Personalised learning

1-1 Overview

There is little doubt that a course of 1-1 lessons is potentially the most effective way of improving language skills. But it needs commitment and organisation, both from the learner, and from the teacher. And that is exactly what I will give to you if you decide to do a course with me: commitment and organisation.

Firstly, I will spend time finding out everything important about you before the course begins:

  • your level of English – not just your grammar, but also your vocabulary, listening and speaking skills, pronunciation, etc
  • your language learning background – not just the number of years you’ve studied, but also what you feel has worked best for you, and, perhaps even more importantly, what hasn’t worked, and why
  • your current use of English – the contact with native speakers you have at work or socially, the things that you find easy and the things you find more difficult, the things you read and listen to, the TV and films you watch
  • your specific needs: is it a general improvement you’re looking for, or work on a particular area or skill?
  • your way of learning: while there is a lot of debate right now about ‘learning styles’, I do believe that we are all slightly different, and that some methods and approaches work better for some than for others

Secondly, I will work with you to create a study plan, drawing on all the above information.
Thirdly, I will find suitable materials, and structure a course for you, to provide the most effective, enjoyable and rewarding learning solutions to help you achieve your goals.
And then? And then the course and the hard work will begin – and that’s when you will need to demonstrate your own commitment and organisation!

It is difficult to describe a ‘typical’ course, as every one really is different. But if you’d like to read a bit more about what I do, click here to find out about some of the methods that I use that work particularly well in 1-1 lessons, and here to read about four (very different) people I have worked with recently.

1-1 Lessons

This may seem obvious, but I believe very strongly that a 1-1 lesson should never feel like a group lesson, but with only one student! There are so many great, fun, rewarding and effective things that can be done when just two people are involved. The list below is not comprehensive, and it’s not even structured, but I hope it will give you a flavour of some of the things you can expect if we work together. I’ve used the following abbreviations throughout: T = teacher, S = student.

  • S interviews T: can be real, or role played, eg S is interviewing T for a job
  • T interviews S: can be real, or role played, eg T is a reporter
  • T records either/both of the above, then T and S transcribe the other’s speech: T corrects/edits S, and S notes language used by T
  • S writes (a script, an email, a covering letter for a job application), sentence by sentence, and T corrects and edits
  • T models a pronunciation point (eg fast, connected speech), S repeats, and both are recorded for S to review and compare
  • S works on the pronunciation at home, then records and emails to T for review
  • S plays multiple roles in a role play (eg people in a meeting), T notes and corrects
  • Dialogue build: T writes the opening line, S writes a response, T edits/prompts alternatives
  • T says a sentence, S ‘re-formulates’: using more/less formal language, being more/less direct/tentative
  • T/S practise the language of texting – in real texts!
  • T/S practise the language of emails – in real emails!
  • T models a grammatical structure (eg conditionals), S re-works by personalising what T said

I hope this gives you some feeling for some of the things that can be done in a 1-1 session, that would be impossible to do in a group. Read more here about four recent courses I’ve provided.

GIANLUCA: the surgeon

Gianluca is a heart surgeon at a leading London hospital. He came to me as he had several job interviews coming up, and wanted to feel more confidence in his English.

Most of our time was spent simulating interviews, working on some persistent ‘interference’ errors from his native Italian and expanding his vocabulary.
Our sessions continued for several months after the interviews, and we focused mainly on pronunciation – in particular fast, connected speech and weak forms – and phrasal verbs and other colloquialisms.

Much of Gianluca’s homework consisted of him working on sounds and sentences, recording himself on his phone and sending the files to me for review and feedback.

CRISTINA: the primary school teacher

Cristina is a teacher who had been working as a nanny, but wanted to find a teaching assistant job as a starting point for a career in teaching in this country. She mainly wanted help with writing a good CV and covering letter.
We re-worked her existing CV, in terms of content, language and presentation, and I helped her with ways of making her covering letters relevant to specific jobs she was applying for.

We also looked at ways of expressing her enthusiasm and passion for teaching in a more personal way, paying particular attention to describing achievements rather than merely listing responsibilities she had had in previous jobs.

I am delighted to say the lessons were clearly a success – one month later she was offered a full-time teaching position at a well-known primary school in South London.

NATASHA: the partner

Natasha moved to London with her husband, and wanted not only to improve all aspects of her English, but also to get help with cultural and practical aspects of settling in a new country.

I used a coursebook with Natasha, as she wanted something with a very clear structure that she could easily revise. Her grasp of grammar was very good, but she didn’t use a lot of the language she ‘knew’. We therefore spent a lot of time working on incorporating language that was passive for her into situations in her everyday life, and so preparing her to use the target language in the real world.

Her memory of words was not as strong, and both she and I spent time putting word sets into ‘Quizlet’ (one of my favourite language apps), which meant she could always spend a few minutes each day on her phone or tablet going over the vocabulary we had been working on.

One area we devoted particular attention to was the language of cars and driving, as she was taking driving lessons to enable her to pass the driving test in this country. Finally, she wanted to take the UK Citizenship test, so I prepared a wide range of materials for her that covered different aspects of the test, such as the history, geography, institutions and cultural life of the UK.

LYLA: the student

Lyla came from China to England to study at an independent school, wanted to go on to university, so had to achieve a high IELTS grade to get onto a popular course at LSE. While her listening and speaking skills had naturally improved as a result of spending two years being taught in English, her grammar was very patchy, and her writing was weak.

She was quite undisciplined in her approach to grammar. While her desire to communicate produced a very pragmatic view that she would talk, and not worry about mistakes, I was concerned that if she continued with that mentality for much longer, she would find that many mistakes and misconceptions would become ingrained, and would become difficult or impossible to correct at a later stage.

So I pushed her in every way I could to reflect on her language, and to try to self-correct. So when I ‘corrected’ a piece of her writing, for example an IELTS-style description of a bar chart, what I actually did was give it back with instructions to find two tense mistakes, or a missing article or an incorrect comparative structure in a particular paragraph. By the end I would simply return a piece of writing and tell her there were x number of grammar mistakes, and x number of spelling mistakes!

I also tried to expand the range of language she used. I started by using ‘transformation’ exercises from the Cambridge exams which I made her do ‘in her head’, and then applied some of the language points to her own writing, encouraging her to use a wider variety of structures and vocabulary.
It worked – she got into LSE!