What is the ideal length of a private language lesson?

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So the question I’m posing this time around is - What is the ideal length of a private language lesson?

Browsing through blogs written by prominent linguists and polyglots, I see that the topic of what constitutes the ideal length of a private language lesson is given little coverage. 

Why is that? 

Well, tradition rules doesn’t it? Private language tutors feel inclined to follow the traditional language school model. Namely, lessons which last 45 minutes, 60 minutes and an hour and a half. Occasionally, half an hour.

As I discuss in this post, the ideal length of a private language lesson rather doesn’t exist.

What counts most is the regularity of a student’s contact with a tutor and authentic materials.


TRADITION, LANGUAGE SCHOOLS AND ONLINE LANGUAGE LEARNING WEBSITES

I appreciate that private language schools are businesses. Very few students who sign up for a group class are going to pay for a course where they’ll only see their teacher once or twice a week for 30 minutes. Hence, 90-minute or 45-minute classes tend to be the norm in language schools. If my memory serves me correctly, all of my group classes with children and adults in the five language schools I worked at lasted 90 minutes. 

My classes with individual students in those schools lasted 45, 60 and 90 minutes.

Now, when it comes to online language learning websites which connect language learners and teachers, such as italki, lessons tend to have a duration of 30, 45, 60 and 90 minutes. Hence, teachers are reluctant to go below 30 minutes, even when it comes to one-to-one language lessons online.


THE DOWNSIDES of 60-MINUTE AND 90-MINUTE LESSONS

I’ve given one-to-one private lessons to students ever since I started teaching in 2006.

The biggest problem with holding a 60 or 90-minute lesson online is maintaining a student’s attention. 

I would argue that, no matter how engaging a teacher is or how interesting learning materials are, few students feel fresh and concentrated after 45 minutes of learning, unless they take a break. Teachers rarely allow for breaks during private lessons, and nor should they be expected to.

When it comes to face-to-face lessons, I can understand that a student might be reluctant to travel across town for a lesson that lasts 30 minutes or less. 

For online lessons, however, the ideal length of a private language lesson is a debate worth having.


ONLINE LANGUAGE LESSONS - A CONTROVERSIAL VIEW CONCERNING THE IDEAL LENGTH OF A PRIVATE LANGUAGE LESSON?

Most online teachers offer 45, 60 or 90 minute lessons. Why should I do the same?

I offered plenty of tips for English language teachers to be successful in this profession in a previous post. The final tip offers a quick overview of the benefits of offering short BUT regular classes. 

Let’s expand upon this tip now.

Since 2013, I’ve been teaching a Polish student every second day via Skype. His name is Marek and he works as an Interior Photographer. You can read the testimonial he wrote for PELC here.

My classes with Marek are unique because they usually last anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes, depending on the depth of the materials and how involved we become in a discussion. 

15 minutes you may wonder! Before you scream at your screen, I can honestly say that Marek has been my most committed student over the years. From the get-go, I think that these short but regular classes ensured that English would become a habit for Marek, rather than a drawn out 90-minute chore. 

On the days when we don’t have a lesson, I’m quite convinced that Marek revises his notes. He also listens to BBC Radio 4. He prefers to read or listen to lesson materials, such as TED talks, just before a lesson so that the content is fresh in his mind.

I believe that such a routine is ideal for language learners. Plenty of input, speaking practice every second day, minimal preparation time and class times which are easily manageable in terms of one’s attention span.

As Marek said during an interview with PELC: “I enjoy these 20-minute classes. I don’t get tired, and I can manage my time much better. I think that the lessons are more about quality rather than quantity. We just focus on the essentials.”

If a student only has one 90-minute class a week, they might feel inclined to take their foot off the pedal. Their attitude might be: “I’ve learned so many words, done so many grammar exercises and turned so many pages in my coursebook this week - why should I do anything before my next class?”

I will repeat - it’s the regularity and authentic nature of materials that count. NOT the length of a class.


CLASSES THAT LAST A FIXED LENGTH OF TIME

As I point out on the prices page of this site: “online lessons do not last for fixed lengths of time. Instead, students pay for a bundle of prepaid minutes, and a running record is kept which details the number of minutes used.”

Such flexibility takes the pressure off teachers because it’s impossible to predict how a particular student might react to a text. I’ve had a few lessons where students just didn’t feel comfortable talking about certain topics. 

If a student is “not in the mood”, yet still expects nothing else apart from a 45-minute or 60-minute class, the teacher would automatically be in a bit of a quandary. Even though my students are almost always willing to talk about whatever topic comes their way, I no longer put myself in a position where I have to make up tasks on the spot or just chat with them in order to reach a time limit.


CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

All in all, my experience with several students from Poland and Russia who take short online classes every two or three days has revealed to me that a student’s confidence, when it comes to speaking, rises proportionally to the frequency in which they have a class. 

If a student is willing to have a class every second or third day, I’d say that the ideal length of a private language lesson is anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes.

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