The growth of the internet and ever increasing broadband speeds at affordable prices have opened up a sizeable niche in the eikaiwa sector – that of online private lessons on Skype or other platforms such as Google Hangouts.
In Japan, there is fierce competition between competing eikaiwa schools that solely focus on this way of learning English. Many offer extremely cheap private lessons at times convenient to the learner by often employing non-native speakers. Qualified teachers from the Philippines are streaming their English knowledge across cyberspace to reach an eager Japanese audience.
Beginners of English with no real intention or opportunity to live overseas will benefit hugely from these types of private lesson. But are such lessons enough to feel confident when living and working in an English-speaking country or with such an opportunity on the horizon?
At PS English, all teachers are native speakers of English with the large majority from the UK. A native speaker will provide a level of accuracy of English that is rarely matched by non-native speakers. A native speaker will know the local customs, idioms and colloquialisms that rarely get taught in the EFL classroom. So we offer the ideal combination: a native speaker with all the in-depth knowledge of the workings of the English language. This arrangement will help students to practise having natural conversations with exposure to a typical English accent and an ideal model for good pronunciation. It will also allow for clear explanations as to when and why the conversation sometimes breaks down.
But what about the quality of the streaming and the lack of genuine face-to-face interaction? Paradoxically, some of these drawbacks to online lessons might actually work to the advantage of the student. While Internet connection issues do occasionally occur, they tend to be few and far between. A more legitimate concern of online lessons is the lack of clarity of facial expressions and gestures that people use to communicate in ordinary situations. However, any shortfall in reliance on non-verbal communication, however vital it usually is, actually forces the student (and the teacher) to become ever better active listeners. Online lessons require both parties to attend to the actual content of the words being spoken and to rely less on other cues. This could help students over time become more accustomed to the way English is truly spoken and understood.
Another aspect of the growing attractiveness of online lessons is the advancement in software and apps that promote more effective e-learning. A good example of this is the attempt to bring the benefits of a whiteboard in a traditional classroom to the computer screens. Most teachers start their careers in a typical face-to-face environment, but some have exceled in harnessing the technology to become specialised online teachers. The traditional barriers to online learning such as the immense benefit of visual aids and explanations have largely disappeared. The teacher and student can nowadays view each other’s notetaking in real time.
Above all, online Skype lessons are for many people the ultimate in convenience. Students can avoid wasting time travelling to a classroom and enjoy learning from the comfort of their own home.