful for me

Conclusion

If you find speaking practice stressful, my first question is: How long are your lessons? If you booked lessons that last 45 or 60 minutes, change to 30 minutes. Still stressful? Then, you have three options: 

1. Prepare well for your lesson. Look at grammar rules and write down vocabulary you would like to use. Tell your teacher exactly what you’d like to practice. Take the lead. 

2. Stop taking lessons and spend some more time studying on your own. Book your next lesson when you feel confident that you have more vocabulary and grammar under your belt now. 

3. Book structured lessons with a professional teacher and let the teacher take the lead. 

You may even switch among those options. What works well for us today may be the worst option next month. Be flexible but don’t give up and work on your target language every day, even if it’s just for five minutes. 

Hope that the tips above will help you to make the most of your speaking practice lessons. 

If you don’t have an italki account yet, use this link to sign up and receive USD 10 in italki credits. 

Happy language learning!

Daniela is a native German speaker who has taught the language online since 2012. She speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese and some Hungarian. Currently, she's residing in Peru but maintains a traveling lifestyle as a digital nomad. In March 2020, she published her first book "Deutsch online unterrichten" for aspiring online German teachers and is now concentrating on writing fiction for German learners while pursuing some other small projects.

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