Language Tutor for a Preschooler – Is it Worth It?

Let’s say you’re already sold on the idea of raising your child bilingual. That’s a great first step, but here comes the second and, perhaps, most important step in this endeavor: Hiring a language tutor for your child.

Here is where you might try fighting off the idea by saying: “my kid is too young for a tutor.” Well, unless your child is less than one-year-old, you might want to rethink that statement.

I started hiring Chinese tutors for her son when he was only one year old! Yes, I know you may think I’m crazy. But, as a tutor myself, I know just how rewarding this can be. I’m not talking sit down, do homework, lecture-type situation – after all he’s 1, right?

I found the keys to a successful tutoring experience all rested on finding the right fit.Someone fun, energetic, young – think an older cousin persona.
Kids are not much different from us in terms of what they find entertaining and engaging. Going along those lines, it should be fair to say that when most people hear the word tutor, they sink in their chairs and frown without even realizing it. That’s because a lot of people, at some point in their lives, got stuck with a tutor that wasn’t the right fit for them.

Tutor soon became a synonym for the person who kept looking over your shoulder while you worked away on the most boring strands of homework, just to get it corrected and start the cycle of boring all over again.

But guess what?! Not all tutors are like that – and thank goodness. There are very good ones out there, you just have to find them. I’m talking tutors who sing songs, play games, do fingerplays, and a whole lot of cool things to keep your child engaged and entertained while learning a new language.
And yet, finding a person like this sounds hard, right?

In truth, it doesn’t have to be. Good teachers and tutors are spread all around the world and certainly there is a pool to choose from near you. And, to make sure you are hiring a good tutor there are a few questions you have to ask…

Tell me about your experience with teaching kids?

I mentioned before that one of the traits you’ll want to look for in a tutor is being young (not to discriminate against older tutors). But, don’t confuse being young, with a lack of experience. When I first started tutoring, way back in 2007, I was 22 years old. Yes, I was young, but I was still a kick-ass tutor (according to my students, I don’t want to toot my own horn)…

A tutor can be young and experienced. These two characteristics are not mutually exclusive. One way to gauge which side of this balance the tutor you are considering is in is by asking for recommendations. It doesn’t have to be anything too formal as if they were applying to grad school, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to ask for a phone number or even an email to parents whose child that tutor has previously worked with. Those are the people who will be able to give you the best assessment of that tutor’s skill, and most importantly, they can tell you how much working with the tutor has helped their child.
Are you a native speaker?

It goes without saying that this is a crucial point in hiring a tutor. You want someone who is native in the language you want your child to learn. Still, it would also be good to ask about dialects that person knows depending on the chosen language. Not to knock the non-native speakers who are very fluent, but for tonal languages, you really want someone who is native. The goal here is to limit any type of accent.

Take Chinese for example; there are over 200 individual Chinese dialects. Among those hundreds of dialects are the main groups we most commonly learn about that are Mandarin, Wu, Min, and Yue.

So, this step might warrant a little research before meeting a potential tutor to make sure he or she speaks the dialect you want your child to learn.

How will you spend the time with my child? What materials are you going to use?One of the beauties of hiring a tutor is that you won’t have to drive back and forth to a language school for lessons. But, to make sure the tutoring sessions go smoothly, there are a couple of points you’ll want to ask your tutor about beforehand.

First, how do they plan to structure each lesson? And second, what tools or materials they will use and what do you need to have in your home for the lessons.
Getting these out of the way will ensure that you will have everything you need before he or she gets started on the lessons.

And, as a plus, knowing the structure of these lessons will give you a peace of mind and help understand what your child is learning and how he or she is learning!


Always emphasize that the time spent with your child should ONLY be in the target language. This may take some prep on your side to set expectations for your child. The tutor wants to be liked and considered fun – and you want your child to consider the experience fun as well. So, it may be “easier” to speak English, especially If your child is getting confused. But, this is where experience is so important. A good tutor will know how to read your child’s body language and come prepared with at least 3-4 extra activities, if what they have planned is not a hit with your child. With a child under 4 years old, they should not be spending more than 5-8 minutes at a time sitting and the tutor should expect to switch activities at least 5-7 times within the tutoring session to keep the child engaged.

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