How to Teach Introverted Students

Introverts are often very good language learners because it requires many skills that introverts have in abundance. They’re not easily distracted. They like to do things in the quietness of their homes. They can concentrate well. However, many introverts struggle with speaking their target language.

Shyness vs introversion

Many people seem to think that introverted people are shy. That may be the case but not necessarily. Shyness and introversion are two different things. While introversion is a personality trait you are born with, shyness is something you acquire. From this follows that you cannot learn to be less introverted but you can overcome shyness. The last part is important because quite a few introverts are indeed shy, to various extents.

Introverts find it energy-draining to spend much time with other people, especially when there are many people around. It doesn’t mean they’re anti-social or don’t like to talk but it’s exhausting for them. For extroverts, it’s the other way round, they gain energy from the interaction with other people and therefore simply don’t understand it when an introvert wants to go home after one hour at a party, for example.

As introverts don’t have that much the urge to talk with people, developing their speaking skills is often a problem when they learn a language. They dread small talk and are often not keen to get to know new people, so they tend to shy away from taking lessons.

In this article, I’d like to focus on how to work with introverts and make them feel comfortable. If you’re an introverted teacher like me, you probably won’t find it difficult but extroverts often run into problems when working with introverted students.

How do introverts learn a language?

Due to their personality, introverts are usually independent language learners. They normally don’t need teachers to explain grammar to them or tell them how to learn. So that means, an informal and conversational approach is the better choice, isn’t it? Well, unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

Firstly, it depends on the student’s language level. It’s not very likely that any introvert is a fan of the famous Benny Lewis’ “Speak from Day 1” approach. In most cases, introverts will get themselves a book and start studying on their own before they decide to book lessons with a teacher.

It doesn’t mean that they’re not interested in speaking. Very much the opposite. I’ve found introverted students to make fewer mistakes. They’re good listeners and very likely to review what they did in class. Extroverts are often more communicative and just speak but they’re also more likely to repeat the same mistakes again and again.

Overcoming the fear of Skype

I still remember my first Skype session with a teacher four years ago. I was super nervous and had no idea whether I’d be able to say a word. It was a Spanish lesson and I didn’t speak very well because of my nervousness. However, the teacher was extremely friendly and after a few sessions with him, I felt much more comfortable. Now, after 800 sessions as a student and more than 6,000 sessions as a teacher, Skype is a part of my daily routine.

I’ve heard some introverts say that they can’t imagine talking to a stranger on Skype. They were even some people who accused me of not being an introvert because I handle Skype with ease. However, this initial fear of Skype has more to do with shyness than with introversion and thus, it’s something you can overcome.

I’m not an extremely shy introvert but there are situations I’ve always avoided, especially talking in front of many people (many people means more than 3 people!). As an introvert, I don’t like to be the center of attraction and I tend to blush whenever this happens. Not a nice feeling.  However, I’m aware that speaking in public is something that can be learned. Just think of personalities like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or J.K. Rowling. They’re all introverts but certain things were so important for them that they developed skills that seem to be typical for extroverts. And they became very successful.

Well, not all of us want to found the next huge internet company or hold important speeches in front of hundreds of people or television cameras. Instead, an introverted student has the same goal as an extroverted student: He wants to be able to speak his target language well.

And Skype is an excellent means to achieve this goal.

Speaking with or without a camera

I’ve worked with some introverted students who preferred to use audio only.  Personally I prefer to use the camera because it feels more like a normal conversation and less than a telephone call when I can see the other persons. Before you call a new student, ask him if he would like to do the session with or without video. Also, don’t just call, write a short “hello” into the Skype chat before you start.  Many extroverted teachers don’t do that, they will just call the student when the session is supposed to begin. When they are used to working with their camera, they will start a video call and then the student may find himself in the awkward position to switch on his camera, too although he wasn’t prepared for it. Just don’t assume that everyone wants to work with the camera switched on.

Finding the right tutor

Extroverts easily connect with people, always find something to talk about and often just “use” the tutor for their purpose, that is practising their target language. As introverts we tend to me more thoughtful, we’re more worried about what the other person may think about us, we don’t want to bore our tutor. And we’re certainly terribly afraid of making a fool of ourselves because we speak the language we’re learning so badly.

So it’s important to find the right tutor. When a student learns a small language there may be not many tutors available. When they learn Spanish or Russian, they can choose among dozens of tutors or professional teachers. However, introverts often find it hard to choose a teacher.

They often look for tutors they have something in common with, teachers who are also interested in language learning, for example and speak or learn a variety of languages.

Introverts also read your user profile. Remember that they want to find out as much about you as possible before booking a session. Making sure that your user profile reveals some personal stuff about you will make you more attractive for introverts.

How does an introvert prepare for a lesson?

It’s very likely that an introvert will send quite a detailed introduction message when booking a lesson with you. It’s important for them to tell their teacher about their language level, their goals and how they’d like to work with you. Sometimes, they will tell you that it’s their first time having a Skype lesson and that they’re nervous. Write back to them and be reassuring. Tell them that you’re looking forward to meeting them.

Introverts are normally well-prepared but will wait for your questions. Especially when they don’t know you well yet, they will let you guide them through the lesson. Be attentive, listen well and ask follow-up questions. And don’t talk too much. Introverts like to get to know their teachers and they’re good listeners but they also want to practice their language skills and it’s energy-draining for them when they constantly interrupt you because you talk too much. They will disappear and won’t book further lessons with you.

Hope that this article was helpful and will help you when you have a lesson with a new student who appears to be shy or introverted. I’ve certainly written a lot of my personal opinions as I’m an introvert myself and am aware that we all have different personalities. Not all extroverts are the same and not all introverts are the same.