My Very First Lesson With An Online Spanish Tutor

My First Lesson With An Online Spanish Tutor

My first Spanish lesson with an online tutor.


What an unbelievably valuable experience that was.

As you might have read in my recent posts here, a couple of days ago I booked my first session with an online Spanish tutor using the italki website.   Yesterday I posted how I was feeling about it just before it was about to start.

I wasn’t really nervous at all.  In fact I was really excited.

Looking back now, here’s why:

  1. I knew exactly what I wanted to get out of the session
  2. I had a plan
  3. Having put together a list of questions I knew how I was going to capitalise on the session
  4. All the resources I needed were in place and ready to go.

How Did The First Lesson Go?

Well to start off, my tutor scared the shit out of me by opening up the greeting in rapid fire Spanish.

I got the “Buenos días” bit as well as the bit where she asked me how I was.

But then I couldn’t make sense of the rest of the staccato barrage of Spanish where the words had merged into one continuous stream of sound!

Fortunately my “old faithful” catch all safety net was quickly deployed:

“No entiendo!”

She asked me something else in Spanish that I think had something to do with my level of proficiency in the language.

[I don’t know why she asked… my level of proficiency (or lack thereof) was VERY clear].

I resorted to a more sophisticated version of “old faithful”:

“Hablo un poco español y entiendo un poco”

The more time I spend in conversation with native speakers, the more I suspect that will become a well used phrase pretty quickly.

But it has it’s uses.

The only trouble is the more practice I get at using it, the better it will sound, the more proficient I will appear to be at that bit of the language.  And then by inference, the more Spanish ability I will be (falsely) credited with.

Which means people will think I am taking the piss by appearing to not understand them when I actually won’t be able to understand them.

This Caught Me Out Before

I know this to be true because of an incident in Austria a few years ago when I was given an on the spot fine on a Tram.  I had a ticket, but what I didn’t know was that I had to validate it by punching it with the machine on the tram.

The two young women that got on with me, and that saw me buy my ticket (but not punch it), morphed into the Hitler Youth when they turned out to be undercover ticket collectors.

They approached me and started rabbiting away in German.

So I responded in perfect German:

Ich spreche ein bissen Deutsche und ich verstehe ein bisschen auch” – I speak a bit of German and I understand it a bit also.

And then I look bewildered at her as she once again rabbited away in German.

She thought I was being “Johnny Foreigner” awkward because what I had said sounded “fluent”.

I genuinely couldn’t understand her.

Eventually though, I got to understand what a 50 Euro fine looked like!

Back To My Spanish Lesson

Quite quickly my tutor switched to English because clearly she wasn’t going to get very far communicating in Spanish.

Now what was really interesting was how she changed in personality, body language and facial expressions when she switched to English.

Just by speaking a different language, she seemed to become a different person.

It got me thinking more about how I need to explore my Spanish alter-ego.

I can recall Benny Lewis talking about having people talk to him in English when he was abroad somewhere even though he was trying to learn the local language.

He studied how the locals dressed and carried themselves and started copying them.  All of a sudden, the locals started responding to him like he was one of them.

Food for thought…!

However the biggest lesson I learnt here was the difference between real native spoken Spanish and the Spanish of the classroom.

There is a HUGE difference.

I think I anticipated this as being a problem in my recent post about my salsa dancing experience.

It is one I am going to have to overcome.  But the important thing is to be aware of it and then take the necessary steps to deal with it.

We Discussed What I Wanted Out Of The Session

Once we switched back to English, I then explained to her what I wanted to get out from the lesson and how I’d like to play it.

This is perhaps where many might fall over.  You might think that because she was the teacher and I the student, that she should direct the sessions.

Well that is one option of course and there is no reason why you couldn’t go down that route.

But, I had a specific purpose for the lessons.

I wanted to wrap some grammar around the words I had already learnt.  These are the most frequently used words of course.  That means when I know how to string them together, I am more likely to become more functionally fluent quicker.

Following someone else’s agenda is merely doing something that is convenient to them and not necessarily what is best for you.

It takes a bit of confidence to assert your intentions like this, but it is in your best interests to do so.

As it happens, she was really open to the idea and very happy to explore this way of doing things.  [Note – At the end of the session she found she really enjoyed it and could actually see the benefit].

And Then We Got Started

I had already sent over Gabe Wyner’s 625 Spanish Word List so she had an idea of what I wanted to cover.

To get the most out of the exercise, he suggests asking your tutor to create sentences in the past, present and future tenses.  He also suggests working on sentences that might be something you might say.

Then once she has decided on the sentence, you ask questions about it.

So for example the first word on the list Gabe has created is la tierra (the earth).

The sentence she created was this:

nostoros vivimos en la planeta tierra

So what we did was talk through each word.  In this case I knew what nosotros meant (we) so that was an easy word to talk about.  “Vivimos” is a conjugation of the verb to live which is vivir so we talked a bit about that.

The whole sentence actually means “we live on the planet earth” so knowing this, I honed in on the word “en”.  Now I know “en” means “in” so I asked my tutor about that.

It prompted a good conversation and from that I discovered that “en” means on, in or at depending on the context.

This is the sort question and subsequent conversation that helps gain a deeper understanding of the language.  It certainly was the case for me.

In just a couple of minutes I had gained a key insight into the use of this important preposition.  For once there is a part of Spanish that is easier than the English equivalent(s).  Sadly I know that’s not always going to be the case 🙂

The last part of the sentence “la planeta tierra” clearly meant “the planet earth”.

So in one sentence I discovered an example conjugation of a verb together with the important use of a preposition.

Ohh look at me with me posh grammatical terms!

I did that just to show off really!

I needed to use Google to find out that “in” is a preposition!

What’ I have actually done in layman’s terms is understand what a “doing word” that ends in IR changes to when I want to say “we” are doing it.

I have also understood how so say “on something”, “in something” and “at something” using the same word.

Then we went on to the next sentence which was to incorporate the word “el cielo” (the sky)

Here is what she wrote:

el cielo es azul


This was an easy one for me because knowing the two words already (having memorised them), I knew it to mean “the sky is blue”.

We then had a discussion about this sentence.

I asked about the word “es” which translated to “is”.

This of course is a form of the verb “ser”  which means to be.   “Es” is how you say “to be” when referring it is, he is or she is.

We also talked about the word “azul” and I asked whether it has to change from an original form to be in this sentence.  Apparently it does not.  The only time azul changes is if it is in reference to a plural when it becomes “azules”.

So much learning to come from just a few words.

Here’s The Key To Maximising Your Learning

What I have discovered in just one short lesson is that there is a key to maximising my learning in working with a tutor in this way.

And that is this:

Ask lots of questions about EVERYTHING!

Even if you think you know the answer, get confirmation of that.

There is now such thing as a stupid question (though I am sure I will ask lots of those over the coming weeks and months).

What I found was that my tutor was more than happy to answer my questions and help me understand.

She seemed pleased that I was taking such a detailed interest in her language.

And then of course take notes.

I was recording the session using a recording app for Skype so I could review it later.  But it was also important for me to take hand written notes. This helped me to focus and also helped generate more questions.

Here’s (Another) Important Point

What I have discovered from doing this is not to be constrained by the word list.

It is only a starting point.

A really good one at that, but a starting point nevertheless.

As we spoke about each sentence, other very relevant questions sprang to mind and so we explored them too.

This was a natural process that flowed organically and in fact nearly half the sentences created were “off piste”.

And Then The Lesson Was Over

And it seemed almost as soon as it had started, the lesson was over.

In all we covered 10 of the words on the list, combining some in the same sentence.

She created sentences in the past, present and future tenses AND gave me some other useful phrases related to what we had covered.

It was a thoroughly stimulating and rewarding experience and one that I can highly recommend.

I was able to clear up any uncertainty about what I was learning by being able to ask questions there and then.

At no point did I feel out of my depth (apart from the rapid fire Spanish at the start of the session!).  I felt supported and encouraged throughout.

But most importantly, I was in control of the progress we were making.

If I didn’t understand it, then we didn’t move on until I did.  And my tutor had the patience to help me through the stumbling blocks.

Now other people might have been able to get through more words that I did because they might be able to pick things up quicker.

But that doesn’t matter.

Because the only pace I need to worry about, is my own.

I really enjoyed the hour and felt I had built a strong rapport with my tutor in the time we had together.  I don’t think I need to look elsewhere for another because I think she fits the bill perfectly.

The Real Work Starts Now

I am excited by what happened in this session.

But the real work and the real learning starts now.

All I have done with my tutor is “COVER” the material.

I understand it, it makes sense.

What I have to do now is learn what I have covered with my tutor.

And that means creating flash cards.  Only when those are made can I have another lesson.

I will tell you all about that in another post.

What Resources Did I Use?

Here are the list of resources I used for this lesson:

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