Using a tutor can be a very effective way to learn Chinese, maintain what you have, or go beyond what you have learned in the classroom. Keep in mind that just because a person is native Chinese person does not automatically qualify them as a good tutor or teacher. To effectively use a tutor, it is important that you have clear objectives in mind and that those objectives are understood by your tutor.
Finding a tutor
The best place to find a tutor is around university campuses. Students are often looking for a chance to make a little money on the side. You may also want to arrange a language exchange—you help a Chinese person with their English in exchange for them helping you with Chinese. There are numerous Chinese students that could use help with their English. A good place to start is with the department of foreign studies, or whatever department teaches Chinese as a foreign language. Many of these kinds of departments not only teaching Chinese as a foreign language, but also have graduate programs for Chinese learning how to teach Chinese as a foreign language. You may also check the English language department, or any other department where you have interests. For example, if you are studying engineering or are an engineer working in China, finding an engineering student may be best suited to help you with your specialized Chinese language needs. Most campuses have an “English Corner” where people get together in the evenings to practice English. This may also be a good place to meet a potential study partner.
Some Chinese have a deep-seated belief that foreigners cannot really learn Chinese well. You may need to convince your tutor that you are serious, and that you want to go beyond basic greetings and survival language if that is your goal. Hiring a faculty member, or a retired one, may also be a good bet. Often they could use the extra money and are just happy to interact with a foreigner. Or if you are working in China, a colleague may be willing to help.
Pay for services rendered
If you want the best from your tutoring experience, I think it best to hire and pay for your tutoring services. You may have Chinese friends that will offer to help you out, but when they are not getting paid, they may not take it as serious as if they were getting paid and felt the accompanying responsibility to do a good job. In this case, you often get what you pay for.
Have clear objectives—you call the shots
It’s usually not a good idea to hire a tutor and give them no guidelines. This usually results in chit-chat sessions that wander around but seldom get anywhere substantial. You will get much more mileage from your sessions with clear objectives about what you want to learn. If you are using a textbook or phrase book, make a copy of the lesson you want to cover and give it to your tutor. Tell them specifically that you want to work on the material in that lesson for the appointed meeting. This way, they will come prepared, and you can work together on practicing the material in that particular lesson. If you are not using any formal materials, come up with a plan of what you want to learn, then share with your tutor specifically what you want to learn. For example, if you are a beginner, you might want to work on basic greetings, talking about yourself and interests, asking others about themselves, and so on. You may also want to learn how to order a meal in a restaurant. Before each session, tell you tutor what you would like to learn so they can come prepared with some vocabulary items and phrases to practice with you. If you want to work specifically on your reading and writing skills, either pick out a reading passage from a textbook, or have your tutor select some passages for you based on your language level. Without a textbook, this may be challenging unless you are at the advanced level. Even at the advanced level it is suggested to at least read the newspaper or talk about current events.