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Here’s How I Finally Master French (and Other Foreign Language): Tutoring

One of my life dream is to continue my post-graduate study in France. I have been obsessed with researching information about the opportunity to go there since my early year of university, and found quite a shockingly pleasant surprise: having the ability to speak (and listen and read and write, of course) French opens more door of the universities. Also, there are opportunities for scholarship as well.

So, I started to learn French. Because I was a typical broke college student back then, I studied on my own. I downloaded many free materials from the internet for free. I joined forums for people who is currently studying French. I tried to study at night, after doing my homework. Of course, I tried it means I often didn’t get to actually do it.

Fast-forward to one year later and all I could say was, I tried.

Why studying French alone didn’t work for me?

I actually listed some reasons why it didn’t work and came up with decent excuses.

First, my time management sucked. As college student, I was constantly buried under a pile of textbooks, journals, lecturers’ note, and homework. Don’t ask how it was during exam. I simply had no time for French, despite having allocating time slot for it before (after studying). French was my umpteenth priority. Often, I finished doing my workload of the day by 1 PM, and who in the world want to study French at 1 PM, especially after a rough session of homework?

Second, free materials can only get me so far. I had everything for free: from textbook to dictionary to workbook. I even had audio recording of some listening practice. However, for someone who knew absolutely nothing about French, it took me forever to understand the grammar and memorizing vocabulary. I could never complete my workbook because I would stuck at a section, and having nobody to ask or consult, I turned to internet for explanation. Some people in foreign-language forum were kind enough to help me, but they usually responded slowly, and by the time they did, I had already forgotten what I was even asking about.

Three, I was never sure if I pronounce and speak French correctly. There was simply nobody to respond. I listened to my French audio-tape and try to repeat the pronunciation, but if I said it wrong, there wasn’t anybody to correct me. Some of my friends suggested web-camming with native speaker, but I never got around to do that because: 1) I didn’t know where to get native speaker that would agree to correct a stranger’s pronunciation over internet, and 2) I wasn’t sure of the quality of my microphone and speaker. I could say something completely wrong and the other person would just attribute it to bad speaker or bad connection and said I did good, or vice versa.

What’s different when I started hiring tutor?

Knowing that I was hopeless at studying on my own, I finally decided to ask for help. This time, paid help, because I couldn’t find anybody who would want to spend four to five hours a week teaching me French for free.

I had two options: joining language class or hiring tutor. At first, I was partial to language class, because I think it would be fun meeting other people who have the same goal and learning with them together.

However, that bias soon disappeared when I found that the language class charged me higher than a private tutor did. I forgot the exact fee, but I remembered there was $5 difference for every session. That was a significant number for college student.
So, I ended up hiring a private tutor from local tution agency, SmileTutor to teach me twice a week. Before hiring, I screened all the available tutor in local tutor-finding website until I get a few that matched my criteria – location-wise and fee-wise. From those few, I conducted flash background check until I got the one that was the best.

And here’s why it was one of the best decision I’ve ever made.

1. Tutoring helped me manage my study time better. Since I paid for the tutoring, I had another motivation to learn French. I had to study seriously, and had to attend the session on time. Because it was pretty impossible to get tutored at 1 PM, I got to allocate time for studying French during afternoon or early night. During that time, I usually wasn’t too beat up yet from doing self-study and homework, and therefore my brain could soak up all the information easier, like a brand new sponge.

2. Now, there is someone who can explain all the grammar in a way that I can understand. It sure was improvement from one-way studying I used to do. If I encountered difficult concept in the module or textbook during the session, I have someone who would be able to explain it to me right away. Even outside of the session, my tutor was kind enough to answer questions I sent via text or email. The best thing is, I didn’t have to wait for a week for a reply, unlike in internet forum.

3. My favorite part of tutoring is the opportunity to speak up. My tutor was a great tutor, and he let me speak or talk for the majority of our session – as long as I use French. He would listen and whenever he caught wrong pronunciation, wrong word, or wrong expression, he would correct me right away. He also spoke French to me during session, so I got used to listening the language. It’s worth to notice that this way, I could get used to normal conversation in French instead of formal, obviously-from-French-learning-textbook conversation such as greetings, asking the weather, and asking direction like what I got from those French audio tape.

4. I could set the pace of studying. I didn’t have to slow my progress down or catch up until I couldn’t breather to match the progress of my peers, like what would probably happen if I join language class. During private tutoring, I could ask my tutor to slow down and explain that concept one more time without worrying whether I was slowing down the whole class or not.

For some people, studying alone is enough and is as effective as asking help. However, for people like me, who have trouble studying alone, hiring private tutor is actually really helping us reaching our goals, even if I have to pay for it.
What language are you learning now? Are you studying alone, joining class, or hiring private tutor?

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