My Very First Private English Lesson

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It’s official! Today November 2nd, 2010, 8:37am, I taught my very first private English lesson. I agreed to meet my student, Taeko, at a Starbucks that’s about a 20-minute bike-ride from my house. I was so excited that I pedaled as fast as my legs would allow me. Having completed the 20-minute bike ride in about 13 minutes, my legs were screaming! But there was no time to worry about that…I had a lesson to teach.

Where I taught my first private lesson.

Before I say how the lesson went, let me tell you a bit of background info.

Where Did I Find My Student?

I am currently studying Kyokushin Karate, and one of the students there (a Hungarian man who’s been in Japan for quite some time) asked me if I was an English teacher. I told him that I was. His next question was “Do you teach private lessons at all?.” I was honest, I told him that I had never had private lesson students before (excluding the private lessons I have to teach for work). I said that I would be willing to teach, though. He mentioned me his wife’s friend was looking for a teacher and then he asked me what I charged…gulp! Luckily I had read a few months back about teachers charging anywhere from 1500 to 5000 yen. I decided to take the middle-of-the-road approach and charge 2500 yen because I thought it was reasonable. I did all of this expecting nothing to come of it. So I just went about my life as usual.

But around the middle of last week, I got a morning email message from Taeko, saying that she wanted to take my English lesson.

Preparing For the Lesson

I was EXTREMELY nervous about teaching my first English lesson on my own. I have taught hundreds of lessons, and even private lessons at the Eikaiwa I work for, but that didn’t make any difference. I didn’t get much sleep the night before because so many questions were running through my mind: “Is my lesson going to be too difficult? Too easy?” “What if she doesn’t like it?” “What kind of person is she?” “How good is her English?” After a while I realized that so many of these questions were things that were out of my control. I used Taeko’ intial emails to gauge her English grammar levels and how much English she actually knew. The reason I did it this way is because phone calls can be intimidating for a person who already lacks English-speaking confidence.

I decided to base my lesson around one theme. Taeko seemed to be a high beginner, so I structured my lesson as such. Since it would be our first time together, I would base my lesson on introductions. Introductions would be the basic skeleton of the lesson and I would segue into related topics to flesh-out the body of the lesson. I was confident with my plan and confidently went to sleep.

Well, How Did It Go?

In two words…VERY SMOOTHLY! Going into the lesson I considered four key things. Number 1: After some severely rocky business attempts, this could be my chance to change things. If can just be reasonably-priced and over-deliver lessons that students value, they will keep coming. Number 2: If I do a good job, the student may want to schedule ongoing lessons. Number 3: If I do a good job, she will tell my friend Thomas, and he may promote my lessons even more. Number 4: If she likes the lesson she could help me by doing positive word-of-mouth advertising (one of the most powerful types).

Everything went better than expected. I based my lesson around three main questions: How are you? Where are you from? What do you like to do in your free time (What are your hobbies?)? In my brain, I mind-mapped a bit. These questions would lead to other questions. For example, I asked “Where are you from?” She answered Japan. My next question was where in Japan are you from, and she said her city. I then asked what her city was famous for. Teaching this way made transitioning very easy, very smooth.

Anytime Taeko had trouble with a phrase, I would mark it in my mind as something to review throughout the hour. For example the question “Anything else?” was one I laced into the lesson because she had a hard time with the meaning at first, but by then end I think she both understood and remembered it.

At the end of the lesson she put ¥2500 yen on the table in front of me, and I was so grateful. I told her that she didn’t have to pay for the first lesson, but she did anyway. I think that means that she saw value in what I taught. She also asked me about my schedule and if she could take lessons on a weekly basis. I was more than willing. After hearing that, I asked her which aspects of English she was interested in working on: situational English (not in those words exactly; she’s a beginner mind you)? Vocabulary? etc. She said she was interested in the sitcom Friends, music lyrics for musicians like the Beatles, David Bowie, the Doors, etc. Keeping this in mind, I will try to go above and beyond her expectations.

A sigh of relief, for a nice student and naturally flowing, first lesson,

Donald Ash

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of thejapanguy.com blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • http://www.johnshannonmontessori.com School In Paranaque

    Well done, looks like you are enjoying your very first lesson with your private tutor. Hope to hear more and more power.

  • Sean Patton

    It’s encouraging to read how smoothly things went. I used to do weekly lessons with an older Taiwanese lady when I lived in Vancouver. She would pay me $40 to spend two hours with her discussing the news and topics of interest, and would even give me breakfast! A great way to spend a Sunday morning, especially since she pretty much paid for my weekly grocery budget with that $40 (was broke back then). I’m strongly considering doing lessons again when I get to Japan in October, but I’m nervous about meeting students’ expectations. However, the general message of your post seems to be “go prepared.” I’m guilty of blindly stumbling into things from time to time, so I’ll take that message to heart to help alleviate my nerves. Thanks for that!

  • http://twitter.com/joxrox Jox

    I just had the exact same experience, in Brazil. Taught my first private lesson, using basically the same themes as you, (where are you from, family, pets, favourite things). I was really nervous to give my first private lesson but i think it went well, even though i already knew my student (she’s a friend of my, who doesn’t speak much English). I didn’t want to charge her money, but she insisted on paying me, and we’re having another lesson next week, and i will also be giving her flatmate a lesson next week too! Hurray!

    • Donald Ash

      NICE! That’s how it starts. When the students like you, once that word of mouth starts, it can spread like a wildfire. Good luck, Jox!

  • J Austin

    First comment, at least for me ;-) I was looking for useful Japanese classroom phrases and stumbled across your site (hoping to be an ALT; I’ve only ever taught private students before).

    I actually love teaching privately…so long as they’re adults (or older kids; the best student I ever had was 14 and we just had a blast talking about fashion in English. Of course, what I know about fashion could be engraved in very big letters on the head of a very small pin, but we talked about it in English and that was the main thing!) Though I must admit, the same questions go through my mind as went through yours every time I take on a new student. (What if they like it? What if they don’t? Am I going to completely and utterly screw this up? Will I ever find a place that sells those cute little dried fish??)

    (Okay, so maybe that last one’s just me ;-))

  • Dino Dukez

    Love your blog Ash , very helpful ! Keep up good work !!

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