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Behind the scenes of our Live Lingo Lessons

Lough Derg - Ireland

This is not an announcement article. It’s more of an article to get your feedback and see where we go from here with our Skype private tutor service.

A year ago, I announced that we were working on a personal tutoring service for learning to speak Irish Gaelic.

For our Bitesize Irish Gaelic clan members who make use of our online program to learn Irish, it would be a whole step forward to be also able to meet up with a tutor to get real-time feedback.

It’s hard to learn without practising conversation, right? It’s also difficult to know how your pronunciation is without speaking with a native speaker in real time.

So far, the service has proven more complicated than I’ve been able to pull together. So I thought I’d give you a bit of history behind the idea, and let’s see where we go from here.

Our story so far with Bitesize Irish Gaelic Live

Around 2012, I was awarded a grant to participate in a startup program here in Limerick, Ireland. I quit my research job at the local university, and took this 6-month position. The aim to to see how we could grow Bitesize Irish Gaelic. (I’ve since gone back to work full time, and work on Bitesize Irish Gaelic part-time.)

That program pushed me to learn more about our audience. Who are you? What are your objectives, dreams, and fears? I emailed a question “What’s your biggest fear about learning Irish?”. Wow, what a response. More than 100 of you emailed personally back with your feedback. One of the biggest challenges was not being able to practice speaking the Irish language with anybody around you.

That sounded like a real problem (and it is still a real problem).

We worked on the idea, and considered finding tutors who would meet learners over Skype and teach them to speak some Irish.

In August 2013, I announced that we were working on Bitesize Irish Gaelic Live.

We collected email addresses of interested people. About 100 people signed up to hear more about the service as it progressed. I also mentioned the service on our podcast as we worked through the private phases.

A large piece of the puzzle was to find kind, understanding teachers who were happy to take part in the service. This took me a long time to figure out, as I didn’t know anybody who would be available. I created an online registration form for tutors.

A good source of registrations of interested potential tutors turned out to be graduates from the National University of Ireland Maynooth, which has a qualification program for teaching Irish to adults.

I interviewed a number of tutors over Skype. Around October 2013, I arranged for two tutors to meet two selected customers of Bitesize Irish Gaelic Live. My apologies if my recollection is out of order with how it actually turned out below.

Pat in Florida was our first customer. He was matched up with the tutor Aonghus. Aonghus was a native speaker of the Aran Islands, living for a long time on the mainland in Galway, Ireland. I believe they had five video Skype lessons together, and we all learned a lot about the service during those calls.

Our second customer was Renee, and her daughter, in Las Vegas. Renee was scheduled to meet with the second tutor, a native Irish speaker from Achill Island. It was time for the first call to go ahead, and the tutor never showed up. I rang the tutor, and her friend answered saying it was the wrong number. That was quite annoying, but she obviously was no longer interested. (Come to think of it, it could have been Pat who has this missed call. The details are escaping me, although I don’t want to offend either Pat nor Renee!)

Aonghus took on the role of also meeting Renee since were were down to one tutor.

The Live service was getting off the ground. After Christmas 2013, Aonghus got more work from his company, and decided to no longer participate in our service. He’s obviously successful in his corporate career. He was first planning on retiring, but was probably offered enough money to keep going 🙂 It therefore wasn’t worth his time to show up for tutor sessions late in the evening after work.

That was the first phase of the Live tutor sessions, and I contacted more active clan members of Bitesize Irish Gaelic to see if they wanted to participate.

For the second phase of Bitesize Irish Gaelic Live, I wanted to learn more about how to run the service. Scheduling was a headache. After going through the steps of working out a time that suited both the tutor and the learner, there were both times when a tutor didn’t show up and a learner didn’t show up. What do you do when someone doesn’t show up? Do you cover their cost of the next session? Do you fire a tutor immediately for one or two slip-ups? With session where one person doesn’t show up, we’ve essentially wasted the time of the other person who did bother showing up.

For phase two, four more learners agreed to pay for lessons in January 2014. In the meantime, I was busy trying to find a new tutor. Time rolled on, and it was several months later when they eventually got matched to new tutors. Gearóid was one tutor for this phase who was excellent, but didn’t want to continue for personal reasons. Grace, also here in Limerick, was an excellent teacher, and wanted to continue. I may be forgetting right now about another tutor who was involved.

These 20 sessions (five sessions for each of the four learners) went ahead. Again, scheduling was a big problem. The learners were very kind to us though, and gave excellent feedback as to what would help them in learning more Irish. This phase eventually finished in early summer 2014.

Along with scheduling, the issue of cost of the service has always been something we’ve been working out. It’s really expensive to (1) make a personal tutor available to you, (2) pay the tutor enough to make it worth their time to show up, and (3) still have enough left over to pay for all the coordination work and – let’s be completely open about it – profits.

Killarney Cill Airne - Ireland

Challenges that I’m not sure about

Along came summer 2014, and I was still stuck on four issues:

  1. How to schedule a recurring session between a tutor and a learner, when either could be in any time zone and with an unknown restriction to their time
  2. How to keep the supply of tutors filled, when there is always going to be a turnover between people starting and people finishing
  3. How to make the pricing work so that our customers could afford it, yet making it worthwhile for tutors
  4. What content to cover in a series of sessions that you pay for.

I lingered on those issues through this past summer, and it felt like too much to decide. To be honest, I had a bit of anxiety during the time about how to make it work, and why couldn’t I make it work.

As it happens, the first problem of scheduling may have a solution. During my trips this past summer to Milwaukee Irish Fest and Kansas City Irish Fest, my father told me about a scheduling system where you share your calendar and people can reserve time slots for meetings. There’s several of these online systems. By having each tutor enter their available time in the system, you could log in to see which tutor might match your available time.

The second problem of not having enough tutors could be addressed by posting more aggressively to current and past students of programs for learning to teach Irish to adults. To be honest, I didn’t follow up with every tutor who registered their interest with us, as I got stuck on the other challenges.

The third issue with pricing is a real one. We currently need to charge around $75/hour to make the service work out financially. This would cover e-commerce fees, tutor fees, and project manager fees. One approach is to make the personal tutor session more Bitesize in length. Then you pay $35 for 25 minutes with the tutor. That was the official length of our second phase of test tutor sessions.

I love the idea of keeping sessions short, as it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and like you’re no longer learning. It’s core to our principal of learning in Bitesize portions.

Another way to make the sessions more affordable would be to have two learners meet one tutor. This makes it at least twice as hard to find a suitable time to meet. But if we can overcome the scheduling problem, then it’s possible.

The last open challenge is deciding whether to have open lessons where the tutor answers any questions that you the learner has, or whether to offer a more structured program of ten Bitesize sessions, for example.

The trouble with the structured lessons is that everyone is on a different level of learning. So one set of lessons might suit one person but not another person. That being said, if we can cover certain core topics around learning the language, the topics should be applicable for more than one single person.

Your chance to help shape our future

In conclusion, we’ve ran two private test phases during the past year. Both the learners and the tutors were very kind in finding ways of making it work.

That being said, it has seemed to be difficult to pull it all together to actually make it work, and a couple of open questions remain, particularly about what the tutors should cover during any particular private tutor session.

With all that said, what’s your impression of this potential service? Is it something that you will pay for? How would you suggest we provide a structured program of live personal lessons? Would you prefer to purchase a set of tutor sessions around a set menu of topics? Please leave a reply below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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25 thoughts on “Behind the scenes of our Live Lingo Lessons”

  1. I’ve used italki.com. It is set up for exactly the type of tutoring you are talking about. There are two Irish tutors and some free partners. You might want to check out their format so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Slan.

  2. Eoin is doing a fantastic job getting the opportunity to learn Irish out to so many people. I like the idea of the tutoring sessions being shorter and more affordable. Possibly single “group” lessons on a specific topic with a limited amount of students signing up in advance for a specific day and time would be appealing to an instructor, while being less of a financial commitment to bitesize members who have the interest but might be short on time and funds. Someone mentioned Meetup. I have been looking there for months to find someone else interested in speaking Irish, with absolutely no luck. Eoin had suggested at one time that I start up a group myself, but don’t feel confident in my ability to speak it. Is there any way at all that bitesize members could voluntarily share their locations? Possibly there are others struggling to learn that are near enough to meet with, or establish a pen pal type relationship with, at least. Go raibh mile maith agat!

  3. Dia duit a Eoin ! Tá súil agam go bhfuil tú go maith

    I’m glad to see that Bite Size Live is still being considered as an additional learning medium. I really enjoyed the few lessons I participated in during the first trial run of it and I do hope to be able to continue using the service in the future.

    I can see where the logistics involved in providing live tutoring can be quite daunting to say the least. Especially when you have students and tutors spanning the globe. I have a few thoughts concerning the specific issues you’ve mentioned in your blog. I think the idea of creating a scheduling system where students and tutors alike can “sign up” for specific time blocks is a grand idea. Many years ago when I was going through paramedic school, the students were required to participate in various “clinicals” in area hospitals and EMS services. The school created an online scheduling system similar to what you’ve described where the students could go to the online scheduling site, look for specific blocks of time and specific areas within the hospital that were available to them and “sign-up” by clicking on that block. I believe the same system was used for the proctors and instructors who would supervise the students at those clinicals. Pat Walsh had a great idea with scheduling specific lessons or topics at specific times then let the student decide if he/she is at a point in their studies where they feel they can participate and sign up for the “class”.
    The idea of having more than one student participate in a lesson is a great idea as well. When I attended Oideas Gael back in June/July, I found the ability to interact with others with-in the class was quite helpful. Some were more advanced than others but they turned out to be a big help with those who were not.
    As far as being able to find and retain qualified tutors, and having them be able to accommodate students who live in different time zones; have you considered hiring tutors who live in other areas outside of Ireland ? I imagine that idea might have it’s own set of issues to deal with but it’s food for thought anyway.
    I had no issue with the cost of the program. However, offering lessons with more flexible payment options would certainly be beneficial if that is possible. There are times when I’m flush and can afford a full block of lessons and then sometimes … not so much. That’s when smaller blocks of lessons where I wouldn’t have to come up with as much money up front would help keep the continuity of my studies flowing.
    I really do hope you’re able to get the Bite Size Live program up and running. I’d certainly be one of your more devoted pupils to be sure!

    Slán go foil agus go raibh maith agat , Pat Hagan

  4. I’d be really interested in it; I learn a lot better with personal interactions than with words on paper. Personally, I would prefer a structured set of lessons as I would understand the projected outcomes of the lessons and would be able to understand more how I was progressing. If a student chooses certain lesson topics it could also provide this structure so that would be good as well.

    I’ve lived in the UK for the past year and have managed to Skype with people back home on a regular basis, so I’m sure it would be no problem to make tutor scheduling work when I’m back in Canada.

    Thank you for these efforts!

  5. Maeve Thunderchild

    First I want to say GO RAIB MAITH AGAT for being here and all your efforts. I have been through a lot of websites that often do not have accurate translations to rely on, which is only a small part of what has made Bite-Sized so attractive. I certainly have no problem with Skype and use it frequently for all types of communications. The only problem I have with anything is…money. Your prices do seem more than fair enough for the average person, unfortunately my own personal circumstances don’t allow for any spending. So, it is very reluctantly I have to say I could not participate in anything other than the free emails. I am sixty years old, disabled and live in a very isolated area . . . I most definitely wish I did have the money for your classes. — Thanks, again.

  6. Eoin,
    Contas atá tú.
    You have a real challenge with online tutoring. There is an Irish tutor about 35 miles from me, but it would take about 90 minutes in heavy traffic to reach his class. By the time I get to the class I would be too tired from fighting the traffic.

    For years I have struggled with Irish. Besides no one to speak with, my main problem with Irish is the grammar. English is bad enough for me, but Irish really makes my head itch. Bitesize has helped a lot in the grammar department and pronunciation. But, I still have many questions. Wish I knew about Bitesize years ago. A tutor trough Skipe would be very helpful and at $35 for 25 minutes a week could work for me. I’m retired so making time for an online tutor would not be a problem.

    I know people go through Meetup.com to form Irish classes. I have toyed with the idea of forming one, but there is still that problem of no Irish speakers and grammar.

    Go raibh maith agat.

  7. I’m still very much a beginner, but am interested in a few live classes occasionally to help with my pronunciation. The individual tutoring is especially important to me since I grew up in the rural south with an imbedded accent that is sometimes a challenge for others to understand.
    For me, scheduling should prove a little less daunting – I’m retired, but in a time zone 11 hours behind Ireland’s.…
    I can only imagine all the permutations in putting a program of this scale in place. Thank you Eoin. Your efforts are appreciated.

  8. I wouldn’t need a certified teacher. A student that could help w pronunciation would be fine. A calendar schedule w the narrowly defined topic would be good ie beginner or bite size lesson 1-5. If a time would be available for a region people could respond. If inadequate response cancel that time slot.
    Thanks for all your efforts, Pat Walsh

  9. I have an old desktop monitor with no camera, so face to face skyping is not an option for me, and i’m afraid i couldn’t commit to the price either. In theory, it seems like a good service; but too complicated?
    Practicing conversation is a problem, but i don’t feel that hung up about it. I’m hoping to finish the bite-size lessons next year, then try to make it to an intensive Irish weekend in NY state through Daltai na Gaelige and go from there. perhaps i will find some people i can practice with in person, over the long term. I’m actually just enjoying the journey of learning Irish, and will see where it takes me.

    1. Hi Rachel,

      Thank you for sharing your view. Feel free to join anytime it suits you best and if you have any suggestions on what we should change, we will welcome your opinion.

  10. i cannot find the apostles creed in irish spoken or even written on youtube.
    i am having trouble trying to learn it phonetically as there is no sound recording i can turn to
    for help. Can you advise? sorry this is not about your current topic.

  11. Count me in. The online scheduling calendar sounds like a wonderful idea. I can even prepare my tutor in advance of my objective. I would like to break down the “Cups” song in bitesize portions. I’m so excited, I really hope that we can make it happen! Kind regards, Lynne