Tutors are great – they helped me go from college-level Chinese to working professionally in China in Chinese. But just having a tutor is not enough, and intermediate and advanced learners have different needs than beginners – are you making the most out of your time with your tutor? Here are 10 tips on how to learn more effectively with your Chinese tutor. (Disclaimer: This is for ADVANCED learners who already have a strong foundation and great pronunciation – if you’re still a beginner, stay tuned for our upcoming post tailored for beginners.)
1) Speed, energy, and urgency
You will learn more when you both speak faster and with a sense of urgency. There should not be lulls in the conversation where you are both staring at each other. Instead, you should almost be cutting each other off because you have too much to say. Part of this is because of quantity (you will fit more into your session) and part of this is because of quality (you will have more energy for the session).
2) It’s about you – you need to talk
You should be speaking most of the time (70 – 80%?), and at a rapid pace (it should feel like an hour long sprint). You can master new words and phrases only by using them yourself. Also, this creates opportunities for you to screw up, which creates opportunities for feedback and improvement. And when you get stuck, ask your language tutor to play the role of thesaurus and quickly list some words that you can use.
3) Challenge and push your tutor for feedback
If you’re talking a lot and your tutor is just smiling and agreeing, then something is wrong. Especially if you know you’ve been saying some awkward things. You need to ask constantly:
- did I say anything remotely wrong or awkward?
- is there a better way to say this?
- is there a word that’s related to this that I should know but probably don’t?
This is where the tutor adds the most value and is absolutely critical.
4) Don’t gloss over mistakes
Actively seek out mistakes as opportunities to improve. When you know that you’ve made a mistake or even said something in an awkward way, instead of driving right past it, address it head on. Find the right answer and start using it right away. Those moments are where you can learn the fastest. Once you stop making mistakes, you stop improving.
5) Talk about what interests you
For you to be spending so much time talking, and to withstand so much (constructive) criticism, you need to be talking about topics that interest you. And in any case, you want to learn words that you’ll be using frequently anyway.
6) Talk about topics that challenge your Chinese level
At the same time, it’s critical that you talk about topics that will force you to learn new vocabulary. Avoid topics that you already know like the weather or what you had for lunch (unless that is a new area for you).
7) Collect new words and play with them like toys
The best way to master new words is to actively collect them and to test them out. Jump up the learning curve by playing around with the word and understanding its boundaries and limits. Without your tutor, you’d have to do it in the real world, which would take more time and be more awkward.
8 ) Align early on the fact that the tutoring session is not a normal conversation
When you begin talking fast, interrupting each other, talking about unusual topics, and using new words over and over, it could misinterpreted as strange or even rude. Make a point to align early with your tutor and explain to them why you’re doing what you’re doing. Ask if this approach would work with them. Try to reach the mutual understanding that it’s all about the Chinese.
9) Get multiple tutors
If you have just one tutor, you will tire them out as you treat them like a thesaurus and constantly ask for feedback. Also, you will not get exposed to a wider variety of Chinese. At my high point, I had 5 tutors and on some days I would meet all of them. Do yourself a favor and get multiple tutors.
10) Rinse and repeat
Meet your tutors consistently, and make sure you review past words! At first they might see you strangely, but pretty soon you will again have 默契!
Your tutor is the person who knows the Chinese, but this doesn’t mean that you have to take a passive role to learning with them. Help them teach you by actively applying the tips above!
Everyone learns differently, but we hope some of these tips can be helpful to you too!
Over to you! Any thoughts, comments, or tips that you’d like to share?
P.S. Like this post? Check out our other Chinese learning tips!
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