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When we talk about learning English, we’re not talking about learning English as a foreign language. What we mean is developing your reading, writing and critical thinking of English texts and discourse.
Sure, you’ll learn grammar rules and exceptions; that ‘I before E except after C’ works for receive and belief but not for weird, or that that through and though look the same but sound different. But learning English extends beyond knowledge of spelling and grammar rules. You should be striving to gain an understanding of how and why these rules and quirks of the English language developed: where they came from and in what political and historical context.
It may not have seemed like it when you’re in class at school, but those English lesson have done much more than just help you pass your exams or read a few Shakespeare plays – although understanding Shakespeare’s English is definitely a bonus! Studying English is incredibly beneficial in all areas of your education, as well as in your professional and personal capacity.
The comprehension skills we gain through active reading help us to think critically about any information encounter, whether in a conversation, a newspaper, on a poster or on a website. The books we read help to shape our understanding of the world that we live in, as well as social relationships. Finally, learning to write essays helps us learn to express our ideas and emotions coherently so that we can communicate with others and they can communicate with us! To write this bit of text on the Superprof website, we’re drawing on skills learned when studying English from primary school all the way through to university. These skills help us to write appropriately for you, the reader, in a way that you can understand!
We begin learning English from birth – recognising stress, pace and pitch changes before we’re even 4 months old – but our formal education starts in nursery and primary school and continues throughout our school years.
In school, the English curriculum focuses on four main areas: reading, speaking, writing, and grammar, vocabulary and punctuation.
Learning spoken English encourages cognitive, linguistic and social development in young people, helping them to learn to express themselves, explain ideas and concepts, collaborate with their peers and participate in group discussions in class. Developing spoken English also helps young people with their vocabulary and grammar, as well as their reading and writing skills.
In year 1 and 2 students show good speaking skills by actively participating in class discussions, asking relevant questions and responding to different characters in drama classes, but as they progress to secondary school they’re expected to present coherent arguments in class discussions.
The syllabus for spoken English emphasises consciously developing communication and critical thinking skills. This is a huge benefit whether you’re entertaining guests at a dinner party, giving a presentation at work or attending a job interview.
In primary school, written English focuses on two general areas: transcription (drawing on spelling and grammar) and composition. Composition encourages students to form and communicate their ideas, organising them in a way that a reader can understand. They’re encouraged to think about the why they’re writing, who they’re writing for and what the context is.
Later on in secondary school, students develop their self-evaluation skills, learning to draft and redraft their writing whether it’s an academic essay or a bit of creative writing. They develop the resilience to write at length in preparation for GCSE and A level essays and exams, as well as learning to write for a wide variety of purposes and audiences. This is particularly useful for anything from university applications and cover letters to speeches and presentations at work.
Reading plays two primary functions in our development in education. In primary school we read out loud, learning to recognise familiar words and to decode new ones. As we focus increasingly on the content of what we’re reading, we’re encouraged to do something called ‘active reading’ so that we can describe, discuss and analyse texts.
This translatable skill helps us to question and think critically about what we read, developing a knowledge of the world we live in and our own understanding of it. We can apply this skill to all areas of our lives and education, from history and politics through to art and music.
Reading also helps to feed our imaginations the vocabulary we use to express what we dream up, essential for budding creative writers!
In GCSE, A Level and University level, English studies are divided into two subject areas: English Language and English Literature. You’ll often study both subjects at GCSE level, but can choose to specialise in one or another at A level and beyond. But what’s the difference?
English Literature is the study of poetry, prose and other literary works. Students focus on literary periods and literary themes, and essays often serve to make critical comments and analyses of texts. You’ll develop your knowledge of the literary canon and gain an understanding of political, economic and historical contexts that influenced authors and texts. Some literature academics choose to specialise in the works of a specific author: such as Wordsworth or Shakespeare, whereas others may choose to dedicate their lives to a literary movement like Modernism.
English Language is the study of the language itself, but it goes way beyond the grammar you learn at primary school! English language studies encompass linguistic (socio-linguistics, psycho-linguistics, etc.) as well as discourse analysis (analysing written and spoken language) or analysing language techniques employed in literary works. Studies in English Language can lead to professions in copy or content writing, editing, advertising, or even further studies of the English Language as a university academic!
Humans need a common tongue in which to effectively communicate, and in the UK we have Standard English. It goes without saying that dialects, accents and slang add to the rich tapestry of the wider English language (after all, where would we all be without cockney rhyming slang?) but having a shared set of rules allows us to communicate effectively with minimal misunderstandings.
Technology serves as an incredible learning tool but has changed the way we develop and communicate. An increasing number of toddlers have access to tablets like iPads where they watch Youtube videos or play games. This is excellent for their computer literacy but means that they are spending less time with books or using their hands and building coordination. This can have a negative affect on their vocabulary and concentration spans, not to mention their handwriting.
This trend continues with age: less children are reading for pleasure with a sharp rise in young people looking at screens for amusement. Sure, young people are still reading, but they’re reading short Instagram posts, tweets and snippets instead of longform articles or stories that delve deeper into themes and issues to encourage critical thinking. As a result, young people are shying away from longer, more intimidating books: rather than finding a world view in literature, their world view comes from influencers, online peers and digital marketing.
Finally, technology has changed the way we communicate with one-another. Emojis are fun, but many of us now rely on these tiny images to communicate emotions and ideas when we would otherwise have used our vocabularies. Predictive text and auto-correct are lifesavers when you’re in a hurry, but what are they doing for our spelling skills?
In this technological age it is more important than ever to apply ourselves to our English studies – we can even use technology to do so through online English tuition on Superprof!
Maybe you dream of becoming a journalist, a publisher, an editor, a marketer or even a lawyer. Maybe you want to improve your written and oral comprehension to help you succeed in an exam or to develop your understanding of current affairs. Maybe you want to improve you critical thinking for your weekly book club. Whatever your motivation, consider the benefits of taking personalised, individual English lessons with an experienced English studies tutor.
Of course, there is something to be said for classroom-based sessions – you can learn from the experiences of other by discussing with your class mates and meeting like-minded students. But one-to-one tuition gives you the space to learn at your own pace, to focus on areas of study that you find particularly challenging and to work to a structure that is tailored to your abilities. A private tutor can help to identify your bad grammar habits and set you work to combat them, they can even find books and authors that they know will interest you for discussion. All this with the goal of developing your English language and literature skills.
There are multiple channels where you can look for a tutor. You can ask in local schools, look in the local newspaper, search the internet, word of mouth… But allow us to propose Superprof as a tool in your search.
Through Superprof, you can browse for tutors on your phone, tablet or computer from the comfort of wherever you are. Superprof tells you their location, experience and price, shows you reviews from other students and what type tuition they offer – along with a lot more useful information – making it easier to find a tutor whose teaching style is compatible with how you learn!