Virtual Language Lessons – Yes or No

With busy schedules and crazy rush hour traffic, going outside of the home for language lessons can be challenging. Instead of giving up completely, many are turning to online tutoring as a viable and affordable option.

But, how do you choose a reputable and engaging tutor, let alone an online one? It can be a bit tricky but here are the top five questions to ask yourself before giving it a try.

1. Will your child’s temperament and learning style work well with an online format?

Think back to those boring days you may have spent in a lecture hall or, even worse, having to watch a video that just isn’t all that appealing. It can be a dreadful experience! This is not to say that online tutoring is this bad, but if your child is a kinesthetic learner and needs to be up and moving, then doing an online session may not be ideal. Plus, if your child is under the age of 8, their attention span may not accommodate long stretches of sitting in front of a computer. I’m sure there are some dynamite online tutors who encourage their students to get up and dance to music or engage them in other activities, but remember – it is online, so there is no personal interaction. Therefore, the fun and exciting things you may be able to do in a class or in a home tutoring session may be a bit tricky online.

Children on Computer2. Do you have a quiet space and time for the lesson?

As an academic tutor myself, I’ve had to do a few impromptu online sessions when I was unable to get to my students. You’d be surprised how “noisy” your house is when it comes time to do something that requires the entire house (including the dog) to be quiet. Just as you would provide a quiet space for an in-home tutor, you have to be able to do the same for an online tutor. Since distractions are plentiful, having a dedicated space for your child to interact with the tutor and not be disrupted by rustling in the kitchen or other common household noises is key! For my son, I have sectioned off most of my basement as a classroom for him. This is one of the quietest places in the house and even if we are walking about upstairs, the carpet dampens our footsteps. Plus, it is always set up for learning (no toys in sight!), so I don’t need lots of time to get him ready for a session.

3. How long should the sessions be?

Keep in mind that it may be harder for younger children to focus in an online setting. So, either planning for shorter sessions of no more than 30 minutes, or allowing for frequent breaks may work best. I’ve heard of some online tutors that do fingerplays and read stories over the internet to the child and this helps to keep them engaged. Others may send materials to you ahead of time, have you print them, and give the child time to color or interact with the materials they have in front of them, as the tutor explains the lesson. Find out how the lesson will be structured and always build in times to keep the learning fun without expecting your budding linguist to sit for long periods of time.

Child with Headset at Desk4. What track record does the online tutor have with young children?

Ask this question first! Working with preschoolers or even young school age children can be an adventure, especially if you have never done it before. Add in the virtual component and it can be even more difficult. Always find tutors that have experience both working with children your child’s age and at your child’s language level. For example, a tutor that is used to teaching children who have exposure to the language may not know the best approaches to teaching a child who comes from a English-speaking environment and knows very little about the target language. Whenever possible, ask to speak with parents who have used their services before. This can be a great gauge of how well the tutor is received by other families and some general pros and cons of their teaching style.

5. Are you willing to put in time for homework?

There has been a lot of research comparing online learning and traditional classroom learning. Some researchers have found that online learning can be as effective as conventional methods, while others say that the in-person component to learning is essential. So, the verdict is still out on which is better. But, one thing is true, online learning often comes with more distractions, especially for young children. For example, what your child may grasp in three in-person lessons, may take five online sessions. The key to the success in these lessons, or any lesson for that matter, is practice and reinforcement. You have to be willing to put forth the effort to practice the skills the tutor introduces in their virtual sessions and find creative ways to bring the language to life. If you are time crunched (which we all are) or find that “homework” time with your child is like World War III, then online tutoring may not be the most productive channel.

As technology expands and the cost to do online tutoring decreases, this may become a great option, especially for hard-to-find languages. Try online tutoring out, let us know how it goes and share what you did to make it work for your little one!

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