Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What is a Good Trial English Lesson?

Many foreigners staying in Japan have taken up private language tutoring as their part-time job due to the profits, convenience, and ease that it brings.

In May, I wrote a quick guide on how to start teaching English privately in Japan, but today I'm going to talk about trial lessons. A trial lesson is the very first lesson that you provide for a new student. It is like an introduction that will give your student an idea of what you do, how you carry out your lessons, and what kind of a person you are.

If your new student liked the first lesson she might start taking your lessons regularly, but if not, you might never hear from her again (except for a mannerly "Thank you for today's lesson. See you soon!")

So what makes a good trial lesson?

I've taken the habit of asking my regular students why they decided to choose me as their tutor. It's interesting to note how many people share similar opinions. Below, I've compiled a collection of ten principles, based on my experiences, to keep in mind when having trial lessons.

Principle #1 - Be fun to talk to

Make your students laugh! Try not to sound like an ex-pastor who teaches junior high school history at Higashi Yodogawa. Everyone wants to have a good time, so don't waste your time mimicking a Todai-educated politician. Tell interesting stories. Talk about your hometown. When you explain grammar, make fun and interesting examples. Be interested in the topics that you talk about. Smile often to create a warm atmosphere.

Principle #2 - Talk about your country

Students want to learn about other countries. Gaining knowledge about your country and hometown is more valuable to your students than hearing about Japan.

Principle #3 - Let your student talk

Don't sound like a broken radio. It's your student who needs to practice his conversational skills. Give him ample opportunities to express his thoughts, opinions, and questions. Japanese people often refrain from cutting in, so it is your job to control the conversations.

Principle #4 - Don't rely on textbooks or other material

Keep the lessons interactive. Students have chosen to take man-to-man lessons for a reason. They can study textbooks individually at home. They don't need a supervisor for that. Use secondary material merely as reference.

Principle #5 - Hear your student's wishes

Ask your student what she wants to study—and how. There's not much point in teaching the differences between Kiwi and Australian pronunciation if your student has no interest in it. If your student wants to improve her speaking skills, stick with free conversation.

Principle #6 - Leave time for questions and answers

At the end of the trial lesson (5-10min before finishing), let your student ask any questions that she may have.

Principle #7 - Avoid sudden time up

Don't just suddenly tell your student that the hour is up. Be flexible about time. Finish the lesson naturally (Principle #6). Before wrapping up, make sure that your student hasn't got any unanswered questions.

Principle #8 - Talk about the next lesson

If you don't mention the next lesson, your student might think that you don't want to teach him anymore. You should communicate to him that you look forward to teaching him again soon.

Principle #9 - Don't request money

Your student will most likely remember to pay you. If not, you can avoid asking directly for money by talking about the difference between your trial and regular lesson fees.

Principle #10 - Pay for your own drink

If you decide to teach in a café, you should pay for your own drink. You don't have to pay for your student's drink.

Now, I'd like hear your tips in the comments below...

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