Newsletter # 3 – my experiences with an on-line tutor

Beware of on-line language teachers!  Just because they are native speakers does NOT mean they know the best way to help a student acquire a language!

Hey there, fellow English language coaches, teachers, tutors and ‘language parents’!

Do you teach in a brick and mortar setting or on-line?

The reason I ask is because I want to share with you my experiences with on-line language tutors.  I’ve taught French for 27 years and English as a Second Language for a year and a half. So you could say I have a LOT of experience helping others acquire a second language. But what has influenced my teaching significantly in the last 15 months is my own experience acquiring Spanish.  

I had dabbled in Spanish for 20 years because when I would take part in trainings on how to teach L2 (a second language) via storytelling or with comprehensible input, examples in workshops often were in Spanish.  So I was exposed to a few hours here and there. But I started in earnest June 1, 2018, devoting at least 1 hour a day to watching YouTube videos in Spanish with Pablo of Dreaming Spanish as well as viewing cartoons. I also found several podcasts that were over my head, but I listened to them anyway, trying to catch the overall meaning. have kept listening to podcasts daily.

Today, after 445 hours of listening, watching and reading in Spanish I can say for sure that my comprehension has skyrocketed!  But my speaking is still problematic. I feel like I’m a mess at many structures. My biggest confusion is how to say ‘I was’ in Spanish – there is ‘era/fue/estaba/estuvo’ and they are all jumbled up in my mind. 

But I KNOW that given enough input, they will sort themselves out!

In April, I read of a Columbian gal who was offering Skype lessons at a very good rate of $10 per 30 minutes. So I decided to give online lessons a try.  After my first session, I knew that if I was going to benefit, I would have to guide her how BEST to work with me. I wrote her a frank email spelling out in simple English that:

  • Trying to get me to speak wasn’t helpful. That it was counterproductive because I felt pressured and experienced what a mess my speaking was.
  • That speaking to me SLOWLY and talking to me about HER life would grow my comprehension.

She graciously responded and the 2nd session WAS better.

But over time, she slipped right back into what was natural for her, correcting me and trying to get me to produce the language. 

I SHOULD HAVE told her that correcting me explicitly was a waste of her time.

In the past 3-4 months, I have spent eleven 30-minute blocks of time with her.  Each week I found myself getting a bit nervous and not really looking forward to these scheduled classes.

What was positive was that I learned something about her life as a single mom in Bogotá, Columbia and am grateful for that.

But yesterday, after my last paid-up class, I told her I wouldn’t be continuing with her….. for now. I couldn’t bring myself to say, “FOREVER!”

Now for the good news!Last week I was gifted with a free Spanish lesson with Alice Ayel.  I’ve known Alice for several years because of her French videos that I used with my students.  She is a professional storyteller! So I felt confident in turning to her for help.

Alice MORE than met my hopes.  And in my recent video about the pleasure of being told a story with no pressure to respond, I share my experience being told a fairy tale by her.

After that class, I happily paid for and scheduled ten hour-long lessons with her for the next 10 weeks.  

So, what about you and your experience as a second-language learner? Are you currently acquiring another language?  I do believe that working on a language yourself will make you a better teacher. At the very least you will be MORE empathetic with your students. And you’ll be less likely to feel discouraged as their coach.  It takes HOURS upon HOURS of hearing with understanding to pick up a language. We can’t force the brain to go any faster. Humility is a quality worth developing in both teacher and learner!

In case you missed my two recent stories, I published one on Betsy Ross.  Leading up to Independence Day (4 July 2019) there was some politically correct brouhaha about Nike shoes and Betsy Ross. So I thought our students might be curious to learn who this significant 18th-century American woman was.  My second story last week was a retelling of a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Happy story-telling.  And please pass on my videos to teachers and learners alike.  My passion is primarily to help you, the English language teacher. have materials AND FEEL confident about how to teach, how to help your learners learn English effectively with joy.


Maria, your fellow language learner AND ESL coach


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