Why you need a tutor to learn a language

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I am admittedly a little biased, but I feel that you need a tutor to learn a language. Here I will explain why.

Over the years I have been teaching people, I have regularly come across:

  1. People who (before doing sessions with me) have struggled to learn a language, despite using books, apps, etc. Put simply, these people have spent countless hours trying to learn a language, but without real success.
  2. People who have never really tried to learn a language, because they perceive language learning as something too difficult for them. These people are often apprehensive and nervous when trying to learn a foreign language.
  3. People who have learnt lots of phrases, vocabulary, etc. but cannot hold a natural sounding conversation in a foreign language.

In either case there is a logical way to learn and an illogical way to learn.

Learning a language in the right way

I, as a tutor, regularly meet people who try to learn a language in inefficient ways. Most people approach language learning in the wrong way. Most people try to learn lists of vocabulary, but never learn how to put sentences together for themselves.

A lot of my role is showing people how to learn a language in a logical way, even if it is not initially perceived as the most fun way. This is one reason why you need a tutor to learn a language.

Why language apps do not work in the long term

Many people now use apps to learn a language. Apps can work alongside other learning, but are never a substitute for traditional study. Apps have the following problems:

  • Apps are designed to make you feel like you are progressing even if you are not. They make money from you continuing to use them or pay for upgrades. (They make money from you being shown adverts even if you don’t look at them). Their financial success depends on your perceived language progression and making you feel good. If you feel good you will keep using it and be shown more adverts. More adverts is more money for them. Most people’s actual progression using apps is probably a lot less than they think.
  • As apps work on your perceived language procession, it is not surprising that they usually test the most easy skills of all, the recognition skills. This usually involves you matching the words to the foreign language or asking you what is written. Testing your recognition skills is useful for reading and listening, but not for speaking or writing.
  • I, for example, can read a lot of Portuguese, but cannot speak a word, because I have never studied it. Most Portuguese language learning apps would probably tell me that I am very good at Portuguese. In reality I am terrible at it. I just recognise a lot.
  • Learning to speak the foreign language is usually what most people value most of all. This requires most of all good recollection skills. Remembering what to say and how to say it is naturally more difficult than simply recognising words. Apps do not usually test you much on recollection skills. When they do test recollection skills they usually give you reminders immediately before doing the ‘test’. When speaking in real life we do not get reminders just before we have a conversation.
  • Apps usually do not explain anything and when they do explain something the detail is almost always lacking. They almost never teach you how to make your own sentences using your own original thoughts. You have the choice of using their fixed phrases or not using the app at all.
  • Drilling of vocabulary is what some apps focus on. Learning vocabulary lists is great. Without knowing structure and how to put sentences together however the vocabulary is of limited use.
  • If you still feel that apps are great at teaching you a language, think about how much you can really say from memory. How prepared are you for variations on the sentences you have learned, etc.

Books may seem more boring, but can be more reliable

Books can have advantages over apps depending on their quality. Language books, especially in the UK, tend to oversimplify. They however usually have the advantage of explaining things in a way apps usually do not. The extent of explanation varies enormously amongst books.

Unlike a tutor explaining something to you in person a book cannot really check whether you have fully understood.

One drawback with books is reading is a far more easy skill for most people than speaking the language. If you can read a text you are testing your recognition skills, but not necessarily your recollection skills. Recollection skills, as mentioned above, are those that are vital for speaking.

Put simply, books can be useful and help you to understand the language. However, they do not fully test you on how much you can recall from memory. They also do not give you personalised feedback on your accuracy, accent, etc.

I, as a tutor, could help you in many ways books and apps cannot

As a tutor, unlike apps and books I can explain things to you in as much or as little detail as you need. Apps and books naturally cannot answer your own individual questions or respond to any personal difficulties you come across.

Some learners are visual learners. Others are more analytical. As a tutor I can adapt to and support your preferred learning style. Books and apps are designed for the mass market and can take little account of your existing  knowledge or what kind of learner you are. I however get to know your learning style and how you learn best.

I can teach people how to create sentences and how to change them. I want to people to understand how to create their own sentences, rather than need to use fixed, inflexible sentences.

I give people regular practical feedback on their progress. They also improve communication skills by regularly practising speaking skills. Confidence also grows by using the language through building up knowledge and experience using the language.


I am not saying that apps and books have no use when learning a language. However, they should not be seen as a substitute for a tutor. A tutor can give you pass on their knowledge and give you hands-on experience using the language.

For more information on how I could help you as a language tutor see my language tuition page.

Alternatively see my Facebook page or Twitter page.

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