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What to Look for in a Portuguese Language Tutor

Those of you learning Portuguese who really want to get better at speaking in your target language should consider hiring a tutor. 

Actually, it is quite easy to get hold of one nowadays – I am thinking of online platforms such as Italki where you’ll find them in the hundreds.

Now, not all tutors are made equal. You want to make sure you get one that is experienced and competent, even if that means paying a little extra.

So, what’s a competent tutor, anyway? Below, I will mention a few qualities that, in my opinion, should make or break your decision. 

Let’s get started. 

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1. Assessing your proficiency

Tutors should be experienced enough in their trade to quickly assess where you are along your learning curve, and, according to that,  adapt the pace at which they speak as well as the complexity of their phrasing.

So, if you are at the upper-intermediate level, they may speak at a normal pace and with relatively elaborate phrasing. 

If, on the other hand, you are a beginner, they should slightly lessen the speed (without it sounding unnatural) and talk in simpler, short sentences.  

This ability to assess your language skills and subsequently adapt the way they talk are basic skills that any competent tutor should have.

Without them, chances are that the coaching will be inefficient: either it’ll feel too difficult or – if you’re at a more advanced level and your tutor doesn’t live up to it –  not challenging at all. 

Either way, you’ll end up unmotivated and probably quit after a few sessions. 

To avoid that,  the tutor should be able to provide challenging sessions that are not overwhelmingly difficult. That’s when things get interesting and you get the best results.

2. Leaning into what fires you up

Any competent tutor will tune into your interests and often let them steer the conversation. 

This is a no-brainer, right? If you are speaking about things that you have an avid interest in, you will feel motivated to go on and keep talking. 

You may even become carried away to the degree where you transcend the roles of pupil vs. tutor – that’s the “nirvana” of conversational coaching.

Anyway, even without reaching the nirvana level, speaking about things that you can relate to will make your sessions more productive and the overall experience (and learning outcome) will surely be much better.

Obviously, you don’t have to – even shouldn’t –  limit the conversational coaching exclusively to your specific interests. After all, approaching a wide range of topics is essential to language learning. 

Your tutor should nonetheless be aware of what turns you on, not least to be able to fall back on those topics whenever the energies get low and the session needs a tonic.   

3. Being empathic

Leaning into your interests is not enough. A competent tutor is one that shows empathy and  is able to establish authentic relationships with their students.

You’ll be quick to notice if your tutor is doing a chore while talking to you. It would create tension in the room and the environment would become uncomfortable for both of you.  

If that’s the case, you’ll feel tense, contracted, and less confident in your speaking.  That’s a problem. See, we learn best in relaxed, laid-back environments.

To work well, a tutoring session should be a pleasant experience on both ends. So, don’t hesitate to change tutors right away if you don’t click with them. 

4. Keeping the conversational flow

It is my conviction that a competent tutor should prioritize the conversational flow over interrupting you to point out mistakes.

The main function of language is communication, and those small grammar and pronunciation hiccups don’t hinder your message at its core.

From a communication standpoint, it is way more relevant to work on your conversational flow and speaking confidence than obsessing over petty mistakes.

Furthermore, a choppy conversation where your tutor is constantly interrupting you with remarks (about mistakes that don’t affect your message in any substantial way) will work against your speaking confidence and cause the session to be considerably less effective.

Now, I am not suggesting that your tutor should simply ignore your grammar mistakes or pronunciation inaccuracies. 

In fact, to improve your language skills and increasingly become more proficient, it is helpful to have someone letting you know about your shortcomings so that you can purposefully work on those.  

What I recommend, instead, is that they give you that kind of feedback during a pause or at the end of the session, instead of disturbing the conversation.

And btw, that feedback shouldn’t consist of an exhaustive list of mistakes made by you throughout the session – it would probably be too long a list for you to digest anyway. 

Instead, the tutor should focus on those few need-to-improve things that, at any given point, are more recurrent in your speech. 

So, here’s the takeaway. Conversational flow should come first. Strict and pedantic tutors will make you feel hopeless and kill the joy of language learning. You stay away from them.

Reading tips! Looking for additional inspiration and language learning strategies? Here’re a couple of reads for you:
38 Quick Tips to Improve Your Portuguese
Mindsets and Strategies to Learn Portuguese the Best

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