Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Getting Prepared For Online Lessons

Online lessons with native speakers bring language learning to a new level. Everybody with a computer connected to the internet, mic and speakers can enjoy a wide choice of teachers, tutors and language exchange partners. Yet there are a few technical details one should consider when arranging an online language session. Those details are relevant for both teachers and learners.

1) Internet connection. Connectivity issues are very annoying. When you get disconnected from the internet a few times during a 60-min session, it means your connection is not good enough for online one-on-one lessons. You lose your and your language partner’s time re-establishing connection; you both get frustrated and can’t work as productively as you could. I invested in a more expensive, but reliable fiber optic internet service as soon as it became available in my area, and I have not regretted a single moment.

2) Microphone. When it comes to languages, clear and distinctive sound is important. For teachers, a professional microphone is a must-have. It doesn't matter how brilliant your grammar explanations are if your students can’t hear you well. For students, having a good microphone is also important. To be able to help you with your pronunciation, your teacher should at least hear what you say. When I switched from a built-in microphone to a professional studio microphone a couple of years ago, I myself noticed the difference, not to mention my students.

3) Headsets. What I said about a microphone is true for headsets as well. It is all about sound quality. I prefer headsets to speakers (though I have a couple of studio monitors) because speakers may cause echoing. The sound from your speaker goes to your microphone, so your partner hears this annoying echoing. When I don’t teach, I use my headsets (nothing fancy, but sound quality is really good) for listening to my favourite music and watching videos.

4) Place. I used to travel a lot and work from airports, cafes, hotels, or right on a street, sitting on a bench somewhere in an area covered with free wifi. Being mobile is great, however, a quiet place with as few distractions as possible should become your norm. If you take your language lessons seriously, try to find a place where you can stay focused and work productively. For teachers I would also recommend to think about some acoustic treatment for your room where you give lessons. I’ve installed basic, inexpensive acoustic treatment panels in my studio and I’m very happy with them.

5) Last minute check. Before a lesson, double check that everything works fine. Skype offers its test call service for that. If you prefer Google Hangout, check your settings. This is a question of both courtesy and productivity. As in a real life, time is money, so it is better to be prepared.

People often ask me if one-on-one online lessons have drawbacks compared to “real” lessons. I think online lessons can be very efficient, since you stay in your comfortable physical and digital environment. Online lessons take different kind of preparations, like setting up the equipment in your working space properly and fine tuning your software. Otherwise, I honestly see no difference between real conversation and speaking over the internet. With the only exception of odors, we can communicate everything online: our emotions, facial expressions, gestures, pictures, documents - literally everything.

When arranging your online lessons - whether you teach or learn - just make sure that your counterpart cares as much about having a positive online experience as you do, and you both will enjoy the conversation.


My home studio