Is English Tutoring Right for You?

5063530520_ca4c569efbPeople learn languages in many different ways. Some prefer to study alone with books or software like Duolingo. Some take classes. Others learn informally just by listening.

Tutoring is another option. Tutoring is working with a teacher, just the two of you.

Reasons to Work With A Tutor

  • pronunciation work
  • student is shy
  • to help with homework
  • student knows what s/he wants to learn, doesn’t want a curriculum
  • schedule flexibility

Misunderstandings About Tutoring

Tutoring means working one on one with a teacher. It’s like a class with only one student and no grades.

FALSE: My tutor will fix my writing for me!

TRUE: When I tutor, my goal is building your skills. When you bring in a written report or email draft and ask for help with it, I will read it and note what your three biggest types of errors are. We will review those skills together. Then you will fix those in your paper, with guidance from me as needed.

FALSE: I’m getting a tutor! Showing up for one hour every week will make me fluent in English!

TRUE: Tutoring is not magical. Sitting at the same table as your tutor is not going to make you fluent. This will take time and continued effort. A tutor can help you make the most of your time and effort.


Tutoring is not perfect. Here are the main problems I see with tutoring:

  1. it’s very personal… so the student and tutor must like each other
  2. it’s very intensive… you can’t hide in the back of the classroom if you’re tired!
  3. it’s possibly disorganized… sessions are based on student needs and questions, not a methodical curriculum.
  4. it’s expensive

I try to minimize these drawbacks when I tutor:

  1. (personal) With me, the first lesson is always free. You do not have to hire me! If you don’t like my teaching or personality, I will not be a good tutor for you. Find someone else! 
  2. (intensive) During lessons, we work toward your goals with different activities. For example, in pronunciation work, we don’t just repeat sounds for an hour. I use several methods so that you don’t get bored.
  3. (disorganized) I take notes every session. I record what we’re working on, what’s giving you trouble, what’s going well, and what we might do next time. You and I also refer back to your goals frequently so we stay focused as the months go by.
  4. (expensive) If you can get what you need for free from the county, an app, your college, or your friends, you should do that! An experienced private tutor costs money. Is it worth it? You get to decide!

Good luck achieving your goals!

Listen to Emily read this article here. (A new window will open.)

Photo Credit: San Jose Library on Flickr


Writing Prompt Wednesday


Level 1: Write down 10 adjectives that describe this building. Use a dictionary if you need to!

Level 2: Write down 5-7 questions about this building.

Level 3: Consider this second picture: the view of Seville from this building, the Metropol Parasol. Do you think that this building is an eye sore in an ancient city, or a positive step forward? Write a paragraph explaining your answer.25836246752_a51599bdd7_c

Creative Writing: Write a dialog between two strangers in Seville who start talking at the Metropol Parasol.

Academic Writing: Read a about the Metropol Parasol. Two suggested sources: The Guardian, the artchitect’s website. Write an argumentative essay explaining why the Metropol Parasol should be either celebrated or mourned. Cite your sources!


Photo Credit 1: Kristoffer Trolle on Flickr

Photo Credit 2: Abel Maestro Garcia on Flickr


Writing Prompt Wednesday


Level 1: Use prepositions (above, across, on, in…) to write about this picture.

Level 2: Write 5 – 10 questions about this picture.

Level 3: Write a paragraph describing this picture. Make sure you have a topic sentence and that your description is clearly organized.

Creative Writing: Write one page about this picture from a surprising point of view.

Academic Writing: Write a five-paragraph argumentative essay about whether public infrastructure should (or should not) be named after military personnel. Make sure that one of your paragraphs addresses and refutes a potential counter-argument.

Photo Credit: Maarten Takens on Flickr

Writing Prompt Wednesday


Level 1: What people do you see? What nature do you see? How is the weather?

Level 2: What are they doing? What did they just do? What will they do next?

Level 3: Write a paragraph describing this picture using as many modals as you can. What could they have just finished doing? What might they be doing next?

Creative Writing: Pretend you are the photographer who took this picture. Write a blog post about the experience. Is this your personal blog or your professional blog? What will you write about – setting? subjects? photography details? the experience?

Academic Writing:

  • (science) write an essay describing the effects of mountain ranges on the weather
  • (general) write an essay discussing the pros and cons of living in a cold climate


Photo Credit: Hernan Pinera on Flickr

Pronunciation Tip: Word Stress

57958534_3d8c9b4a2cDid you know that it’s extremely difficult for a native English speaker to pronounce any word without stressing one of the syllables?

Stressing a syllable means that one part of each word gets a bit more time than the others.

Take my name, Emily, for example. Emily has three syllables. The stress is on the first syllable, so the “eh” sound gets just a bit more time than the other two syllables. Saying it any other way sounds like a different word.

Years ago, I asked a student for clarification on how to say his name. I asked which syllable to stress. His answer completely bewildered me: he said it didn’t matter. In English, it always matters!

This is one key to improving your own English pronunciation. Word stress is so natural to us that we struggle to speak without it. If you are speaking without it, we are going to have trouble understanding you. If you are stressing the wrong syllables, communication might still fail.


Listen for word stress. If you’re learning new words or taking notes, don’t just write down the spelling – include the stress. It might be difficult to identify the stress, and that’s OK! Just trying, even if you get it wrong, will get you thinking about it and noticing it.

Listen to Emily read this post. (Vocaroo will open in a new tab)

Photo Credit: Francois Bester on Flickr

Writing Prompt Wednesday


Level 1: What do you see? What is he doing?

Level 2: Write 3-5 sentences about what you see.

Level 3: Do you think it’s a good idea to have exercise equipment at playgrounds? Why or why not? Write a paragraph explaining your answer.

Creative Writing: Pretend that you are this man. Write a journal entry describing his morning walk before, during, and after this picture was taken.

Academic Writing: Write a cause and effect essay on the topic of exercise machines at playgrounds.


Photo Credit: Trepan on Flickr

Throwing The Soap

DSC_0568(This post isn’t really about soap.)

My oldest daughter is almost five, and it’s amazing to watch her learn about the world. She learns quickly and very well. She tries new things, remembers songs we haven’t sung in months, and loves to giggle and have fun.

It’s also amazing to watch how ineffective she is sometimes.

Just today, I heard the water running in the sink. Then I heard her squeal twice. Then I heard a thunk and saw the soap bottle lying on the floor in the hallway.

It had jammed. She got frustrated and threw it.

After she calmed down, we talked about the soap situation.

  1. What was the problem?
  2. Did throwing the soap help fix the problem?
  3. What were three different things she could have done to fix the problem?
  4. Next time, which will she try first?

I have to admit, I don’t approach everything this way. Sometimes I throw the soap. But seeing her do that gives me a clearer perspective. It helps me see when I’m being stubborn or cranky instead of searching for change and growth. Showing her some more constructive strategies helps me choose to be more constructive, too.

Maybe it will help you, too?

So, let’s bring this back to language learning, and over to you:

  • What are your language learning challenges?
  • What do you do when you’re stuck? Do you ever throw the soap?
  • What are a few different strategies you could try in order to overcome your challenges?
  • Which will you try first?

Listen to Emily read this post. (I recorded using It will open in a new tab.)


Photo Credit: Sunisa Ito on Flickr