How can I maximise my success rate on free trial sessions?
The advice below is based on interviews with tutors who have a success rate from trial sessions that is significantly above the average.
In this article, you will sometimes see ‘(Spanish)’. If you’re teaching a different language, where (Spanish) is used, replace Spanish with the language you’re teaching.
First: which language should you use?
We recommend using your language - rather than English - as much as possible to maximise learning. But during a trial session you also need to develop a rapport and ensure that the student feels comfortable. Therefore, you need to be careful how much you speak in English versus how much you speak in your language. Students’ expectations vary a lot. Some will complain that their tutor spoke too much English, whilst others may say it was too difficult because the tutor did not speak English enough!
Consider the student’s level. If it is low, you will need to speak some English. It’s better to speak in English first to ensure they feel comfortable before challenging them to speak your language.
If they have a higher level, you should be able to speak more in your language, but don’t take it for granted that they understand you. Speak slowly, watching them and asking them if they understand. At the start, you may also want to ask, “Would you like to speak some (Spanish) straight away, or would you like to do introductions in English?” If they want to start in English, you could still translate into your language (typing in the calling software) so they're learning a little whilst not feeling overwhelmed.
The trial should include the following stages:
- Get to know the student (5-10 minutes)
- Do a practice exercise (10-20 minutes)
- Explain roughly how you would teach them (2-5 minutes)
- Questions & finishing up (5 mins)
Now let’s break these stages down in more detail.
Stage 1: Get to know the student (5-10 mins)
This is an important step because when you are meeting someone online and you’re in an occasionally embarrassing position of trying to speak a foreign language, you need to trust them and feel comfortable around them.
As well as making them feel comfortable, you're also aiming to develop a rapport with them and learn things that will help you customise the lessons.
At this stage, you may wish to clarify the objectives of the session. For example, “So before we get started, just to let you know that the goal of this session is for us to get to know each other a little bit and also, to give you a sense of what it would be like to take lessons with me.”
Next, consider asking these questions:
- “So why do you want to learn (Spanish)?”
- “Do you have a preferred way of learning, or is there anything you particularly want to improve?” This is an important ‘double question’ because they may have a fixed idea of how or what they want to learn, and if what you propose is very different to this, they may not take lessons with you. For example, some students prefer learning via unstructured conversation, whereas others prefer to have lots of structure using different exercises.
- “If you decide to take lessons, we can focus them on your interests and hobbies. So please could you tell me, what are you interested in and what do you like doing?”
Be enthusiastic and show an interest in them. As they answer your questions, you may want to take notes or write in the chat what they're saying in your language and get them to repeat it.
Other useful conversation starters include asking if they've ever been to a country where your language is spoken, as well as asking whether they know any other languages.
Now let’s move on to…
Stage 2: Do a practice exercise (10-20 mins)
This stage should give them an idea of what it would be like to take lessons with you. You should aim to use an exercise that is:
- Tailored to the student. You may want to have a few different exercises ready that you can quickly choose from based on the information they’ve given you. You'll already know a little about their level, motivation and age from the booking form details. For example, if it says that they’re learning for travelling, you could use a dialogue for booking a hotel. If it’s for business, you could use business related content. If they want to improve their reading skills, get them to read a text out loud, etc.
- Simple. You need to to avoid confusion. For students with a beginner or basic level, go very slowly as it's easy for them to get lost. You may think you are speaking slowly, but it may still not be slow enough for them. Explain the exercise before you start it and make it clear what the student should do.
- Fun - this will make them want to see you again!
You may need to experiment with different exercises to see what works best. For beginner and basic levels students, the most successful tutors often use a simple conversation exercise. Whilst it may feel like a casual conversation, there should be a structure behind it! This means having a list of questions and following a pattern of repetition to reinforce the learning. Below is an example based on a tutor teaching French to a beginner. The words in brackets are just to help you understand what the sentences mean if you don't speak French.
Tutor: OK so now we’re going to do a short exercise. You’re going to learn how to introduce yourself. So let’s begin...“Comment vous appelez-vous?” (What is your name?)
Tutor: So you’d say “Je m’appelle Jane”, can you repeat? (tutor speaks slowly to show the pronunciation)
Student: Je m’appelle Jane
Tutor: Perfect pronunciation! Can you ask me the question I asked you? (Pause due to student not knowing) I’ve written it in the chat if you need to look.
Student: Comment vous appelez-vous?
Tutor: Bravo. Moi, je m’appelle Leyla. “Quel âge avez-vous?” (How old are you)
Tutor: Can you say that in French? Don’t worry about making mistakes - the more mistakes you make, the faster you’ll learn.
Tutor: Super! So you know more than you think. Repeat after me: “Vingt-huit”. Notice that the ‘t’ isn’t pronounced.
Student: Vingt huit
Tutor: Parfait. Can you ask me the same question?
Student: Quel âge avez-vous?
Tutor: Moi, je suis vieille, j’ai quarante-neuf ans. Do you know how old that is?
Tutor: So close! 49. Notice I used “j’ai quarante-neuf ans”, which literally means “I have 49 years”. In case you weren’t aware, when we talk about our age we say “j’ai quarante-neuf ans”, rather than “je suis quarante-neuf ans”, which means I am 49 years old. A slight difference from English there.
Once you have gone through three or four questions, start from the beginning and see if they can complete the dialogue with you, helping them when necessary. If you wait until you’ve asked lots of questions and ask them to go through everything, it will often be too much to remember. You can then add further questions, such as:
Where do you live? What do you do for work? What is your nationality? What are your hobbies?
When beginners are able to complete a dialogue, they feel so satisfied!
As you go along, you should write each phrase in the chat. There are three reasons for writing notes: 1) many students find it useful to be able to see how words are spelled, 2) they can use the notes if they are stuck, and 3) they can review the notes after the lesson.
If you're slow at typing and you follow a dialogue script, you can save time by pasting the script into the chat tool with the translations. Whilst sometimes it might be OK not to write the English translation, generally it is appreciated as without it the student won’t have it for reference when they revise. The clearest way to do this is to type the word in your language followed by = and then give the translation.
Note in the dialogue above that the tutor is always encouraging and helping the student. Avoid using the word ‘no’, or ‘that’s not right’. Certain people will feel discouraged if they receive negative feedback because they're nervous about speaking a foreign language.
A quick point on grammar: some tutors are keen to teach grammar during the session. In our opinion, it is usually not a good idea to talk about grammar at this point. It is easy to confuse the student, plus grammar is not so much fun and you don’t have enough time to explain it fully. Don't start talking about different tenses/cases using linguistic terms like ‘infinitive’, ‘akkusativ’, ‘dativ’ etc. Most students don’t even know what these terms mean, so explain them in a later session!
The above example given was for complete beginner students. If the student has a basic, intermediate or advanced level, you can still use a conversation exercise. But the higher the level, the more complex you can make it, and the more unstructured the conversation can be. Or you can use other exercises. This may be a good idea if they have highlighted a particular interest on their form.
Finally, if they ask you a difficult grammar question that you find hard to answer, just say: “I know this rule but I haven’t explained it before, so rather than confuse you I will find a clear explanation and we can go through it if you decide to take lessons with me”. This is better than getting stuck, which may seem unprofessional.
Stage 3: Explain roughly how you would teach them (2-5 mins)
Students want to know what they would be paying for, so this stage is key. You should base your explanation on the information you know about them - their level, goals, learning preferences and interests.
Here's an example. Let’s say your student is a complete beginner, their motivation is to learn for travelling, they are interested in sports, and they’ve said they prefer to learn in quite an unstructured, creative way. You might say: “OK, so I should probably explain how lessons will work if you decide to take them with me. Because you’re a complete beginner, we will take things slowly at the start and focus on learning the basics. I’ll teach you basic vocabulary and grammar through having conversations and using some simple and fun exercises. Then as you improve we can focus on some topics that are relevant and interesting to you, such as sport and travelling. This way you'll be encouraged to use the language outside of the lessons, and studies show you will actually memorise it better. Is there anything else you’re looking for from the lessons? Feel free to give me suggestions or feedback at any point.”
Some tutors like to actually show students an example of the resources they plan to use. If you do this, make sure you have it ready on your computer rather than spending time looking for it.
Stage 4: Questions & finishing up (5 mins)
During the exercise, keep track of the time - it's important to save five minutes to cover any questions the student may have.
Make sure you're familiar with how LanguaTalk works so that you can answer their questions.
If they go blank and don’t have any questions, tell them they are free to send you an email. You may want to give them your private email address at this point.
After answering their questions, don’t rush to get off the call as this may leave a bad impression. One high performing tutor we know always finishes with "espero verte pronto" (I hope to see you soon). Like this, the student is speaking the language until the very end. Try it in your language!
We've now covered all the recommended stages of the trial session. Follow the advice and you'll give yourself the best possible chance of success!
Lastly, below are some general tips:
- You are going to be their tutor so take the lead in the conversation and be confident. One very experienced tutor made this point - you need to take control of the session so that the student thinks: "Alright! This tutor sounds like she knows what she is doing and what has worked for other students. She is taking into account my suggestions but she won’t ask me to "lead the class" however I want. So as long as I stay on track with the classes I feel I could actually learn under her guidance".
- As soon as you start teaching them, (assuming you are not using Google Docs instead), check that they have opened the chat window and help them if they don’t know where the button is (some students may not have used the calling software before). Even during lessons, many students will forget to open this chat window unless you remind them.
- Studies show that first impressions count and that body language is an important factor. When the call goes live, be warm and friendly. Smile and talk in a friendly tone of voice.
- Consider your position in front of your webcam. Ideally you should be at such a distance that they can see your shoulders and your hands (allowing you to use gestures). Your head should be at roughly the same height as the screen - looking down at the screen is not good!
- Try to avoid background noise as this can be distracting, and use a space that is light and away from other people. Find the spot that has the best internet connection in your building so you can avoid connectivity problems.
- Dress reasonably smartly. If you are a guy, consider wearing a shirt. A more professional image can only help you.
- Give the student a first piece of homework in order to motivate them and get them in the mindset that they are going to study with you.
- Very occasionally you may have students who are sceptical, slightly impolite or difficult. In such situations, try to stay professional and polite. If they're rude, let support know you don’t want to teach them and we will assist.