Shakespearean sonnets, idioms, proverbs, the subjunctive mood, prepositions, phrasal verbs … Even when English is your native language, some of these concepts can be tricky to master. For those for whom English is their second language, learning the seemingly endless grammar rules can seem downright tortuous.

However, learning English and attaining fluency can open up many doors for you. English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, and speaking English will therefore help you to expand your horizons, connect with people from all corners of the globe, and position yourself on an international career path if you so wished.

Mastering English means many more opportunities will be open to you. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Improve Your English

As one of South Africa’s 11 official languages, all learners are taught English at both primary and high school level, so language lessons are part of their daily lives. However, it takes dedicated and ongoing practise to truly become fluent in English and, for some, assistance outside of the classroom is necessary to help improve their English skills.

"The English language is a work in progress. Have fun with it."  ⁓ Jonathan Culver

This is where the services of a private English tutor would add value. There are many English native speakers who are willing and able to assist students who are in need of extra support along their language learning journeys.

Whether you have reached near fluency or are still struggling with concepts such as adverbs, adjectives, prepositions and pronouns, there is a tutor who can teach English at your level.

boy reading book at outdoor library
Reaching fluency in English requires practise. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Once you have established your level of proficiency in the language, it will be easier for you to choose an English tutor with the skills and expertise you need to progress to the next level.

Perhaps a university student who performed exceptionally well in their final matric exams and who is currently majoring in English at university would be the perfect choice to help you prepare for your matric final English examinations. These students may be able to share valuable insights and tips on how best to prepare for and approach exam questions, with extensive reviews of past preliminary and matric final exam question papers.

Set Goals for Your English Lessons

Every English learner who seeks a tutor does so for different reasons: perfecting their English pronunciation, improving their English writing skills, expanding their vocabulary, etc.

Whatever they may be, it is important for you to establish the objectives you wish to achieve from your lessons before you begin your search for an English tutor.

If you’re a matric student, it's crucial for you to pass English with good grades in order the probability of acceptance into highly ranked universities and the undergraduate programme of your choice.

girl covering face with book
Overwhelmed by the pressure of looming exams. Your tutor can alleviate your concerns. ⎢Source: Unsplash

The curriculum has changed significantly between generations and, while most parents are supportive, they may not have adequate time or the right insight into the course content to effectively assist their children.

If you’re aiming for distinctions, you need to be upfront and honest about your areas of difficulty, so that your tutor can develop an English course that is tailored to your needs and which will help you achieve your ultimate goal.

If you want to set yourself up for English language success, follow the 3 easy steps that follow before you select an English tutor.

Step 1: List the Requirements Your Tutor Should Meet

Once your goals have been defined, you should start to think about your expectations and the practicalities of working with a private tutor.

One-on-one tutoring is sought out for a variety of reasons.

Focus and you will retain the knowledge passed on to you. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Some parents wish to ensure that their children receive personalised attention to ensure full comprehension of new lesson content beyond the walls of the classroom. Given the nature of the student-tutor relationship, a child will have the tutor’s undivided attention, which is particularly beneficial when new and complicated concepts or grammar rules need to be learned.

Other parents enlist the services of private tutors leading up to important examination periods, in order to ensure that their child will perform well.

Whatever the motivation, it is important for parents to choose a tutor with whom the child connects with, and around whom the child is able to fully and freely express themselves. This is the foundation upon which their confidence in the English language will be built, after all.

If you are an adult who wishes to learn how to speak English confidently, for personal or career development, it will be essential to select a tutor with whom you establish a positive rapport. You will most likely find your perfect match with someone who shares common interests with you. A bonus would be finding an English teacher who has extensive knowledge about the industry you are currently working in or the one you wish to enter.

Step 2: Choose a Learning Environment That Works for You

Creating a positive learning environment is just as important as the learning material itself.

The wonderful thing about tutoring is that it allows for the learning experience to be tailored to the needs and learning style of the student.

Your schedule and preferred learning techniques will determine how your English tutorials are structured and where they will take place.

Online Lessons

One of the many wonders of technology is that it has given us the option to learn and teach English online!

boy working on laptop
Your ideal English tutor may be on the screen infront of you. ⎢Source: Unsplash

In South Africa, there has been a significant increase in the number of language learning institutions offering English lessons to students who are both locally and internationally-based. Online English teachers connected to these institutions are required to have completed a bachelor’s degree, along with a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification.

English lessons online allow students the freedom to schedule their tutorials at times that are convenient and compatible with their busy schedules, and to sign in to lessons from any location that has a good Internet connection.

This is what you will need in order to take lessons online:

  • An internet connection
  • A smartphone, tablet, PC or laptop.
  • A webcam. The most recent devices all include built-in webcams.
  • A webcam program. These are many free webcam programs and apps available for download. Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom and HouseParty are some of the most popular options.
  • Optional: A microphone. Your device will have a built-in microphone, but if you find that the quality is not good, you may want to buy a headset with a microphone attachment.

Top tip: Ensure that all the latest software updates have been installed on your device. This will give you access to the most up-to-date features.

There are, of course, numerous English teachers available to give face-to-face lessons.

girls studying together
Choose the lesson location you are most comfortable in. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Face-to-Face Lessons

Traditional tutoring is, more often than not, the best option for young children, as it allows for the tutor to make real-life observations and respond in a way that builds the child's self-confidence. It also gives parents the chance to get ongoing, comprehensive and real-time feedback on the child’s progress.

Face-to-face lessons can be held at the student’s home or at an external public venue such a community centre, depending on the family’s preferences.

Certain parents view the home as a place of rest and comfort, so they would not be comfortable allowing a tutor into this space, and would, instead, opt for lessons to take place at an external venue. While others may wish for their children to learn English in the environment in which they feel most relaxed, safe and secure, and would naturally lean towards finding a tutor who is willing to conduct the English lessons at home.

Step 3: Set up a Budget

There are no standard rates for English tutors in South Africa, so tutoring services can range in price from free at one end of the scale (for example, the aid offered by Non-Profit Organisations) to unreasonably high at the other.

How much can you reasonably afford to pay the tutor for each lesson? It is important for you to establish your budget upfront as this will help you decide on the number of lessons you can afford to book per month, and eliminate any candidates whose rates are exorbitant. Online lessons are 20% cheaper, on average, than traditional face-to-face lessons, so this is something you may wish to consider.

Find the Tutor Who Is Perfect for You

You should aim to find a tutor who is passionate about the English language and who takes a genuine interest in empowering their students and nourishing their growth. It is essential to seek out a true connection with your English tutor, as they represent a reservoir of knowledge for you to tap into, and will be able to answer all the questions you may have been afraid to ask your teachers and friends.

books arranged on table
Read as much as possible to improve your vocabulary. ⎢Source: Unsplash

The tutoring experience goes beyond the transference of knowledge, it is an opportunity to create a special bond with the person who is empowering you with the knowledge and skills you seek.

The traditional schooling system does not allow for students to choose their teachers, and sometimes poor performance is due to a lack of synergy between the teacher and the student, rather than a lack of ability on the part of the child.

The magic ingredient, then, is not the tutor’s qualifications, but rather their personality and approach – they need to be someone with whom you can easily connect and establish a mutual understanding.

All the information in this post may seem a little overwhelming, but the good news is that you’ve already taken the first steps towards improving your command of the English language, by doing this research.

Hopefully, the points we’ve raised will arm you with the tools needed to carry out a thorough search.

There’s no time to waste, your ideal English teacher awaits!

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A South African in France who loves to travel and discover new cultures, is passionate about photography, and who is happiest near the ocean.