Can I really learn English online?

When I’m talking to potential customers and they realise that my training only takes place online, some of them say things like “no, that wouldn’t be any good for me. I’m only looking for face-to-face training”.

I’m not here to tell you that online training is the best way to learn. As a learner, I’ve worked with both online and face-to-face trainers. However, I believe that the best way to make a good decision is to have all the facts, which is why I would like to look at some of the ideas people have about online training, and why they may not be true.

First let’s look at some advantages of online training:

These are some reasons why people that I’ve worked with said that they like online training:

1. You can take part in the lessons from the comfort of your own home or your office;
2. You don’t spend time Travelling;
3. You don’t spend money on transport;
4. You don’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic or the bus being late.
5. It is good training for you if you have to take part in telephone meetings or video conferences with colleagues;
6. You don’t need to find someone to look after your dogs or children;
7. You’re not limited to trainers in your local area, which widens the pool of possible trainers;

Possible problems

Now let’s look at some possible problems and reasons why people don’t think they’ll like online training:

1. I need to see the person that I’m talking to

Most online trainers will use a camera so that you can see them. You may not feel that this is the same as being in the same room as them, but you’ll still be able to see their gestures and facial expressions. For some people, that’s still not enough, but it’s worth bearing in mind that some people actually choose to have lessons without the camera, particularly if they have to communicate regularly with English-speakers on the telephone.

2. I don’t like the technology

There is a wide range in terms of the amount of technology that teachers use in their classrooms. Some trainers build an online training environment with interactive boards and resources. However others just use a programme to facilitate the online call. I do the latter. If there are any resources for the lesson, I email them to my customers in advance so that they can choose whether to read them online or print them out. If you think that the technology may be a problem for you, it’s worth checking out how much technology a potential trainer is planning to use.

3. I’ve had bad experiences with online teachers before

There are people who let the side down in every profession – bad builders, bad mechanics etc. Unfortunately some English speakers see language teaching as an easy way to make some extra money and they aren’t interested in teaching or able to teach well. Being a native speaker does not necessarily mean that you speak your native language well.

However, it doesn’t mean that all online teachers are like that – in fact, the ones that I know are hard-working, good at what they do and generally interested in their learners’ success.

I’ve bought training before that looked good but most definitely wasn’t. It’s annoying, but it won’t prevent me from buying training again – it just means that I’ll vet the trainers and the programme more carefully.

Maybe you and your previous teacher just weren’t a good team.

I offer a free online meeting to any customers who are thinking about working with me so they can talk to me, find out what I’m like, tell me what they are looking for and hear what I can offer them. Many other teachers offer something similar so that both the teacher and the customer can get an idea of whether they want to work together.

4. I don’t think that I’d be able to concentrate

Actually I’ve heard stories from teachers whose students wouldn’t put their phone away and who kept texting and even making calls during face-to-face lessons. This is frustrating when you’re trying to teach someone, but ultimately, if you’re paying for lessons, you too have a part to play in their success and you get out as much as you put in.

If you mean that being at your computer will mean you’ll get distracted, I can identify with this. If I’m supposed to be watching a webinar, I sometimes start doing something else at the same time. However, whereas webinars are often passive activities, one-to-one lessons are active because you spend your time interacting with the trainer, which will encourage you to be focussed on the task.

5. I’ve only done face-to-face learning before

This is true of most people, although some companies are now moving to self-paced or online learning.

You may be more familiar with the traditional classroom set-up, but why not try something new? Many teachers let you book a lesson at a time, so you wouldn’t have to worry about making a big financial investment for something that you may not like. I do offer discounts for block bookings, but if people want to book a lesson at a time, that’s fine with me.

6. I never get any peace at home

This is a real problem and if you don’t have somewhere where you will not be disturbed, it would be better for you to go somewhere where you can concentrate.

I have had a lesson with a customer who was sitting outside (she had unlimited data on her phone package), but to get the best out of the lesson, you need to have somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed, and this may mean that online learning is not the best choice for you, unless you can find a café or a room at work with free wifi.

7. My internet connection is terrible

Obviously this is a problem in terms of online learning. Audio calls take up less bandwidth than video calls, and I have a couple of customers who have audio lessons for this reason, but if seeing the other person is important to you, a poor internet connection is a potential deal breaker unless you’re willing to look into changing providers, which can sometimes help.

8. I would miss the interaction with other learners

This is a slightly different discussion to the online vs. face-to-face discussion, as both types of learning can be in a one-to-one or a group setting.

9. My computer is really old

This can be a problem, but if you have a smartphone and can get onto your home wifi, you can use apps such as Skype, Facetime (for Apple products), Viber, WhatsApp or Facebook calls. Most of my lessons are delivered on Skype or Facetime, but I have used all of the above apps before and I deliver all of my lessons via my iPhone. So, if your internet connection is good, there’s no reason why you can’t use your phone or tablet instead of your computer.

What do you think now?

I hope that this information was useful and that it gave you an idea of how things can work in terms of online training.

If you still think that you could only learn in a face-to-face setting, that’s fine and I hope it works out for you.

If you want to know more about my online lessons and have a free meeting with me, you can find out more here.

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Kirsty working with students



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