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Is ‘Custom’ All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

With all the options available for learning a language, why should you pick a personalized tutor? There are two main reasons: feedback and customization.

Computer learning has come a long way, but it still can’t consistently tell with accuracy how well you’re pronouncing something. It takes human ears to give continuing, consistent responses and make sure you get it right.

I’ve had personal experience with this. A few months before a family vacation to Spain, I decided to use Duolingo to learn as much Spanish as I could. And I don’t deny that it was helpful—I did pick up several useful words and phrases.

But my frustration was incredibly high when it came to speaking. These parts of the lesson weren’t frequent enough for me, and when I knew I’d pronounced something badly, but still got a pass, I wasn’t encouraged. It was equally aggravating when I thought I’d pronounced something perfectly, but was rejected. How was I supposed to tell which part was wrong? If only I’d had a way to get specific feedback! Duolingo and programs like it are useful, but they are also inherently limited.

Speaking is probably the area that students are the most concerned about; it’s also the area where standardized programs are the least helpful. If you want to know exactly what you’re getting wrong (and right—both are important!), you’re only going to get it from another human being.

Also, generic programs aren’t engaging or helpful in the areas you need the most, because they don’t know what you need the most. If a student understands pronouns but needs more work with past tense verbs, continuing pronoun practice can be counter-productive. To go even deeper, it’s crucial to understand not only that practice is needed, but what kind of practice.

Let’s go back to those past tense verbs, which are a common issue for many students. Even something as seemingly small as how the “ed” on the end of a past tense verb is pronounced can be a major challenge. I’ve had countless students of various ages and levels say “jumpED,” “askED,” or “pushED.”

How I address this depends on the student. For some, we’ll discuss the rules about these types of words, then do some practice, and I’ll continue to monitor and provide ongoing feedback as needed. Other students will get more specific, real-world examples; I’ve even created worksheets for students to work on this as homework. We continue this regularly until it’s been thoroughly internalized.

Although many adults aren’t interested in grammar rules, students in K-12 schools are often tested on these principles, so I’m more likely to make a point of going through those rules systematically and thoroughly, though still in a fun way. We can use games to practice noun, verbs, etc.

Both of these issues demonstrate the benefits of having a trained, active person paying attention and proactively working on behalf of the student to provide the best possible outcomes. Knowing how to prioritize goals and the most effective ways to achieve those goals are what makes a personalized tutor worthwhile.

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