Let’s discuss how to ask the right questions which will make your student feel confident about future lessons and will encourage them to book further lessons with you.
Questions about past experience
- For how long have you been learning German/Spanish/French/etc?
- How did you learn the language?
- Have you ever attended a course? What did you like and what did you dislike?
- Have you ever had private lessons? What did you like and dislike about them?
- What’s your current level? (Offer a placement test if the student isn’t sure)
- Where do you see your weaknesses?
Why are these questions important? They will tell you a lot about the student’s learning habits and preferences. There are students who have studied the language for quite a while trying several methods but aren’t really sure about their level, strengths, and weaknesses. These students need more guidance than people who were quite goal-orientated and aware of what they were doing from the very beginning.
Apart from that, these questions show your interest in the student’s previous experiences and tell them that you’d like to make their future lessons as enjoyable and effective as possible.
Questions about goals
- Why do you learn the language?
- Do you plan to take an official exam? If yes, which one and when? Will you need help to prepare for the exam?
These questions are important because it makes a difference whether someone learns a language just for fun or has to reach a goal (passing an exam) within a certain time frame. Not all teachers are familiar with official exams and able to prepare a student accordingly. Or they may not want to do exam preparation due to their personal preferences. If you’re one of them, that’s fine. You may nevertheless start to work with the student but recommend another teacher for the actual exam preparation, for example.
Questions about teaching format
- What would you like to focus on during the lessons?
- Do you want to do homework? How much time do you have to do homework?
- Do you like to talk about private stuff?
These questions make sure that you and your prospective student are a good match. My ideal lesson is a mixture of conversation, reading, and grammar with a focus on the conversation. This depends much on the student’s personality, though. If the student is a bit shy or reluctant to talk about personal stuff or express his opinion, it’s always less effective. However, it’s your job as a teacher to make sure that such students get enough conversation practice, too so be prepared to ask a lot of questions and try to find topics the student gets enthusiastic about. If you work with a book, you don’t always have to stick to the current topic.
Mentioning homework is important and should include some tips about reviewing stuff from the lessons. Believe it or not but there are still people who think it’s enough to appear for the lesson and are then surprised why they make so little progress. Students with little time or a lack of self-discipline usually do better with a higher frequency of lessons a week than students who are willing to dedicate a certain amount of time to self-study every day.
Questions about the schedule
- Did you already have a look at my schedule and my courses?
- Do you understand the differences among the courses I’m offering or do you have any questions?
- Which times would work well for you to have lessons?
- Are you interested in having lessons at regular times?
- Encourage the student to get in touch if any questions remained unanswered and offer him one or two possibilities to contact you.
It happens that students book a trial session without making themselves familiar with the courses before. Or they don’t look at your schedule and may be disappointed after the lesson if they want to book a regular session but can’t find a suitable slot. So it makes sense to ask these questions. Don’t try to talk your student into booking a follow-up session at once, though. If they’re genuinely interested in working with you, they’ll do it anyway, and otherwise, you’re likely to annoy them.
Some last words about flexible schedules. You may have had a trial session with a prospective student you’d really love to work with but it turns out that he would like to have lessons on Friday nights and normally, you don’t teach on Friday nights. In such cases, you need to make a decision on how flexible you want to be. In my case, it changes. For example, I’ve just started to take regular yoga classes and that has priority in my private life. So I’m trying to be as flexible as I can but certain times are not possible because I need the time for my yoga.