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Digital Nomad Life

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Are you fluent in English? Do you want to work within the comfort of your home away from home? Then tutoring English online is a sure-fire way to support yourself in most – if not all – digitally nomad developed destinations. At $10/hr, I recommend Cambly. First, because neither a teaching certificate nor an English degree is required. Second, because no lesson plan is required.

In fact, you could just have a 15-60min conversation with each student. Although, I would suggest developing a plan or style, especially if your goal is to have student consistency or receive the ever-elusive SuperTutor title – a current rating of 4.9 or higher.  

Over the past 4 months, I have had roughly 306 hours of talk-time. I have met 441 students and have had 898 total chats. With a 4.85 current rating, my goal is to earn the title of SuperTutor. This is what I have learned on my journey. I hope this helps and wish you luck on yours!

Tips and Tricks of a Cambly Tutor

Speak slowly. Slower than your usual pace.

The point here is that you will meet people of varying levels of fluency and it is best to ensure you speak to the lowest level. At least, do this until the student has shown themself to understand at a more natural speaking speed. Also, ensure you are enunciating the words. You’d be surprised how much lip reading there is! This is not to say mind the accent, rather to ensure you are pronouncing each syllable because mouth movement assists the student as well.

Verbally Mirroring the student is powerful!

It shows you are listening and encourages them to either re-word the sentence, often providing more context, or continue speaking. When you are first practicing this technique it is best just to repeat the last few words the speaker just said. Once you feel comfortable and have primed them – by repeating the last few words – at least once use any 3 to 5 words of their talking point.

 “Pictures are worth a thousand words.”

5-15mins of my class is about describing an image. Search for topics of varying difficulty on Google Images (ie ‘bike ride’, ‘cooking with the family’, or ‘interior’). Have the student describe what they see in full and complete sentences. Once they have satisfactorily described the image, ask open-ended questions about the topic (ie ‘How does the image make you feel’; ‘What do you think about X’; and ‘What do you think they were doing before – or are going to do after – the image’). Students love it because it is safe; challenging, yet engaging, and there is often a chance to learn new words or phrases. You will like it because there are many avenues for developing natural dialogue. Lastly, it is reusable! You can wait a week or month to reshow the same image and see if there are new ways the same student describes the image.

I find placing my index finger just below my lower lip, when I want a student to pay attention and/or parrot what I say, works very well.

So does cupping one of my ears when I want to hear them say it.

A light and warm smile will take you far.

Sometimes the best response to a student’s statement is a smile and a nod – if your goal is to get them to continue speaking especially.

Exaggerate your gestures.

When the student’s English is minimal, gesticulating can mean the difference between them understanding or not.

I like to ask the following questions to a recurring student.

“How are you doing”; “what did you do since the last time we spoke”; and “what are your plans for the weekend”. These three questions will get the student to speak in the present tense, past tense, and future tense. Feel free to explain why you are posing the questions (i.e. I wanted to hear you speak in past and future tense. Good Job! or here is where you need to improve)

Write out difficult words phonetically.

For instance, you may have a student who has trouble saying the word ‘usually’ so break the word down by syllable. say while typing “use-you-uh-lee is how you say usually”. This can be highly dependent on the student. If you notice it still doesn’t sound right then change up the syllables of the word until it does. Remember to make it clear that they will need to make that sound when they see or want to say that specific word.

  A great auditory method for pronouncing difficult words is to ‘clap out each syllable’.

When I was a child my teacher would have us break up multi-syllable words, thus likely difficult to say, by clapping. take “usually” for example: clap once for ‘use’, ‘you’, ‘uh’, and ‘lee’. Have the student repeat. then you say “once you feel comfortable with each sound, say it as quickly as possible”.  

‘That Reminds me of …’

Makes for a great transition from the planned lesson to natural dialogue. For example, you may be describing a picture of ‘children playing with toys’ and say this reminds me of when I was a kid. Then you can decide to talk about your childhood or have the student speak about their favorite toy as a child. Once you are practiced at this phrase, you can use it at any time – like when there is a lull in the conversation.

Open-ended questions are key to getting the student to open up and provide in-depth answers.

This means asking questions that begin with when, where, how, why, what, and who (i.e. ‘who is your favorite actor and why?’ or ‘When was the last time you went on an adventure and what did you do?’) Keep in mind that this method is difficult for beginners. But, if the reticence is because they are naturally shy then answering the question first will help. Sometimes the student doesn’t know what answer you are looking for, so you going first will provide a frame of reference.

I note the student’s mistakes by typing them out:

“You said: …”; “Correct way: …”; “Common Way: …”; and “Another way: …” is how I get the student to see the error. I ask the intermediate and advanced students to compare and contrast them (i.e. what are the differences between what ‘you said’ and the ‘common way’ it is said).

Ice Breaker Games

Beginner:

Categories (eg. colors, animals, foods) – An efficient way to get the student to say words they know and possibly learn new words. Great opportunity to transition into simple open-ended questions (eg what is your favorite food, what is your favorite animal, or what if your least favorite color) and using a simple sentence structure like subject + verb + complement (ie I like kapsa a lot, I love turtles the most, or I do not like the color green).

Intermediate:

Collaborative Story is an engaging icebreaker where the tutor will start with “once upon a time there was …”. From there, the student and the tutor will alternate control of the story by providing a sentence or two. After 4 or 5 rounds complete the story and go over any errors. I have found typing what both they and I said was the easiest way to go over any errors.

I think Mind Meld is an odd icebreaker, but it can lead to interesting conversations. ‘On the count of three,’ both the tutor and student will ‘say a single word’ (eg tutor says ‘animal’ and the student says ‘music’). Then they reset, try again, and will continue until both say the same word. I have yet to mind-meld with a student. The game will likely end in laughter or a topic both find interesting to discuss.

Advanced:

Questions are the Answer – Tutor: “Excuse me, can you give me directions to the movie theater”? Student: “Did you want the directions to the regular theater or IMAX”? Tutor: “Which one is closer”? Student: “Are you driving or walking”? You guessed it! The point of this icebreaker is to answer each question with a question. There may be some stumbling with the student when initially teaching the game. But once you get going it will be as fun as it is challenging.

Links that are great for daily use

Reading comprehension and discussion:

Free English books: 

Tongue-Twisters & Pronunciation:

Verb tenses & Grammar:

Transition/linking words:

Cambly Conversation:

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