UPDATE: This article was written 2014, 3 years before I created my online German course which you can try for free here. I made many good points in this post especially when it comes to studying German in a language school or any sort of online classroom. Therefore I’ll leave this article up. But if you want to find out about my learnings from the last 7 years, I recommend you read this article of mine.
Here now begins the main article.
Is it worth it to get a private German tutor?
SOME THOUGHTS FROM A TEACHERS POINT OF VIEW
The following is my reaction to a discussion on toytown that you can find here (click). I simply couldn’t sit still any longer reading that that school is better than that one because it is cheaper or whatever reason they have found. In general, a language school is a language school and group courses are all suffering from the same systemic flaws that I will describe below. Feel free to disagree and to bring up solid arguments for your point in case you indeed want to disagree ^^.
Viel Spaß beim Lesen.
HERE WE GO
I once again would like to mention that a German private tutor is the best option if you are serious about learning proper German (Find out about our German private lessons in Berlin).
Let’s do some math: A cheap course costs 200€ per month (e.g. Hartnack-Schule) plus some books and the exam fee later on.
To reach fluency which more or less starts after your B2 exam (exactly the moment that you hold your certificate) you would need
9 months if you keep up with the speed in class. That makes 1.800€ plus sth sth for the books and the exam fee, so let’s say 2.000€.
HOW TO MEASURE THE QUALITY OF A COURSE
I have it from one of the directors of a big school here in Berlin that around 60-70% pass the B1 exam, and I suppose that that is also
the quota for the B2 exam if not even lower. You should ask the schools you are thinking of about their success rate regarding the exams
you are about to take (if so). Of course there are many self-inflicted reasons why learners do not pass the exam but it might also hint
to the quality of the instruction.
LESS IS MORE
I often read here (and elsewhere) that getting many lessons for little money is a good thing. It is not. At least not in a fixed structure that is
predominant on the market today. If you learn a language you want that to happen quickly. While 100 hours might bring you farther than 50 hours,
if you can’t advance on your own speed, you will have simply paid 50 hours for sitting and waiting to advance to the next level. Only a few schools will
(be able to) let you jump to a higher class before time and also then you will miss some of the important stuff as the courses are not tailored to your individual needs.
So what you are getting cheaper is more of the same. But in language learning what you need is more new stuff to advance quickly.
If you purchase 600 hrs of classes running with 50% efficiency what you get is 300 hrs of real value while losing ! 300hrs of your precious time.
But it might not even 50% that you will get out of a group as I will point out below.
WHY CLASSES ARE A WASTE OF PRECIOUS TIME AND PROVIDE LOW QUALITY
Now, sitting in class with 10 or even 20 people is a waste of time for ~66% of the participants. The teacher will try to find a moderate speed to
keep that group together for as long as it lasts. That means, should you be a slow learner, you’d be still running behind, should you be a fast
learner you most likely will get bored. And even if the class runs at exactly at your individual speed, you might be slowed down by the slowies
or simply be annoyed by the fasties that might decide to simply distract the rest of the class to get at least some attention.
THE PRONUNCIATION PROBLEM
But let’s assume the class is amazingly disciplined and running at optimum speed. You will be listening to very little original German as teachers
are instructed to let students interact. That’s the so called communicative approach. That means that you will often talk to non-native speakers that
naturally make a lot of mistakes and also will not be able to correct yours. The teacher will not be able to properly keep an ear on your efforts and miss
out on correcting you a lot. Listening to how a teacher corrects other people’s mistakes is not the same and most likely will do very little for your pronunciation. And once you have fossilized a mistake it is a pain in the neck to get it out of the system.
Then all schools at least in Berlin or even Germany have to instruct you in German only. That is an amazing challenge for many learners. In an 1 on 1 session thatmight work with a little help from our friend the English language here and there but with 10 people that will just frustrate you. Sure, you will in the end figure sth out on your own, but why paying a teacher then if she doesn’t do her job by explaining things fast and clearly to you so that you don’t have to figure things out on your own and take the risk of misunderstanding things. The schools have to work like this for economical and organizational reasons but they often at times also claim to do so because they believe in a myth that speaking solely in the target language will speed up the learning process. Obviously that is far from the truth. I instruct in English and practice in German and have managed to teach students in a lot less time than 6 months.
I am not advertising my services here. Take any private tutor you want. Those are available for as little at 14€ per hour on italki.com. I just can’t watch those who are serious about learning German wasting their time and in the end money by sitting in overcrowded classes (three makes a crowd). I have taught huge classes for way too many years and will never ever teach a group again as it is simply more frustrating than necessary for all involved.
THE GOALS ARE INDEPENDENCE AND KNOWING HOW TO LEARN
They also never really teach you HOW to learn instead they are simply showing you “only” WHAT to learn. Learning German is a highly complex matter that most learners need thorough guidance to learn efficiently and effectively. Most private tutors won’t do that either though. That’s why you might want to search the net for “learning how to learn (a language)” or similar. There is a free course on Coursera.com about that topic, though not focussing on language: Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects by Dr. Barbara Oakley, Dr. Terrence Sejnowski as a starter. Search for “linkword technique” and work with memrise.com to make the most out of your learning time.
THE REAL COSTS OF A PRIVATE GERMAN TUTOR AND GROUP COMPARED
So, let’s assume you find a German private tutor for 20€/hour (60mins not 45mins like they sell you in school to make the number of lessons seem higher). For 2.000€ you’d get 100 lessons with that tutor. If you had one hour a day, which is more than sufficient as your attention span sinks after 45mins and you will also have to do some homework or real work, that money would last 5 months!!! not counting in the weekends, give her some rest.
But as the instruction is way more efficient and if she’s good (!), she will also provide you with a lot (!) of homework so you will advance much faster than that. And by the way, you’ll know when a teacher is good. You will feel ! it right away. Even if a tutor costs you 40€/hour -which by the way is a more than fair price as a private tutor usually pays around 500€ monthly insurances alone before taxes) you could simply see that tutor 3x per week and still have 4 months of highly efficient and above all individual instruction which is more than enough if you do your homework (i might have mentioned that before).
PRIVATE GERMAN TUTORS ARE TIMELORDS (AND LADIES)
So next to not spending a single cent more than with a group course, you would also save time. Imagine what you could do with one month of extra lifetime?
Feel free to disagree. These are just the results of 15 years of teaching German in schools and also of having sat in over 20 language courses due to my studies and also out of pure interest). Compare it to your own experience and come to your own conclusions.
I am not criticising language schools for doing what they have to do to survive. And some of them do the hell of a job to deliver good services to their clients, I have heard good from GLS and Tandem e.V. Berlin I know personally. The Goethe is just amazingly overpriced, though if you go there the money goes back to the government (currently they make 111 Mio EUR annually with the language courses worldwide alone) and might reduce my tax load. But they also offer many other amazing cultural events and also a soothing atmosphere that might make up for some of it. But…
IF YOU INSIST ON TAKING CLASSES IN A GROUP
think of the people you would like to work with. The Goethe will bring you in touch with another clientel than the VHS or a school like Hartnack e.g.
If you are a fast learner seek schools that offer small ! groups (less than 8 people) but that will make courses significantly more expensive.
Count in the time you need to get to that school. Can you make use of the time otherwise lost traveling? The free Memrise-app is a great travel companion.
Ask for the success rates of the ones taking the exam and if that number seems awfully low to you ask them why this is so. If they stagger around then they haven’t done their homework and I would be a bit more skeptical.
TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
Then before signing anything, ask for a free trial lesson. If it is a big school I would even ask if you could try two different teachers as the quality of your experience mainly depends on your view of the competency of that person. They might not want you to do that with the reason that you might disturb the class e.g. but one session should be for free in any case. If they do not accept that, get out of there. This is not the way to conduct an ethical business. I do not spend 200€ or even more on something that I can’t see or that I can’t return. Even though at times a half year package might save you 100€ I wouldn’t sign that before I have thoroughly tested out that teacher at least for a month.
If you have already sold your soul and your house to the school and feel not content with the tutor or just feel like you are not advancing as quickly as you hoped for, seek an honest talk with the teacher to give you feedback on your performance and ask for suggestions on how to improve that. Or simply go to the office and ask to change classes. That of course will only work in the bigger schools and schools will be usually hesitant
to let you migrate because it messes up their planning. They often try to fill every class to the maximum and are willing to make compromises regarding the homogeneity of the language level of the group which is not to your advantage.
Again, don’t take anything I say for granted. I hope you see the logic in most of what I said but when it comes to my experience, check whether I am correct with my claims or not. Either way I genuinely wish you success with your German learning and may you enjoy the beauty of that fabulous language of mine 😉