Chinese Tutors Use them the right way

Chinese Tutors: Use Them the Right Way

Tutors are not essential when you are starting out, but you will eventually want to work with them. However, there are a lot of misconceptions about Chinese tutors that need clearing up before you end up wasting your time and money. Let’s first understand what a tutor is for. 

For ‘Activating’ Passive Vocabulary 

Although speaking and writing are predominantly products of input, they still need to be practiced separately and extensively if you want to produce the language with fluency and accuracy. 

Go into a session and try to have meaningful and exciting conversations using the words you’ve been learning through listening and reading. Push your limits of what you know and ask a lot of questions about how to use any unfamiliar words. 

Note: Activating vocabulary takes far less time than accumulating passive vocabulary, so the period of activation feels like rapid progress and is absolutely thrilling. 

If you want to learn more about passive and active vocabulary acquisition read this post.

Use Chinese Tutors for Pointing Out Mistakes 

The biggest strength of native teachers is their highly attuned sense of the Chinese created by countless hours of immersion in the language. They can tell when something is wrong instantly, just as you can for English. 

More importantly, they can offer example sentences for how to use words correctly. Don’t bother asking “why” something is right or wrong, though. If you do, you are likely to get no answer or a made-up one.

Throughout your session, your Chinese tutor should be making notes on anything you need to improve, without constantly interrupting the flow of the conversation. Once the conversation has either concluded or hit a dead-end, the tutor can go through them with you and do supervised practice to fix any recurring issues.

Don’t feel bad about making mistakes, but don’t try and make up how a word or phrase is used if you don’t already know. If you do this too much, your mistakes could turn into bad habits, and you really don’t want that. Just ask (using Mandarin) when you don’t know how to say something.

To Provide Encouragement 

Genuine encouragement is when a Chinese tutor notices where you’ve improved and tells you at the appropriate time. It is not barking the words “真棒! zhēn bàng” (“Great job”) over and over again. During your first few classes, try to notice how your tutor corrects you. 

To Find Level-Appropriate and Engaging Content 

Most Chinese tutors won’t do this for you without a direct request. When you do ask for resources, they usually have a lot of recommendations, and they are more adept at navigating the Chinese internet. Use them for these valuable resources. 

How to Structure Your Classes

You have to take the reins if you want the most bang for your buck. Figure out a kind of lesson structure that suits your goals and personality. Here are some ideas for structuring a fun class: 

Pick a bunch of words you are learning and try them out. 

Choose a topic that excites you and discuss it in as much depth as you can. 

Discuss an article, comic, or tv episode you saw recently. 

Make a list of questions. Check out Tandem’s random question generator for ideas.

Set Ground Rules & Maintain Control 

Consistency is essential, so be sure to work with the tutor to create a lesson style that makes you look forward to every session. 

Discuss what kind of classes you want to have before you start your first session, and make sure they are on board with doing the sessions your way. The right Chinese tutor listens to what you want and is flexible.

Have Your Chinese Tutor Take Detailed Notes 

In tutoring sessions, ask your tutor to write down all of your mistakes and send you a report afterward. Doing this also allows them to notice repeated mistakes to work on with you in class. High-rated Chinese tutors on iTalki will often send you a file with things to work on, along with all questions and new words/phrases discussed in the lesson.

Start Slow 

Once you have decided to start using a tutor, start slow. One or two 45-minute sessions per week should be enough to make significant progress, providing you are also consuming listening and reading content daily. 

Choose Chinese Tutors with Great English 

Any decent tutor will avoid giving you English explanations in class, or at least save the use of English as a last resort. 

The reason you want a Chinese tutor with excellent English is that when a tutor speaks English very well, it shows they understand how to acquire a language. They may be able to offer you advice and resources that other tutors can’t. 

Save Questions on Language Learning for Language Learners 

Try to avoid asking native speakers questions about how to learn Mandarin. You are unlikely to get any useful information. 

Language learning itself is a skill, so it makes sense to ask non-natives who have acquired the language successfully or native speakers who speak other languages well. 

Asking a random native speaker how to become fluent in Chinese is as fruitless as asking a person born into wealth how to become rich. 

If you have specific questions about the Mandarin language like how to use a particular grammar structure or how to write a character, that’s fine. On the other hand, if you ask a native speaker questions like “How should I increase my vocabulary,” the advice you will receive is probably at best useless, at worst harmful. You will rarely get the honest answer of “I don’t know.” 

Where to Find Quality Chinese Tutors 

The best overall platform for finding high-quality online tutors (both paid and free) is probably iTalki, but you should check out the resources section at the end of this book for more. Whichever service you choose, consider these points: 

1) Choose a platform with a rating system and a Chinese tutor with high ratings. 

2) The platform should offer some kind of free trial before you make any financial commitment. 

3) Make sure the tutors are open to learning your way. You won’t be using a textbook, and this can make some less adept at improvising rather uncomfortable. 

I prefer to see a quality paid tutor online for regular practice, but setting up free language exchanges on Hellotalk or Tandem can also work very well.

However, going this route does take more effort to maintain, and you sacrifice a portion of control over how your sessions will go. It all comes down to personal choice, so it’s probably best to try both paid and unpaid Chinese tutors a few times and see what works for you.