In part one of this two-part blog post, Fathom co-founder, Kevin McRobb discusses how to prime yourself before that crucial first meeting with a new language teacher. Part two can be found here.

Autumn is fast approaching – the kids are back to school, your inbox is back to full and your curiosity about present perfect is awakened once again! On top of all that, September also means for many of you that a new semester of language lessons at work is on the horizon.

The first meeting with a new teacher can be a daunting experience, both for individuals and for groups. Even some of the most battle-hardened of language learners were shaking visibly when they entered the room for their first lesson with me!

Fear of the unknown can be a powerful force. Often the most difficult step is simply getting started. That being said, don’t fret! We are here to help. This post contains some practical advice you might find helpful to alleviate your stress about speaking English with a new teacher, and adjusting to the new circumstances.

Take a walk on the wild side (or don’t)

Learn as much as you can about the language lessons in advance. Know when you’re expected to arrive; the exact room number in which the lessons will take place; how long it will take you to travel there, and the name of the teacher you are planning to meet. If you’re planning to join a group lesson, ask to see the enrolment list and get to know your new classmates during a coffee break.

Check out the CEFR requirements for your desired level to get an idea of what might transpire during that all-important first meeting. Any reputable language school should give you your new teacher’s contact details in advance. Ask as many questions as you can prior to the first meeting. Doing this will stimulate your mind for learning and make you more capable of picking up language unimpeded.

Some teachers adopt the ‘baptism of fire’ approach – they aim to demonstrate precisely how much their students have to learn. Others adopt the ‘softly, softly’ approach – they want their students to have a lovely time, building trust and moving slowly towards more demanding concepts in subsequent sessions.

We at Fathom believe that the correct path lies somewhere between those two extremes. We endeavour to have you relaxed enough to absorb information as smoothly as you can, and challenged enough to be engaged in each and every session – including the first.

Three Steps Ahead

Show up to the first lesson prepared and organised. Bring a dedicated language notebook — loose sheets of paper will quickly become a crumpled and useless mess — and a pen. On the first page of that notebook, write the questions you want to ask your new teacher, in English. These might include: “How often do you plan to assign me homework?”; “How do you suggest I study at home more effectively?” and “Are you free on Thursday mornings at 10:00?” for example.

Bite-size Chunks

It is neither necessary nor desirable for us to to tackle all of your language issues during a single session. A first lesson is all about making you comfortable with the format and building your confidence to speak, write (and make mistakes!) gently and purposefully. Early sessions are designed to build coping strategies that will then allow us to tackle bigger and more challenging issues with a lot less tension as you progress through your course.

We understand that entering a language classroom can be nerve-wracking for many of you. But with a positive attitude and a little psychological priming, you should have nothing to fear!


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What can you add to the discussion? How did you cope with stressful first lessons in a foreign language? Let us know in the comments!

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