Teaching English Lessons In-person vs Online
By Kelsey Leuzinger
On November 12, 2014
After teaching English to Japanese students in private lessons for a few years, you learn a lot from them. You get to know their strengths and weaknesses, and how to best meet their needs. In addition, you get to know them as an individual.
You learn about their likes and dislikes, their families and jobs, and possibly even gain a deep friendship with them. But when you’re an online teacher, how do you make any of these happen? After all, the computer screen and microphone can only bring you so close to your students who are across the country or world. If you’re a teacher trying to get the same meaningful experience out of your online lessons with your Japanese students, here are some tips to help.
It takes time to get to know them.
If you’ve had Japanese students in private lessons, or even just Japanese friends, you’ve probably noticed that they don’t open up about their private life upon first meeting them. Regardless of how many personal questions they may ask you, it takes a while to really get to know them. This is no different online. When teaching a Japanese person on Skype, it’s important to remember to have the same patience and persistence as you do in your in-person lessons.
This may even take longer, since you can’t have that up close and personal interaction that you might have had otherwise. Showing that you care about them and their life will pay off, though; those principles you apply to the in-person lessons work the same online.
Some say it’s harder to keep their attention, I think differently.
When teaching any age a foreign language, distractions are always present. Japanese learners are no exception. It has been said that teaching online increases these distractions and lack of communication, but I think otherwise. In a private lesson at a coffee shop, for example, there are people and noises and smells to distract even the most committed student.
However, online, you can control your environment. Keeping the background noise to a minimum and setting up in a simply decorated room are some of the basic things you can do to make their learning environment even more focused than in another setting. For Japanese specifically, it’s important to know their culture and read the non-verbal cues to know if you’re creating an environment for effective communication.
Understand their specific strengths and weaknesses
Once you understand the specific strengths and weaknesses that a Japanese student typically has while learning English, it’s easier to help them learn in your lessons. Of course this applies to the live classroom and private session, but online you have to be even more aware of these traits to have a successful lesson.
For example, if you become easily frustrated with long pauses in their speech, you’ll have to change your mindset in your online lesson. Japanese students typically want each word and sentence to come out perfectly the first time, so this may take some extra patience from the other side of the screen.
In addition, the Japanese thrive on kindness, but can feel awkward with much praise. Japanese people have been known to be humble to a fault, and this still applies in the online classroom. Its important to realize that you may be meeting dozens of Japanese student per month, and will have to be prepared to show hospitality to each one.
Know that you can never be too kind in showing them this generosity, but its possible that too many compliments might actually turn a student off from your lessons. An excess of attention focused on them and their accomplishments is out of the ordinary and might not be as comforting as it is to other students.
Be prepared to be unprepared.
Organization is any teacher’s best friend, and in the online classroom you have to find innovative ways to do this. I use apps like Evernote to get my lesson plans in order, and try to complete weekly evaluations to let the students know how their doing. But even when you feel like you’re the most prepared teacher in the world, you may get to the online lesson and your Japanese student says, “I don’t want to talk about that. I want free conversation.”
At this point, you have to be okay with your prepared lesson going out the window in order to fulfill the students learning needs by using improvisation. Japanese students especially tend to ask about your job, your family, and your home country’s culture. Some may even want the entire lesson to be spent talking about your life, especially with their typically reserved nature concerning their personal life. Remember that in an online conversation lesson, it’s about them and their learning needs; your own preconceptions have to fall to the side.
They love it when you understand them.
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard from my Japanese students, “You really understand the way a Japanese person learns English, it is so helpful;” even though I feel like I did nothing special. Regardless if you understand their broken English, if you recognize their learning style and know the information that they have already gained from their high school classes, you’ll cut out a lot of confusion and repetitiveness during your lesson.
Take some time to get to know Japan’s English background and study about their learning style for yourself. This is will be an important point for online lessons, seeing as you aren’t able to have a real face-to-face conversation and want to connect as much as possible.
Knowing what medium to use
Knowing what platform to get started on can be the most trying part, especially if you are geared toward Japanese students. The website SkimaTalk is how I got started, and is an excellent way to fill your schedule with Japanese students learning English on all different levels and walks of life.
I’ve now been teaching online lessons longer than I’ve taught in-person lessons, and I can honestly say it is just as fulfilling and rewarding as any other style of teaching. With teaching Japanese students online, you’re not limited only to your area in the country. It can allow for more exposure to the culture and far more people to get to know, if you let it.