How To Choose An ESL Tutor For Adult English Learners

Last Updated on February 22, 2022 by Estrella

how to choose an ESL tutor for adult English learners
How to choose an ESL tutor for adult English learners. Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst.

So you have decided to work with a tutor to improve your English. Now you have to find the right tutor for you. If you want to work long-term with this person, there are several factors to take into consideration. Here are some tips on how to choose an ESL tutor for adult English learners, so you maximize your investment in tutoring.

What to look for in an ESL tutor

When English learners start researching ESL tutors, they often think of price and how long the person has been teaching. These are valid factors. You have set aside a budget, and you want to stay in your comfort zone. And you want to make sure that the person knows what she is doing. There are, however, a few other factors that are just as important when it comes to choosing the ideal ESL tutor for you.

How comfortable do you feel with the tutor?

This is absolutely the first thing I would consider if I were looking for a tutor. If there is any discomfort you feel around the person, that’s not the tutor for you. You want to feel relaxed when you are learning. If you feel unease around the person for any reason, just interview the next candidate. Even if the person is very knowledgeable about the subject, it will take energy on your part to deal with the discomfort before you can benefit from the tutor’s knowledge. That’s not the optimal learning atmosphere.

Have you ever had a professor who knows his subject really well but cannot convey his knowledge to his students in a way that they can relate to? Teaching is so much more than sharing knowledge. The art of teaching and tutoring is to present the idea in such a way that makes it easy for the student to grasp. Better yet, to make exploring the idea exciting and interesting so the student wants to know more.

How does the tutor reinforce your learning?

Reinforcement. Maybe you think only children needs encouragement when learning something new. Not so. In my years of teaching adults, they need every bit as much, except they are trained not to show it. In fact, I find that adults who have been working a number of years often appreciate praise a great deal. Again, they may not show it. But if you observe the smiles and attitude change, you’ll wonder why we don’t praise ourselves more often!

And when I say praise, I don’t mean words like “good job!” or “way to go!” Although that could work with some people, for many, the praises you often give to children would come across as patronizing. For adults, something else works even better.

Genuine compliments. And acknowledgment of success through verbal or non-verbal expressions. Look for these qualities when you interview your tutor, or when you have a demo lesson. Check how you feel about the way the tutor gives you feedback, positive or negative. If it’s negative feedback (correcting mistakes, for example) how is it presented? And more importantly, how does it make you feel? Do you feel embarrassed? Do you feel you should have known better? Do you feel respected?

Presenting negative feedback, or correcting someone’s mistakes, is an art. A delicate one at that. You want to work with someone who can encourage and build confidence when she is correcting you. If you find a tutor like this, you’ve struck gold. Because confidence is a huge part of learning. Far more than most people realize.

A tutor who brings out the flow of expression in you

So far, I’ve covered 2 elements of an ideal tutor. Someone you feel comfortable with. Someone who builds your confidence through positive reinforcement. Here is a third factor.

A key element of verbal fluency is speaking as the thought occurs to you in real time. No waiting for mental translation. That’s fluency. That’s how we communicate with one another in daily conversation. When you can do this, then you can talk with co-workers, strangers on the street, anyone. And with confidence!

If your tutor is someone who can make you forget you are speaking in a foreign language, you’ve struck gold. If you are so involved in expressing your thoughts that you forget you are using English, that is great! You have arrived. Find someone who has this ability to help you feel you are in a flow. Because that is what takes place in real conversations. And you want your lessons to simulate real life situations and real life feelings.

To summarize, an ideal tutor is someone with whom you feel comfortable, who builds your confidence even when correcting your mistakes, and who helps you feel you are not even speaking a foreign language. In addition to matching the English skills you want to master, these intangible qualities in a tutor will make your investment go very very far.

If you find this article helpful, here is one on Advanced techniques to fine-tune your spoken English.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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