Six Tips for choosing a good tutor – for an adult.

Six Tips for choosing a good tutor – for an adult.

Whether you are choosing a language tutor for a child, for an adult or for a group, there are several considerations that you may want to bear in mind when it comes to finding the right person for you.  Here are some ideas for you if you are looking for someone to teach an adult:

1.     Consider carefully whether you would be better to have tuition at your home/office or at the tutor’s premises.  In some cases it can be more convenient to have the lesson at your work, presuming that you have a suitable room available.  You may prefer to meet the tutor in a public place for the first lesson, but this may not be the best option for longer term (background noise, additional costs, space…)

2.     Match your tutor to your needs.  If you are a beginner then you will have different needs to someone who would like to improve their business language.  Ask your tutor about their experience with teaching the type of language you need.

3.     If you would like to work towards a qualification then ask the tutor what they think is appropriate.  There is no need for an adult learner to take a GCSE or A Level – indeed, I would advise against it, unless you particularly like talking about how much your brother annoys you, or why you love geography!  Those qualifications are carefully aimed at teenage learners and so some of the topics are less relevant for adults. There are other certificates available which are internationally recognised, for example the certificates offered by the Goethe Institut for German or the Cambridge Certificates for English (EFL).

4.     Have reasonable expectations of what you will be paying.  Remember that the minimum wage for someone over 24 is just over £8 per hour.  With a good tutor you are not just paying for the one hour of the class, but also for the time they spend planning and marking homework.  It can take quite some time to plan a student-specific scheme of work to meet your requirements in the time available.  As a rough guide, prepare for the cost of the tutor to be similar to the cost of a 1:1 session with a physiotherapist or personal trainer at the gym.

5.     Think about how often you will take classes and how long each lesson will be.  If you have little time to commit and an irregular working pattern then you may not be able to learn as quickly as if you can dedicate time to your project two or three times each week.  Once a week is a good start for lessons, less than once a fortnight will give too much time to forget in between!  As a general rule, the quicker you want to learn, the more time you must make available.  So if you have just three months to learn then you would be wise to fit in as many teaching hours as possible.

6.     Personality.  Ensuring that you get on well with the tutor and can work well with them is a key element.  Sometimes two people just don’t get on well, without it being anyone’s fault – so be prepared to review the situation after two or three classes to make sure that both sides are happy.


Teri Fleetwood is the owner of Language Learners and has been providing French, German and English (EFL) lessons to adults and children for more than 12 years.   Language Learners operates mostly in the Woking and Guildford areas of Surrey.

GCSE tips – the Oral Exam

GCSE tips – the Oral Exam

This month I am kicking off a series of blog posts on exam tips and techniques with the Oral exam.  GCSE Oral exams will be taking place in April, which leaves a scant three months of revision and preparation time.  This year it will be causing particular concern to some students, parents and teachers, as the recent curriculum changes (bringing in the 9-1 marking scheme) also saw the abolition of the Continuous Assessment (or “have as many goes as you need, with lots of preparation, until you get it right” option). 

So, if you have just 10-12 minutes or so to wow the examiner and get the best possible mark, what preparation can you do?

1.    Firstly, be sure to look at the specification for the exam board that you are doing.  They are all freely available online, and your teacher may have given you some information already.  In general, there will be a picture card section, a role play and a conversation – do you know how long each one lasts?  How long do you have to prepare?

2.    Use your preparation time wisely.  You will have a few minutes (10 or so) in a room with an invigilator.  During this time you won’t have access to a dictionary or smartphone.  The idea is that you look at the picture topic and prompts and plan the role play.  For the Edexcel board you are allowed to write notes on up to one side of A4 paper.  You must not read out full sentences from your notes, so use keywords only – maybe past participles or verbs to remind you to use them – even a simple list of the things to remember like tenses, adjectives, smile etc.

3.    Your teacher has probably given you a list of likely topics/questions. Ensure that you understand ALL of them and that you can recognise them quickly.  If you have been encouraged to write sample answers for each question then accept that you may not remember each answer in full – that’s like learning a script.  Instead, try to learn keywords for each area and if necessary be willing to stretch the truth in order to demonstrate your language skill, rather than stick rigidly to what you really think/did.  E.g. if you spent last weekend windsurfing in Cornwall but can’t remember how to say so, then tell the assessor that you went to the cinema with your friends to see a comedy!

4.    Your assessor will give you a chance to demonstrate past, present and future tenses. So make sure you recognise the clue in the question (ie “What did you do last weekend” = past, “What do you like to do at the weekend” = present, “What will you do next weekend” = future).

5.    Learn some panic vocabulary. Swapping from your target language into English to say “I don’t understand” will lose you marks – doing it in French/German/other target language will lose you fewer marks and may gain you some for effective communication!  Remember that for some parts of the exam the assessor is only allowed to repeat what they said, not to change the words at all.

6.     When it comes to the picture prompt, it is always a good idea to have practised a couple first.  Do remember to try to link your description of the photo to the topic where possible.  So if the topic is “Work” and you have a picture of a young man serving an elderly couple, try to include the words “waiter”, “restaurant” or “hotel” in your answer as well as describing what they are wearing/doing/eating.  Remember that the prompt words are there to give you an idea of what will be asked.  The assessor will not use those exact words during the conversation, but will formulate a question around each (from their script).

7.    Know how to formulate questions in your chosen language. For example, does the word order change when you make a question instead of a statement? What are the different question words and what do they mean? Can you recognize them all?  You will have to ask a question as part of the role play, so do practise relevant questions for each topic.

8.    Consider your choice of conversation topic carefully.  For example, for Edexcel you can choose one of the two topics and have a minute or so to talk about it before being asked questions on other themes in that topic.  You could select one of the themes you are LESS confident with so that you have the maximum amount of time possible to prepare, or you could just hope that it doesn’t come up in the exam and choose one that you know really well instead.

9.    Grammar!  In order to get higher marks you will have to demonstrate a range of grammar knowledge.  See how many of these you can include in your conversation…

– A range of tenses (past, present and future as a minimum, but for a higher grade add imperfect, conditional and pluperfect if possible)
– Complex grammatical structures – e.g. um…zu for German, après avoir +infinitive and avant de +infinitive for French.
– A range of people doing the verbs (to show you can use correct endings)
– Opinions (3 different ways of showing what you think)
– Modal verbs (can, should, must)
– Word order: especially for German but also with French (adjective order)
– Correct endings depending on gender (and “case” for German)
– Time phrases – not just “at 12 o’clock” or “tomorrow” but also rarely, often, never, always etc.
– A negative or two

 10. Take time to take a deep breath or two as you go into your oral. Remember to smile. And when you run out of things to say, stop and smile confidently rather than trailing off in the middle of a sentence…

I hope that these tips are helpful.   For more hints and techniques, check out the rest of the blog series on exam preparation for GCSE, coming soon…


Teri Fleetwood is an experienced language tutor with over 10 years experience of tutoring to the GCSE and A Level curriculum.  For more information please look at the rest of the posts in this blog and also check our Facebook page  If you would like to discuss 1:1 or small group tuition, whether for exam preparation or pleasure, then do get in touch!

Your legs may be ski-fit, but are your languages ready too?

Your legs may be ski-fit, but are your languages ready too?

Many keen skiers will spend the weeks and even months before the season getting their body up to speed, ready for the snow.  They run, squat, stretch and lift, hoping to improve their fitness and stamina.  While they may not ski into the first snow drift they meet, they can sometimes fall at the key hurdle of ordering a drink and food at the bar!

“But everyone speaks English” I hear you cry.  It is certainly true in the hospitality industry that many staff will speak some English.  The level may be patchy, or you may find that it is fine until you have a specific, more unusual, requirement.  This can be a particular issue if you have food intolerances or need to avoid particular foods for any other reason. 

Once you move away from the well-beaten tourist track then you are more likely to come across those who do not speak English.  The most memorable experience I have of this is from a skiing holiday in one of the less well-known resorts in Austria.  On the first day one of our group fell awkwardly and damaged her leg.  She clearly required an ambulance, which was duly summoned. Although she spoke some German, the pain levels meant that she had forgotten most of the niceties – and it turned out that neither of the ambulance crew spoke any English at all!  Filling out all the forms en route to hospital would have been a most interesting experience if we hadn’t had our own translator!

Our suggestion would be to learn the basics of the most common language in your holiday destination.  If you are in doubt about your accent then you can write a dozen or so useful phrases on a piece of paper and point to the ones you need.  Some online dictionaries also offer the option of hearing the word from a native speaker. provides this option for those who are learning German (or other languages with German as their base language).  Be wary of online translation tools – they have their faults, and you cannot always guarantee wifi access at the top of a mountain!

If you have a food allergy or intolerance or other medical issue, then consider getting a translation of the issue and any medication you may require.  There are websites where you can get medical information cards in a variety of languages, for example AllergyUK.

Teri is a language trainer, specializing in teaching French, German and English to adults.  She no longer skis, preferring to find a good café, an exciting book and a “chocolat chaud” as she watches the family on their adventures.