Q. For all practical purposes, aren't tutors more or less the same as teachers?
A. No, tutors are not teachers, although they do provide students with direct, live, oral interaction with a native-speaker. Tutors are the best resource for oral practice and modeling of language use. They also monitor and correct the learner's speech as only a native-speaker can do.
Q. Isn't that what regular teachers do?
A. It's certainly a part of what classroom teachers do. But, unlike most classroom teachers, tutors will not introduce students to each new lesson, nor will they explain the text as a teacher might. Rather, tutors will assume that the students have already prepared themselves for the day's practice of the assigned material.
Q. In practical terms, what does it really mean to be one's own teacher?
A. It means that the learner must be strongly self-motivated and willing to make a serious commitment to daily study of the language. And, since language-learning is skill-building, "doing" it is far more important than analyzing it.
Q. Students are expected to commit an hour or two every day to language study?
A. That is certainly ideal, but of course a student's schedule on some days may be full, even without language study. The point is: daily exposure to the language is much more effective than leaving it for, say, the weekend. Nor can language learning be crammed into a frantic week or two at the end of the term.
Q. What if some students simply haven't had the time to go over the day's lesson before going to the tutorial session?
A. The tutorials are highly interactive, and students won't benefit very much from them if they can't participate at the level of those who are prepared.
Q. Couldn't the same thing could be said for team sports, or playing in an orchestra?
A. Those are also good examples of what I'm talking about - and its quite different from the way students approach their other academic assignments.
Q. In, for example, their high school Spanish or French class, students probably had to learn lots of verb conjugations. Will such things be as important in this learning format?
A. It is important to understand the structure of a language, but studying only a series of facts about a language doesn't prepare one to use it in real-life settings. There is a difference between factual knowledge about a language, and being able to use a language for genuine communication. That is why the text and tapes or disks focus on authentic use of the language in its own culture.
Q. In a self-directed language program, are the text and audio-visual materials the primary resources for learning?
A. Yes. The texts, with their accompanying A/V materials, have been specifically selected for this particular approach to language study. However, the tutorials are also very important. Students meet in small group sessions with a tutor who is an educated native-speaker of the language and who facilitates use of the language in culturally authentic, adult, conversational situations. Also, the program coordinator should be able to help students who are having problems related to the structure or functioning of the course.
Q. Are grades for the course based on exam scores and class participation?
A. Grades reflect students' ability to use the language skills they have learned. The tutor is never the examiner, and plays no role at all in the final exam. The examiner is a language professional - probably a professor of the language - who has had wide experience evaluating the performance of students in this type of program. The section of this discussion pertaining to testing addresses the exam format in detail.
Q. As soon as the students are tested, do examiners inform them of their grades?
A. Not usually. Examiners may wish to review their notes and any written materials after all exams are completed, then giving the grades and comments to the coordinator a day or two later. Needless to say, students may occasionally raise questions about their grades with the coordinator, who will take the matter up with the examiner if warranted.