Online English tutoring is more popular than ever. It is convenient, cost-effective and gives parents a greater choice of teachers. However, there are so many online schools and tutors out there now that it can be hard to choose the right one for your child. In this guide, we discuss the key points to consider when selecting the best English tutor for your son or daughter.
Below we will provide you with a set of criteria for selecting the best English teacher for your son or daughter. We will assume that you have already considered your preferred tutor gender and approximate age range (if you have one).
Important points to consider:
When searching for an online English teacher, you want someone who can provide evidence that they are proficient in the language and have had some observed teaching practice. This way, you know that your child is receiving a quality education with a professional. Observed teaching practice means a professional has assessed the tutor’s ability to deliver real English lessons to students in a classroom.
Qualifications that demonstrate this are:
Look for a tutor with both face-to-face and online teaching experience. We would recommend choosing an English tutor with 3+ years of experience with younger learners. There are also tutors who specialise in teaching specific age ranges – e.g. UK Primary School (5-11 years).
Online English schools like onlineteachersuk.com have tutor profiles that give information about teachers’ experience and the types of learners they have worked with successfully in the past. Real classroom experience is just as important as qualifications.
Every child is different and has his or her own unique personality, interests and learning style. It is important to choose an English tutor who has a teaching style or personality that suits your child. It will then be easier to build trust and engagement.
Younger children often need more interactive, fun lessons with an energetic tutor because their attention span may be shorter. It is also important to include more variety in classroom activities to keep them interested. Visuals, flashcards, songs, games and physical movement can all help with this.
Older children and teens are better able to concentrate for longer on academic work so can handle more intellectual topics and go deeper into focused activities. Textbooks, readers, webpages, video content and other materials can be used with fewer visual aids. However, it is still important for the teacher to engage the child and make the classes interesting.
One of your starting points should be to decide whether to opt for a native or a non-native speaker of English. Both can have their advantages and disadvantages. At beginner level, it may be better to study with a tutor from your home country who speaks your child’s native language. At levels beyond A2, we would certainly recommend working with a native speaker.
Lessons with native English tutors tend to cost more. Taking classes with a non-native teacher can therefore save you money. It makes sense to set a budget when looking for a suitable tutor or school.
If you just want to get your child speaking English, and you are not concerned about them developing a native accent, then a non-native English tutor should suit your needs well. However, if your child requires accent training or has plans to study/work in a specific English-speaking country, then we would recommend taking classes with a native tutor from that country.
Bear in mind that there are some quite big differences between British and American English in terms of pronunciation, but also vocabulary and grammar. It is therefore a good idea to choose just one national variety of English for your child and stick with it.
An English tutor who speaks the same language as your child may be better at identifying problems with grammar. These mistakes often come from the learner’s mother tongue.
It is important not to allow the child to use his or her native language too much during English lessons. However, in some cases, having a multilingual tutor can be an advantage. This could be a native or non-native English teacher.
1-to-1 tutoring allows the teacher to focus 100% on your child. This often leads to faster progress and better engagement because classes can be tailored to the individual level, needs and interests of your child. It can also be easier to build a good student-teacher relationship through individual classes. We would particularly recommend 1-to-1 classes when the child needs to develop his or her English speaking skills.
Online group classes can be a good choice for families on a tight budget. They are cheaper, but your child will receive less of the tutor’s attention during lessons. Students with better English often dominate group classes, while shy learners speak less. However, the social aspect of studying in a group can be a big plus for some kids.
Depending on where you live, some of the best English tutors for you could be on the other side of the world! This can create problems due to time zone differences. You should consider the time difference in hours when choosing a tutor with suitable availability.
We recommend booking regular days and times for lessons each week. This provides consistency and leads to better attendance and progress over time. It is a plus if the tutor can offer some flexibility with the timetable, e.g. during school holidays.
It is also important to make sure your child’s lessons are scheduled at a convenient time – not too early in the morning and not too late at night. Tired students often get distracted and may not learn to their full potential.
There is no strict age limit, but we would recommend starting online English lessons when your child can already speak basic English, read simple texts and type short sentences. This is usually around A1-A2 level. It is also important that your child has the attention span to sit in front of a computer screen and study for 30-45 minutes.
It is usually best for a child to gain a basic grounding in the language with a face-to-face tutor and with you as parents at home, before starting his or her online classes.
The opposite is usually true! There is no evidence that learning two languages causes confusion between them or that it slows down the learning of the speaker’s first language.
In fact, there is a lot of data to suggest that learning a second language from an early age improves communication skills in both languages, as well as enhancing social skills and cognitive ability in general.
There is also evidence to suggest that the younger a child starts, the higher their potential for proficiency when they are older. Later in life, high-level language skills make you more effective at building friendships and give you a wider understanding of different cultures and attitudes. These are all useful skills in a global society that requires international solutions to business and a range of other future challenges.
Very young learners should start with short lessons of 25 minutes max. It is better to have frequent English practice, but with shorter session duration.
When children reach the age of 6+, we would recommend a lesson duration of 45 minutes (possibly with a short break in the middle if required). Again, it is better to schedule 2-3 shorter lessons per week than to have longer 60-90 minute classes just once a week.
The short answer is that both methods are effective. Traditionally, learners have favoured face-to-face classes, but recent global events have changed how we live. Our next generation is growing up with e-learning and this should be encouraged, especially if the internet can provide access to a better choice of English tutors.
In terms of lesson quality, much depends on the tutor and the selection of appropriate study materials. For online lessons, the technical setup should also be fit for purpose.
If in doubt, why not try both? There are pros and cons to each approach and, in the end, ‘blended learning’ may offer the best of both worlds. E.g. Your child may study English face-to-face at school in a group, but also take additional online tutoring to get ahead.
This depends on your own level of English as a parent. If your English is better than that of your child, then you can certainly help by passing on your skills and knowledge to them. This is best done through regular interaction at home in English. E.g. Fun games, creative activities and the substitution of mother tongue material (music, TV, books etc.) with the equivalent in English.
Another approach is to play an active role in helping your child with their English homework from school. Perhaps discussing topics and new vocabulary from their school lessons or expanding on the curriculum by finding additional online resources.
Children often look up to their parents and want to follow their example. Sharing English as an interest or passion with your children can be a great way of encouraging them on their journey towards fluency.
For some specific tips on this, check out our guide to helping children speak English at home!
Each time your child achieves a goal, keep a record of it and test them later to see whether they can remember the language. You can also audio record your child speaking English and compare the recording to their speaking at a later date. Check to see whether their accent is clearer, their fluency has improved or they make fewer errors.
Also, keep a record of their reading and writing work. Ask yourself questions such as: Do they read this book faster than they used to? Do they make fewer spelling errors in their writing?
Obviously, this is a lot of work to do for a parent! This is where a good English tutor can really help. For example, at OTUK our tutors give regular feedback to parents who are interested in their child’s progress and we provide dedicated ‘progress reports’ every 3 months.
Taking internationally recognised English exams can also be a great way of visualising progress (see below).
Pre A1 Starter, A1 movers and A2 Flyers: These exams cover the first two basic English levels A1 (elementary) and A2 (pre-intermediate). They are for children between the ages of 6 and 12. They are colourful and activity-based, so they do not feel like a boring school exam. There is no pass or fail for these exams, and their achievements are recognised with shields.
A2 Key for School: This is an exam for pre-intermediate learners. It tests for abilities such as giving directions or talking about one’s favourite subject at school. It’s a reading, writing, listening and speaking test that lasts about 1 hour and 40 minutes.
B1 Preliminary: This is an exam that tests for a B1 (or intermediate) English level. It is for those who want to make the transition between basic to independent English language use. It tests for the ability of the child to watch TV in English, as well as their ability to agree/disagree and discuss plans. This exam tests all 4 skills (reading, listening, writing and speaking) and lasts around 2 hours and 40 minutes.
B2 First: This exam tests for a B2 (or upper-intermediate) English level. It is the test that moves you to the higher end of independent English use. You must show your ability to communicate in an English-speaking country. Universities and employers around the world recognise this exam. You should be able to write emails, letters and stories in addition to having the ability to follow a conversation, express your opinion and present arguments. The B2 First takes around 3.5 hours to complete.
Exams for advanced kids/teens
C1 Advanced: Another Cambridge exam that tests the four key skills. To take this test, learners should have a high level of ability in all these areas, as well as the capacity to communicate in meetings and seminars. They need to be able to understand complex texts and write essays and assignments. In addition, learners have to know how to express themselves fluently in daily life and professional situations. The exam lasts for about 4 hours. This qualification is accepted by over 9,000 universities and companies worldwide.
IELTS (International English Language Testing System): This exam also covers all four key skills and requires a high level of English to get the mark needed (often 7.0) to gain entry to more than 11,000 organisations across the globe, including high-ranking universities. For entry to a UK university, it is the most recognised exam. The exam lasts for around 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Hopefully, this guide has given you some clear points to consider when selecting an English tutor for your child. At OTUK, we understand the importance of finding the right teacher for each individual learner.
If you would like to take advantage of our ‘bespoke tutor placement’ service and receive free personalised advice about your child’s English, then please drop us a line at: [email protected].