If you’re considering paying for English classes for your child, one of the biggest decisions you will make is whether to employ a tutor or use an online language school. Having done both freelance and contracted work for language schools, I want to give a quick overview of the pros and cons of each choice.
Language schools employ lots of tutors and so it is arguably the more reliable choice. While freelance tutors will take time off, a language school will always provide you with a class when you have booked one. Even if you have a regular tutor within that language school, another tutor will be provided when they can’t teach the lesson. With anything from holidays to poor internet connections having the potential to interfere with a teacher’s capacity to teach, you might appreciate the stability that a language school can offer your child.
Not all language schools offer a regular teacher. Some are also more efficient at dealing with teacher absence than others. If you do opt for a language school, it is worth considering these things to ensure that your expectations are met.
Another option would be to find a tutor on a website like Italki. Italki has thousands of tutors and you can use your Italki credits to pay for a lesson with any tutor. This way, you can have a regular teacher for your child, and find a substitute when their regular teacher is taking time off.
My experience is that language schools can vary significantly in the quality of their lessons plans. They offer structured programmes, usually both pre-existing programmes that they need to pay a fee to use and the school’s own programme that is unique to them. A good teacher will able to use even poor quality lesson plans well so the difference between these programmes isn’t as significant as you would initially think.
However, children obviously learn best when their curriculum captures their interests. Freelance tutors have more freedom to cater to the interests and needs of their students, and many will write personalised lesson plans based on their students’ passions. Others will use structured programmes, many of which aren’t used by language schools because they’re considered too modern or too expensive.
My judgement is that language schools and freelance teachers are equally capable of producing high (and low!) quality lessons. I therefore suggest thinking about the kind of programme (if any) you would like your child to follow and basing your decision around that.
Teaching ability can vary significantly within a language school and between freelance teachers. But, generally speaking, the most dedicated teachers tend to go freelance. This is because the lesson plans and policies of language schools can be quite restricting for teachers. As teachers become more confident in their teaching style and approach, they tend to want to specialise in it. I, for example, found that I had the most success while teaching children who’d had little exposure to English. This is therefore my specialism.
The best way to ensure that your child gets a good teacher is to choose the teacher yourself. Some language schools give you this option. However, most language schools don’t. The good news is that a lot of freelance teachers offer free or reduced price trial classes, so you can see if they’re the right teacher for your child without spending a lot of money or committing to several classes at a time.
It is vital that children enjoy their English classes. Language schools often prioritise this, preferring high-energy tutors who can make the lesson content fun. Most language school classes feature an interactive whiteboard, and often include songs and games. In fact, creating games from the lesson content is often the main job of a teacher employed by a language school. The lesson content is provided for them, so their only preparation for the class is working out how to make it as fun and interesting as possible.
Freelance teachers are more varied in their approach to teaching. While there are many high-energy teachers, others are more low-key. An older or more serious child, or a child with certain learning difficulties, will often prefer a calmer, quieter class. You’re more likely to find this option with a freelance teacher.
Freelance teachers also have the freedom to create their own lessons. While this means that they can tailor the lesson to the student’s interests, it also means that they have to create the lesson content in addition to the games and fun activities. They may not have the time to dedicate to creating games that a tutor in a language school would. However, an experienced teacher will be able to create fun and interesting lesson plans quite quickly.
With regards to progress, nothing beats personalised lesson plans. While language schools offer structured programmes that, in theory, ensure a certain rate of progression, this can often lead to poor grammar or pronunciation becoming ingrained because the repeated mistakes are not included in the lesson content and therefore are not corrected. Following a structured programme as precisely as language schools tend to demand rarely allows for the level of flexibility that children tend to need from their teachers.
Language school students can find themselves following course content that is too easy or too difficult for their level of English, and this can be surprisingly complicated to correct. If the course content is too easy, teachers are able to add in supplementary information and additional practice activities, but the student won’t be learning at the pace that they could be if they were assigned the correct level of work. If the course content is too difficult, the teacher needs to prioritise the most important parts of the lesson content and ignore the rest of the content, which can lead to the child falling behind.
Freelance teachers who do follow structured programmes have the option of pausing the work from this programme to review or teach something that their student is struggling with. Alternatively, they might choose not to follow a pre-existing programme but to use their own or to plan each lesson individually. This can make it difficult for parents to track their child’s progress, especially if they’re not provided with a course overview or if the child is not assessed as often as they would be in a language school.
So which is the best choice?
Language schools are the best option if your priority is reliable classes, energetic teachers or a structured approach with regular assessments. A freelance teacher may be your best option if you’re keen to see your child progress in English as quickly as possible, or if you feel that your child would benefit from more personalised teaching.