The Tutor Tutorial: 5 Expert Tips on How to Tutor French

As a French tutor, you’re in a unique position with your students.

You might be their only instructor or you might be a supplemental instructor they work with after class.

Without you, they might not pass French class.

Either way, you’re usually tasked with helping them get through tricky spots.

Maybe they need someone to explain the details and nuances of French grammar, or help mastering a particular conjugation pattern.

But who’s there for you when you need help being a better French tutor?

Today, we’re going to tutor you in French tutoring.

So, go ahead and let us know what’s been tricky for you while tutoring.

Do your tutoring students seem bored, uncomfortable or frustrated?

Perhaps your students love you, but you don’t have enough paying students to make a living tutoring French?

Not sure how to navigate the murky waters of taxes and other paperwork?

We’ve all been there! Tutoring French is an incredibly rewarding experience, but if you don’t have an established network and don’t market your services properly, it may be difficult to live your dreams as a French tutor.

Well, don’t give up. We’ve gone through this and figured out how to do it all—better yet, we’re more than happy to share our accumulated expertise with you so you can tutor French to your full potential.

The Tutor Tutorial: 5 Expert Tips on How to Tutor French

1. Create a Safe Tutoring Environment

Put your students at ease

Give plenty of encouragement. As French tutors, we often forget how self-conscious we ourselves were as beginners or even as more experienced students. However motivated your students may seem, don’t neglect the importance of them getting some gratification from their tutor. Letting them know that they’re on the right track and doing well is simple, but it goes a long way for your learners.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not about complimenting them all the time, especially when going over something they already know—or worse, when they’ve made a mistake. Don’t be disingenuous.

Rather, it’s about telling your students that you notice they’ve made progress, made accurate observations or raised interesting questions that demonstrate that they better understand how the language works.

Encourage questions. Tutoring should be a time for your students to ask you any questions without fear of being judged. Tell them that you’re there for them and that they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for clarification as many times as they need.

It’s important also that your students understand that there are no silly questions. You may sometimes assume that they know something and go too fast for them, especially if you’re not teaching them French from the beginning. You may simply not know what they know or don’t know! Check for comprehension before moving on to any new topic.

Create a pleasant learning environment

It’s particularly important to deliver a comfortable, memorable tutoring experience if you wish to retain your current students, and if you wish to have them spread the word about your services! Your environment will set the tone for the rest of the class and signal to your French learners that this is a sacred space for learning the French language.

If tutoring at your home, be sure that your workspace or tutoring room features plenty of French books and magazines, oversized word billboards, maps in French and French board games. This will have the benefit of stirring curiosity and exposing students to multiple aspects of the French language and its associated cultures. Encourage your students to borrow some of your books, and ask them for their feedback during the next session.

If tutoring outside of your home, using a location such as a library near you, a coffee shop or even a student’s home, you may not be able to recreate this environment, so try to work on tangential elements, such as the documents and worksheets that you bring with you. This will become a part of the learning environment and will radically enhance tutoring sessions.

For example, create and bring your own colorful worksheets, and place them within your very own “tutoring package.” This can be anything from a binder with each student’s name on a handwritten tag to a simple colored folder for each main chapter or lesson covered. On the front page of this folder, you could glue collages of pictures matching the themes of the lesson—the Eiffel Tower and a Paris map if teaching about Paris; bubbles from the Asterix comics and pictures of dolmens from Brittany if teaching about the Gauls or the French’s ancestors.

2. Address French Anxiety

Focus on the similarities between French and English

Given the long, shared linguistic history between French and English, there are many words that your students already know! Don’t wait before introducing your students to real friends—words that sound the same and mean the same thing. These easy-to-learn words will motivate students to stay on track.

The best way to do this is to include at least seven new cognates during each tutoring session. Alternatively, print out and hand out a list of 50 real friends every month. Introduce them to the “annoying false friends” using similar strategies—these French words and their meanings are easier to memorize because they sound like English, even if they mean totally different things.

Introduce them to etymology

Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue française (3e édition) (Dictionnaires Quadrige) (French Edition)

That is, the roots of French words. There’s always a great story behind words, and it will prove incredibly easy for your students to remember words if they understand why they’re composed a certain way.

You may also want to consider investing in the incredibly well-written and informative “Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue française” (Etymology Dictionary of the French Language) by Presses Universitaires de France. When introducing the word during your lesson, start by telling your students the story behind the word and ask them to guess its meaning in English.

Teach some cool mnemonics

This is so they can memorize words and yes, grammar rules, more easily. Add a cultural touch and teach authentic French moyens mnémotechniques (mnemonics). Here are some of our favorites (and clever ones!):

Here are some of our favorites (and clever ones!):

  • Nourrir prend deux “r” car on se nourrit plusieurs fois.  Nourrir (to feed) has two r‘s because we feed multiple times.
  • Mourir prend un “r” car on meurt une seule fois. — Mourir (to die) has one r because we die one time.
  • Courir prend un “r” car on manque d’air en courant.  Courir (to run) has one r because we lack air when running; note that “air” and “r” have the same pronunciation in French.

Empower them

Ditch memorization and promote the scientific method when teaching grammar. The method focuses on letting students make an observation and formulate a hypothesis based on what they notice. Then, complement this with another, richer text so they can experiment and find evidence to support or reject their hypothesis.

Let them reach a conclusion by themselves.

The best way to do this is to guide them with questions.

If teaching reflexive verbs, pick or write a simple text rich in conjugated reflexive verbs, ideally using different tenses, but only using one pronoun like je (I). In the first question, ask students to circle the reflexive verbs, including the particles, and ask them what they notice. Ask them specific questions about where the particles are located in relation to the verbs and to other elements in the sentences, such as the subjects and objects.

Once they’ve formulated a hypothesis, add another text and repeat the process. Ask them to write down their conclusions.

3. Make French Meaningful to Them

Get to know your students

How do they learn best? What French lessons are most useful and interesting to them?

The best way to start doing this is to hand out periodic questionnaires about learning preferences and their satisfaction with your tutoring.

You can also give them a tentative curriculum in each session and give them the option to choose between two resources for the lesson. For example, if your lesson is about food and you plan on using something to reinforce the lesson, ask your students whether they prefer a video about French cooking or an infographic detailing a recipe step-by-step.

Add real-world content to your lessons

Let’s face it. Your students don’t always want to learn from textbooks. They wish they could speak French already!

Keep them motivated and boost their confidence by presenting them with a diversity of real French materials that’s appropriate to their level. This will get them excited to learn new vocabulary and will prove a lot more effective than using traditional study materials.

Here are some underrated, yet highly effective formats to try:

  • Print and video ads. They’re short and include lots of common buzzwords that your students will encounter in real life. To find ads, simply buy a French magazine or newspaper and cut out print ads, run a quick search on Google Images or YouTube (for video ads) to retrieve specific past campaigns. Look for specific brands in the French-speaking world, then discuss contextual elements and review the vocabulary together. If using a video ad, make sure your students view the ad two times before introducing them to the vocabulary.
  • Website home pages. They include all the essential elements of a website, and working on these materials with your students is a great strategy to give them the tools to browse the French web quickly and on their own. To best way to get started is to take a screenshot of a site’s home page and review the vocabulary together. Ask your students questions about the site, what it’s about and what they know about the brand/product from the homepage.
  • Catalogues. They’re packed with information, and they make it fun and easy to learn vocabulary by seeing both images and text. Use them in particular to practice price comparisons between the objects in a catalogue. Ask your students to create their own French shopping list by cutting out images from the catalogue. It’s a fun way to acquire the vocabulary they want to learn!
  • Video clips. Present bits and pieces of longer films or TV shows so it’s easier for you to introduce specific points or vocabulary and build up from there. Before your class, watch the video clip and write down important vocabulary and verbs. Watch them together once or twice without context, and ask your students to give you a general overview of what they understood, in French if possible. Then, introduce keywords and useful verbs and watch it again. Check once more for understanding.
  • Food/product packages. This is a fun way to expose your students to the French culture using everyday objects. If you’re able to go to France often, don’t throw these little items away—keep them to share with your students.

Alternatively, head over to Amazon France and purchase select items. Feel free to hand them to your students intact (for food) so they can also taste real French food, but the packages on their own include lots of vocabulary students will be happy to learn so they can operate successfully in France, such as a food’s nutritional value, product description and even company information.

  • Comic strips. Aside from being colorful and highly entertaining, they’re filled with common, important words and idiomatic expressions that your students need to know. To find comic strips, type in the name of the comic into the search bar in Google Images. Then, simply cut out strips and discuss them together, such as dialogues, characters and character choices.

Leverage digital tools

Technology is a tremendous helper to create fun, modern lesson plans and bring some life to your French tutoring sessions.

Here are some immersion hacks using technology that you should recommend to your students:

  • Change phone settings to French. That includes Siri (if they use iOS) or Cortana (if they use Windows) so they can practice giving instructions in French. Ask them to add French keyboards so they can text and write in French using proper accents.
  • Change homepage to a French site. For your students to make progress, they need to be in direct contact with the French language, every day, especially if you tutor them only once a week. This is a fantastic hack to achieve this goal, especially if they actively use the internet. Some great sites include Le Monde, the French Metro’s official site or even the French Yahoo.
  • Have them sign a no-English immersion pledge. This is a great way for them to commit to continuous learning. Have them commit to French immersion at dedicated hours of the day when they won’t use any English at all. If they’re up for a challenge, make this a no-English-at-all pledge where they’ll need to use French 24/7 (except for normal interaction in English with colleagues, friends and family who don’t speak French).
  • Download French podcasts. Podcasts are a great way to fill downtime with productive, insightful French discussions and content while on the go. The great thing about listening to podcasts is that they don’t consume any data on your phone plan if you download them via Wi-Fi before moving around. Better yet, it’s a good resource to listen to if your students find themselves in a no-service area, such as the subway or on the train. This helpful article lists some fantastic podcasts to get them started.

4. Make It Fun

Play games

Games are important because they let your students learn by playing, not studying. This unconventional strategy adds a motivating factor to the learning process: Winning! Better yet, it shows them learning can be entertaining as well.

Here are some cool French game ideas:

  • Jacques a dit (Simon says). This is a great game to practice commands by letting students act what they understand directly rather than using lengthy explanations. The game is very simple and fun. Students need to execute the command every time you say “Jacques a dit” (Simon says); however, they shouldn’t move an inch if you omit the sentence and only give a command!
  • Trivial Pursuit in French. This is a bit advanced, but it’s the perfect game to test each student’s general knowledge and familiarity with multiple aspects of the French culture. To get started, you can purchase the French version of Trivial Pursuit or create your own questions and use a regular Trivial Pursuit board, if you already have one. Play with your students like you would with a friend (read, be competitive!) and collect wedges from all categories. Whoever finishes the wedge and reaches the center of the board wins.
  • Scrabble. Make sure you have a French Scrabble game around! This fun word game will help your students accumulate and activate vocabulary quickly, as well as practice French spelling.
  • Le Juste Prix (The Price Is Right). The internet is filled with authentic questionnaires from this popular French TV game. Modify the rules of the game to make sure that your students can play on their own. Reward them for correct answers or certain successes. For example, if they reach ten correct answers under five minutes, give them a cookie, or give them a French poster for twenty correct answers.

Take a field trip together

Take the class outside and spend the hour with your students in a French environment. This will help to create a bond with your students and get them excited about their tutoring lessons with you. This will also help make retention of new knowledge more effective as they will be learning through real-life experiences, not just theories. All in all, this will validate their learning and show them that what you’ve learned together directly applies to the real world.

Here are some great ideas where they can experience the French language outside the classroom:

  • Treasure hunt. This is a fun outdoor treasure hunt using maps. Determine the location of your treasure in a public area, such as a park or the beach, and create four or five clues written on pieces of paper. Each clue should take your students to a new location where they’ll find another clue, and the last clue should take them to the treasure. Make sure they’re all well hidden so nobody can retrieve them without the clues. Then draw a map in French mentioning key landmarks and directions, but don’t note the location of your treasure.
  • French bakery. What better way to let students enjoy the best France has to offer than to take them for a fun get-together at a French bakery? If your town has a bakery operated by native French speakers, use this place as an opportunity for students to practice questions and ordering food in French.
  • French art exhibition. Search for exhibitions of French artists at your local museum or events through the Alliance Française—and then go together! Ask students to pick a work of art on display, or an element of the event you’re attending, and have them research it so they can tell you more about it.

Use multimedia tools

Modern technology is a part of our everyday lives. Show students that they can consume and appreciate multimedia content in French, too! Opt for authentic digital content and pick from a diversity of sources to make it more effective.

Not sure where to find great digital resources for your next French tutoring classes? Here are some great ones to start:

  • YouTube. This free video hosting site features lots of French-language vlogs along with news clips, ads and music videos. You can create and easily share your own videos privately with your students, and interact with them in the comments section. This quick tutorial from StackExchange will guide you through the process.
  • Netflix. Your students will find a variety of recent and classic feature-length films and documentaries along with ad-free TV series on this quality streaming site. Encourage students to find things to watch in French, and to watch their favorite programs with or without English subtitles. To maximize their viewing sessions, give them pointers on which programs they’ll enjoy based on their personality and fluency level, then discuss it together in your next class.

5. Set Your Tutoring Business Up for Success

Act like a professional

Come prepared for classes. This goes without saying, but you need to make sure that you know your curriculum and its content so you can anticipate any potential questions. Review a grammar rule if you’re unsure of the details before your tutoring session. There’s nothing wrong with double checking before class, but opening a dictionary or showing your students that you don’t know something is a big no-no!

Keep a good track record. Take notes of what you taught in each session and send progress reports. Stay on top of homework and be sure that you know what assignments your students were supposed to complete. This way, you can open your tutoring session by circling back and activating recent structures and vocabulary. It won’t stick unless they use it frequently!

Communicate with your students. Let them know at least 48 hours ahead of time if you need to reschedule, and give them two to three alternative dates to give them options. Be accommodating if you reschedule. Also, be upfront about payment and terms so there are no surprises on both ends and you can both focus on learning rather than money. The best way to do this is to discuss it and put it in writing, such as an email asking for confirmation that they accept these terms.

Set boundaries. It’s great to show flexibility in your schedule and welcome questions outside the classroom, but this should be within reason. Make sure that your students know which times of the day are off-limits, and suggest that you meet an additional time each week if they ask so many questions that it becomes difficult to address it all outside the classroom.

Learn to manage and grow your tutoring business

Operate like a professional

Knowing the administrative and bookkeeping aspects of tutoring may not be what you signed up for, but mastering them is the only way to ensure that you’ll be successful at it, and thus, committed to it for the long haul.

Unless your students pay you cash, you may have to report your earnings from tutoring to the tax authority of your country. This should encourage you to price yourself accordingly! If you tutor French using an online platform such as Verbling or Upwork, for example, they will require you to fill a W-9 (if you’re based in the U.S.).

The best solution to optimize your taxable income from tutoring is to set up a company, ideally an LLC, and bill your students under this entity. If you’re new to the entrepreneurial experience, Legalzoom is a cost-effective option to get you started with the registration process. You may also want to sign up for a corporate bank account and set up e-transfers. Chase, through its  Zelle service, is a great option to accept payment quickly from your students using nothing but your email address.

Seek out new students

It’s important to actively and continuously look for additional students if you wish to live well from your tutoring business. Engage in simple marketing activities, such as word of mouth, fliers in schools and visible public places, such as your church or local supermarket, and develop a network within the French-speaking community.

Another way to do this is to create a simple website and a LinkedIn profile detailing your experience, services and contact information. If you have little to no coding experience and lack the budget to develop a site, Wix is one of the easiest quality platforms to create a professional-looking website quickly. Register for a web domain on GoDaddy for a premium site with a custom domain name or simply use a domain for your site.

Then, try paid Google or Facebook ads using your city’s keyword and “French tutoring.” Define a budget and make sure that you understand the Google AdSense bidding process and Facebook Ad targeting before you get started. Don’t be bashful about googling what other French tutors in your area and major cities do for marketing inspiration.

Try clever pricing strategies

Giving your students flexibility on pricing is a great way to secure them as a client for a long period and to encourage them to have multiple weekly sessions. To do so, give them a good deal. Everybody loves knowing that they’re able to get a service at a good price.

List your services and cost per session, per five sessions, per ten sessions, etc. Incentivize them to book your services for multiple sessions by giving them discounts on lessons, but don’t give it away. Your discounted rate should be no more than 3% for 5 sessions and no more than 5% for 10 sessions.

Create monthly plans and 3-month plans at a reduced rate per session of 8% and 12% respectively but require full, upfront payment. This is a great way to increase cash flow in your business.

To promote referral, a good option is to give your students a session for free if their referrals book for a month. This will basically mean that your cost of acquisition is an hour tutoring, often a much lowest rate than your marketing effort if you factoring the time and additional cost of marketing.


Now that you know all the secrets to learn how to tutor French, we have no doubt that you’ll have all the tools to thrive as a French tutor.

Bonne chance ! (Good luck!)

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