I still remember how nervous I was when I got started on italki four years ago and received my first requests for trial lessons. What would I do? Which kind of questions should I ask? Would the prospective student like me? Would he or she book regular sessions? Now, after about 280 trial lessons and almost 5,000 regular lessons, I’m much more relaxed and would like to share some of my learnings with you.
How to prepare trial lessons?
You may be surprised but I don’t prepare them at all – unless I work with absolute beginners. In that case, I send some material before the lesson. In the very beginning, I prepared trial lessons but I soon realized that those students I enjoy working with, are mainly interested in getting to know me as a person and don’t want to do any exercises during their trial lesson.
Getting to know the student
A trial lesson on italki lasts 30 minutes, so I usually use the first 20 minutes to ask a lot of questions and let the student talk as much as possible. That way, I get a good idea about his or her level and also about his or her personality. I don’t do any formal evaluation. In my opinion, those internet-based tests are never accurate. I’ve done them for English, Spanish and Czech and always scored high (C2 for English and Spanish and B2 for Czech) because I’m quite good with grammar rules and passive understanding. However, not even my English is C2 when I have to speak and my Czech is no more than A2.
Let the student ask questions
During the last 10 minutes of a trial lesson, I ask the students if they have any questions and I quickly explain to them how I work and which kind of material I use. For example, I use the Skype chat to write down corrections during a trial session but have a GoogleDoc for regular students. This is something the student has to know because working with a GoogleDoc is much more efficient than just using the Skype chat.
When I work with students who don’t speak that much German yet (normally A1 – B1), I usually speak English during those last ten minutes. In my experience, it makes most students feel more comfortable and encourages them to ask questions.
How can I make sure that the student books regular lessons?
Well, there’s never a guarantee and that’s fine. You will also come across students you don’t want to continue with, by the way. These are 1:1 lessons, so it’s important to feel comfortable with each other. When you teach a common language like Spanish or English, there are many other teachers. So, the student has lots of choices. Don’t take it personally when he chooses not to have regular lessons with you. However, there are some aspects which you should take into account:
I’m also a student on italki and in my experience, many teachers fail here. Even more so when the student already speaks the language well. I’d rather not count how many lessons I had with Spanish teachers who usually left a nice feedback praising my good Spanish. Well, just because my Spanish is not too bad, I notice exactly when I’m struggling with a grammatical structure or can’t find the right word. And that’s when I expect the teacher to help me. You don’t necessarily have to interrupt the student, just write down a correction. And, please, not just one word. When I make an error with the tense, it doesn’t help me when a teacher writes down the verb using the correct tense. After the lesson, I simply won’t remember anymore what exactly I said.
Keep the conversation flowing
I’m an introvert and that means that I’m not good with small talk. However, small talk is part of each trial lesson, so that’s my job. Even if it’s your first trial lesson, remember that your student is most likely even more nervous than you. Especially beginner or low intermediate students need your guidance. Keep the conversation simple. You can ask questions about family, hobbies, language learning or travel, for example. Talking about the student’s job is also possible but often too difficult for beginners. Don’t forget to ask follow-up questions. It doesn’t matter if they sound stupid to you. Your student will be happy about any help. A simple conversation with a beginner could be like this:
- Do you have a brother or sister?
- I have a sister.
- Ah, that’s interesting. What’s her name?
- And how old is she?
- She’s 26.
- Where does she live?
You get the idea, don’t you?
Adapt to the student’s level
I have a great new Spanish teacher. Our first meeting was kind of funny, though. She spoke so slowly that I had to laugh. Normally, it’s the other way round. Inexperienced teachers speak much too fast and use too many difficult words and grammatical structures. You may get to work with students who want and need to understand the language at a natural speed. However, a trial lesson becomes a frustrating experience for a student when he understands only half of what you say and you don’t notice it. He probably won’t book regular sessions with you. Speaking clearly and at a slightly reduced speed is important in your video, too, by the way.
Adapt to the student’s personality
This requires some experience. Some students want to talk a lot about themselves, so reveal some personal things about yourself, too (but take care that you don’t talk too much). Others prefer a more professional relationship, they want to learn the language. Some students are shy and need a lot of encouragement. I work best with people who are serious about learning the language but are interested in a personal relationship, too. However, for a trial lesson, it’s essential to make the student feel comfortable. Asking a lot of personal questions when a student is obviously not keen on telling you too much about his private life is not a good idea. So listen carefully and adapt your questions and follow-up questions accordingly.
How much should I charge for a trial lesson?
italki requires a minimum fee of US$1.00 for a trial lesson so talking about free trial lessons in your video or on your teacher profile means you’re lying. Don’t do it. But should you offer a trial lesson for US$1.00? In my opinion, it’s not a good idea.
Why you should not offer a trial lesson for US$1.00
A trial lesson lasts 30 minutes. Do you really want to sell your time so cheaply? We’re not talking about your own website or marketing strategies here. italki is a market place, people come and go. When they stumble about your profile, they’re not primarily interested in you personally (this may come later, it may already happen during the trial). Fortunately, trial lessons are now restricted to three per student (when I got started on italki, they were unlimited). However, there are people who will book trial lessons with you and have absolutely no intention to book regular sessions afterwards. Perhaps they can’t afford it and in order to get some speaking practice, they will choose three teachers who offer cheap trial lessons. You will never hear from those people again.
So what’s a good price for a trial session?
italki doesn’t charge any fees for trial lessons so in my opinion, it’s best to offer a one for a bit less than your lowest regular lesson price. For example, I offer 30 minutes of informal tutoring for US$11.00 and my trials cost US$9.00. That way, I attract less students who are just looking for cheap speaking practice.
Look at the student’s profile
On italki, you can decide whether you want to show your lesson history and reviews as a student or not. If the information is available, it gives you a good idea whether the student is likely to book regular lessons or not.
Is it the student’s first trial lesson?
Students who are new on italki and chose you for their first trial lesson are very likely to book regular lessons. Normally, they communicate in their messages that it’s their very first lesson and perhaps even the first experience with online teaching. They may have questions about italki, too. I’d also advise that you check the student’s time zone. When someone registers on italki, the standard time zone is an American one and some people forget to change it and end up booking a session which is in the middle of the night for them. So when you think a student has booked a lesson at a time which looks quite unusual, send a message and ask.
Has the student had lessons with lots of teachers?
I’ve never really understood why but there are people who never do more than 2 or 3 lessons with the same teacher. If someone with such a profile books a trial lesson with you, do the session with the person, be friendly but be prepared that this will not become a regular student.
Has the student had lessons with a few teachers?
In this case, the student is probably looking for a new teacher and it will depend on the quality of your trial lesson whether he will return or not. You may also check the profiles of the teachers the student has worked with so far. How much do their prices differ from yours? This will give you an idea how much the student is able or willing to spend. Did the teachers stop teaching on italki or suddenly teach much less than before (check the lessons taught)? Then the student probably needs a new teacher because his old one isn’t available anymore.
How should I end a trial lesson?
For some reason, this is something many teachers or teachers-to-be seem to worry about. Probably because they’re in a “How do I sell my lessons to this person” mood. It is understandable when you’re new on italki and keen to find students. What I do is very simple. In most cases, I tell the students that it was a pleasure talking to them and ask them to get in touch if they have any more questions. If students already express a strong desire to book lessons, I offer to send them some sample material directly after our trial. Perhaps you’re now wondering why I don’t tell every student that it was a pleasure talking to him. Well, in some cases, I know after those 30 minutes that we won’t work well together and simply don’t want to encourage the student to book any lessons with me.
So this was quite a long article and I hope it was helpful. Perhaps one last advice: Don’t think too much of prospective paying customers when dealing with trial sessions. The people you’re going to talk to are individuals who are seeking your help. When you’re passionate about what you’re doing, they will sense it and will return if they think you’re a good match for them. The interaction in a 1:1 setting is different from a classroom. In most cases, it’s more personal which has its advantages and disadvantages.
Any thoughts or suggestions? What have been your experiences with trial lessons so far?