Are you trying to learn a language as it's actually spoken, rather than what the text books teach you? Perhaps you're moving to the country, or perhaps a new job involves regular communication with speakers of the language. So how do you make sure your conversation sounds natural?
One way is to learn from a private tutor who's a native speaker.
Accent and Idiom
In general, learning a language from a native speaker will train your ear to hear and understand a particular way of speaking. It also brings the benefits of:
The tutor or teacher can guide you to minimise your accent, so other speakers can understand you more readily when you use the language.
You can start with simple phrases and recordings, leaving reading and rules for reading until later. A focus on learning from text alone may slow your progress and have a detrimental effect on your pronunciation.
Speaking Like a Native
Native speakers will also have knowledge of national or local customs and relevant, age-appropriate cultural information. Perhaps you're moving to a country where the language is spoken. The native speaker can work with you to minimise your accent, with regular practise, and give you feedback to help you achieve this aim. For instance, how to respond when not convinced, when surprised or to show displeasure — even pain. Where we say "Ouch!", a French person would say "Ai!". Native speakers can teach appropriate cultural traits.
Correct intonation is key. For example, a statement can become a question by altering intonation, rather than its structure. Syllables in tonal languages like Cantonese or Vietnamese require an ability to reproduce different rising and falling tones for each word to be spoken and understood appropriately. If learning Cantonese, for example, you'd need to learn 4-5 tones.
Young children should be encouraged to listen and repeat, to memorise without having to read. It’s the way babies acquire language, naturally. When considering private tuition, be aware that learning from a strong regional accent may be a hinderance for making yourself understood or being able to understand the foreign language in another area of the same country.
Finding the Best Private Tutor
Who will be the most appropriate tutor?If you're moving to Paris, then a native Parisian tutor would be best to ensure there are fewer adjustments necessary for you when listening to the spoken language. The most interesting English accent I've heard, for instance, was from a Sicilian who'd studied English in Manchester. It's best to research strong regional accents before selecting a tutor.
Generally, qualified language teacher and tutors will be trained and experienced in teaching subtleties of the language effectively. Unless you choose a native speaker who's qualified to teach language and has experience, they may not have the knowledge of a second language to explain things to you concisely or in a way that enables you to apply effective rules to the language you're learning.
Besides this, if they're not qualified, they may not be familiar with the mechanics of their mother tongue or the structural differences between your language and theirs. They're less likely to have an understanding of your natural difficulties when picking up a new language —e.g. gender and gender agreement, the use of masculine and feminine articles, the complexity of conjugating verbs.
Ultimately, it's a matter of personal choice. When selecting a tutor online, read several profiles and book free sessions with them. The best way of doing this is to register with TutorExtra to find language tutors who are native speakers.