Why 1:1 English teaching is effective

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

Research continues to show that one-on-one (1:1) English teaching is an effective method to enhance learning and motivation. The effectiveness of 1:1 tutoring was first studied in the 1980s by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, who looked at teaching and learning techniques and found a way to improve student performance significantly.

In his study, Bloom demonstrated that one-on-one tutoring that included regular assessment and constant feedback improved students' performance compared to students in a traditional classroom. The findings were significant because it suggests that 1:1 teaching has the potential to push students to advance their level as long as they are exposed to the right teaching method.


With all this in mind, I created ArchiEnglish. I wanted to be able to engage in effective 1:1 English teaching around one particular subject focus where I could make the learning highly relevant and more effective for architects, landscape architects and other built design professions. I didn't just want it to be about just teaching the rules and structures of the language. Understanding rules and forms are part of it, but it's not the most essential part. I wanted to teach English specifically for Architects and Landscape Architects after having worked myself as a landscape architect. I've always believed that my language teaching should be more holistic by looking at things like my learner's strengths and motivations and how knowing this can help them to identify the best strategies moving forward.

My teaching is heavily influenced by what I have learnt and implemented after reading the work of positive psychologist Martin Seligman and Second Language acquisition theory by Steven Krashen. Erin Meyer's work has also influenced my understanding of cultural differences in her book The Culture Map, and Gretchin Rubin's work about Tendencies of motivation has helped me to understand better how different learners are motivated differently.

Why is 1:1 English tutoring so effective?

Bloom concluded that the best explanation for the success of students who have a private tutor comes from the constant feedback they get, as well as the application of mastering a subject area. Bloom argued that, while traditional students don't get much feedback in a typical classroom environment, 1:1 tuition offers a more systematic corrective process. While I believe this to be true, I also feel it's important to know how often and when to give feedback, so it is useful. For example, a frequent corrective process can harm some learners motivation, so it's about balancing that process.

A supportive learning community

Whilst I believe strongly in the effectiveness of 1:1 tutoring, I also strongly support the idea of learning communities where learners can speak with other people who share similar stories, challenges and frustrations. I believe it helps with motivation and support, which is why my vision for ArchiEnglish is also to create a safe and supportive learning community.

When is 1:1 English tutoring most suitable for you?

1:1 teaching is the best way to learn for some people, but for others, it's not always suitable. How do you know if 1:1 teaching/coaching will work for you?

Here are my 6 most common reasons 1:1 will work for you:

1. You learn better when you have some structure and guidance, and you need someone to help you stay accountable to yourself.

2. You're not sure where to start, or you have lots of ideas, but you're not sure where to start and what to leave out from your study process.

3. When you're curious, and you like to ask questions because you feel this is how you advance your learning.

4. When you want the learning to be personalised to your experience

5. When you have particular goals.

How can you learn on your own if 1:1 tutoring isn't practical or affordable?

1:1 tutoring is beneficial, but what if you don't have the means to hire a 1:1 tutor? What's the most effective way to create a self-study program? I've made a list of the four most important things I suggest to my students when I'm working with them 1:1.

1. Understand your priorities and don't be afraid to make these flexible

When I first work with a client, I want to know what their priorities are. I don't ask them for their goals unless they know having concrete goals works for them because concrete goals can either work well for some people and for other people, it feels like another opportunity to fail. For this reason, I talk about what's your number one priority and what are the milestones that are going to help you achieve that priority.

Your milestones should be specific and measurable, so you know if you need to reevaluate. One thing I do with my language learning is I make myself a priority, and I continuously evaluate it monthly. If that needs to change, it can be adjusted, but I feel like setting strict goals doesn't work for me because I lose the motivation quickly. Whatever works for you, be clear on what it is you're trying to achieve and focus your study on what's going to help you get there.

2. Do things you enjoy

In my opinion, a good 1:1 teacher will work with the interests and needs of the learner. It would help if you did the same with your own choice of activities. If you work with me, I'm going to already have some ideas of your interests and reasons for learning English so I can offer you ideas and examples of materials you can use that will be specific to your job.

When you include your passions, interests and the things relevant to your reasons for learning English, you'll make it much easier to stick to your priority with learning the language.

3. Do activities that cover all the skills for language acquisition

As with 1:1 tutoring, you should be including listening, speaking, writing, and reading into your study program.

You are listening: to podcasts and audiobooks. I've made a good list of design and communication-related podcasts, but you can also find anything on any topic you enjoy. Design related podcasts will have a vocabulary which is more relevant to your job so will make your learning more useful and relevant.

Reading: Design articles, magazines, short blogs and podcast transcripts are good ways of including reading into your routine. It's then good to keep a record of any new vocabulary and expressions you come across.

Speaking: You could try speaking with your colleagues and ask them to give you some specific feedback. For example, you might ask them to comment on your pronunciation or if your message was clear. You could also make a set time to speak to them about making dedicated time to practice presenting projects or talking to people on the phone. If you want to mimic other speakers you admire you could also try watching videos and shadowing them by repeating what they say. Copying is an excellent way to improve your speaking and pronunciation skills.

Writing: Writing is perhaps the skill which is most comfortable to practice if you're using it for work every day already. There are also tools like Grammarly, which will help you with your writing.

4. Become comfortable with mistakes & ask your colleagues for help

We tend to think the mistakes we make are more of a problem than they are. You need to understand and accept that you will make mistakes, but if you want them to be corrected, you need to ask. When questions start popping into your head, either write them down or ask someone. I also welcome any of your questions as it helps me to understand better the frustrations and challenges you face so I'm always more than happy to receive emails and prepare resources that help to answer these questions.

My advice as a teacher

In my opinion, the most effective teaching methods are adapted to the level and needs of the learner and where feedback is given in such a way to motivate and support the students learning. There is no one way to do things, but it's about knowing yourself what motivates you and what you can realistically achieve on your own. While 1:1 tutoring is incredibly useful, it's not for everyone, so if you can, you need to create the right environment for yourself.

Think about your priorities and milestones, needs and interests and then adapt your activities to meet these. Find a variety of activities that you know you will enjoy. Work at mastering the most important things first and little by little you will improve. Adapt and evaluate your priorities and activities regularly. Adopt and understand what it means to follow a growth mindset. Speak more and don't be afraid of mistakes. Ask for help when you need to.

If you do those things consistently, over time, you'll get closer to feeling like the most confident version of yourself.


The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One to One tutoring

The Culture Map

Gretchin Rubin - The Four Tendencies (Motivation)

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