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Communications Strategies Implemented by Tutors to Facilitate the Acquisition of English as a Second Language

Justin Gerszewski

University of Southern California

Communications Strategies Implemented by Tutors to Facilitate the Acquisition of English as a Second Language

With the world's economies becoming increasingly globalized many students are learning foreign languages as a means to stay competitive in the international marketplace (Altbach & Knight, 2007).  Due to English's status as a lingua franca for many businesses, more students worldwide may learn English to improve their chances of gaining employment (Cogo, 2018). While many students already learn English in school some students may look to use tutoring services to improve their English ability.

 It is expected that the United States tutoring market will grow by more than seven percent by the year 2022 (Private Tutoring Market in the US, 2018). Because of this large market growth, tutoring service companies will need to employ specific educational and marketing strategies in order to remain competitive within the market. Companies that employ market research to precisely advertise their services with their consumer base's needs in mind outperform those without an effective marketing plan (Forsyth, and Boucher, 2015).  For this reason, marketing strategies to establish strong positioning should be studied further.

It is also essential to determine which strategies allow for students to learn more effectively. Although students using tutoring services saw significant improvements in academic performance compared to students that did not use tutoring services. (Harris-Van Kueren, 2016), it has been found that some tutoring techniques are more efficient others (Mackiewicz, & Thompson, 2015). It is important for tutoring services to be aware of the needs of their consumers, first to employ effective strategies to facilitate their learning, and second to advertise their services with the needs of their consumers in mind.

Specifically, this focus group paper aims to determine the types of tutoring techniques that would most effectively enhance student's acquisition of English as a second language. This paper will also use market research to determine the specific needs of students, to create a marketing campaign to address their demands.



One in-person focus group was conducted that lasted ten minutes. The group moderator was a graduate student in the Communication Management program at Annenberg.


A total of four participants— four females and zero males took part in the study. Participants ranged in age from 21 to 30 years and were all students and Chinese or American and Indian. In addition, all participants had learned English as a second language.

Focus Group

The focus group consisted of three main questions. The first part focused on prior use of language tutoring services. An example question was “Is it an effective use of time to use a tutor?” The second part focused on strategies used in the past by language tutors. An example question was “What strategies have worked best for you?” The final part focused on future use of language tutoring services. An example question was “What would help improve your learning ability?”  The moderator guide can be found in the Appendix.


From conducting the focus group, it was apparent that all participants had used tutoring services before in the past. Specifically, participants expressed that they used these services in the past not as a means to get ahead of their peers, but instead to address their lacking skills. Responses ranged from “I was terrible at math. I could not get the concepts right”, to “Correcting my grammar because I have a lot of grammar problems”, and “To help with my homework.” when asked why they used tutoring services in the past. Not only had students used these services, they also found it to be well worth both their time and money. One participant stated that it “gave me the ability to refine the skills I had already learned.”, while another participant stated it “gave me the confidence about the subject I was learning for the test, that okay I can do this.” With all participants noting it was worthwhile to use a tutor it should be determined if using tutoring services would be helpful for learning English as a second language.

Participants stated that they would in fact use tutoring services for learning English, especially to help with conversation and for a general command of the language. A participant indicated that “I think I would use it to generally understand that language.”, while also stating that she had used Duolingo in the past for tutoring but felt “it was okay, but I did not really grasp much.” Other participants gave similar responses stating that Duolingo was not as effective as they had thought, which may imply that face to face tutoring was a more effective use of their time compared to digital tutoring and educational services when learning a language. Using an application to learn English or any other foreign language takes the social element out of the equation which may explain why they preferred to learn in person.

Considering the social nature of conversation all participants stated that conversing with the tutor is the most effective use of their time, indicating the need for interaction with their tutors. Participants responses mirrored one participant's feedback when she suggested that tutors “working through a conversation slowly while offering feedback would be the most helpful.” When asked to describe the most important traits in a tutor, respondents described someone that was “positive”, “enthusiastic”, “helpful”, “friendly”, amongst other positive personality traits.

With these important personality traits in mind, technical skills should be considered as well.

Participants stressed the importance of learning English primarily from native speakers, especially conversation. One participant expressed that “If someone is bilingual but not a native English speaker, this person is not a native speaker, and you can tell there is some kind of flaw when expressing themselves.” Despite this preference for native speakers when learning conversational skills, participants said learning grammar from someone with an understanding of their language would be more helpful. One participant expanded upon this sentiment by stating “There are certain nuances in a language that are difficult to understand, but if it can be explained in our native language it may help with understanding.”  It was not necessary for tutors to be bilingual but as one participant reasoned” If they know some Mandarin they will know why I caused this problem, which would be helpful.”  This indicates that while being a native speaker is important, just as important is having some grasp of their native language. Finally, participants expressed their desire to learn from someone that has either an educational background in linguistics or a related field. In addition, they would prefer learning from someone that has experience with tutoring students in the past. However, experience alone was not enough, and as one participant noted “Experience along with everything else is important.”  With these responses in mind, it should be considered that respondents are looking for an experienced tutor that has the ability to interact an both an emotional and instructional level. A combination of several factors may contribute to the success of the student's acquisition of English.


An analysis of the data may indicate that other students want someone that has both an understanding of the language and of interpersonal communication skills. Student's also seemed to be pleased with the results of using tutoring services in the past and may want to use these services again in the future. Perhaps these students may have had only positive experiences which may contribute to their desire to use said services again. If this group had negative experiences in the past they may not want to meet with tutors again. With this focus group, negative questions were not asked which could be an explanation for only positive responses. In future focus groups the usage of negative experience questions will be used to see if responses differ. Responses also were pretty similar, and this may have occurred as a result of each participant responding sequentially rather than simultaneously. It would be beneficial to encourage conversation amongst participants in future focus groups to see if there are any differences in opinion.

The findings of this focus group show some implications that can be utilized by established tutoring services as well as budding companies. Participants that had used tutoring services in the past were pleased with their results and may be likely to use these services again in the future. Companies that have tutored students in the past may want to consider using different tactics to encourage repeat customers such as promotions, and discounts.

If personality is indeed highly important companies may want to consider some personality testing during the interview process when hiring employees to ensure they will have a positive effect on their students. Companies may also need to be cognizant of the importance of their tutors having a solid understanding of another foreign language to better cater their clientele. As seen from the data it may be important for companies to look for people that either have an educational background in language or another related field, or tutoring experience. Finally, a company may be able to take this information to build a marketing campaign that shows their company as being positive, competent, and social to address the desires of their target audience.


Altbach, P. G., & Knight, J. (2007). The Internationalization of Higher Education: Motivations and Realities, Sage Publications, 11 (3-4), 290-305. Retrieved from

Cogo, A. (2018). Cultural Elements in English as a Lingua Franca, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1-7

Forsyth, J., & Boucher, L. (2015). Why Big Data Is Not Enough, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015(5) 26-27. Retrieved from

Harris-Van Kueren, C. (2016). Looking for Matthew: The Effects of Private Tutoring on the Educational Outcomes of Fourth Grade Public School Students in Cambodia (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from

Mackiewicz, J., & Thompson, I. (2015). The Tutoring Strategies of Experienced Writing Center Tutors, The Writing Center Journal, 35(1), 183-187. Retrieved from

TechNavio. (2018). Private Tutoring Market in the US 2018-2022 (Report No. 2) Retrieved from TechNavio Website: 2018?utm_source=t7&utm_medium=bw&utm_campaign=businesswire


Problem: International students needing to learn English to remain competitive in the international marketplace

Goal: Learn what communication strategies English tutors can use to facilitate learning

Topic: As the world becomes more globalized, the ability to have business interactions conducted in English is increasingly becoming more important. While many individuals will turn to English academies, books, or online resources, others may consider hiring a personal English tutor to beat out their competition in the international market place. With this growing market of English learners comes a great opportunity for tutoring services to meet this demand In what ways can tutors for these companies strategically communicate with their clients to best serve theirs needs?

Participants:  Participants will specifically be international students learning English. Many international students come to America for the sole purpose of learning English to get ahead of their peers back home. For this reason, many of these students may be looking to English tutoring services for assistance. Screening will be conducted by advertising on campus for international students that are non-native English speakers. Participants will respond to advertisements by stating their name, major, country of origin, and native language.

Reimbursements: Drinks and sandwiches from Jimmy Johns will be provided during the focus group, and a $30 Amazon gift card.

Key Questions:

I. Intro/Warm up

a. Please state your first name and native language

II. Use of tutoring services

a. Have you ever used tutoring services?

i. General probe: Why or why not?

b. What kind of tutoring service have you used?

i. Specific probe: Math, English, Science?

c. Is it an effective use of time to use a tutor?

i. Why or why not?

III. Tutoring service usage

a. Why would you use these services, for results?

i. Specific probe: For school exam, GRE/TOEFL, ability, etc.

b. What strategies would work or have worked best for you?

i. Specific probe: Conversation, giving frequent corrections, good explanations, attending class?

c. How important is it to you that the tutor is fluent in your native language?

i. Specific probe: A native English-speaking tutor for conversation, or someone that also speaks your language for more in depth learning?

IV. Tutoring service methods

a. What would you like see from an English tutor?

i. Specific probe: Ability, experience, personality?

b. What would help to improve your learning ability?

i. General probe: Can you elaborate?

V. Wrap-Up

a. Is English important in the world of business/

i. Specific probe: To get ahead, language of business, etc.?

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